Overeating or Binge Eating Disorder: Is It “Food Addiction”?

I have had issues with disordered eating since early adolescence. I mostly engage in overeating or maybe even binge eating (a binge being a distinct period of severe overeating accompanied by a feeling of being out of control). When I still purged regularly several years ago, I took my eatig issue much more seriously than I do now, despite my overeating/bingeing having gotten worse over time and my weight recently having increased to a number that is within the obese range for my height.

Overeating is often seen as an addiction. I’ve never really seen my eating habits as such, and I wonder what the implications would be if “food addiction” were formally recognized. Curtis & Davis (2014) ask the same question in the conclusion to their qualitative study of “food addiction” in obese women with and without binge eating disorder (BED). In their study, all BED women met criteria for “food addiction” when DSM-5 criteria of substance use disorder were used with food being the substance. Obese women who didn’t suffer from BED also often displayed “food addiction” symptoms. They however attributed their inability to stop overeating more to liking the food or not wanting to stop than to feeling intrinsically unable to stop.

Interestingly, many women in the study weren’t sure whether they were food addicts when directly asked about it. I can relate to this. I at one point participated in an unofficial Overeaters Anonymous online group, and didn’t feel this suit me really. I do notice that I hold many of the same misconceptions about what an addiction is that the study authros found. For example, I tend to believe food cannotbe addictive because we need it, that substance abusers use their substance all the time, etc. The idea of food as an addictive substance does raise questions about what it is to be dependent on a substance. I know that the DSM-5 removed the distinction between substance abuse and substance dependence, and, in a way, this is good. Then again, you can get physically dependent on certain substances, and that makes an addiction to that substance (eg. alcohol) look more real than an addiction to a substance that you won’t develop physical dependence. Addiction to a substance you can’t get physically dpeendnet on, in turn, looks more real than behavioral addictions like “Internet Addiction”. These novel addictive disorder concepts do create fundamental debates about personal responsibility, which do have implications for treatment. After all, an impulse control disorder is treated differently from a substance dependence.

Reference

Curtis C & Davis C (2014), A Qualitative Study of Binge Eating and Obesity From an Addiction Perspective. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 22(1):19-32. DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2014.857515.

4 thoughts on “Overeating or Binge Eating Disorder: Is It “Food Addiction”?

  1. This was really good. I’ve never thought about it before, but you’ve brought some interesting things up here. As a chef, we actually learned about “food addiction” in culinary school, but it was more of a quick class — they really didn’t go in-depth. It is so crazy what types of eating disorders there are and how many people don’t even realize they have one.

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    1. It’s true that there are many different eating disorders. Most people think of anorexia, but this is really the rarest eating disorder. Binge eating disorder is the most common. Food addiction is not formally recognized at this point (the study authors modified the criteria for drug abuse), but this research does show that some people may benefit from addiction-type treatment for their eating issues.

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