A research article examining the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS) and Palatable Motives Eating Scale (PEMS) has concluded that together these tools “offer a rigorous way to evaluate whether an addictive process contributes to certain eating disorders, such as obesity and binge eating.” Jose Manuel Lerma-Cabrera, et al., “Food addiction as a new piece of the obesity framework,” Nutrition Journal, January 2016. Summarizing various “food addiction” studies, the authors posit that these models suggest “certain highly processed foods can have a high addictive potential and may be responsible for some cases of obesity and eating disorders.”

In particular, the article notes that despite the evidence for food addiction, “it is highly unlikely that all foods have addictive potential.” It claims that manufacturers “have designed processed foods by adding sugar, salt, or fat, which can maximize the reinforcing properties of traditional foods (fruits, vegetables). The high palatability (hedonic value) that this kind of processed food offers, prompts subjects to eat more. Thus, certain processed food may have a high addictive potential and be responsible for some eating disorders such as obesity.”

To better assess individuals who exhibit compulsive overeating when exposed to highly palatable foods, the authors recommend using both YFAS and PEMS to design personalized obesity treatments that target psychological and behavioral factors as well as biological ones.

Using criteria modeled on “the symptoms of substance dependence as outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV,” YFAS seeks to identify individual personality traits associated with impulsivity as well as signs of “dependence” on certain foods. By comparison, PEMS attempts to detect “motives for eating tasty foods,” such as eating for social reasons; as a coping mechanism or reward; or to conform with expectations.

“While the YFAS probes the consequences of consuming highly palatable foods, the PEMS probes the motives for such consumption,” the authors explain. “It is known that some cases of excessive food intake do not respond to physiological needs but to a psychological behavioral component that needs to be identified. Finding this component would allow the inclusion of behavioral therapy among the cornerstones of obesity treatment, thus achieving a multidisciplinary approach in accordance to the multifactorial origin of the obesity.”