Dietary Addictions
--Paraphrased from an Oct.15, 2013 paper by Alan Goldhamer, D.C.

Why eating healthfully is so difficult

It is widely understood that drugs including nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and cocaine are addictive. Repeated exposure to these substances can result in physical addiction and the the consequences can be devastating. Escaping the pleasure trap is difficult. Most treatment programs fail for most addicts. For example, the most effective treatment programs for alcoholism involve 30 days of intensive inpatient care followed by outpatient support often involving 90 visits in 90 days to a 12-step program. Yet, even the most highly motivated addicts who complete the program fail. The failure rate is typically 69% or higher.

Unlike drugs whose use is voluntary, food is essential for life. Some foods, particularly highly processed foods, elicit responses similar to addiction. Not all people respond to the addictive nature of highly processed foods, and those who do may not respond in the same way.


The dietary pleasure trap is often hidden and difficult to escape. A common result is obesity. The medical management of obesity has a lower cure rate than the treatment of many cancers. Recidivism exceeds 90% in most studies. [cit. needed]

The key to understanding food addiction is to understand the effects of highly processed foods. Natural foods contain carbohydrates, protein, and fat, but they also contain fiber and water. When foods are highly processed, the fiber and water is usually removed. Grains are ground into powder. This makes the carbohydrates in the grain more available to the body.

Other processed foods

Another technique for processing food is to isolate and concentrate one of its components as in the production of oil or sugar. When the desired component is separated from the fiber, water, and other nutrients, it is much easier to overeat. This effect is increased by by the concentration flavor of the isolated substance that then has an enhanced appeal to our taste buds. [cit. needed]

When we eat concentrated, processed foods including oils, sugars, and flour products, they stimulate dopamine secretion in our brains. Dopamine is the neurochemical most closely associated with pleasure. The more highly concentrated the food (measured in calories per pound), the more dopamine is secreted. [cit. needed] The food tastes better, making the pleasure trap stronger.

The pleasure trap

Further, artificially concentrated foods have been had their whole food components -- especially fiber -- removed and thus are less effective at triggering the brain's satiety mechanisms that would otherwise give sensations of fullness and regulate calorie intake. When satiation is not triggered, overeating occurs and obesity follows. When someone says, "Betcha can't eat just one," they're not kidding! Over two-thirds of adults in the United States are now overweight or obese. [cit.needed] This epidemic is the result of the dietary pleasure trap and the overeating it produces.


One reason it is so difficult for people to escape the dietary pleasure trap is a belief in the concept of moderation. This belief is that, in moderation, everything is healthful. Some people can can eat processed foods in moderation but if you are struggling with your weight you are not one of them.

To addiction, moderation is not the answer. We do not advise alcoholics to drink moderately. We do not tell them to put their alcohol in a smaller cup to reduce consumption. We do not tell them to put their drink down between sips. We do not tell them to drink only beer and wine. We do not tell them to count the ounces they drink. Most alcoholics believe they can continue to drink moderately but experience disproves this. We do not advise alcoholics to drink moderately because it does not work! [cit. needed]

Similarly, people caught in the dietary pleasure trap are told that they just need discipline, put their fork down between bites, etc. They are told to eat in moderation. This strategy fails for dietary addicts the same way it fails for alcoholics.

The solution

The most effective treatment for alcoholism is to eliminate alcohol. The most effective treatment for dietary addiction is to eliminate highly processed foods. Replace them with abundant natural starches (beans, potatoes), whole grains (brown rice, millet, quinoa, etc., but not flour products), fresh fruits, vegetables, and limited amounts of raw seeds and nuts. For health reasons (not the pleasure trap) also eliminate all animal products including dairy. [cit. needed]

A health-promoting diet along with good sleep and exercise will normalize weight. Overweight people who adopt this eating plan lose 1-2 pounds per week until they reach more ideal weights. [cit. needed] If you follow a strictly vegan diet, supplement it with vitamin B12. [cit. needed] Also, get some direct sunshine daily for your vitamin D. [cit. needed]

For alcoholics, "Just quit drinking" is not easy. For overweight people, establishing a health-promoting diet is similarly a struggle. Addicts of all kinds often find benefit in taking a "time out" in a health-promoting environment free of the distrations and temptations of modern life.


A period of medically-supervised water-only fasting can be an effective adjunct. Fasting clears the palate and "resets" appestatic mechanisms. Many find fasting to be most effective following a prolonged period of dietary compliance. The longer you eat a good diet before fasting, the more effective fasting will be in returning you to optimum health.