Food & Addiction: Environmental, Psychological and Biological Perspectives

Welcome: What Does Food Addiction Have to do with the Obesity Epidemic?

Elissa Epel, PhD
Associate Professor, Psychiatry
Co-Director, Center for Obesity Assessment, Study, and Treatment
University of California, San Francisco

Elissa Epel, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSF. She is also a faculty member in the Health Psychology Postdoctoral Program, the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholars Program. She is one of the founders of COAST, and is serving as a Co-Director. She received a BA in psychology from Stanford University, and a PhD in clinical psychology from Yale University, with a focus on health psychology. Through her research on stress and training in the Yale Center for Eating and Weight disorders, she became interested in the intricate relationships between chronic psychological stress, eating behavior, and energy balance. She completed a clinical internship focusing on Behavioral Medicine at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.

Her research examines relationships among chronic stress, social status, coping processes, and neuroendocrine and metabolic sequelae. She has several ongoing laboratory and field studies examining questions such as: Does type of stress response (psychological, neuroendocrine/peptide) help determine why some people eat less during stress whereas others eat more? Does chronic stress really lead to abdominal fat distribution and insulin resistance? Drive for calorically dense food? Do stress and obesity accelerate aging of mitotic cells? Lastly, she is interested in mechanisms through which stress reduction may lead to improvements in metabolic health.

Keynote: Food and Addiction: The Importance of the Environmental Change

Kelly Brownell, PhD
Professor of Psychology and Epidemiology
Public Health Director, Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity
Yale University

Kelly Brownell, PhD, is Professor in the Department of Psychology at Yale University, where he also serves as Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health and as Director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. In 2006 Time magazine listed Kelly Brownell among “The World’s 100 Most Influential People” in its special Time 100 issue featuring those “.. whose power, talent or moral example is transforming the world.”

Dr. Brownell was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine in 2006 and served as President of several national organizations, including the Society of Behavioral Medicine, Association for the Advancement of Behavior Therapy, and the Division of Health Psychology of the American Psychological Association. He has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the James McKeen Cattell Award from the New York Academy of Sciences, the award for Outstanding Contribution to Health Psychology from the American Psychological Association, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue University, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Rutgers University. He has served in a number of leadership roles at Yale including Master of Silliman College and Chair of the Department of Psychology from 2003-2006.

He has published 14 books and more than 300 scientific articles and chapters. One book received the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Book from the American Library Association, and his paper on "Understanding and Preventing Relapse" published in the American Psychologist was listed as one of the most frequently cited papers in psychology.

Dr. Brownell has advised members of congress, governors, world health and nutrition organizations, and media leaders on issues of nutrition, obesity, and public policy. He was cited as a “moral entrepreneur” with special influence on public discourse in a history of the obesity field and was cited by Time magazine as a leading “warrior” in the area of nutrition and public policy.

What is Food Addiction and How is it Measured in Humans?

Ashley Gearhardt, MS
Yale University

Ashley Gearhardt, MS is a clinical psychology doctoral student at Yale University. She received a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan. Through her research on addiction and her clinical work at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight disorders, she became interested in the possibility that certain foods may be capable of triggering an addictive process. To explore this further, she developed the Yale Food Addiction Scale to operationalize addictive eating behaviors in collaboration with Dr. Kelly Brownell and Dr. William Corbin. The scale is being widely used internationally. Currently, Ms. Gearhardt is examining cognitive and neural processes associated with symptoms of food addiction.

Sugar Addiction: Proof of Concept in Rats?

Nicole Avena, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry
University of Florida College of Medicine

Nicole Avena’s, PhD research focus has been the use of animal (rodent) models of abnormal eating behaviors to understand brain mechanisms that contribute to overeating of sugars and fats. She and her colleagues find that rats maintained on a diet schedule that induces binge eating of sugar can result in a several behaviors and changes in the dopamine and opioid brain systems that resemble an “addiction.” Her other studies aim to differentiate the behaviors and neurochemical changes seen in overeating of sugars vs. fats and their subsequent effects on body weight and circulating levels of hormones and nutrients associated with obesity. Her other research interests include studies of effects of food/body weight restriction on the mesolimbic dopamine system through the use of animal models of bulimia and anorexia.

Stress, Opioids, and Binge-Eating in Rats

Mary Boggiano, PhD
Associate Professor, Psychology
Behavioral Neuroscience Division
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Mary Boggiano, PhD is An Associate Professor in the Dept. of Psychology at the Unversity of Alabama at Birmingham. Her research concerns the psychobiology of non-regulatory eating which characterizes binge-eating disorders and obesity. She has developed several animal models that incorporate stress, palatable food, restricted eating (dieting), and non-food associated cues as environmental, finding that these interact in a unique fashion to produce intake patterns that exceed that of merely hungry animals. She also developed the first rat model differentiating non-binge eating from binge-eating obesity. She has explained abnormal intake by implicating critical changes in opioid and monoaminergic systems in reward and emotion regions of the brain. She has also published work describing the powerful orexigenic effects of central PYY and AgRP on eating behavior. Dr. Boggiano is now focused on translating her animal findings to human research studies via collaboration of colleagues interested in stress-induced eating and the genetics of anorexia nervosa.

Treating Compulsive Eating through Mindfulness Based Eating Awareness Training

Jean Kristeller, PhD
Professor, Psychology
Indiana State University
Co-Founder, Center for Mindful Eating

Jean Kristeller, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Indiana State University, received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Yale University. She is the PI or co-PI on four NIH-funded trials investigating the efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Eating Awareness Training (MB-EAT) in various populations. She has published in both the areas of obesity, and theory and clinical applications of meditation.

Treating Compulsive Eating through Emotional Brain Training

Laurel Mellin, MA, RD
Associate Clinical Professor
Family and Community Medicine and Pediatrics
University of California, San Francisco
Director, Emotional Brain Training (EBT)

Laurel Mellin, MA, RD is an Associate Clinical Professor of Family and Community Medicine and Pediatrics at UCSF. She is the founder of emotional brain training (EBT) a method of treating obesity and stress symptoms that equips individuals with tools based on an integration of neuroscience and developmental theory to decrease the frequency and duration of the stress response and to favor high-level well-being. The goal of the intervention is to alleviate the whole range of stress symptoms and promote high-level well-being.

Emotional brain training has been applied to pediatric obesity prevention and treatment and to adults to improve psychological, metabolic and physical contributors to stress and a range of health-related indices. Comprehensive programs for adults are available for depression, obesity and chemical dependency as well as short courses for stress management. The EBT Center of Excellence is a national coordinating center for research on the method.

She has been involved in a variety of obesity research and teaching roles, including faculty member in adolescent health training program, field faculty in public health (University of California, Berkeley), director of the Center for Child and Adolescent Obesity, associate director of the Tung Nutrition Center and the director of the Institute for Health Solutions. She is a New York Times best selling author of The Pathway and she wrote the National Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Pediatric Obesity. Her research interests include stress, addictions, obesity, depression and public health methods for the prevention and treatment of stress-related conditions, with particular emphasis on the underserved.

The Other Side: Chronic Caloric Restriction for Healthy Living, Insights from those Successful at CR

Paul McGlothin
Director of Research, Caloric Restriction Society
Co-Author of "Living the CR Way"

Paul McGlothin has been studying chemistry since he was nine years old when his kid-sized lab was set up beside the home-office of his father, a genius clinical pharmacologist. Paul has co-authored a best-selling diet book: The CR Way: Using the Secrets of Calorie Restriction for a Longer, Healthier Life. After his appearance on Oprah with his co-author, calorie restriction was the most heavily searched term on Google. He is the CR Society Intl's vice president for research, and he shares in the planning of research activities with several academic research teams around the country – notably, here at UCSF.

Policy & Community Based Initiatives: Creating a Healthy Eating Environment

Susana Hennessey Lavery, MPH & Marianne Szeto
San Francisco Department of Public Health

Susana Hennessey Lavery, MPH is a Health Educator with the San Francisco Department of Public Health. In that capacity she designs and implements comprehensive tobacco control plans, co-designs and implements the CAM (community action model for policy development) and works on global health projects with San Francisco's diverse communities. She also works on food system and food security intitiatives and collaboratives in San Francisco and participates in the Bay Area committee of Vision y Compromiso, a statewide advocacy network for community health workers/promotores de la salud. Previously, she served as the Community Health Education supervisor at La Clinica de La Raza. She has served in these capacities since 1979 and received Masters in Public Health degree in 1989 at the University of California at Berkeley, School of Public Health.

Marianne Szeto, MS co-staffs Shape Up San Francisco, a chronic disease prevention initiative, with a focus on communities that experience the greatest health disparities in San Francisco. Shape Up SF works to create environments that make it fun and easy to eat well and move more. Marianne blogs about her experiences living with Type 1 diabetes on her website,, a site dedicated to all the "betties" of the world who don't allow diabetes get in the way of their active lifestyles. Marianne received her Master of Public Health degree from San Jose State University in 2007.

Discussion Panel: Reflections on the Research Presented and Response to the Local Initiatives Posed with:

  • Mary Dallman, PhD
  • Bill Hartman, PhD
  • Barbara Laraia, PhD, MPH, RD
  • Rob Lustig, MD
  • Larry Tecott, PhD
  • Cassandra Vieten, PhD