Moving beyond the “eating addiction” versus “food addiction” debate: Comment on Schulte et al. (2017)
In a recent commentary, Schulte et al. (2017) argued that addictive-like eating should be conceptualized as a substance use disorder rather than a behavioural addiction, and noted that many parallels that Hebebrand et al. (2014) drew between addictive-like eating and behavioural addictions apply likewise to substance use disorders. However, we argue that many of the arguments advanced by Schulte et al. (2017) in support of a substance-based food addiction model, including the important role played by ingested substances, are nonspecific. That is, these arguments apply equally well to behavioural addictions and other mental disorders, notably eating disorders, which raises the question of whether the phenomenon of addictive-like eating is encompassed by existing eating disorder diagnoses. Similarities between addictive-like eating and substance use, no matter how compelling, do not ensure the validity or clinical utility of a substance-based food addiction model and should not drive the conceptualization of addictive-like eating. The present commentary discusses problems with Schulte et al.’s (2017) arguments for substance-based food addiction, and draws attention to alternative conceptualizations of addictive-like eating which risk being overlooked when this conversation is framed as a dichotomous debate between the food and eating addiction models.