Overeating in industrial societies is a signiﬁcant problem, linked to an increasing incidence of overweight and obesity, and the resultant adverse health consequences. We advance the hypothesis that a possible explanation for overeating is that processed foods with high concentrations of sugar and other reﬁned sweeteners, reﬁned carbohydrates, fat, salt, and caffeine are addictive substances. Therefore, many people lose control over their ability to regulate their consumption of such foods. The loss of control over these foods could account for the global epidemic of obesity and other metabolic disorders. We assert that overeating can be described as an addiction to reﬁned foods that conforms to the DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorders. To examine the hypothesis, we relied on experience with self-identiﬁed reﬁned foods addicts, as well as critical reading of the literature on obesity, eating behavior, and drug addiction.
Reports by self-identiﬁed food addicts illustrate behaviors that conform to the 7 DSM-IV criteria for substance use disorders. The literature also supports use of the DSM-IV criteria to describe overeating as a substance use disorder. The observational and empirical data strengthen the hypothesis that certain reﬁned food consumption behaviors meet the criteria for substance use disorders, not unlike tobacco and alcohol. This hypothesis could lead to a new diagnostic category, as well as therapeutic approaches to changing overeating behaviors.