When I saw the advertisement for a shampoo that said you would become "addicted" to it because it made your hair so silky, I knew things had gone too far. Can we really become addicted to shampoo? What about food addictions and addictions to texting, tanning, video games, the Internet, cosmetic surgery, shoes? If you believe the latest headlines, those things all have the power to turn us into addicts.
While I doubt that using the same shampoo everyday can do any harm, abuse of the term addiction can.
In my 30+ years in practice as a Registered Dietitian I've had many clients tell me they believed they were addicted to certain foods. Those foods were the same ones everyone else ate, but somehow they got hooked. These people couldn't just eat a normal portion. They obsessed over the food, kept secret stashes of it and felt guilty after eating it, usually in large quantities.
The one thing these people all had in common was a feeling of helplessness once they labeled their problem an addiction. I often wondered how they would fare if they simply said they really "liked" the food?
Finding Another Word for Addiction
There is little agreement in the medical community about whether you can actually have a food addiction. When you compare it to an addiction to heroin, it seems trivial to even ask. But as in the example of the shampoo ad, I think the real problem is that the word addiction is being used too casually.
What people mean when they say they are addicted to chocolate, potato chips or pizza is that it tastes really good to them and when they eat it they want to eat more of it. That is not evidence of an addiction. If you eat more chocolate than you should, that may be a sign of emotional eating or compulsive overeating or a problem with impulse control. Or it may be nothing more than a craving.
The definition of addiction used by the American Society of Addiction Medicine states it is a chronic disease with biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. There are a lot of chocolate lovers in the world, but they don't all have a chronic disease. In fact, when it comes to so called food addictions, it's interesting to note that only some people are affected. There are significant gender and cultural differences in what becomes an addictive food. That is not the case with alcohol, nicotine or opium.
I understand that it is very difficult for some people to control their consumption of certain foods. Their genes, brain chemistry, and personality may predispose them to becoming dependent on certain substances or behaviors. But when it comes to food, it just may be a question of too much of a good thing.
If you think you are addicted to a food, try to reframe the way you think about it, starting with the language you use. You'll enjoy that chocolate much more if you focus on how much you love the taste while eating it, rather than fearing you won't be able to stop eating it because you're addicted to it.
If someone offered you a million dollars to never eat your "favorite" food again, could you do it?