I hate the thought of addiction.  I find the idea of not being in control of myself very unsettling.

In some ways my personality puts me at risk for addiction.  I like routine and I dislike change. I’ve definitely got an OCD streak in me.  But in other ways my personality makes me less prone to addiction.  I’m blessed with the ability to quickly make very significant lifestyle changes once I’m convinced that I ought to do so.  In the past I’ve given up some things I really enjoyed and to which I devoted a lot of my life, cold turkey and without regret.

Although I’ve seen ugly consequences of addiction throughout my life, as we all have, it was from getting involved with our friends who live in intentional community in the inner city that I have come to most appreciate how destructive addiction can be.  A couple of winters ago I spent part of several days each week with some of my friends hanging around in some of the roughest neighborhoods in the city, getting to know the people who live there.  They are the desperately poor, usually homeless or near-homeless.  They are the poorest of the poor, struggling every day to get by.  Almost without exception the folks I got to know were dealing with mental illness, addiction or (often) both.  And while crack was certainly the demon for some of them, most were addicted to alcohol.  It had ruined their lives as much as any illegal drug could.

It’s been a joy and thrill to get to know a man who was living in the woods a couple of years ago when one of our friends met him, having been an alcoholic for 40 years.  He turned his life completely around and is now sober, employed, living in a house and devoting his life to helping those in his community who are still struggling.  He is a great inspiration and is now a leader in the group.

It hurts, though, to see people I’ve come to know and care for pull themselves out of the pit of addiction, only to fall back in.  It also hurts to come to know and care for people who are resigned, and unwilling to try to break free.

As I see our culture sinking deeper into an obesity epidemic that will diminish and shorten tens of millions of lives and that threatens to overwhelm our health care system, I find myself baffled and often infuriated.  It isn’t rocket science.  If a person consumes more calories than they burn, they will become obese and unhealthy.  That may not be universally true, but it’s dang-near so.  As a society we are literally killing ourselves with poor food choices.

I know that some folks are trapped in food deserts.  The folks we know in the inner city are.  I also know that some people can’t afford to eat healthy diets.

But the vast majority of the people who are ruining their health have the resources to eat a healthy diet (if there is any cost at all to doing so, it is minimal) and have plenty of food options. So why do they do it?

I wonder if we need to start thinking of this crisis as being, in part at least, a product of addiction.


19 comments on “Addiction

    • Bill says:

      I certainly don’t mean to cause anyone to feel guilty. I think it’s easy to develop unhealthy habits. What I’m wondering about is if overeating can rise to the point of addiction that can overpower our knowledge and rational desires. Trying to discuss these issues without shaming people or creating feelings of guilt is hard to do. The path we’re on is unsustainable, so we need to figure out some way to have a national conversation about this.


  1. I’ve never been addicted to anything (anyone’s another story), but I do understand it somewhat because of friends and family who have been. I think with food the media again comes into play. People get addicted to what they think they want. The ads for so called restaurants such as Applebees and Olive Garden almost make me sick. It looks very unappealing to me. Their food is actually laced with MSG, which is addictive and fattening. Many fast food restaurants also add it knowing it has these qualities. So many people will not make good choices let to their own devices and it continues to baffle me. On a related note: I had too many pieces of french mint chocolate last night … 🙂


    • Bill says:

      Yes, we are being bombarded with advertisements designed to make us want to overeat and to eat obesity-inducing foods. Cherie did a review of the calories in Olive Garden entrees once and discovered that most of them exceed what a normal person should eat in an entire day. The popularity of our most popular restaurants comes from their whopping serving sizes. No doubt we’re being manipulated into eating this crap, but I’d say most of us who eat ourselves into poor health do so knowing it will have that effect. We even joke about it.

      It’s much much worse here in the South than in Minnesota. People who would have been considered overweight 20 years ago are now the norm here. Morbid obesity is common. It is common to see people who are 300 or 400 lbs or more. People in their 40s and 50s who are riding around in motorized wheelchairs because they’ve become too fat to walk are a common sight. It’s out of control and especially sad to see it happening to children. I know a man who counsels people with addictions. He has a heart of gold. He and his wife are both morbidly obese. He is my age (early 50s) and is so big that he has to walk with a cane. If he is suffering from addiction, no one is calling it that and I’m sure he doesn’t think so. It’s just crazy and it seems to be getting worse.


  2. Lynda says:

    You can be addicted to anything.

    Processed and packaged food is scientifically engineered in labs to have flavor. They add artificial chemical flavorings to make the food taste more intense, more flavorful.

    Does this sound like some paranoid conspiracy raving? It is not.

    The scientists who mix and test this chemical cr@p freely brag about it in the news and in documentaries about food and food flavoring. And they do it to make us want more. Unless we grow our own, or buy organic, most of us have forgotten what real food tastes like. We have lost our ability to taste the finer nuances of good clean eating. It is sad.



  3. Bill, first of all, thank you for caring about your fellow man and going to their environment instead of trying to rescue them from it first. Every town big or small has those that are affected by alcohol. It always amazes me how folks that are broke have the money for booze. Alcoholism is one of the diseases that is self inflicted. Yes, there probably are emotional reasons for how they got to where they are in life but it came from choices they made.

    Food is a necessary thing to sustain life but commercial companies have taken the life giving things out of the food and replaced it with delicious tasting empty calories. Chips are my down fall and I just won’t have them in my house. I still do have them on occasion but it’s always a small bag because once I start on a bag of chips I can’t stop until it’s empty. Reese’s peanut butter cups are another thing that I have on occasion but not a staple in the house.

    After years of not going to Kentucky Fried chicken, I decided to buy a bucket for the evening meal. I could not believe how much salt they used in their fried chicken. It was like eating a chunk of salt block. I turned to my 29 year old daughter and asked, “Do you like this stuff?” Her response was, “Oh yeah isn’t it great?” I practically gagged on it. Even my grandson didn’t like it and he loves fried chicken.

    Food off the shelf from the big box store is also loaded with salt and as you have indicated other flavor enhancers.

    Life has become such a scheduled thing that eating is done behind the wheel of a car on the way to the next activity. It’s become some thing that must be done but it’s kind of a nuisance. What ever happened to the family gathering around the table for the evening or any meal.

    It’s a crazy food world we live in and don’t get me started on how far that fancy lettuce salad had to travel to make to your plate.

    Have a great good food choice day.


    • Bill says:

      I hear ya Dave.

      As for the alcoholics, some of the people I got to know get the money from begging. They’ve lost everything and subordinate everything to booze, including food and shelter. Some get the money from selling their food stamps, or choosing to live in places and conditions that no one in the right mind would choose. Another sad situation. Very ugly. The stories of how they came to be that way are often gut-wrenching.

      You’re so right about KFC and that sort of “food.” I used to love sausage biscuits from McDonald’s. I’d go through the drive-thru and eat them in my car. Now that I’ve gotten used to real sausage, the thought of eating one of those greasy nasty things is nauseating. Lots of people think that if they switch to natural healthy food it will be a hardship, depriving them of something enjoyable. I try to tell them that once they detox and their body comes to appreciate good food, they won’t desire the other kind and they won’t feel deprived in any way. It’s a hard sell.


  4. Jeff says:

    You might like to read what Bruce Alexander has to say about addiction.


  5. Great post and I do agree with your take on the obesity epidemic.


  6. Lately I’ve heard more and more about how processed food is actually very addictive, so I think addiction absolutely plays a role in obesity. And I have a sweet tooth, so I can tell you first hand that sugar is highly addictive! I do feel so sad for people who cannot give up destructive addictions and am so thankful that I’ve never had to deal with that before.


    • Bill says:

      You’re right. I’d forgotten that there has been some attention lately to the addictive nature of processed foods. I read somewhere that tests on monkeys have shown Oreo cookies are more addictive than cocaine. But by and large we don’t think of chronic overeating as a form of addiction.


  7. EllaDee says:

    Interesting post and it leads me to think, a lot… and come up with far more questions than answers.
    How can it be some substances of addiction are legal, and some not, and at what point should the deliberate manipulation of people for profit become a crime with the same laws applied to corporations and even governments as they are to individuals. Our individual actions are far more accountable.
    There is societal tradition, acceptance and demand, yes, for tobacco and alcohol… plus they generate tax revenue, at least here in Australia. Also processed food in Australia is subject to a purchaser pays GST (Goods & Services Tax) but fresh food isn’t. Prescription drugs are GST free but non-prescription medication isn’t. Although this govt has aspirations to change all that.
    Drugs, prescription or non, are often prescribed treat the associated health problems from over indulgence. All of these things also create a lot of shareholder profit.
    I’m not a shareholder. I believe there are avenues to invest in ethical shares, but I wonder if many shareholders really understand what they are underwriting, or care.
    I’ve never struggled with an addiction to anything – if enjoying a few glasses of wine are a vice, then that’s it for me. I always have had a healthy relationship with food, and it’s work-life imbalance and a preference to relax with a book that adds any extra kilos to my weight. But I too got suckered. I didn’t consider that what I thought I knew about the provenance of my food was out of date, and the current state of play is based on convenient and profitable prevarication at best.


    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment Ella. You raise lots of interesting and important ideas here that worthy of posts of their own. When I read your statement that processed foods are subject to sales tax and fresh food isn’t I had to stop and read it again to make sure I read it correctly. Bravo to your government for not taxing good food. Here in Virginia there is a sales tax on all food, including the food we sell at farmers markets and in CSAs. I think that’s wrongheaded. Glad to see that ya’ll have it right.


      • EllaDee says:

        No GST on fresh food, including packaged milk & bread which are seen as staples was a fine point when GST came in but there’s been talk by our newly elected gov’t of the potential of incorporating fresh food in the GST net. I’m yet to find anyone who will admit to voting them in.


  8. ladyfi says:

    Very thoughtful post. Nice to hear of your friend who has turned his life around.


    • Bill says:

      He’s a wonderful and kind person. He has created a community tool shed, loaning out tools free to anyone who needs them. He keeps coffee brewed on his front porch every day free to anyone. Once a week he and a couple of other friends pool their meager resources and cook breakfast for those who want/need it. He feeds 50+ people every week that way. He hasn’t forgotten where he came from and the people who are still there.


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