Food addiction shows up on "Dr. Oz"

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On the "Dr. Oz" episode on food addiction that ran this week, the news for my peeps and I was good, generally. More than three times as many respondents to an online poll said they think they might be addicted to food than those who said they don’t think they are. And by a ratio of more than 3-1, respondents consider food addiction as serious as addictions to drugs and alcohol.

For those of us who believe that food addiction exists, that’s heartening, since the biggest issue we have is getting the mainstream to understand what we already know. Even if it’s not a scientific poll, you can’t get much more mainstream than Dr. Oz.

But I was flummoxed by the two “experts” in the debate. Researcher Dr. Neal Barnard spoke for the “yes” crowd, while some registered dietitian (OK, she has a name: Keri Gans) gave the negative report, insisting that people just lack willpower.

This reminds me of the debate, silly to me, about creationism vs. evolutionism. To me, evolution could easily be the name we give to an amazingly clever system set up by a deity, so it’s fundamentally a false choice.

I say “fundamentally” because the two camps do have irreconcilable differences: People who believe the Bible is the literal word of God put one time span on Earth’s existence, while people who believe in science cite evidence of its being much older. But acknowledging and admiring evolutionism doesn’t rule out the belief that a higher intelligence created all that we see.

In the same way, saying that overeating stems from a lack of willpower doesn’t “prove” anything about food addiction, for or against. For those who lack sufficient willpower, what’s behind that deficit? Is it always low moral fiber, always a biochemical sensitivity to some (often refined) substances, or varying combinations of both?

I identify as a food addict, of course, but I completely cop to having had insufficient willpower. That’s exactly the point! I possessed fabulous willpower, able to drop more than 100 pounds multiple times. But no matter how long I had it, it eventually ebbed and I returned to the food. Was that caused by a lack of character, perhaps some lack of knowledge, or could my body have been sensitive to substances my body couldn’t tolerate?

Gans stated that people connect sweets and starchy foods with happy memories in their childhood and that perhaps they’ve just never learned a new way to eat. Sorry to be so impolite, but that’s idiotic. Not only do I reject the notion that the vast majority of obesity is related to a lack of information, there’s this: The people most likely to be food addicts are the real hard cases: People who’ve struggled with weight for a long time, who’ve gone on diets many times, who know calorie counts like they know their kids’ names, who are miserable that they are overweight and can’t overcome it even though they keep trying. How likely is it that these people are in that uneducated category that Gans postulates? It just beggars sense to suggest it.

It also implies that if we could educate these people, then the obesity wouldn't return. Or, at least, it would imply that low moral fiber was the culprit all along, which is essentially what so many people think: "He's fat, therefore he's weak. Nothing more complicated here. Move along." That's Keri Gans's contribution to the discussion.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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