Food Addiction vs Eating Addiction: What Is The Difference?


by The Health Sciences Academy — Get free science updates here.


Anything that gives you pleasure and provides a reward to your brain has the potential of becoming addictive.

Some things can be more addictive than others, making them harder for you to resist.

Hyper-palatable sugary, fatty or salty foods are at the top of the list.

Think about it, no matter how hard some people try repeatedly, they just cannot control themselves around them.

As a matter of fact, scientists Daniel Blumenthal and Mark Gold found many similarities between the consumption of certain foods and ‘substance addiction’.

They called it ‘food addiction’.

But another group of 12 scientists took a step further.

They asked themselves: What if it’s not just the particular food (the substance) that we’re addicted to? Could it be that we are addicted to something else that makes us eat it?

Today, I’d like to share with you some very powerful information around another type of addiction – it’s called ‘eating addiction’. And no, it should not be confused with ‘food addiction’.

You’ll learn the similarities, the differences, and how current evidence suggests that the term ‘eating addiction’ better defines non-substance related behavioural addiction.

Ready to learn?

How are food addiction and eating addiction related?

Scientists now make a distinction between two types of addiction that can lead to overeating: ‘food addiction’ and ‘eating addiction’.

One doesn’t necessarily exclude the other.

Both of these addictions have negative consequences that challenge scads of people.

Given the rising levels of obesity, both types contribute to the debate over what propels people to overeat.

In terms of symptoms and where in the brain addiction occurs, having a ‘food addiction’ has been connected in the very same way we would speak about the addiction to drugs. And much of the blame is being placed on the food industry for the production of highly-addictive inexpensive foods to boost sales.

But ‘eating addiction’ has its own set of particulars. It brings the attention back to the individual – and not the external substance (the food or ingredient).

This is where we will shift the focus of this piece – how ‘eating addiction’ differs from ‘food addiction’ in terms of what happens in the process of eating and the ‘reward’ associated with it.

What are the characteristics of an eating addiction?

Published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviewsthe same 12 scientists tell us that the focus on confronting the obesity problem should be moved away from the food itself (the addictive substance) towards the person’s act of eating (the addictive behaviour).

Eating addiction is a behavioural issue and has now been categorised alongside conditions like gambling addiction, especially when the psychological compulsion to eat is driven by the positive feelings that the brain associates with the very act of eating.

It is the opinion of the scientific authors that:

‘Eating addiction’ stresses the behavioural component, whereas ‘food addiction’ appears more like a passive process which simply befalls an individual.

Behavioural addictions explained

Let’s take a step back and think of a smoker.

A smoker not only battles the substance dependance but also the related behaviours: it’s not just the nicotine that smokers miss when they give up smoking, but also the holding of the cigarette, the puff, feeling the texture, and the multiple sensations surrounding the experience.

Many behaviours can be termed ‘addictive’ without the involvement of any external substance.

Take for instance mobile texting and e-mail. There’s something irresistible about an unopened message – and some of us may feel uncomfortable or even anxious unless we open it. It’s not about what’s inside the message. It’s the very act of clicking to open it that the brain can’t resist.

Transfer those irresistible behaviours to those associated with the actions around eating such as:

  • reaching out to a bowl in front of you whilst watching the television
  • the act of opening up an edible delight
  • feeling the food item with your fingertips
  • walking to the kitchen searching for more food
  • removing the lid of a pot
  • touching creamy food with your lips
  • peeling the film of a chocolate bar
  • opening up your mouth to receive it
  • chewing something crunchy

…and the list continues.

All of this happens even before you swallow the bite! These pleasurable acts can be so addictive.

Where does this leave us?

While the term ‘eating addiction’ is still in early stages, it certainly has the potential to impact public health regarding its prevention and treatment.

One could begin by asking if the cause of overeating and obesity is rooted in addictive behaviours. This might be well worth a public debate as well as the consideration around using the term ‘eating addiction’.

What do you think?

Do you think prevention and treatment should focus on the addictive nature of certain foods or on people’s eating behaviours? Or both? Do you have any personal or client experiences that you can relate to and share here?

Please jump into the conversation in the comments below. Pass this onto someone you think could benefit from learning the difference between ‘food addiction’ and ‘eating addiction’.


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