Food Addiction

Many people have cravings for food and may compulsively overeat but are they addicted to food? Food addiction is somewhat controversial. If you binge eat, have sugar cravings, overeat, or feel addicted to certain foods, keep reading to learn how to detect food addiction.

The concept of food addiction is relatively new, and it is only of late that evidence has built enough to link food consumption and what is known about addictive behavior in ways that have led to a concerted research effort in this direction. This article explores what is currently known about food addiction.

What Is Addiction?

People talk about “being addicted to x,” sometimes meaning nothing more than that they really like it a lot. For food addiction to be something more than just a term, it would have to meet criteria for addiction, also called dependence. In the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), dependence is defined as a ““cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms associated with the continued use of the substance despite significant substance-related problems.”

There is generally a stipulation the 3 or more of 7 criteria be met. Generally, the criteria are:

  • tolerance
  • withdrawal
  • use increasing in amounts or over a longer time than planned
  • desire to, and possibly unsuccessful effort to, diminish or cease from use
  • large amounts of time spent in preparing for or recovering from using the substance
  • giving up other activities for the substance
  • continuing the substance despite knowing that it is causing or amplifying a physical or psychological problem

Current Thoughts on Food Addiction

Eating disorders, including binge eating, with and without purging, have been the subject of study for some time now. The idea that one could be addicted to food, however, has raised questions, even as it seeks to provide a clearer understanding of the relationship that may develop between certain people and food. One current hypothesis is that there may be particular foods that are able to trigger an addictive process if an individual is susceptible. The thought is that, in these circumstances, for these individuals, the brain behaves similarly to the way it does when it is exposed to alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs that have previously been recognized as addictive.

Detecting Food Addiction

In seeking to understand more about food as a possible source of addiction, Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has been developing and testing the Yale Food Addiction Scale. First, the scale identifies certain foods to help the person completing the scale know the types of food that are suspected may be implicated in food addiction. The foods fall into five categories.

  • Fatty: red meat, burgers, pizza, French fries
  • Salty snacks
  • Starchy foods: bread products, pasta, rice
  • Sweets: cake, candy, cookies, doughnuts, ice cream
  • Sugary beverages

The food addiction questions focus on these areas:

  • the person’s control over their own eating
  • the frequency of overeating
  • concern about avoidance or reducing intake of certain foods
  • concern if certain foods are not readily available
  • feelings of sluggishness, fatigue, or illness resulting from overeating
  • continual recourse to certain foods between meals
  • eating replacing other activities in the person’s life
  • avoidance of situations where overeating might be a temptation
  • withdrawal symptoms from cutting down or ceasing to eat certain foods (not including caffeine)
  • eating or drinking to prevent physical symptoms, anxiety, or agitation (not including caffeine)
  • food-behavior causing distress, psychological problems, or causing or exacerbating physical problems
  • food and eating leading to problems in effective functioning in other areas of life
  • increasing consumption in order to achieve similar effects from eating (such as feeling good or feeling better)
  • desire to reduce or stop eating certain types of food
  • failed or successful attempts to reduce or stop eating certain kinds of food’


Food Addiction: An Examination of the Diagnostic Criteria for Dependence

Yale Food Addiction Scale -

Related Article: Teen Binge Eating Disorder >>