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More on the Early Adopters of the Food Addiction Paradigm

September 28, 2010


Food addiction is misunderstood but real, says Cheryl Williams, in a piece called “Food Addiction: Similarities and Differences to Drug and Alcohol Addiction.” As so many others have noted, one of the differences is that we need food to live, but not drugs or alcohol. (Dr. Pretlow always points out another difference that is especially important in the area of childhood obesity — drugs and alcohol are harder for children to get hold of.)

Williams stresses that food addiction is easier to hide, and, if the person is not able to hide it, at the very least, it’s more socially acceptable. Of course, that depends on your definition of society. There are plenty of enclaves where it’s more acceptable to be a lush or a crackhead than to be a fatty. To members of the church-knitting society, overweight is definitely more acceptable than drunkenness or shooting up. But in grade school, where alcohol and hard drugs aren’t much of an option yet, being fat puts a kid at the top of the Social Pariah list.

Williams points out that obesity and food addiction are not synonymous. There are non-addicted obese people, and non-obese food addicts. But when real food addiction shows up, it needs to be taken seriously. Of course, in some ways, all addictions are the same. Williams says,

Everyone who has an addiction is trying to fill a void. Sometimes that void comes from a past trauma. For me, my food addiction stemmed from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. The food numbed the pain, and became a friend that I believed was safe and could not hurt me. In an unconscious way, I believe that the weight also served as a barrier to keep people away from me. After all, if nobody got near me… then nobody could hurt me.

Not surprisingly, Williams has written a novel on the themes of body image and self-esteem in teenage girls. She is on a mission, and part of that mission is to promote healthy ways of losing weight. She knows all about vicious cycles, and the tendency of an obesity problem to affect all other areas of life. Williams urges people to seek help, starting with a support group.

One such group is Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, or FA, an international organization for people who suffer from food obsession and uncontrollable eating. The goal is to recover from the food-addiction disease, stop treating food like a drug of abuse, and replace the addiction with a fulfilling life. This program is based in every respect on traditional Alcoholics Anonymous principles.

Overeaters Anonymous also follows the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of AA. There are many faith-based efforts, like the one that inspires a blogger known as Marvin, who says,

Food addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to overcome. In my opinion, there’s not enough emphasis placed on the dangers of food addiction… With food being an integral part of living we’re less likely to perceive the possibility of even having an addiction to food in the first place.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Food Addiction: Similarities and Differences to Drug and Alcohol Addiction,” Associated Content, 05/10/10
Source: “Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous,”
Source: “A Food Revolution,” Getnfree, 05/07/10
Image by colros, used under its Creative Commons license.

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