Meeting of Minds around Food Addiction: Insights from Addiction Medicine, Nutrition, Psychology, and Neurosciences

Nutrients. 2020 Nov 20;12(11):3564. doi: 10.3390/nu12113564.


This review, focused on food addiction (FA), considers opinions from specialists with different expertise in addiction medicine, nutrition, health psychology, and behavioral neurosciences. The concept of FA is a recurring issue in the clinical description of abnormal eating. Even though some tools have been developed to diagnose FA, such as the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) questionnaire, the FA concept is not recognized as an eating disorder (ED) so far and is even not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders version 5 (DSM-5) or the International Classification of Disease (ICD-11). Its triggering mechanisms and relationships with other substance use disorders (SUD) need to be further explored. Food addiction (FA) is frequent in the overweight or obese population, but it remains unclear whether it could articulate with obesity-related comorbidities. As there is currently no validated therapy against FA in obese patients, FA is often underdiagnosed and untreated, so that FA may partly explain failure of obesity treatment, addiction transfer, and weight regain after obesity surgery. Future studies should assess whether a dedicated management of FA is associated with better outcomes, especially after obesity surgery. For prevention and treatment purposes, it is necessary to promote a comprehensive psychological approach to FA. Understanding the developmental process of FA and identifying precociously some high-risk profiles can be achieved via the exploration of the environmental, emotional, and cognitive components of eating, as well as their relationships with emotion management, some personality traits, and internalized weight stigma. Under the light of behavioral neurosciences and neuroimaging, FA reveals a specific brain phenotype that is characterized by anomalies in the reward and inhibitory control processes. These anomalies are likely to disrupt the emotional, cognitive, and attentional spheres, but further research is needed to disentangle their complex relationship and overlap with obesity and other forms of SUD. Prevention, diagnosis, and treatment must rely on a multidisciplinary coherence to adapt existing strategies to FA management and to provide social and emotional support to these patients suffering from highly stigmatized medical conditions, namely overweight and addiction. Multi-level interventions could combine motivational interviews, cognitive behavioral therapies, and self-help groups, while benefiting from modern exploratory and interventional tools to target specific neurocognitive processes.

Keywords: behavior; cognition; craving; motivation; obesity; reward circuit; therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Addiction Medicine / methods*
  • Animals
  • Bariatric Surgery / psychology
  • Behavior, Addictive / psychology
  • Body Weight
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Emotions
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / therapy
  • Food Addiction / psychology*
  • Food Addiction / therapy
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences*
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Obesity / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires