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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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The Eating Disorder Called Obesity

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 6th 2011

The Eating Disorder Called ObesityMuch like with people addicted to alcohol and drugs, people who are obese are often judged negatively for not controlling their impulses. Blame is easily directed at those who suffer from an addiction. People who are obese are not thought of as having an addiction. They are viewed with even greater scorn than the others for not watching how and what they eat. There have been many times when I heard friends, relatives and colleagues state that they don't trust people who are fat. In addition, they state that the problem is they just don't exercise will power. They just don't control themselves. Simple translation: Its their fault.

However, there is accumulating evidence that obesity is an addiction, much like alcohol and other drugs. This might not change peoples' perception very much because they reject every explanation except that addicts have themselves to blame.

Nevertheless, we need to look at some of the evidence that obesity is an addiction and, therefore, outside of the individual's control. MRI studies of the brain are helping scientists learn more about how addictions work.

At Yale University, an experiment was conducted in which subjects were selected after being identified as having an over eating disorder. MRI studies were used to observe brain responses to pictures they were shown of foods they each identified as the ones they loved such as, pizza, ice cream sodas, etc. The study was fully controlled so that MRI pictures were taken of subjects who are not obese and also shown pictures of their favorite foods. The results demonstrated the fact that people with over eating problems had a greater neurological brain response as compared to those who are not food addicted.

While the study is only preliminary, what it does do is show that there is such a thing as food addictions. This suggests that obesity is not the willful result of over eating. The reseachers state that treatment of people who are obese may not benefit from gastric bypass surgery, dieting or life style changes. What will help is not yet clear.

None of this is conclusive and I do not believe that anyone should make decisions, as yet, as to the best approach to obesity. The only reliable approach is to rely upon the advice and guidance of your physician. In other words, continue your treatment, if you are in treatment, for this eating disorder.

Having said that, the main theme here is to stop stigmatizing people who suffer from eating disorders, particularly obesity. This holds true for all of the other addictions. Blaming must stop.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
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The Addictive Nature of Being Obese - Elizabeth - Sep 12th 2012

I work out every day, I eat mostly healthy foods and I have more muscle mass than the average woman my age and I sincerely believe that food can be an addiction because I used to be morbidly obese. I have been a healthier weight for almost two years now and I'm still struggling with sporadic bouts of binge eating because some foods, like chocolate, or chicken fried steak are incredibly satisfying and sometimes I have noticed while binge eating that toward the end I don't really want the food anymore but I can't stop. I mean, it hasn't been so bad since my stomach has decreased in size and I've been eating healthier but it's still a problem in my life. Also, I think most people try to hide their inadequacies but obese people can't so people stigmatize them because it makes them feel better about themselves. Either way, I think people don't want to understand because they want to believe that it can't happen to them.

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