Addiction doesn’t apply to food.

Today I want to dive deep into an idea that I have been mulling over (and over) after quitting drinking, smoking and dieting.

First, I think we can all agree that the word addiction is over-used (especially in a casual way) and misunderstood (duh, scientists are working on this).


Since we know and agree that there aren’t clear scientifically defined boundaries around what constitutes “real” addiction, I want to propose that it cannot and really truly should not ever be used in relation to food. It can be applied to dieting, binging, purging and any other disordered eating behavior, but I don’t think it can be applied to specific FOODS. I am saying, without any scientific support, that a person cannot become addicted to food.

I know that this is a pretty unpopular point of view (who am I to tell people whether or not they are addicted to sugar, fast food, pasta, pizza or ice cream??), and it may piss you off a bit. In fact, it would have pissed ME off three months ago. So let me explain.

With food, my brain and body continue to want anything that I decide to restrict, and that feeling never goes away. Everyone says that sugar cravings fade, and yes, they do a little bit in the physical sense, but its allure (cupcakes, brownies, ice cream, WHATEVER) never really fades. Just the physical craving might drop a little. I believe this is because our bodies are literally hard wired to prevent starvation. I am not saying that people are born needing sugar – not at all. I’m saying that if we restrict sugar, we are kicking off a baked-in mechanism in our minds that makes ‘not eating sugar’ a form of starvation. That kicks off obsessive responses to sugar. This chain reaction isn’t automatic with chemical substances – it takes time and use to train your brain to recognize the substance as a thing that makes us feel normal.

We have a brain and body that adapts to addictive substances and turns them into things we require to feel normal, but the subtle distinction with food is that we actually need food out of the gate. We are designed to enjoy food because it’s necessary. And our bodies are designed to protect us from any hint of deprivation/starvation. Alcohol and drugs are not necessary to survive, so recovery from those things require getting back to our original physical state before we touched the substance. With food, there is no “before” we ate.

This means, to me, that the feeling of having a food “addiction” is a feature, not a bug. When we do go ahead and restrict food intake, our bodies are designed to slow the fuck down. The weight loss plateaus. So, we can either eat less, exercise more, or we can give up and binge. If you repeat this cycle enough times you will wind up fatter than you started out before you ever dieted. This is proven by science (awesome TedTalk on this: Diets make you fat because your body wants to survive the next one.

So how do you get out of this cycle? You don’t quit the substance you’re addicted to. That’s FOR SURE. Because all you’re doing when you eliminate a food is feeding your body’s panic response.

I am learning a ton about unrestricted eating as a “cure” for disordered eating, including dieting. The message to me is this: you CAN abstain from dieting, and all other ways of eating that trigger the body’s natural “don’t starve me!” response. You can’t abstain from foods to “cure” an addiction. You can certainly choose not to eat certain foods if that choice isn’t made due to fear of fat/ugliness/unlovable-ness. This is the key. I am working on this key in my day to day life, right now. IT’S HARD, I tell you. But I have faith it will be able to re-train myself to understand that food is abundant, I am fine as I am, I will be fine if I gain weight, I will be fine if I stay the same weight, and I will be fine if I lose weight. Weight doesn’t equal worth, no matter what society and the medical world tells us. Even if I get sick from being overweight, it is not a moral failing.

What do you guys think?





3 thoughts on “Addiction doesn’t apply to food.

  1. I think there’s a difference between addiction and compulsion. I have some serious compulsions around foods, and I’ve eliminated them. I have actually found that the physical cravings have completely dissipated (although I would also acknowledge that I can eat strawberries to deal with a sweet craving and be perfectly satisfied, so maybe it’s not that the craving has dissipated, only that I address it in healthier ways). For me, eliminating these foods was much easier than attempting to moderate. My behaviors were just too extreme to allow them to continue. This all became easier for me when I disconnected it from weight and physical health. I allow myself to eat anything that doesn’t make me crazy. If I can’t eat it without being ridiculous, I don’t eat it. I also had to throw away my scale, which was my greatest compulsion.

    So, in short, I agree with you. The food isn’t the addiction, but compulsive behaviors are a bitch.

    We really, really need to meet someday!



    1. Hi! I don’t think I ever replied, but I meant to. Yes, I agree that the distinction (which may be semantics… I haven’t figured it out yet) between compulsion and addiction is where my issue lies. I guess my rule of thumb where addictions are concerned is: can you live without the substance? If so, it’s addiction. If not (food, sex, e.g.) then it’s a compulsive/disordered behavior. The difference between the two is small, when living through it, but in TREATING it, you can’t tell someone to abstain from a core “feature” of our human bodies. Our bodies are designed to fight starvation to the death – vs alcohol where our bodies release and relearn how to function without the poison. Dieting is an addiction, food is not. Is this making any sense? 🙂


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