According to the ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) food addictions come under the category of behavioral addictions or process addictions, while drugs and alcohol reside under the label chemical addiction, which loosely means on top of all the behavioral stuff, there is a definite physical addiction to the chemical.
I’ve always had an issue with this because I have seen many cases where ‘food addicts’ are able to identify food groups or types that they are addicted too, which would indicate some kind of chemical addiction.
Alcoholics are addicted to alcohol and are generally told that this is a physical addiction alongside a mental and spiritual affliction. They have an allergy to alcohol and need to leave it alone entirely if they are to be able to grasp any sort of recovery and be free from the nightmare of active alcoholism.
Why aren’t ‘foodies’ afforded the same clarity around their illness? I get it that some eating disorders do not centre around the chemical addiction to food as a substance, but many do. For a great number of food addicts, the piece of chocolate cake they are being asked to ‘just have a little bit of’ is more than just a ‘naughty, but nice’ indulgence – it is poison to them because they have the alcoholic allergy, but not, it seems to alcohol, but to sugar, or in some cases the intoxicating combination of sugar, fat and flour blended so deliciously together.
Do we say to alcoholics, ‘go on, just have one glass of wine?’ Absolutely not. We accept that they can’t safely have one glass and quite frankly we don’t want to have to deal with the consequences if they do try the ‘one glass, it’ll be ok’ game again. But with some foodies, who are surrounded by their ‘drug of choice’ morning, noon and night, they are somehow weak or fussy or a nuisance when they do refuse Aunt Ethel’s 90th birthday cake or even worse, a sandwich! (there is increasing evidence to support addiction to refined foods, particularly fours).
Even some eating disorder specialists are far more concerned with healing the behaviour around eating disorder patients rather than acknowledge that some eating disorder sufferers are alcoholics when it comes to food. They are taught mindful eating; make friends with their trigger foods; practice self-love and self care; forming new habits, healthy structures around eating. This is all fantastic and necessary, but if an alcoholic was told to sip away at a glass of wine (or his favourite brew) and really feel his feelings and stay present and in the moment of deep self-awareness, we’d all laugh. Of course he can’t. By the time he gets that alcohol to his lips even, all sense of mindfulness is long gone. He is in the grips of his addiction and must dry out before he can even begin to digest some behavioural therapy.
So, after apologising for the ‘he’ rather than ‘she’ bit (saying he/she just doesn’t read well) please spare a moment for those food addicts who can’t access true mindfulness and awareness when the sugar (or whatever) hits the spot. And if you want to see what happens, look around any dessert table and you’ll spot the sugar addicts – they are the ones who aren’t talking, who have a glazed, far-away look on their faces. They are the ones among us whose drugs take on the form of cake.