Food addiction is not currently recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, 4th edition), and there is no agreement among experts on whether it should be included in future editions. That is, a doctor can't make an official diagnosis of food addiction.
However, the DSM does make provision for the diagnosis of out-of-control eating -- considered the hallmark of food addiction by those who subscribe to the idea -- under the category of eating disorder NOS, "binge eating disorder." Binge eating disorder has been proposed as a new stand-alone disorder in the fifth edition of the DSM.
Binge eating is also a symptom of bulimia nervosa, another eating disorder that involves excessive eating. The main difference between binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa is the obsession with being thin and the effort made by people with bulimia to "purge" the food they eat from their bodies through inducing vomiting or diarrhea, or through excessive exercise.
The health problems caused by obesity are well recognized, and great efforts are being made to educate the community on the need for a healthy diet and regular exercise. However, whether the addictive nature of eating will be embraced by the medical profession remains more elusive.
Food addiction is only an addiction if it is problematic or harmful in some way. It is not a label that can simply be applied to anyone who enjoys or eats a lot of food, or who binges occasionally.
While "food addiction" is not officially recognized, there are several treatments that help, and there is a wealth of commercial organizations and self-help resources that provide help with getting control over your eating (such as Overeaters Anonymous). However, the so-called "diet industry" has been criticized for exploiting people who are victims of social and cultural pressures to be thin, and even for making the problem worse.
Eating disorders programs vary in whether they treat over-eating, as most are geared towards helping people with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Different approaches may be taken to treatment, and some eating disorders program follow the Stages of Change model, which is widely use in addictions treatment. However, if you believe you have a problem with over-eating, your doctor and mainstream psychological services will be able to offer a lot of help and support in overcoming your problem.
The Bottom Line
While "food addiction" is not an official diagnosis, the problems associated with over-eating are well recognized in the medical and psychiatric community. If you are worried that over-eating is disrupting your life, you can and should seek out professional help.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (4th edition - Text Revision). Washington DC, American Psychiatric Association. 2000.
American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Eating Disorders (Proposed Revisions)." 18 Feb 2010.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Obesity Trends 1985–2007. 8 Jan 2009.
Fairburn, C. Overcoming Binge Eating. New York: Guilford. 1995.
Food & Addiction Conference on Eating and Dependence New Haven, Connecticut. July 2007.
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