Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Some Addicts Get Their Fix At McDonald's

One of my favorite TV shows when I was a kid was The Addams Family. I'm not sure why. Yeah, the action was frequently designed for the youngsters in the audience [lots of slapstick, things blowing up, etc]. Then there was Carolyn Jones, as "Morticia". She looked so good in that slinky long black dress, it might have single-handedly kick-started puberty in me! (Hang with me, Dear Friends; there is a point to all this...)

Years later [sometime in the 1970's, to be exact as I can], she was a guest on a radio interview show hosted by, of all people, Howard Cosell. During the broadcast, she referred to her husband at the time, who had a weight problem. She used the then-new term "food addict" to describe his eating style, then observed that food addicts are the only addicts who, by definition, have to use the addictive substance in everyday life. I've always thought it was an apt way to summarise the basic difficulty in weight loss for many people. (Of course, this isn't a weight-loss blog. And many diabetics, especially type I's, don't really have weight issues. But, as an obese type II, I think the topic is still valid for a diabetic blog.)

To start our examination, this article, part of a collaboration between ABC News and USA Today on health issues. It gives a good overview of the problem, and notes the difficulties in determining whether an eating disorder is food addiction or not [indeed, the article notes that there is no hard-and-fast definition of food addiction]. WebMD notes characteristics and signs of food addiction in this article, which connects food addiction with mental health. The website Springboard4Health.com [NB: the site sells nutritional supplements and other items as its principal reason for being, so its degree of unbiasedness may be questionable; however, the viewpoint its article on the subject takes is far from unique, and the article is well- and clearly-written] speculates that food allergies may be responsible for some so-called "food addictions". Finally, About.com notes the on-going controversy within the medical community about "food addiction" here.
Is there such a thing as "food addiction"? And, if so, what causes it [and, more
to the point, how can it be treated?]? Treatment will depend on the cause, and,
either way, the potential doesn't seem spectacular. If food addiction is a mental-health-related issue, most treatments seem to fall within the realm of "12-step" programs; many people find themselves unable or unwilling to complete such systems. If food addiction is caused by an allergy, the tedious, frequently drawn-out, and sometimes unsuccessful process of discovering what food is causing the allergy begins.
Is there such a thing as food addiction? Well, one of the finalists on the current edition of TV's The Biggest Loser has said he would formerly visit three or four fast food places during a relatively short drive. At each, he'd order a large amount of food, pull over, then consume his purchase by himself, in about five minutes. Compulsion, [perhaps] a specific food "trigger", shame [as an overeater, I certainly get this one]; it sure looks like food addiction, one way or another.
Is there hope for the food addict? Well, the person mentioned above is one of the finalists, so there is hope. But, like any addiction, there is also lots of hard work [physically and mentally] for anyone trying to get the Burger King off their back. The first challenge is finding a doctor willing to pursue the possibility; then, both doctor and patient must cautiously pursue whichever course of diagnosis and treatment seems most helpful.
-Mike Riley


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