Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Difference Between Habit and Addiction

Like the last post, this one was imported from Ramblings of the Bearded One, my other blog. After the comments I received, I realised that some people still don't really get what we're up against - that for those of us who are or have been 50, 100 150+ pounds overweight, it's not just about being greedy and too lazy to go for a walk. So I created this follow-up post. Once again, it seemed worth placing a copy on this site for obvious reasons.


Generally speaking I don’t like to write posts trying to explain what the last one was about. I can’t help but feel that if I failed to get my message across first time, the writing wasn’t good enough. Usually at this point I prefer to give an embarrassed cough and move swiftly on.

However, there were some touching, heartfelt and intense responses posted in "For the next time you see the finger being pointed at the fat person" that made me feel further thoughts needed to be expressed on the subject.

What has become clear from the range of comments is the need to draw a distinction between habit and addiction.

Very often, those who criticise people who are overweight assume that it’s purely down to bad eating habits. If only fat people were able to see that their behaviour was putting their health at risk then they would modify that behaviour. If it’s pointed out to you that the reason your hand hurts and is disfigured is because fire burns flesh, then you will understand that if you stop sticking your hand in the fire, you will stop being hurt. Likewise, if you just stop eating as much crap your health won’t be so badly affected. It is so bloody obvious, it seems insane the fat person just doesn’t get it.

Perhaps if you say it slowly and loudly they will understand. Perhaps if you give them smaller portions they will take the hint. Perhaps if you humiliate them it will draw their attention to their unacceptable behaviour and they will start to modify it.

The fact that you do all these things and they still eat too much just beggars belief.

But the reality is for many, especially those who are 30% or more overweight, "habit" is not what it’s about. Even once you get beyond the fact that the supermarket shelves are stuffed with foods loaded up with sugars, fats and salts to make the body crave more, and are wrapped in covers designed using some of the most sophisticated marketing techniques on the planet, eating is still much more than just fuel for the body.

For some people certain foods items are addictive and promote cravings that go far beyond just “the munchies”. Some foods are trigger foods – foods that once you start on them there is no stopping until not only is the rest of the packet empty, but half the contents of the larder and fridge too.

Some people use food for self medication – a way of dealing with extreme emotion, in the way an alcoholic or drug addict will use their chemical of choice to dull the pain, the ache in the chest, the deep hollow in the gut.

For some people food is used as a form of self-abuse in a similar way that self-harmers will cut themselves or burn themselves with cigarette ends.

For some, being fat is a way of keeping people at arms length because of fear of relationships, or even fear of appearing sexually desirable.

For some people, a combination of any or all of these reasons can be at play at any one particular time

In all these cases, the relationship with food is an unhealthy one. It goes far beyond just a lack of self-discipline.

The thing to realise here is that the food in itself if not the issue. Food is being used as a tool, or weapon, for something else. In a different set of circumstances, the person who struggles with food would have struggled with alcohol, self-harm, or any kind of illegal or prescription drugs.

So for those who are feeling exasperated with loved ones who won’t take the hint, or who seem intent on continuing to eat more than necessary despite the obvious damage they are doing to their health, you need to look beyond the food.

Just like alcoholism, drug abuse, self-harm, anorexia and bulimia, or any other damaging addiction, over eating is an expression of another problem, or more likely problems. And until those problems are dealt with, the eating will never be fully under control.

This isn’t about over indulging at Christmas or anniversaries then being too lazy to work off a few pounds. People who fall into that category become a bit overweight, develop a couple of love handles and a bit of a belly.

But people who are a third or a half as much again, or even double the weight they should naturally be, are people who have a problem beyond food.

For them, the fat you see are the outward scars of a thousand internal battles


Half Man said...

I appreciate your thoughts here. Discovering what those problems are can be quite difficult. I have been trying to figure out my issues for almost six months now. I have come up with a couple things, but I know there are more. Thanks for the good post.

Kim Ayres said...

Thanks for the feedback, Halfman. It's a complex subject, but worth raising I thought.

Phil said...

Interesting post, and it certainly echoes a lot of my thoughts on the issue. In many ways obesity is very similar to alcoholism or drug-addiction in that it is something that develops over time until you realise it has become a problem and it can then either kill you or you can do something about it.

Technically, losing weight is as simple as putting down the burgers and fries and picking up the fruit and veg, and starting to be more active....however, you could just as easily say that giving up the booze or junk is also just as simple as not lifting alcohol to your lips anymore, but you're right, these addictions are not caused by food, or booze, or narcotics themselves.

Personally, i think that classifying alcoholism as a disease as they seem to in the US is a huge mistake - i know that my own obesity is not a disease, it is the result of putting up with unhappiness by punishing myself with tasty-but-unhealthy food. But my obesity is exactly that - mine...I own it, I caused it, I am the only one who can fix it, which i am currently in the process of doing.

It's nice to know that there are folks out there who also know how hard it can be.

Kim Ayres said...

Phil - thanks for taking the time to comment :)

Before we can move forward against any form of addiction, we have to acknowledge that it is down to us - no one else can do it for us, although they might be able to help us on the journey.

But we also have to know that it's not simply a case of will power or, as you say, simply putting down the burgers and fries and picking up the fruit and veg. It requires effort, but also planning and strategies if we are ever to succeed in the long term