Can Beliefs About Food Addiction Affect Eating Behavior?

Woman looking at food
Woman looking at food
People who see themselves as food addicts may be more likely to restrict caloric intake.

Whether or not people perceive themselves as food addicts may influence their eating habits, a new study suggests.

Many attribute overeating, which can lead to obesity, to food-based addiction, but this connection remains controversial in the scientific community because “scientific understanding has not kept pace with the lay public’s enthusiasm for the concept of ‘food addiction.’”

In the journal Obesity, the study researchers wrote, “Indeed, in a recent study, almost three quarters of participants believed that obesity is caused by an addiction to certain foods. Furthermore, as many as 50% of people believe themselves to be food addicts.”

They noted, however, that no studies have examined how this perception may affect how much a person eats.

To investigate this potential association, the researchers conducted 2 separate studies in which women completed a series of computer tasks about food. After completion, they received bogus feedback indicating that they had high, low, or average levels of food addiction based on their performance. In the second study, the researchers also evaluated their intake of unhealthy foods (chocolate and crisps) using a taste test.

In the first study (n=64), women who were told they had a high level of food addiction consumed fewer calories compared with those who believed they had average or low levels of food addiction.

The second study (n=90) not only yielded similar results but indicated that participants who believed they had a high level of food addiction reported greater concern about their eating behavior. Consequently, the amount of time participants willingly spent tasting the foods during the taste test was reduced.  

“Our research found that participants who believed themselves to be ‘food addicts’ reduced the amount of time they were exposed to unhealthy foods and ate less as a result. This appears to be because the perception of being a food addict made them concerned about their eating behavior,” study investigator Helen K. Ruddock, of the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, said in a press release.

“Our study is the first to show that personal beliefs about food addiction can influence how much we eat. Further work with a larger sample group and over a longer time period is now needed.”


  1. Ruddock HK, Christiansen P, Jones A, Robinson E, Field M, Hardman CA. Believing in Food Addiction: Helpful or Counterproductive for Eating Behavior? Obesity. 2016. doi:10.1002/oby.21499.