Food Addiction? Not so fast.

In the health and wellness world there is NO hotter topic right now than "food addiction". Everything from documentaries, in-depth news report, and even your friends Facebook posts are using these buzz words & phrases:








But is it all hype? Or is there some truth sprinkled on top? The answer is murky at best, but I hope to shed some light on the topic. I have spent a lot of time dissecting the idea of "food addiction" for myself and my clients. Here is a bit of what I have concluded. In order to play fair we have to get some terms straight. 

Websters definition of "addiction":
compulsive need for, and use of, a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; 
broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

Hmmm, interesting. There are a few things that intrigue me here. 
First is the clarification that it is the need FOR and use OF a substance. Not just the need (aka desire). Simply because you really like and want crack, doesn't necessarily make you addicted to it. You are only addicted when you use.

Secondly, the word "compulsive" is used twice... that begs the question... 

"What is the definition of compulsive?"
a very strong desire to do something; the act of using force or pressure to make 
someone do something; the state of being forced to do something

Thirdly, the idea of "well defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawl". This one is trickiest. Because I think most people feel like crap when they remove a staple or favorite food from their diet. But does this indicate addiction? I feel like crap when I remove sleep from my life, but does that mean I am addicted to sleep???

As you can see this idea is super complex. Yes, do we all have memories of feeling "drawn" to a particular food? (Like it calls to us from the fridge or cabinet.) Do we have incessant thoughts while watching TV at night about chocolate and ice cream?? (I know I do!) Do we drive past a bakery and have to use all our willpower NOT to pull over and get a big chocolate oatmeal cookie?? (not just a random example, this is real life people)

 The first time I did a sugar cleanse I FELT like  I was a drug addict... 
searching the back of my freezer for a rogue chocolate chip!

I was recently discussing this very topic with my health coach & mentor Isabel Foxen Duke and she said something that really stuck with me. I am paraphrasing but this is the gist: 

"We are biologically designed to crave and gain pleasure from food... if we didn't, we would starve and die. This is ESPECIALLY true of sugars and carbohydrates. (They are quick sources of glucose and our body really likes glucose for cell function.) Therefore, if the only "tried and true" way of treating addiction is abstinence, then in theory, if we are addicted to food(s) then the only way to conquer our addiction, is to abstain."

Go ahead, try it. No, really, it will be fun. Just see how it goes.

This idea was further explained on one of my go-to sources for credible and scientific back information, The Psychology of Eating website:

"Food addiction is not the same as being addicted to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, media or other external stimulants. You require food to survive; therefore, you cannot be a food addict. That is like saying you’re addicted to air or water – silly, right? Labeling yourself in this way can create an addiction consciousness and set you up for a lifetime of battling food and diverting life energy to managing your addiction, while also in some ways keeping you connected to it."

SO what is the solution? If we are not "addicted" how do we manage our desires with our health.  To help, here are a few more buzz words and phrases you may have heard recently:


-intuitive eating



-practicing gratitude

-emotional eating

-eat real food

-whole food movement

These ideas are spreading throughout the health and wellness world as a natural reaction to the idea "restriction and willpower". Fixing the health care crisis may have more to do with fixing the spiritual, social, and happiness crisis, than simply removing sugar from our diets all together.

Perhaps what we are trying to fix with food isn't a food problem at all? 
Perhaps we are using food as a coping mechanism because it is the 
easiest, most abundant, most socially acceptable, and most 
DELICIOUS solution we have found so far??

(RACECAR is RACECAR spelled backwards)

I follow a lovely emotional eating coach on social media, Sarah Jenks. This is how she addresses this idea with her clients:

"Most women work with me because they think they have a body problem, but in reality, they have a life problem.  There is something so out of balance in their lives that they are forced to eat in order to get the feelings they are missing from being in a space of wholeness and joy."

So my friends, I ask you to take a long hard look at your "addiction" to chocolate, candy, sugar, carbs, bread, or (fill in the blank). Yes, there are properties of those foods that have physical affects on your body (the role of insulin for example is real) BUT for most people their "compulsion" to eat these foods stems does indeed stem from a very strong desire...
but for what exactly? What are you REALLY craving?

Side note: There ARE stronger forces at work that can undermine even your most noble attempts at mindful eating. Check out my last blog post here which discusses how the deck is stacked against you.