Food addictive? A little more.

December 9, 2022
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A few days ago Jason Schwartz published a very interesting piece on Recovery Review titled “Food addictive?” It’s a brief and interesting read. In his post he embedded the 30 minute interview that inspired him to write that piece. The interview is well worth a listen.

In short, Jason found the argument that food can be an addiction quite compelling. At the end of his post he said he would be interested in any counterarguments. That is to say, he indicated he would be interested in reasoning against the author’s assertions that were in favor of the existence of “food addiction”.

I decided to do some thinking as Jason requested, and share a little more.

Below are some things to consider against the notion of “food addiction“.

  1. Overall, eating among humans is A) an obligated behavior with B) a central mechanism.
  • That is to say, we cannot not eat.
  • And the physiological mechanisms of eating are literally hard-wired within us for the very behavior of eating.

Substance addiction is not like that per se. For example, survival of our species does not rely on smoking crack, nor are we physically built as a species literally for the central purpose of smoking crack.

Thus, the disorder the author describes is a kind of eating disorder, not addiction per se. The author describes a literally different kind of disorder, albeit with some features similar to addiction.

2. By extension of #1 above, hunger for food is literally not “craving” per se. Hunger for food and craving for substances are different phenomena.  And “satiety” is an umbrella term with categorically different sub-sets, such as:

  • eating-related satisfaction that is a normal physiological operation upon eating to sufficiency; and
  • removal of the aversive urge or desire to use a substance that, when accomplished, does not satisfy a pre-existing and intrinsically hard-wired survival mechanism per se.

The author argues that craving and satiety are the same in “food addiction” and “substance addiction”.

But the cycles of craving and satiety in food addiction would necessarily include both:

  • the in-born survival-based phenomena of hunger and satisfaction everyone experiences every day, and
  • the mechanisms and experiences of chemical addiction if the author is correct.

Experientially those are different by definition. And chemical addiction does not operate in that way, involving both. Thus, the author describes a kind of eating disorder per se, not addiction per se.

3. Beverages that contain alcohol are in fact beverages. One experiences an addiction in the conventional way of understanding “chemical addiction” when addicted to alcohol. This illuminates a difference between chemical addiction and the author’s claim of food addiction as being the same as a chemical addiction.

  • Fats, sugars, and so forth, as the author claims, are the chemicals or molecules within foods that hold the addiction potential.
  • By contrast, our species does not live or die based on drinking a beer or not drinking a beer.

If the author’s claims are correct, the author should show that addiction to beer is a food addiction and also show us an instance of addiction to fat or sugar per se – rather than argue about one having an addiction to the vague category of “food”.

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