Eating to live or living to eat? Exploring the causal attributions of self-perceived food addiction (2015)

Appetite. 2015 Jul 21. pii: S0195-6663(15)00335-9. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.018. [Epub ahead of print]

Ruddock HK1, Dickson JM2, Field M2, Hardman CA2.


Previous studies indicate that many people perceive themselves to be addicted to food. However, little is known about how the concept of ‘food addiction’ is defined amongst members of the lay public. The current study examined beliefs about the cognitive and behavioural manifestations of food addiction. Participants (N = 210) completed an internet-delivered questionnaire in which they indicated whether or not they perceived themselves to be a food addict and they provided a brief explanation for their response. Over a quarter of participants (28%) perceived themselves to be food addicts and self-diagnosis was predicted by increased BMI and younger age, but not by gender. Thematic analysis was conducted to explore the causal attributions provided by self-perceived food addicts and non-addicts. Six characteristics were identified: 1) Reward-driven eating (i,e., eating for psychological rather than physiological reasons), 2) A functional or psychological preoccupation with food, 3) A perceived lack of self-control around food, 4) Frequent food cravings, 5) Increased weight or an unhealthy diet, and 6) A problem with a specific type of food. The emergent themes, and their frequency, did not differ between self-perceived food addicts and non-addicts. However, self-perceived food addicts and non-addicts reported divergent cognitions, behaviours and attitudes within each common theme. This study is the first to provide qualitative insight into beliefs about food addiction in both self-perceived food addicts and non-addicts. The findings appear to reflect a view of food addiction that is identifiable through several core behaviours.