ACA Blog

Kristy Carlisle
Feb 07, 2011

They Cannot Stop Eating

Food addiction is a controversial issue because not everyone believes it exists. The DSM-IV describes eating disorders as severe disturbances in eating behavior and includes Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa as such disorders. Interestingly, Appendix B of the manual contains criteria and axes for further study of a condition called Binge-Eating Disorder (BED), characterized by recurrent excessive eating without control despite resulting physical and emotional discomfort. While suggesting that overeating may be an addictive behavior, not all excessive food consumption fits the classification. Furthermore, obesity and food addiction should not be considered one in the same. However, BED provides a particularly interesting manifestation of symptoms that merits further investigation into the addictive qualities of sugary and fatty foods.

At first, comparing food to drugs seemed outrageous to me, and that is precisely why I’m enjoying this research so much. One of my first thoughts was to wonder how BED, with its uncontrollable excessive eating, is different from Bulimia Nervosa. After all, the binging criterion of BN has been termed an addictive process. The difference, as I understand it thus far in my research, is that BED is not followed by purging, fasting, or exercising to compensate for the binging. As clinical studies advance, I will be very interested in learning about the potentially different triggers for the binge eating in the two disorders.

I’ve been reading page after page of research that compares the potential symptoms of food addiction to drug addiction in terms of patients losing control, experiencing tolerance, suffering from withdrawal, having cravings, relapsing during recovery, not to mention the neurobiological similarities that clinicians are suggesting. I find this research fascinating and believable, but I am still experiencing a tremendous dilemma. People with addictions can stop drinking and drugging, they can even stop gambling, and with proper treatment, stay alive. They cannot, however, stop eating and achieve the same end.



Kristy L. Carlisle is a school counselor and a mental health counselor in training at Rider University. Her interests include protecting children from cyber-bullying and from food addiction.

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