"Food addiction — nah"
That's the dismissive headline atop another of the serially disappointing blogs of psychcentral.com, this time written by Pittsburgh therapist Pavel G. Somov, which says in part:
"If you have labeled yourself as a food addict, I suggest you retire this psychologically toxic concept from your mind. You are a seeker of wellbeing who is still mastering the learning curve of moderation."
OMG, sir, if you only knew. Which clearly you don't. (Though I'll acknowledge for the record that we're just two guys spoutin' on the Net, and that he's a Ph.D. and I'm not.)
First of all, it's not just a word, it's a complicated phenomenon: Sometimes it is evidenced by a substance, or how that substance has been processed. Sometimes it shows as a behavior: how much is eaten — or isn't — rather than what is. Sometimes it's what's eaten and then purged, by any of several methods (laxatives, exercise, vomiting, and others I haven't heard of yet, probably). And, the symptoms come in different combinations for different people; over time, one person's combination can change — someone who restricted food as a teenager later becomes a binger, for example. Or, someone who ate sweets with alacrity for years suddenly notices that he can't eat just one, or even just a few.
Banishing the word doesn't make those conditions go away. My experience is directly to the contrary, and explains why understanding, acknowledging, and treating food addiction is vital.
By the late '80s, I had reached my 30s and well over 300 pounds, even though I'd lost more than 400 pounds on a series of diets dating to my preteens. I was huge, I didn't want to be, and despite some fabulous "success" dieting, I couldn't find lasting change. Then, through a series of experiences I won't detail here (my book tells all), I began to accept that I might be an addict.
Please understand I wanted no part of the idea, and I fought it for some time. But once I accepted the possibility that I might be, a huge range of options presented themselves that I never would have considered before. Why would someone go to rehab, for example, if they think they merely have an occasional weakness? Why would someone decide to give up all refined sugar if they thought they just had to "be a little more careful."
By no means am I saying that everyone who's overweight is a food addict. But I am saying that some of us are; using government obesity statistics and drug epidemiology, I conservatively estimate the number at 15 million American adults.
Very literally, very soberly, I contend that people are living shortened, sadder, more frustrated lives while being told they can "master" that "learning curve," when a different diagnosis would lead to different treatment, allowing many of them to flower in unimagined ways. That's just exactly what has happened, and continues to happen, for me.
"Don't worry, be happy" makes a chirpy lyric, but as a prescription for people mired in a soul-sapping, physically debilitating predicament, it is well short of enough.