Food addictive

Ashley Gearhardt, who is a clinical psychologist, and her team have found ‘bad foods’ to be extremely addictive. Image via Getty Images

Food high in added fats & refined carbs as addictive as cigarettes

A recent study has shown that foods high in added fats and refined carbohydrates are addictive. Watch out and keep your health in check!

Food addictive

Ashley Gearhardt, who is a clinical psychologist, and her team have found ‘bad foods’ to be extremely addictive. Image via Getty Images

Cookies, potato chips, pizza, all the yummy foods, are just as addictive as cigarettes! While they make you feel fuzzy, full and put a smile on your dial, they are actually doing a lot more harm than just adding a number to your pants size.

A recent multidisciplinary commission of 37 leading scientists from around the globe identified unhealthy diets as a greater risk to human health than unsafe sex and alcohol, drug and tobacco use combined, as reported by The Conversation.

With the new year approaching, a lot of people are going to do their best to cut out the bad stuff and “get into shape”… but it never lasts long, does it? And researchers have explained why.


Ashley Gearhardt, who is a clinical psychologist, released an article in which she explained the findings of her Food and Addiction Science and Treatment Lab at the University of Michigan.

Trying to find out just why it is so hard for people to choose healthy items over bad items, aside from convenience and cost, Ashley and her team dive in.

“My colleagues and I are investigating one largely overlooked factor: These ultra-processed foods may be addictive, sharing more in common with tobacco products than with whole foods like apples or beans.”

Ashley Gearhardt

Studying obesity, Ashley found that people were not addicted to food or the feeling of being full… but the actual substance itself. Bad foods are addictive, just like drugs, alcohol and cigarettes!


“I’m a clinical psychologist who studies addiction science, obesity and disordered eating. During my training at Yale University, it became clear to me that many people were showing classic signs of addiction in their relationship with ultra-processed foods – things like loss of control over consumption, intense cravings and an inability to cut down in the face of negative consequences.”

Ashley Gearhardt


The numbers are alarming! The study showed that people in America are more addicted to bad food than they are alcohol.

“Based on our current estimates, 15% of Americans meet the threshold for food addiction, which is associated with diet-related disease, obesity and poorer quality of life.

“This prevalence is remarkably in line with that of addictions to other legal and accessible substances. For instance, 14% of people in the US meet the criteria to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorders.”

Ashley Gearhardt

Ashley and her team have outlined that not all foods cause addiction, only the bad ones, and for good reason. Just like other mood-altering substances that people get addicted to, the same applies to foods high in added fats and refined carbs.

“It is clear from our research that people do not experience this addictive pull from all foods. Ultra-processed foods that have artificially high levels of fat and refined carbohydrates like sugar and white flour are those that people eat addictively.

“For example, chocolate, ice-cream, French fries, pizza and cookies are some of the foods that people find most addictive. Not surprisingly, people report that they’re very unlikely to lose control consuming broccoli, beans and cucumbers.”

Ashley Gearhardt

When comparing food addiction to other substances, Ashley and her team found that the type of addiction is most closely linked to that of tobacco.

“Ultra-processed foods meet all the same criteria that were used to designate tobacco as addictive.

“Tobacco and ultra-processed foods alter mood in a similar way by increasing pleasurable feelings and reducing negative ones. The high levels of refined carbohydrates and fat in ultra-processed foods powerfully activate reward systems in the brain.”

Ashley Gearhardt


With fatty foods and carbs being one of the biggest selling foods… Ashley and her team know that it is close to impossible for the government to implement restrictions on it.

While there are perks for ordering a diet soda or a healthier option, no one is forced to do so. The team is hoping that studies like theirs and many others, will have an impact eventually.

“The addictive nature of these ultra-processed foods undermines consumers’ free will and health in the service of profits. Yet, there is an important difference between tobacco and ultra-processed foods. We all have to eat. No one can opt out.

“Just as in the case of tobacco products, it will likely take industry regulation to chip away at the popularity of ultra-processed foods and the health problems that come along with them.”

Ashley Gearhardt