I wrote previously in response to Ted Kyle’s “three tribes of obesity” post, in which I reacted to the world as he described it, but I needed to return from another angle. In case you missed it, he identified the trio as Healthies, Quants, and Buttouts. After I read, but before I clicked on, the headline, I assumed one of his groups would be those who believe in food addiction, but there was no mention of it.
My expectation is easy to explain, since it’s a primary lens through which I view obesity. And perhaps it would be a subset of Healthies, since those who advocate for the condition are trying to help people escape it. That's certainly my motivation.
Since I self-identify as a food addict, I have little interest in the Quants, who Kyle says insist on having data that can be hard to capture. It is a hole in my near-total deferral to science: I have been around this addiction for long enough to know it is real, regardless of whether science has resolved among itself that it is. Quants would call that anecdotal. My reply to the Quants: Think what you want.
Even as science gets much closer to definitive evidence of food addiction, the name still provokes controversy — the snide stock reply from skeptics is, “how can you be addicted to something you need to survive”? (The answer: No one needs all foods to survive; recovering alcoholics drink but don’t drink everything.)
Regardless of what to call it, though, making a place in the world for food addiction is not inconsequential. The condition is defined as a biochemical sensitivity to substances (or volume) in some people that not all people experience or even understand. (Again, try thinking in alcoholism terms: Alcohol isn’t addictive for everyone, which can make it difficult for those who can take it or leave it to understand why others keep acting so self-destructively with it.)
Kyle’s post talked of the Buttouts not liking the tut-tutting of the Healthies, but from a food-addiction perspective, that’s the equivalent of undiagnosed-but-suffering cancer patients’ not liking the tut-tutting of doctors who say they should get treatment.
There’s no more morality around being addicted to food than there is in having cancer. In both cases, the sufferer needs diagnosis, and then is responsible for seeking treatment, even if it’s noxious or intruding.
Cancer diagnoses are all too frequent. But almost 15 percent into the 21st century, it’s still quite possible for credible voices to divide the world into three parts without even acknowledging food addiction.