Purpose of review
Food addiction has been implicated as a putative causal factor in chronic overeating, binge eating, and obesity. The concept of food addiction has been controversial historically due to definitional and conceptual difficulties and to a lack of rigorous scientific data.
Support for the food addiction hypothesis comes from alterations in neurochemistry (dopamine, endogenous opioids), neuroanatomy (limbic system), and self-medication behaviors. Foods identified as having potential addictive properties include sweets, carbohydrates, fats, sweet/fat combinations, and possibly processed and/or high salt foods. Eating topography has been identified as a necessary factor in neural pathway changes that promote addiction-like properties in response to some foods. A recently developed food addiction scale shows promise in identifying food addiction.
Recent findings have strengthened the case for food addiction. These findings may serve to validate the perception of food addiction in patients and inform psychoeducational, cognitive-behavioral, and/or pharmacological treatment for chronic food cravings, compulsive overeating, and binge eating that may represent a phenotype of obesity. Screening for food addiction has the potential to identify people with eating difficulties that seriously compromise weight management efforts. Future research should include a focus on human food addiction research; evaluating the impact of treatment on underlying neurochemistry; and prevention or reversal of food addiction in humans.