Food and Addiction
I recently read something that stopped me in my tracks: “Of course, when there are problems, people love to blame the thing being used instead of the person doing the using. This thinking is fed by the damaging contention that addiction is a ‘disease.’ Multiple sclerosis is a disease. You can’t decide to not have multiple sclerosis. You can decide to stop engaging in some behaviors.” Wow, huh!
Here are my musings on the subject. First is that we need to think of “addiction” as a medical condition rather than as a disease. As long as we’re choosing terms, let’s go for one that connotes empowerment. We can’t choose whether to have an addiction, but we can choose how we respond to it. Next, as an avid follower of the scientific debate over whether or not sugar is addictive, I’m convinced by current evidence that it definitely is not. Instead, blame dopamine, that finest of feel-good neurotransmitters, which gives a toot when we consume sugar or fat. It does not, per se, promote addiction, but is certainly a physiological reinforcement to be reckoned with. After all, we do what feels good because we’re programmed to love feeling good! Fault the reward or pleasure center of the brain, but that’s how humans have evolved.
Moreover, even addiction isn’t so clear cut. To whit, my experience at a methadone treatment center in Boston where I worked for six years. Time and again, opiate addicts lined up for their morning methadone, got side-tracked by some billing problem, forgot to get dosed, and left the clinic without “their medicine.” Without a doubt, these hard core addicts had a bona fide addiction. Yet the following day, when their missed dose was called to their attention, they were stunned that they’d had no methadone in their system for 24 hours.
And what of free will and our ability to change our thinking—our very brains—simply because we want to? Which means that whether or not you are physically addicted to something, you don’t have to give into cravings if you’re willing to be uncomfortable. Addiction doesn’t mean you must do something. It only means you’re going to want that something excruciatingly badly unless you want something else a great deal more. So, whenever you feel addicted to food, consider what you want more than a cookie, piece of candy, bag of chips, or second helping of pasta: control over your life, good health, a positive relationship with food, pride, to live to see your children get to be your age. Feeling addicted is not the same as being addicted. Anyway, either way, you still get to choose.