Around one in 200 people could be clinically addicted to food, experts believe.
Scientists are investigating the possibility that in some cases over-eating is caused by behavioural addiction.
Changes in the way psychiatrists view addiction could in future see food abuse become a diagnosable condition.
A small proportion of people with binge-eating disorders - maybe 0.5% of the general population - fit most of the criteria for addiction, it is believed.
Many experts think they suffer from a similar problem as individuals who compulsively gamble or steal.
Currently such patterns of behaviour are categorised as "impulse control disorders" rather than addictions.
But this is set to change with publication of the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM), which lays out diagnosis rules for psychiatrists.
Starbucks' Cheese Danish
Because baked goods are often made with milk, butter and eggs, <a href="http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/FatsAndOils/Fats101/Saturated-Fats_UCM_301110_Article.jsp" target="_hplink">many are high in saturated fats</a>. This flaky pastry is no exception -- and the cheese filling certainly doesn't help. It'll cost you <a href="http://www.starbucks.com/menu/food/bakery/cheese-danish?foodZone=9999" target="_hplink">16 grams of saturated fat</a>, the same as a Whopper with cheese! <br> <br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/guccibear2005/164380354/" target="_hplink">April J. Gazmen</a></em>
Applebee's Bruschetta Chicken Salad
Scanning the menu of your favorite chain restaurant for a veggie-rich salad is a smart idea, but with too many of the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/26/healthy-salad_n_1167528.html" target="_hplink">wrong toppings</a>, that salad can quickly become a diet disaster. The two kinds of cheese -- <a href="http://www.applebees.com/menu/salads/bruschetta-topped-chicken-salad" target="_hplink">one of which is fried</a> -- in this mix contribute to its <a href="http://www.applebees.com/~/media/docs/Applebees_Nutritional_Info.ashx" target="_hplink">18 grams of saturated fat</a>. <br> <br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/punkjr/354647994/" target="_hplink">Jason Burrows</a></em>
Cold Stone Creamery's Cake Batter Ice Cream
A "Love It" or medium-size scoop of this beloved Cold Stone flavor will cost you <a href="http://www.coldstonecreamery.com/assets/pdf/nutrition/nutrition_info_icecream.pdf" target="_hplink">19 grams of saturated fat</a> -- and that's before adding any mix ins! <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/89247874@N00/2818515767/" target="_hplink">Brian Haley</a></em>
Red Lobster's Clam Chowder
Starting a meal off with the <em>right</em> bowl of soup can <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-patricia-fitzgerald/soup-recipes_b_1173275.html" target="_hplink">help you feel full</a> so you won't overdo it during the course of the rest of the meal. But a bowl of the creamy New England Clam Chowder at seafood haunt Red Lobster could be a meal all on its own. A bowl serving contains <a href="http://www.redlobster.com/health/nutrition/dinner.asp" target="_hplink">20 grams of saturated fat</a>, almost enough to last you an entire day. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jpellgen/2718341054/" target="_hplink">jpellgen</a></em>
Pizza Hut's Meat Lover's Pizza
There are <a href="http://www.pizzahut.com/nutritionpizza.html" target="_hplink">10 grams of saturated fat</a> in one slice of a large Meat Lover's pizza from Pizza Hut -- but who stops at one? Splurge on that second slice and you'll have eaten your saturated fat for nearly an entire day. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pleeker/117917512/" target="_hplink">Matt McGee</a></em>
IHOP's Garden Omelette
Fresh green peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and Cheddar cheese -- this <a href="http://www.ihop.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=228&Itemid=2" target="_hplink">hearty breakfast</a> is full of healthy ingredients, but, at 840 calories, it's simply too big a portion. Asking for egg whites or going light on the cheese can help, as can splitting an order, since the whole thing will set you back <a href="http://www.ihop.com/docs/nutritionalinformation.pdf" target="_hplink">26 grams of saturated fat</a>. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/doc_bosco/2447810352/" target="_hplink">sergeant killjoy</a></em>
Friendly's Kickin' Buffalo Chicken Strips
Chicken fingers and French fries are a comfort meal for kids and adults alike, but the fat content isn't comforting in the slightest. The strips served at Friendly's come <a href="http://www.friendlys.com/menu/lunch-dinner/entrees/" target="_hplink">with cole slaw and fries</a> and your choice of sauce. But it's the Buffalo variety that do the most damage. Five strips will set you back <a href="http://www.friendlys.com/media/pdf/nutrition/NutrInfo-LunchDinner-2012c2.pdf" target="_hplink">26 grams of saturated fat</a>, while five strips with BBQ sauce clock in at 9 grams. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/brickphotos/4911011131/" target="_hplink">Brick Photos</a></em>
Chili's Hot Spinach & Artichoke Dip
Even if you split this creamy appetizer, it's still fattier than a Whopper with cheese. An entire order contains <a href="http://www.chilis.com/EN/LocationSpecificPDF/MenuPDF/001.005.0000/Chilis_Nutrition_Menu_Generic.pdf" target="_hplink">42 grams of saturated fat</a>. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/floridadine/3881378758/" target="_hplink">dinemag</a></em>
Denny's Grand Slamwich
You wouldn't expect a breakfast dish consisting of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, ham, mayo, cheese and hash browns to be <em>low</em> in fat, but the <a href="http://www.dennys.com/#/menu/menu-1" target="_hplink">Grand Slamwich at Denny's</a> has <a href="http://www.dennys.com/files/nutrition_facts.pdf" target="_hplink">44 grams of saturated fat</a>, more than enough for two days. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wyscan/4563324850/" target="_hplink">Robert Simmons</a></em>
Shake Shack's Chocolate Shake
While you wouldn't expect an ice cream concoction to be particularly low in fat, you might be surprised to know just how much fat you slurp in that shake. The chocolate flavor from Shake Shack contains 46 grams of fat total, <a href="http://www.shakeshack.com/_pdf/menus/Nutrition_Information.pdf" target="_hplink">27 of which are saturated</a>. <br> <br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/laughingsquid/2899540485/" target="_hplink">Scott Beale</a></em>
Olive Garden's Fettuccine Alfredo
Another restaurant known for its over-sized portions (unlimited breadsticks, anyone?), Olive Garden has plenty of figure-unfriendly options on the menu, but one of the fattiest offenders is the creamy Fettuccine Alfredo dinner, which will set you back <a href="http://www.olivegarden.com/menu/nutrition/" target="_hplink">47 grams of saturated fat</a> -- more than enough for two entire days. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/chapstickaddict/2195148533/" target="_hplink">chapstickaddict</a></em>
T.G.I. Friday's Loaded Potato Skins
Bacon and cheddar cheese will add some significant saturated fat to this starter, but these skins are also <a href="http://www.tgifridays.com/greatfood#appetizers" target="_hplink">served with sour cream</a>, bringing the total saturated fat up to <a href="http://www.tgifridays.com/_images/pdfs/Nutritional.pdf" target="_hplink">58 grams</a>. An order <em>is</em> meant to be shared -- let's just hope it's with at least three other people. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/beleaveme/3717790446/" target="_hplink">Bob B. Brown</a></em>
Cheesecake Factory's Shrimp Scampi And Herb Crusted Salmon
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its gigantic portions, and this dish is no exception, with 1,830 calories. While salmon contains a small amount of saturated fat naturally, it's not nearly enough to account for the <a href="http://www.cheesecakefactorynutrition.com/restaurant-item.php?rid=58&mid=2107" target="_hplink">79 grams</a> here. <br> <br><em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/robertbanh/3298578120/" target="_hplink">Robert Banh</a></em>
Experts are now discussing whether compulsive eating can be classified as a behavioural addiction.
A £5 million EU research project called NeuroFAST has been set up to examine the evidence, bringing together scientists
from seven European countries.
One of those involved, Professor Julian Mercer, from the University of Aberdeen, said: "If we can reach a consensus on how over-eating should be classified, this could lead to major changes in clinical treatment and public policy surrounding obesity.
"It would help firstly to clarify if food addiction is a route to binge-eating or obesity. Recognition of different routes to overweight and obesity could lead to more targeted treatments for defined groups, giving individuals clinical help which is specific and pertinent to their situation.
"In future, over-eating could be recognised as the consequence of food addiction in a small group of individuals, and the treatment they are offered may have convergence with that which is offered to drug/alcohol abusers."
Recognised signs of addiction include tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, persistent desire, an inability to stop despite physical and psychological consequences, risky behaviour, and devoting a lot of time to appeasing cravings.
Many of these are displayed by certain people who eat uncontrollably.
How To Beat Your Inner Glutton
Doreen Virtue, author of <em><a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Constant-Craving-What-Cravings-Overcome/dp/1848505906" target="_hplink">Constant Craving</a></em> offers her advice on how to resist your salt, sugar and fat cravings and stay on the right track with your diet.
Stave Off Chocolate Pangs With...
"Ginger ale and soy milk are high in tyramine, which can help relieve chocolate cravings. Pekoe tea is high in chocolate's other stimulating ingredient. theobromine."
Eat A Satifying Sugar-Alternative
"One reason we shun fruit during our sweet cravings is that fruit seems like a deprivation alternative. We've got to dress fruit up! Put a little flavoured, fat-free yoghurt on top. Puree the fruit with an ice cube and some ginger ale. Microwave sliced apple for two minutes at high temperature with a little bit of cinnamon and you've got a quick, low calorie apple-pie type treat."
Understand The Reasons Behind Your Cravings
"If, after analysing your cravings, you discover any anger, frustration or stress, ask yourself how you might take even one step toward alleviating the source of these emotions. Is there someone you can talk to, or some changes that you can make in your life? If you reduce the source of your uncomfortable emotions, you won't need to crave sweet things anymore."
Beware Of 'All Or Nothing' Thinking
If we tell our bodies that this chocolate bar or hamburger will be our last treat ever, we're more likely to binge. "It's like we're seeing a beloved person for the last time, so of course we want to spend as much time as possible with that object of affection." The key is eat all treats in moderation and if the craving get too much, seek healthier alternatives.
Fight Off Salty Cravings
"Crunch on crisp vegetables dipped in low calorie, fat-free salad dressing. Instead of potato chips and french fries, go for carrot and celery sticks. Broccoli and cauliflower florets are also tasty replacements. They may not seem as appealing as the fatty versions, but the crunch and flavour will soothe your craving."
Treat Yourself With Non-Food Rewards
"Sweet treats usually equal reward. We all need pats on the back and kudos for hard work. But instead of stopping at the cookie shop or take-out, why not treat yourself to a new book, item of clothing or shoes? This will feel just as satisfying and is much healthier than a fat-laden treat."
Dr Ozgur Albayrak, another NeuroFAST scientist from the University of Essen in Germany, said: "Food addiction possibly does not refer to a majority of over eaters but only a small sub group with disordered eating behaviours. There may be a prevalence of half a per cent."
The issue of food addiction was discussed at the British Science Festival, taking place at the University of Aberdeen.
Yesterday a workshop was held where people were asked about their views on the subject.
Prof Mercer said about half the audience believed they were food addicts, or claimed to know someone who was one.
"The public out there are getting lots of messages saying food is just as addictive as some substances of abuse, so it's a confusing picture," he said.
"It might make more sense for eating behaviours to be classified into a kind of behavioural addiction rather than a chemical addiction.
"Most likely where this would fit in would be at the extreme end of people with binge-eating disorder where there appears to be a spectrum of behaviours that do mimic some of the behaviours that would be used to classify other, chemical, addictions."
Dr Albayrak stressed that addictive binge-eating had nothing to do with bulimia, an eating disorder caused by an obsessive desire to lose weight.
People with bulimia refuse food and then gave in to an uncontrollable urge to eat, after which they often make themselves sick.
In many cases, binge-eaters also had an alcohol problem, Dr Albayrak added.