100 lb. Club - Food Addict Research?

View Full Version : Food Addict Research?

09-15-2011, 11:50 AM
I saw an interesting program on 20/20 I think, last week. About a woman who runs a rehab centre for eating disorders, mostly people who people they are addicted to food. They did a brain scan on her and she was relieved to see hyper activity in her pleasure centres, indicating an addiciton. However, as she was an admitted former alcoholic, that centre was well provoked earlier and therefore not scientifically significant.

I'm doing some research on the topic and I thought before i re-invent the wheel, I'd ask the 3FC gang for some info/links to reputable scientific journals or studies on the subject.

Thanks in advance for any ideas!


09-15-2011, 12:22 PM

I know I read an article on this awhile back but for the life of me I can't remember where, maybe Scientific America? Also, maybe check out Robert Lustig's work (a professor at UCSF), he was the one who gave the youtube lecture Sugar: The bitter truth and discusses the addiction part of it (well, he basically says addiction/habit-forming).

If I have time this afternoon I'll try and find the article I read. Hopefully others join in too because I always find this sort of thing fascinating. ;)

09-15-2011, 02:19 PM
(well, he basically says addiction/habit-forming).

LOL that's the basis of the controversy in a nutshell! which is it? a true physical addiction, or a learned habit... soooo interesting! I'll look forward to that article, thanks!!

09-15-2011, 02:38 PM
Ok, here's what I found from a google search:



I'm sure the original research is linked in those articles (the first article is about research on rats).

There's also a series of articles on food addiction:


I haven't read them but I think I will tonight, it looks interesting! ;)

09-15-2011, 03:44 PM
There's a lot of solid, compelling research sited in David Kessler's book "The End of Overeating."

He never calls it "addiction," he calls it "conditioned hypereating," and he talks of both physiological and psycho-social factors (so to the question "Is it physical addiction or learned habit," the answer is "probably both.")

We have a physiological response to the flavor-nutrient combination of fat/salt/sugar (or carbs that easily break down into sugar, like starches), and we also have a lot of social reinforcemnt in using that flavor-nutrient combination in our rituals of celebration and consolation.

The physiological component is seen in the animal studies. Rats and mice also overeat when given the flavor-nutrient combo, and we can be pretty sure that they're not overeating because they've seen one too many Burger King ads. For the rats and mice and other animals, it's more simple. The flavor-combination of salt/sugar/fat is a nutritional "gold-mind" in a natural world and having a more powerful drive for those substances can give a critter an "edge" when it comes to survival. Those who are hungrier live longer.

We've turned the natural world on it's head, and we've taken what is rare in the natural world and made it overly abundant. In the natural world, low-caloric density micro-nutrient fiber-rich, but low-calorie foods are in abundance. Traditionally, even up into the middle of the 20th century, most malnourishment was due to calorie deficiency. It's why Nutella (basically a semi-liquid candy bar) was developed - as a "health food" to boost the calorie intake of impoverished children.

Sugar, salt, (and to a lesser degree flour) was so expensive and rare that before and even into the 19th century, it was kept under lock and key. Specially made sugar chests were standard household furniture, and the lady of the house, wore the key to protect it from theft.

It would have been impossible at the time to conceive of eating the equivalent of a pound of sugar per week (some sources have estimated that Americans on average actually eat the equivalent of 2-3 lbs per week).

Addiction is complicated. There are substances that are so physiologically addictive, that anyone exposed to them is going to have a problem. Some say there is no recreational use of heroine or meth-amphetemine, for example. There are other substances that are not physiologically addictive or are much less so, and only some people will develop a psychological dependence on the substance (cocaine was once thought to have no physiologically addictive properties).

Apparently the sugar/fat/salt combination has universally abuse-potential. Even thin people (and lab animals) will eat more of it than of other foods presented. So we're all primed to overeat. Not everyone is primed to overeat to the same degree, and the factors that make a person more vulnerable are both psycho-social and physical. They've even identified some of the genes involved.

Interestingly, when you stress lab animals, especially if you drastically cut their calories or deprive them of food periodically, they become more prone to overeating the salt/fat/sugar combination. This may be why dieters yoyo. We're making ourselves more susceptiable to overeating by the way we try to lose weight.

I always thought of myself as a food addict, but I realized that almost all food addicts aren't really addicted to food, but rather some type of carb or carb/salt/fat combination. I never had much of a sweet tooth for desserts, because my family rarely ate them (and we were raised to dislike most cake frosting). In college, I had a (thin) roommate who would eat frosting from a can. I couldn't even watch her do it, because it made me gag.

But after reading The End of Overeating, I realized that my trigger foods were all salt/fat/sugar combinations. Barbecue is probably my worst trigger food - (and not the leaner spare ribs, but the most fatty country-style ribs) fatty ribs in a salty-sweet sauce.

I don't eat a lot of salt (my family never has), but the salty foods I do like always are in a salty-sweet/fatty combo.

I have to be really careful with the dreaded combo, but now that I know that I'm not a freak, it does make it easier.

Funny story regarding this: I had a pet rat. A pretty champagne colored rat we named Pinky. Every evening my husband or I would give her a treat. One night, I gave her a tiny chip of a cracker, spread with an Asiago cheese spread that I loved (salty, sweet, and fatty). Apparently Pinky found it very tasty as well, because she licked her paws for quite a long time afterward - and the next evening when I walked to her cage to give her her snack (this time a small sliver of apple, ordinarily one of her favorite snacks), she was hanging from the cage bars, each of her four paws wrapped around the bars and her body was shaking with excitement. I'd never seen her so excited to get her snack. I slipped in the apple piece, and I swear gave me a look that seemed to say "what the heck is this crap?" She even walked away from the apple, which she'd never done before. She did come back in a few minutes and ate the bit of apple.

After that, my husband and I started calling my asiago cheese spread "rat crack," (which was really funny when we brought the cheese spread to a family Christmas party and announced that our contribution to the food table was "rat crack.")

09-15-2011, 04:36 PM
kaplods- I agree with you that it's more certain ingredients that cause the "addiction" (or whatever term you want to use). I, for one, do not tend to binge on carrots. ;)

My addiction really is sugar. Although sugar+fat(=chocolate) is really the evil one for me. I can, for instance, eat A LOT of watermelon but I'd certainly not get up to the same calorie count as I would for chocolate. Ditto for any pure sugary substance (like Nerds, gummy bears etc). Salt I really don't have an issue with and I can stop after eat a couple of chips. While I certainly like BBQ, I can and do do without it often without issue.

I think for people (like you and I) that have clear trigger foods, in a way, it makes dieting somewhat easier (or at least it has for DH who has issues with salt+fat and myself). Once you eliminate the trigger food, a lot of the rest can fall into place naturally. Hmm.. maybe a better way to put that is that eliminating (or really restricting the trigger food if elimination is not possible) is at least a very good place to start with a diet. Obviously, this doesn't necessarily work for everybody because I have heard of people who binge on whatever is around and it seems like they would need to be treated in a different manner (possibly why calorie counting works so well for some and not others).

After thinking about this, I really wish there was more research on what diets work best for certain people. I think it's pretty clear from 3FC that there is no one-size-fits-all diet because we all have such different struggles when it comes to food. I know I've read posts where someone is describing their struggles with certain foods and I'm surprised because whatever food they're talking about would never bother me. However, I'm sure there are others who feel the same way about food that I struggle with and/or would not be able to handle my diet well and visa versa. Even taking that a step father, sometimes one person's revelation when it comes to food (e.g. calorie counting is awesome!) would work miserably on another person. Wouldn't dieting be infinitely easier if they'd actually research that or at least have some general guidelines like if you struggle with XYZ and tend to have this type of personality, it might help you to check out the following diets ...

09-15-2011, 04:51 PM
woah, thanks for the long posts ~ It's a research study so I'm not looking for what people think/feel (although i find it interesting as all get out!) but actual scientific research. I just thought someone might know of a study being done at a reputable research facility or something along those lines. I know I can google it, but the 3FC gang usually has their finger on the pulse of new & innovative stuff!

Thighs Be Gone
09-15-2011, 04:53 PM
Kaplods--to funny about nutella--personally I could stick a large straw in the top and suck the whol jar!

09-15-2011, 04:58 PM
Don't have any scientific research BUT....just wanted to say you look great. I was feeling slightly down today and was eating an extra lo-cal cookie when I saw your post. Your pictures motivated me to step away from the cookie....:)

09-15-2011, 05:08 PM
One other place you might want to look: http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/dept/pediatrics/molec/res.html

Specifically the Experimental Weight Perturbation in Humans and leptin levels. I'm not sure if you can necessarily say leptin resistance (is that even the right way to say it?) constitutes an addiction but it's certainly a way in which the body doesn't respond to food correctly and then you end up eating more.

ETA: and i'm not sure if you saw it above but I listed some of the articles I was talking about earlier. ;)