Is It Food Addiction Or An Eating Disorder? food addiction or eating disorder

Is It Food Addiction Or An Eating Disorder?

Kelly Boaz, CNP

There’s a lot of talk in the world these days about food addiction (or, in some cases, to a specific food/category of foods). This is nothing new. When I was young, there was a self-help book on the market called The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet. Not surprisingly, that diet looked more like an eating disorder than anything else.

Fast forward a few decades, and not much has changed. People are still prescribing extreme restriction as a “cure” for various food-related addictions. Which is bad enough, on its own. But is food addiction itself just a cover for an undiagnosed eating disorder?

Now, I’m not saying it’s impossible to be addicted to food. At the end of the day, it’s possible to be addicted to just about anything on the planet, in some way or another. But we have to be careful, when it comes to food. Let’s look at an example as to why:

Sally wakes up in the morning thinking about food. She spends all day at work dreaming about what she’ll eat when she gets home that night. On her way home, she stops by a bulk food store and buys a large amount of candy. She eats it all that evening. She vows she’ll never do it again, but the next day finds herself standing in front of a shelf of candy bars, and the cycle repeats.

Now, this would sound a lot like an addiction to an outsider. Sally feels out of control, and is repeating the same behaviors over and over again. But, without looking at the whole picture, we only get half the story.

What if Sally was restricting during the day? What if she ate an extremely low-carb diet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? What if she’s exercising too much, or purging through other means? What if she’s eating when she’s not hungry, eating to extreme fullness, and experiencing severe emotional distress?

All of these are symptoms of eating disorders. All of these can lead to constant thoughts about food, and intense cravings (see also: hunger). If Sally was to seek treatment for food addiction, she’d likely be placed on a restricted diet, which would only exacerbate her eating disorder.

If you suspect you’re addicted to food, or to a specific type of food, pay a visit to an eating disorder professional first. Chances are the symptoms you’re experiencing aren’t the result of a substance you must avoid, but a disorder you can seek treatment for.

At the end of it all, you may just discover that the food you couldn’t keep in the house, the food that screamed your name from the back of the cupboard, the food that you felt powerless over is, well, just food. And one day, you might just find it sitting at the back of your cupboard, long past its expiration date, because you forgot it was even there. Because maybe it wasn’t an addiction. Maybe you were just hungry.

Spacer - green.jpg Kelly Boaz Contributor

Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.