As I've described before, registered dietitians scoff at the idea of food addiction almost monolithically, a circumstance I got to observe again last weekend at the Binge Eating Disorder Association national conference in Bethesda, Md.
One of its three tracks was heavily RD-centric, and I often chose that option. I was particularly impressed by a session by Carolyn Hodges-Chafee and Annika Kahm in which they describing examples of what I would call forensic nutrition, in which they walked us through three assessments and resolutions.
In the last session of the day, though, I was actually referred to from the stage, and after a moment of uncertain reflection from my chair, I decided the right action was to raise my hand and talk back to them.
A half dozen RDs who had presented during the day were on the dais, taking written questions from the audience. The second question was, “can BED ever become an addiction?” and the scoffing began. After a bit of reluctance even to address the question, the first responder not only said no, she added that she didn’t even think it was a useful question. Just, like, wow, man.
But the next RD at the mike referenced me not by name but as “the journalist,” because I introduced myself Friday morning as a journalist and author while asking a question from the floor. That question was, “when can the quote marks be removed from food addiction,” because even presenters who felt the topic was worth mentioning still didn’t feel safe referring to it as if it exists.
This second RD not only carried forward the negativity about food addiction, adding that she saw my question as an example of the media trying to create mayhem where none existed. She was wrong, of course, but given that I’d introduced myself as a journalist, as opposed to, say, a binge-eating disordered food addict, I have a role in letting her anti-media bias fly.
In my few moments of addressing not only the panelists but an audience composed mainly of other RDs, I made my case for proscribing certain foods for certain people, citing the examples of peanuts and shellfish, two foods that most people eat with alacrity but that can kill people who have a particular sensitivity.
Clearly, plainly, obviously, it would be dangerously foolhardy for an RD to tell a client that he should eat peanuts in moderation without investigating if the sensitivity was present in him. But RDs ridicule the possibility that processed-food sensitivities might exist in some people. I eschew flour and refined sugar, because after much righteous indignation, I tried life without those substances and found I liked it more, even if I still think bread, ice cream, and other foods in those categories taste good.
To say something tastes good, therefore I should eat it, regardless of any other context, is potentially suicidal. Example: Dogs have died from drinking anti-freeze, which I gather is sweet to them. I assure you the comparison is not far-fetched, for me.
To my disappointment, I found absolutely no succor for my position afterward. No agreement, no wiggle room, no doubt, not from the panel, not from anyone else in the room.
One panelist wondered if we weren’t just quibbling over semantics, but that’s an expression of their blinders. Food addiction is characterized by biochemical sensitivity. If you don’t believe such a thing exists, then whatever you call your stuff isn’t the same thing by a different name!
I shouldn't have to, but allow me to repeat previous assurances that I'm not talking about all registered dietitians. In a professional sense, I grow ever more grateful for Andy Bellatti’s voice, and personally, I owe much of my recovery success to Theresa Wright, an RD in private practice in East Norriton, Pa. At the end of a 10-year period in which I hadn’t gone more than a few months without a binge, she set me on a new path in 2000 that’s still helping me.
But RDs I had consulted before, and RDs whom I heard about through the experiences of dozens of friends and peers, cling to the tunes of “no bad foods/deprivation diets don't work/everything in moderation,” But assuring a client that they can eat potato chips, for example, in moderation ("Betcha can't eat just one!") is not only not true for many people, it is demoralizing to fail, again, after being assured by the nutrition expert that it's possible.
Given the options of dancing with the devil or just living without, I *much* prefer not to begin the dance at all.