Misconception: Obesity is only an addiction, similar to alcoholism or drug dependency.
Although there is a very small percentage of individuals affected by obesity who have eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder syndrome, that may result in the intake of excess food (calories), for the vast majority of individuals affected by obesity, obesity is a complex disease caused by many factors. When treating addiction, such as alcohol and drugs, one of the first steps is abstaining from the drugs or alcohol. This approach does not work with obesity as we need to eat to live. Additionally, there may be other issues affecting an individual’s weight, such as psychological issues. Weight gain generally occurs when there is an energy imbalance or, in other words, the amount of food (energy) consumed is greater than the number of calories burned (energy expended) by the body in the performance of biological functions, daily activities and exercise. Energy imbalance may be caused by overeating or by not getting enough physical activity and exercise. There are other conditions, however, that affect energy balance and/or fat metabolism that do not involve excessive eating or sedentary behavior including:
- Chronic sleep loss
- Consumption of foods that, independent of caloric content, cause metabolic/hormonal changes that may increase body fat (sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, processed meats and processed grains)
- Low intake of fat-fighting foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, quality protein)
- Stress and psychological distress
- Many types of medications
Obesity also ‘begets’ obesity, which is one of the reasons why the disease is considered ”progressive.” Weight gain causes a number of hormonal, metabolic and molecular changes in the body that increase the risk for even greater fat accumulation and obesity. Such obesity-associated changes reduce fat utilization, increase the conversion of sugar to fat, and enhance the body’s capacity to store fat by increasing fat cells size and numbers and by reducing fat breakdown. Such defects in fat metabolism mean that more of the calories consumed are stored as fat. To make matters worse, obesity affects certain regulators of appetite and hunger in a manner that can cause an increase in the amount of food eaten at any given meal and the desire to eat more often. There are many causes for obesity and that the disease of obesity is far more than just an ‘addiction’ toward food. The treatment of obesity solely as an addiction may be beneficial for a very small percentage of individuals whose only underlying cause for obesity is excessive and addictive eating, but would be unlikely to benefit the multitudes, particularly those individuals affected by severe obesity.