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Resistance to the Food Addiction Paradigm, Part 2

September 24, 2010

Jelly Donuts

Back in May, when Oprah Winfrey publicly announced her food addiction, William Anderson took note. He specializes in helping people shed their extra pounds, and his book, The Anderson Method, deals with the use of psychotherapeutic techniques to achieve permanent weight loss. Sustainability is what it’s all about. Anderson himself has lost 140 pounds, and has maintained this loss for 25 years.

As a psychotherapist, addictionologist, and a former obese person, Anderson says,

I found my way out of the nightmare of food addiction and obesity, and now I successfully teach clients and therapists all over the country.

Framed as kind of an open letter to Oprah, the article explains that pretty much everyone who indulges in “comfort food” is to some degree an addict. Anytime we eat from a need other than nutrition, that’s a danger signal. When we eat from emotional need, there is never enough. Philosopher Eric Hoffer said, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.” In fact, plenty of other wise people have said the same thing in different ways, and Anderson re-emphasizes that primal truth.

He also makes the distinction between normal eating and “using” food, in the addictionological sense. As in, using food like a drug. The signs include using food to alleviate physical or psychic pain, as a refuge, as a friend or a lover you come home to. There’s nothing wrong with getting pleasure from food, but when it gets to be life’s only pleasure, it’s a sign of trouble. And it’s definitely unhealthy to use eating as our own personal “declaration of independence,” making it a political statement that actually works against our own best interests.

In the briefest terms, Anderson summarizes his take on Oprah’s addiction revelation:

For perhaps the first time, she seemed to realize that her relationship with food and her emotional or spiritual need was more of a problem than her weight problem.

Many people just can’t seem to assimilate the idea of food addiction. Some say it’s illogical to speak of food as an addictive substance because we need food to live. Others say that nobody needs junk food to sustain life. Okay, there may be rare exceptions. If somebody is marooned at sea with only a crate of licorice-flavored pretzels, life probably could be sustained. Unless the person didn’t have any fluids to drink. Especially with all that salt on the pretzels.

The point is, there is food, and then there is pseudo-food. Ersatz, fake, so-called, reputed food. Strangely enough, few self-identified food addicts find it difficult to resist broccoli or tempeh. By well-documented coincidence, the items that food addicts have the most trouble with are, by and large, in the category of hedonic or hyperpalatable food. Even when every ingredient is technically edible, some of the ingredients are so concentrated, the result is like crack cocaine.

One of the great things about the kids who respond to the Weigh2Rock polls is that they call it like they see it. In Dr. Pretlow’s presentation, “What’s Really Causing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic? What Kids Say,” we find several of them who are not afraid to say the A-word, or to discuss such features of classic addiction as denial and tolerance. (These pages are called Slide #, but most of them are really video clips.) In Slide 25, a young boy talks from the heart. In Slide 65, there’s a kid who’s addicted to Starbucks. In Slide 32, we hear, “I feel like a druggie or alcoholic.” Addiction in Slides 31 and 33; denial in Slide 29; tolerance in Slide 89.

Why not add food addiction programs to the existing resources? Different people respond to different therapeutic modes, and, if something works, it needs to be available. Dr. Pretlow says,

Comfort eating and the notion that overweight kids may be addicted to the pleasure of food is an unpopular paradigm. Many healthcare professionals and parents are offended by the mere suggestion of this… Acknowledging food addiction in childhood obesity does not mean that existing obesity intervention programs and initiatives should be replaced with food addiction programs. There are many valuable existing programs and initiatives, but possibly they should be viewed through a psychological food dependence/addiction lens.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Oprah 2010: It’s About Food Addiction,” Basil and Spice, 05/14/10
Source: “What’s Really Causing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic? What Kids Say,” Weigh2Rock
Image by norwichnuts, used under its Creative Commons license.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. catfc permalink
    September 24, 2010 10:03 AM

    “If somebody is marooned at sea with only a crate of licorice-flavored pretzels, life probably could be sustained.”

    Great point!

  2. September 27, 2010 12:52 PM

    Great post! I’ve been in recovery for food addiction for 11 years–I lost 55 pounds and have kept it off ever since by abstaining from “hedonic and hyperpalatable” foods with the help of a 12 Step recovery program.

    When I first encountered the program, I had the same reaction that you describe in your article: They’re making this whole addiction thing up to make me take the program more seriously. You need food to live; how can anyone be addicted???

    At any rate, I’m grateful that I no longer question whether food addiction exists. The benefits I’ve experienced from treating my addiction are so striking and life-changing that I KNOW this disease is real.

    To read a little bit about my experience and see a list of questions that can help you determine if you are a food addict, please check uot my blog:




  1. A Psychological Problem, Not a Nutritional Problem « Childhood Obesity News

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