Is Food an Addiction?

This is the half-full jar of peanut butter that has been in my room for a month. Six months ago a jar of peanut butter didn't stand a chance for longer than a week. Exciting, indeed.
This is the half-full jar of peanut butter that has been in my room for a month. Six months ago a jar of peanut butter didn’t stand a chance for longer than a week. I would describe myself as “addicted” to peanut butter then, but now? SMOOTH sailing all because of a more natural, moderate approach to eating.

I was recently reading Andie’s blog, Can You Stay For Dinner? and she had a really wonderful post about whether food is or isn’t an addiction (read it here). Andie had some great things to say, and so I thought I’d chime in too. Here’s what I think:

Food has addictive components. It can be used emotionally to soothe or celebrate. It can be treated obsessively with dieting, food rules, and counting calories. It is something we often feel we have no control over.

But are we actually powerless? I’m not sure. I know that there were (are) times where I feel entirely like food’s puppet, especially sweets. But I also know that I can be moderate with food and really enjoy it.

The problem with saying we are addicted to food is that we often feel we have to give up certain foods cold turkey to ever  achieve health. I read so many blogs in my early eating disorder days that said I had to give up sugar or else I’d always be a slave to it, but giving it up just lead to bingeing. Saying food is an addiction leads to black and white thinking about food, and also gives it more power than it deserves.

On the other hand, there are often times when I eat things like fresh rolls with butter or chocolate chip cookie dough and I feel that I can’t stop eating them. I crave them, I want to eat a lot of them, and that feels entirely overwhelming. When I do eat them I feel soothed (different from satisfied) much like I imagine a druggy feels when she gets her fix.

A problem with assuming food isn’t an addiction is that we blame others or ourselves if we are overweight or have a less-than ideal relationship with food. A problem with assuming food is an addiction is that it can be debilitating to feel how we eat is entirely out of our hands (or mouths. ha).

Now that I’ve presented some pretty ambiguous answers, I think where I’m at is this: Food is pleasurable, and that makes it easy to overeat. For some of us food is more pleasurable, therefore making it that much harder to resist. For others, eating becomes a source of obsession. What appears to be an addiction is actually just an unhealthy relationship with food that is masking another issue, usually an emotional/mental one (check out my post on that here)

It’s not so important at the end of the day to establish whether we are or aren’t “addicted” to food according to a dictionary definition. What’s important is to be aware of our relationship with food: do we often eat crap and feel like crap, do we have obsessive thoughts about food, do we feel powerless and confused when it comes to meal time? If so, these are signs of emotional issues that need to be dealt with through introspection, meditation, therapy, etc. On the other hand some of us (myself included) just really like food and I know that if I want to stay fit I will always have to be mindful of what I put into my mouth, and especially cautious at parties, buffets, or whenever I’m stressed. This doesn’t mean cut out sugar and carbs, it just means moderate, thinking about whether I’m going to be proud of how I ate after a meal out or feel regretful if I overdo it and disrespect my body’s true desires.

We can take control of our eating and we can develop a healthy relationship with food. It takes effort, but it’s so worth it; I truly believe that how we eat is a reflection of our attitudes, feelings, and overall well being. The past week I’ve been stressed and my eating has reflected that, but the last couple of days have been so much better and I’m really grateful for that…it’s amazing what a savior journaling, eating slowly, and counting calories is for me. Feel free to share your tips for staying sane about food.

Happiest hump(ing) day.

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