The study suggests eating addiction is a behavioural disorder and should be classed as a mental illness.

London - There is no such thing as food addiction, experts claim, and overweight people are not “hooked” on sugar or fat in the way drug addicts are to heroin or cocaine.

Instead, they are addicted to the act of eating – much like problem gambling – rather than to the foods themselves, University of Edinburgh researchers said.

They develop a psychological compulsion to eat, driven by the positive feelings this triggers in the brain.

Dr John Menzies, research fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Integrative Physiology, said: “People try to find rational explanations for being overweight and it is easy to blame food.

“Certain individuals do have an addictive-like relationship with particular foods and they can over-eat, despite knowing the risks to their health.

“But more avenues for treatment may open up if we think about this condition as a behavioural addiction rather than a substance-based addiction.”

The study suggests eating addiction is a behavioural disorder and should be classed as a mental illness. It questions the way “food addiction” has become part of everyday language, with organisations such as Food Addicts Anonymous suggesting people have “cravings” for particular foods.

Experiments with rats show they experience no withdrawal symptoms when fatty foods are taken away.

The researchers claim there is no clear evidence that fat or sugar cause the brain to respond in the same way that it does to heroin or cocaine.

The study concludes that only caffeine has been proven to be addictive.

The work was carried out at the universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Gothenburg, Essen, Utrecht and Santiago de Compostela.

Professor Suzanne Dickson, of the University of Gothenburg, said: ‘There has been a major debate over whether sugar is addictive. There is currently very little evidence to support the idea that any ingredient, food item, additive or combination of ingredients has addictive properties.’

But Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “To say sugar and fat are not addictive and not like drugs is flying in the face of the obvious.

“Sugar and fat are used by the food industry as an absolutely surefire way of getting people hooked on their products.

“They are as addictive as drugs in their own way. I cannot understand why these scientists would say that eating is addictive but sugar and fat are not.” - Daily Mail