The Weekly Vlog

Is Cheese Addictive?

Jan 24, 2024

Today’s vlog topic comes courtesy of Michael, who writes: I am shocked that you don’t mention dairy, especially cheese, when you talk about food addiction. Studies have shown that cheese is the most addictive food there is, as it releases the most dopamine. When I went to a whole-food, plant-based diet, it wasn’t sugar or refined grains I had a hard time giving up, it was cheese. And of the three—sugar, processed grains, and cheese—cheese is the worst. Not only is it mostly saturated fat, but it is high in calories, salt, and cholesterol and contains casein proteins, which have been linked to cancer. Why isn’t cheese at the top of the food addiction villain list? Is the dairy industry a sponsor of yours? I’m VERY serious!

You make a very good point, Michael! Research does show that cheese can have addictive qualities. Cheese and other dairy products have casein in them. Caseins break down into casomorphins, which bind to opiate receptors in the brain, which then release dopamine.

So it’s true: cheese can be addictive.

No, the dairy industry is not a sponsor of Bright Line Eating. And if they were they’d be very grumpy with me because I talk all the time about how dairy isn’t healthy and there are way better options. But whether cheese should be allowed on the plan is another thing entirely.

First of all, I am not a nutritionist. I’m a brain scientist. You’re welcome to go to other people to learn about nutrition. I’m going to teach you about psychology, food addiction, and weight loss.

The Bright Line program is not a health-focused plan—it’s a starter food plan for people to be able to eat the widest variety of food while quelching their food addiction and losing their excess weight.

Many people go down a path that allows them to optimize their food plan for health. But we don’t insist on that at BLE. It’s important to allow the widest possible variety of foods because we would be excluding a lot of people from the transformation we deliver if we partnered with a specific nutritional approach. We stay agnostic about that while allowing people to have their needs, preferences, and opinions honored.

We allow people to eat hot dogs, sausage, prime rib—things that are not healthy—if you weigh or measure your serving and avoid eating it with sugar and flour. It’s a very different thing to eat melted cheese on pizza versus a two-ounce hunk of cheese, sitting separately on your plate, with your baby carrots and your apple.

We want the entry door to Bright Line eating to be as broad as possible. So no matter where you’re coming from, you can wrap your head around weighing and measuring and are not constrained any more than is necessary. If you want to have a steak for dinner, have a steak for dinner. Or if you want a hunk of cheese for your protein, then have it.

Why doesn’t cheese trigger addiction? I have a true but possibly unsatisfying answer: cheese works in the food plan because it works. When BLE was founded, there were already 54 years of experience with 12-step programs, beginning in 1960 when Overeaters Anonymous was founded. What the data showed from actual people living these programs was that those who tried to keep artificial sweeteners in their plan were chronic relapsers. Same with whole wheat flour, honey, and non-dairy creamer. But the people who weighed and measured cheese did fine.

So there was no reason to exclude cheese from BLE because it wasn’t triggering people. There may have been a few people who went crazy over cheese, nuts, or other foods—but the percentage is minimal, and all these things fall into the category of “individual binge foods”—meaning that you are responsible for noting what lights you up and avoiding it.

Let me give two examples: cheese and white rice. In the wrong context, both are profoundly triggering. I recall a woman whose #1 binge food was a pot of rice with a stick of butter melted in it. When her sponsor told her to add rice back to her maintenance diet, she didn’t think she could do it. But when she ate four ounces, with no butter, she did fine. Without the sexy sauces, she was fine.

Same with cheese. Weighed and measured, no possibility of more—it’s fine. If it’s not for you, then don’t eat it. If you’re vegan, don’t eat it. And if it offends your sensibilities that it’s available to others, I can understand that, because it has those casomorphins and does seem like it should be problematic. And for some small percentage of people, it is.

But we don’t see it being problematic overall.

Michael, I want to thank you for your question. Let me reiterate: although I stand by having cheese in the food plan, I agree with you; it’s not particularly healthy. I’m always going to think very carefully, though, about narrowing the Bright Line program. I’m proud of the fact that, on the BLE plan, you can literally eat every single whole, real protein, dairy, grain, legume, fruit, and vegetable option. Your choices are yours to make.

Click here to listen to this episode on Bright Line Living™ - The Official Bright Line Eating Podcast.

Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D. is a New York Times bestselling author and an expert in the psychology and neuroscience of eating.  Susan is the Founder and CEO of Bright Line Eating®, a scientifically grounded program that teaches you a simple process for getting your brain on board so you can finally find freedom from food.

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