Converging evidence from both animal and human studies have implicated hedonic eating as a driver of both binge eating and obesity. The construct of food addiction has been used to capture pathological eating across clinical and non-clinical populations. There is an ongoing debate regarding the value of a food addiction “diagnosis” among those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa binge/purge-type, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Much of the food addiction research in eating disorder populations has failed to account for dietary restraint, which can increase addiction-like eating behaviors and may even lead to false positives. Some have argued that the concept of food addiction does more harm than good by encouraging restrictive approaches to eating. Others have shown that a better understanding of the food addiction model can reduce stigma associated with obesity. What is lacking in the literature is a description of a more comprehensive approach to the assessment of food addiction. This should include consideration of dietary restraint, and the presence of symptoms of other psychiatric disorders (substance use, posttraumatic stress, depressive, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity) to guide treatments including nutrition interventions. The purpose of this review is to help clinicians identify the symptoms of food addiction (true positives, or “the signal”) from the more classic eating pathology (true negatives, or “restraint”) that can potentially elevate food addiction scores (false positives, or “the noise”). Three clinical vignettes are presented, designed to aid with the assessment process, case conceptualization, and treatment strategies. The review summarizes logical steps that clinicians can take to contextualize elevated food addiction scores, even when the use of validated research instruments is not practical.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited