Food addiction affects up to a third of Kiwis and should be treated like alcohol and drug dependency, the National Addiction Centre director says.
And being deprived of certain foods can bring on symptoms similar to those of a methamphetamine or P addict coming off the drug, Professor Doug Sellman says.
"What we're dealing with here is something that's coming out of this great distortion that's occurred in the modern world, this view from it being nutrition to it being recreation," he told NZ Newswire.
"That shift is bringing out these compulsive disorders because we've got food that can spark addiction processes in the brain."
Prof Sellman is speaking on the topic at a psychiatry conference in Wellington on Thursday.
People become addicted to certain foods - mainly "the engineered food of the junk food industry - all of the foods that are moreish" - rather than food in general, he says.
Once eating the food becomes a habit then a person's brain starts to drive this type of behaviour and this spirals out of control.
Prof Sellman says there are no set guidelines for helping those with food addictions, but he hopes the results of a five-year study by the National Addiction Centre, which follows 25 people trying to beat obesity, will offer insight.
Someone is defined as having a food addiction if they intensely miss a certain type of food.
Further research into food addiction and non-surgical methods of intervention which are effective, needs to be carried out, he says.
"At present the only really effective way of dealing with obesity is essentially changing the anatomy of the stomach.
"I would like to see more self-help networks that are easily accessible, but primarily we need those in primary care services giving encouragement and support with support from experts."
He says the top addictive foods are: biscuits, potato chips, flavoured milk, hot chips, icecream, muesli, bars, pies, soft drinks and takeaways.