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Why Is Food "Addiction" So Controversial?

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  • janejellyroll
    janejellyroll Posts: 25,878 Member
    kryvons wrote: »
    to what extent are they denying your reality if they simply don't think "addiction" is the most fitting way to describe it?

    I think there are ways to challenge the "addiction" concept for food issues without denying someone's experience.

    addiction noun

    ad·​dic·​tion | \ ə-ˈdik-shən , a- \
    Definition of addiction
    1 : a compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence : the state of being addicted

    Because, by definition, addictions are more than what most people believe them to be and the only person who can know if they suffer to that degree is the person experiencing it.

    I'm not sure if it's productive to just base this conversation on dictionary definitions. Words have mutually agreed upon meanings, but that doesn't mean that the meanings are always accurate or that there is universal agreement on them.
  • lemurcat2
    lemurcat2 Posts: 7,894 Member
    Agreed. Plus you can parse one dictionary definition and find it fits, and another and find it does not.

    Here's one that I think makes sense (but I also wouldn't say it resolves the question one way or another): "the state of being compulsively committed to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma."

    I also can see things I would call "addictions" not fitting this.

    I think the main issue in dispute is really what an "addiction" is when we use the word, why we think it is useful or not useful.

    For me, some (although rare) food issues (such as compulsive eating in the 600 lb life way, and maybe some binging disorders) appear similar to addiction to me -- but just as I think alcohol addiction is better called alcohol use disorder, I prefer classifying those as eating disorders.

    What I find wrong (not upsetting, just inaccurate) are efforts to compare food items to physically-addicting substances that cause withdrawal when you cease them (which is a separate issue from addiction anyway, as one can have withdrawal from anti-depressants that aren't generally considered addicting, and most alcoholics can quit alcohol without physical withdrawal). The food comparison seems especially wrong to me, as people make claims about "sugar" being addictive (for one example), but only have trouble controlling some sources of sugar, not most of them, and also it ignores the fact that for the body sugar and starches are about the same, as starch is so easily broken down into sugar. Taste seems to be more the issue with foods, not the substance itself, and the difficulty controlling those seems directly related to what would have been helpful throughout most of human history (getting easy calories). When people claim sugar is more addictive than heroin because rats prefer sugar, that's so silly -- rats are just doing what makes sense for any animal, preferring a substance that provides what they need to live (food) vs one that does not.

    I also think it's wrong for people to claim that merely having trouble controlling oneself around specific foods is "an addiction" and somehow sets them apart from people able to manage their weight or who they imagine have no food issues. I think it's pretty normal and common for their to be difficulties not overeating, especially if one has not done anything to limit eating. I don't think most humans are really intuitive eaters without involving the mind in some way (whether to limit when or what or how much one eats or to change one's eating environment). I tend to doubt that those who say they have a "food addiction" and those who say they did not, and that it's wrong to claim one can get fat without having some kind of "addiction" really have different reactions to food, on average (although again I think there are obviously eating disorders and some people tend to have dysfunctional relationships with food more than others -- emotional or stress eating, for example). I think mostly it's people using the terms and understanding them differently.

    One thing in this thread that I have found interesting/want to know more about is @Psychgrrl saying that addictions to drugs are treated differently to eating disorders, as I do think there's some overlap, such as CBT, used for both. That wouldn't help with the physical addiction, which may need medical treatment (such as drugs), but I don't think the physical piece is the key piece, as obviously there's a huge percentage of people with substance use disorders who will relapse even after the physical dependency has been addressed.
  • 33gail33
    33gail33 Posts: 1,138 Member
    edited May 2021
    Psychgrrl wrote: »
    33gail33 wrote: »
    As someone who literally writhed and gnashed teeth with perceived "want" of certain trigger foods I can say some days it feels harder than quitting smoking.

    When quitting smoking I stopped going places people smoke, stopped hanging with people while they smoke, and they hide them behind closed doors in the shops now so I dont see them and they smell gross.

    If only the same could be said for avoiding people who eat and while they eat and that cherry covered black forest cake in the bakery case looking and smelling so inviting on the way to the checkout.

    Dont have to constantly plan life around avoiding smokers anymore 3 years later but have to look at food all the time and watch every bite. Ahh to become a Breathatarian...

    Yeah to me stopping eating certain foods is harder than stopping drinking so idk. I just can't moderate chocolate or potato chips - but I "gave up" wine last fall. I was an almost daily drinker, and now I have no problem having a glass or two of wine once in a while, and then not thinking about it again another couple of weeks. With me drinking wine was more of a habit that I associated with things, and once that habit was broken I don't crave it or anything. Certain foods on the other hand I do. Like I can have one glass of wine and stop, but I will eat all the chocolate until it is gone.

    Blessedly, it sounds like you weren’t an alcoholic when you gave up wine. Otherwise, you would not be able to simply take it or leave it. The physical need and the withdrawal symptoms for an alcoholic drying out are truly terrible and painful.

    I love certain foods and have trouble moderating them. But that doesn’t make me addicted. I just really limit them and don’t generally think about them. Finding good substitutions has worked well for me.

    Believe me I know - I am a "care giver" to an end stage alcoholic. He missed getting his Covid shot last week because two days after he got out of his latest detox he got drunk and fell (again) and "slightly" fractured his skull. I am well aware what alcohol addiction looks like.
    I would never say that just because I can moderate alcohol that it is not an addictive substance. But you seem to be saying that because some people can moderate their problem foods that food can not be an addictive substance? Just like not everyone who has an alcohol habit is an addict, I would not suggest that everyone who has a food "habit" is an addict.
    Personally I lean towards the belief that there is an addictive potential to food, or at least certain foods, because the research I have read suggests that.
  • kryvons
    kryvons Posts: 103 Member
    edited May 2021
  • 33gail33
    33gail33 Posts: 1,138 Member
    lemurcat2 wrote: »
    33gail33 wrote: »
    Personally I lean towards the belief that there is an addictive potential to food, or at least certain foods, because the research I have read suggests that.

    Psychologically, sure, although from everything I've read it seems that most who binge can switch to other foods easily enough. But it seems like you are trying to suggest physically, and that makes no biological sense as people claim to be addicted to certain foods and not others that are (from your body's perspective, if not your tongue's) identical. No one believes in a wine addiction but not other alcohol, but that's basically what's being suggested by much of the food addiction stuff. If you look at the "addictive" index for food, fries score high, but not fat generally or plain potatoes. Pizza scores high, but not many foods made up of the same components or portions of them. People claim "sugar" addictions, but have no issues with plain sugar or many foods containing lots of sugar, even more as a percentage of volume.

    Also, I continue to think there's more to addiction than having problems controlling one's intake. I've definitely struggled to moderate certain foods -- again, I think many of us who don't perceive ourselves as "addicted" to specific foods have as much or more than many who enjoy the "addiction" label, so I think it's more about why one perceives that as a label one finds useful/wants to have recognized. But to me addiction (or use disorder) is about much more than having trouble moderating a food.

    I'm not trying to suggest that at all. You must have me confused with someone else.
  • 33gail33
    33gail33 Posts: 1,138 Member
    lemurcat2 wrote: »
    To me referring to it as an "addictive substance" indicates that you are saying it is physically addictive, as that's how that term is ordinarily used, IME. I (again) do think that there can be eating addictions, but not that food is an addictive substance (except in that we all need it to live and would die without food).

    Is it? OK then - I wasn't aware of that - I guess I used it incorrectly.

    What I meant by it was: something that has the potential to trigger an addictive process.
  • lemurcat2
    lemurcat2 Posts: 7,894 Member
    We don't disagree, then. I do think almost anything has a potential to trigger an addictive response in humans.
  • JMC3Terp
    JMC3Terp Posts: 2,682 Member
    zamphir66 wrote: »
    I'm probably opening the biggest can of worms ever, but here goes.

    First, my position: I don't actually have a strong position on this. But I'm always curious when I see other posters have such very strong positions. As in, it seems very important to them that food have (or not have) an addictive quality. But why is it so important? That's what I suppose I'm asking.

    I can actually see it from all sides. I completely jibe with the argument that food is something we actually need to survive, and *really really liking* food that's particularly satiating is not a bug but a feature of our psycho-physiology.

    On the other hand, many maladaptive/disordered eating behaviors do seem to map onto our models for addiction pretty well.

    I get the impression that some in the anti-FA (food addiction) camp perceive the notion as somehow abdicating all personal responsibility. But I don't really see that. Someone with Type II diabetes is largely responsible for their good/bad health outcomes following diagnosis. And yet diabetes is still very much a disease.

    On the other other hand, I am sure there are at least some FA folks who do indeed take the "disease" model and use it to justify not trying, or failing once and quitting. But I think that's the wrong response.

    Speaking as someone in long-term recovery from alcohol use disorder, I can say that "medicalizing" my condition has been and continues to be one of the most important factors in staying sober. It gives me resources and tools. I can talk to my doctor. And I can talk to my therapist. I take medicine to keep my mood on an even keel, and this consequently helps keep cravings at bay. I'm also exercising and eating relatively healthily, sleeping enough, etc. and so on.

    So I guess, just to circle back, my main question is: Why such investment in this idea? Why such contention around the question of its existence?

    Do I think you can be addicted to food? Absolutely.

    Just like gluten allergies are a real thing and so is ADHD and depression.

    However I feel all have become overused. Everyone is gluten sensitive now. Everyone suffers from depression now. And all kids have adhd. We overuse these things to explain away issues. I believe the same thing happens with FA. Are there people truly addicted to food? Absolutely. But I feel like the majority who claim this just aren't willing to put the fork down and looking for a justification to their problem.
  • neanderthin
    neanderthin Posts: 7,927 Member
    Constantly wanting that surge in hedonistic brain pleasure from dopamine is strong in some people, and hard to resist.
  • Psychgrrl
    Psychgrrl Posts: 3,167 Member
    edited May 2021
    lemurcat2 wrote: »
    Agreed. Plus you can parse one dictionary definition and find it fits, and another and find it does not.

    Here's one that I think makes sense (but I also wouldn't say it resolves the question one way or another): "the state of being compulsively committed to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma."

    I also can see things I would call "addictions" not fitting this.

    I think the main issue in dispute is really what an "addiction" is when we use the word, why we think it is useful or not useful.

    For me, some (although rare) food issues (such as compulsive eating in the 600 lb life way, and maybe some binging disorders) appear similar to addiction to me -- but just as I think alcohol addiction is better called alcohol use disorder, I prefer classifying those as eating disorders.

    What I find wrong (not upsetting, just inaccurate) are efforts to compare food items to physically-addicting substances that cause withdrawal when you cease them (which is a separate issue from addiction anyway, as one can have withdrawal from anti-depressants that aren't generally considered addicting, and most alcoholics can quit alcohol without physical withdrawal). The food comparison seems especially wrong to me, as people make claims about "sugar" being addictive (for one example), but only have trouble controlling some sources of sugar, not most of them, and also it ignores the fact that for the body sugar and starches are about the same, as starch is so easily broken down into sugar. Taste seems to be more the issue with foods, not the substance itself, and the difficulty controlling those seems directly related to what would have been helpful throughout most of human history (getting easy calories). When people claim sugar is more addictive than heroin because rats prefer sugar, that's so silly -- rats are just doing what makes sense for any animal, preferring a substance that provides what they need to live (food) vs one that does not.

    I also think it's wrong for people to claim that merely having trouble controlling oneself around specific foods is "an addiction" and somehow sets them apart from people able to manage their weight or who they imagine have no food issues. I think it's pretty normal and common for their to be difficulties not overeating, especially if one has not done anything to limit eating. I don't think most humans are really intuitive eaters without involving the mind in some way (whether to limit when or what or how much one eats or to change one's eating environment). I tend to doubt that those who say they have a "food addiction" and those who say they did not, and that it's wrong to claim one can get fat without having some kind of "addiction" really have different reactions to food, on average (although again I think there are obviously eating disorders and some people tend to have dysfunctional relationships with food more than others -- emotional or stress eating, for example). I think mostly it's people using the terms and understanding them differently.

    One thing in this thread that I have found interesting/want to know more about is @Psychgrrl saying that addictions to drugs are treated differently to eating disorders, as I do think there's some overlap, such as CBT, used for both. That wouldn't help with the physical addiction, which may need medical treatment (such as drugs), but I don't think the physical piece is the key piece, as obviously there's a huge percentage of people with substance use disorders who will relapse even after the physical dependency has been addressed.

    CBT is very effective in responding to many physiological issues. It's a tool, and the tool needs to fit the job. Just as you wouldn't use a hammer to screw in a screw, how the tools are applied needs to be matched with the person they are designed to help. Individuals respond to different types and theories of therapy. And it can take a while sometimes, to find the best fit. CBT is very versatile, and can be utilized in different ways. The tools make up the therapy; think of the therapy as a tool box.

    As an overall approach, eating disorders or OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders) are treated as self-harming behaviors, not addictions.
  • lemurcat2
    lemurcat2 Posts: 7,894 Member
    Thanks, that's interesting.
  • kshama2001
    kshama2001 Posts: 25,815 Member
    Do the people who believe physical dependence / withdrawal is a necessary component to addiction believe that people can be addicted to gambling or sex?
  • janejellyroll
    janejellyroll Posts: 25,878 Member
    kshama2001 wrote: »
    Do the people who believe physical dependence / withdrawal is a necessary component to addiction believe that people can be addicted to gambling or sex?

    I don't know much about gambling, but I am not convinced sex addiction is real, although it's certainly true that people can develop compulsions to engage in unsafe or destructive sexual behaviors.
  • candysashab88
    candysashab88 Posts: 71 Member
    Food was my gateway drug into other not so nice avenues. I used it compulsively and was psychologically “addicted “. It’s not different than taking your meds abusively .anyhoo
  • Marilynsretired
    Marilynsretired Posts: 2,438 Member
    Just joined this website and saw this thread. Have any of you heard of or read the book Bright Line Eating by Susan Pierce Thompson, who has a PhD in respect to how sugar and flour affect the brain. It opened my eyes the science behind how sugar and flour affect the brain and for those that just can't stop having either of those in the food they eat. Finally there is scientific research on how food affects the brain - and sugar and flour really do a number - I now understand why I have had such a difficult time with only having 'one slice of bread' or one cookie or a small portion of spaghetti to name a few things - I know for me that I can't consume either sugar or flour without a reaction in my body - therefore I see the issue for me as it is an addition that I need to control - and if you look at the book she explains how heroin, cocaine and flour all do the same thing with the brain - but read it for yourself to see what you think. Thanks to that book I am recovering from this addiction and it is an ongoing thing as to many people just think 'one bite wont hurt you' but if I was allergic to peanuts or was a recovering drug addict would they offer me those - no - so anyway just have a look at the book and see if it helps you make a decision around whether a person an be recovering from a food addiction.