sugar and cocaine brain scans

Everything You Think You Know About Food Addiction is Wrong

In Diet-Free Healthy Eating / Fat Loss/ Nutritionby Matt

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Food addiction is a scary topic. There are messages all over the internet telling people they are addicted to sugar, carbs, and processed foods. Doomsday tales are everywhere about how evil food companies are engineering their food to get you hooked for life. What can you possibly do when sugar stimulates your brain just like cocaine?

sugar and cocaine brain scans

Sugar may have a similar effect as cocaine, but that may not matter. Photo credit

Well, for one, there’s the “solution” a lot of dietary dogmas promise. That you must be strong and stay away from these foods at all cost. Abstinence, limitation and self-righteous deprivation are your only salvation.

This situation isn’t a lack of willpower or the addiction to a food. It’s a flawed approach to healthy eating.

It doesn’t seem like a fight you can win, does it? On one hand, you become hopelessly enslaved to the engineered foods you can’t help but eat. On the other, you have to deprive yourself every day for the rest of your life. It’s hardly the sort of situation you can win. Heads you suffer addiction, tails you suffer deprivation.


What if there’s a way out from between this dietary rock and a hard place? What if you don’t have to suffer addiction or deprivation at all? What if our whole approach to food addiction is completely wrong?

In his ground-breaking T.E.D Talk, Johann Hari discusses his research into substance addiction and explains why the way we perceive addiction is way off base. While his research deals with drug addiction, the lessons he teaches about addiction apply to food as well.

You can check out his Talk here, but here are the big takeaways as they apply to food and sugar addiction.

#1 Addiction isn’t physiological

The biggest myth about addiction is that it happens because of our physical reaction to an ingested substance. Images like the one above comparing sugar and cocaine feed on this idea that sugar does something to you and that’s what makes it addictive. I hear there are similar cognitive reactions to those who are addicted to pornography from websites such as tube v.

Johann’s research says this isn’t the case. Exposure to the physical effect of a drug is not enough to make you addicted. Sugar may light up your brain just like cocaine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Addiction requires more than just feeling good because you eat a candy bar or feast on fast food.

#2 Addiction is more about your life situation rather than the drug/ food itself

Johann’s research suggests that it’s not the drug or even the physical reaction that causes addiction. Instead, it’s how that reaction makes you feel relative to the rest of your life situation.

Addiction depends more on the quality of your life specifically the quality of your relationships, interests and lifestyle activities. If you have a fulfilling and satisfying lifestyle your chances of suffering addiction are low because your brain is satisfied in ways other than drugs.

In contrast, if you have a poor quality of life, with abusive relationships and dysfunctional habits your chances of addiction are much higher. That bump of cocaine, or jelly donut can now be your ultimate lifeline that your mind clamps onto and won’t let go.

#3 It’s not food addiction, but more like food bonding

Addiction isn’t quite the right word, it’s more like “bonding.” The stronger the connection you have to consuming the food, or practicing the habit, the more you will want to do it. This is the case with food, sex, video games and anything you feel a strong desire to keep indulging in.

The great thing about perceiving this as bonding is that the strength of a bond can be on a scale whereas addiction is black and white. Bonding gives you the freedom to strengthen or weakens the bonds in your life while the notion of addiction keeps you trapped in that no-win situation between addiction and deprivation.

food addiction vs bonds

Listen to this week’s episode of the RDP Podcast for an in-depth look at Johann’s Talk and what it means to the idea of food addiction.