Is Restricting Sugar or Fat Effective For Food Addiction?

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There is much debate among health care professionals on the topic of treatment for food addiction.

Characterized by the inability to stop eating certain foods, a food addiction is a disease which is influenced by both biological and environmental causes. Research has demonstrated the biochemical factors involved in the process of someone becoming addicted to the reactions caused by eating certain foods, particularly those that are more highly palatable.

Treatment approaches for food addiction typically involve both traditional addiction models, like 12-step programs, as well as modalities utilized for the treatment of eating disorders. Some professionals have advocated for abstinence from foods high in sugar and fat as a means of treating food addiction, but is this a helpful or harmful approach?

Restricting Food Intake

Unlike illicit drugs and alcohol, food is necessary and vital for survival. One cannot practice abstinence from food as a means of treating a food addiction, though restricting certain foods that might trigger behaviors related to the food addiction have been advocated by some professionals as a form of treatment.

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While research has shown a correlation between consumption of “palatable foods” and food addiction behaviors, restricting these foods may backfire for someone who is dealing with a food addiction.

For the majority of individuals, restricting any type of major nutrient or food group, such as carbohydrates, sugars or fats, often increases urges and desires to eat those particular foods. Deprivation of food often leads to increased episodes of bingeing, overconsumption of foods that may have been avoided in the first place, and greater incidence of weight gain.

Food addiction is a complex disease without a one-size-fits-all approach for treatment and recovery. Some individuals may understand specific foods that are incredibly triggering and may do well by abstaining, but in general, restricting entire food groups often leads to detrimental consequences.

One recent student found that sugary foods contributed minimally to food dependence and increased risk of weight gain, and that the unique individual experience of eating plays an important role in determining the reward value of food [1].

Seeking Guidance From Professionals

If you have struggled with a food addiction, be cautious about trying to “treat” the problem simply by restricting certain foods or food groups, as this can potentially worsen some of the struggles you are encountering.

Always seek out the guidance of professionals who specialize in the area of food addiction to understand the best individualized plan for your care and treatment.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


[1]: Markus CR, et al. Eating dependence and weight gain; no human evidence for a ‘sugar-addiction’ model of overweight. Appetite 2017 Jul 1; 114:64-72.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 28, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on May 22, 2017.
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