Food Addiction: Implications for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Overeating

Nutrients. 2019 Sep 4;11(9):2086. doi: 10.3390/nu11092086.


With the obesity epidemic being largely attributed to overeating, much research has been aimed at understanding the psychological causes of overeating and using this knowledge to develop targeted interventions. Here, we review this literature under a model of food addiction and present evidence according to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) criteria for substance use disorders. We review several innovative treatments related to a food addiction model ranging from cognitive intervention tasks to neuromodulation techniques. We conclude that there is evidence to suggest that, for some individuals, food can induce addictive-type behaviours similar to those seen with other addictive substances. However, with several DSM-5 criteria having limited application to overeating, the term 'food addiction' is likely to apply only in a minority of cases. Nevertheless, research investigating the underlying psychological causes of overeating within the context of food addiction has led to some novel and potentially effective interventions. Understanding the similarities and differences between the addictive characteristics of food and illicit substances should prove fruitful in further developing these interventions.

Keywords: cognitive training; food addiction; impulsivity; neuromodulation; obesity; overeating; reward sensitivity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Food Addiction / diagnosis*
  • Food Addiction / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / diagnosis*
  • Hyperphagia / therapy*