A few weeks ago I had a delightful conversation with an elderly lady. While we talked, she drank tea and ate a slice of cake, and then followed them up with a couple of painkillers for the crippling osteoporosis in her spine. I doubt that she made the connection between the cake she was eating and the pain she was feeling. Of course that one piece of cake wouldn’t have made any difference; it’s every piece of cake at every opportunity, and all the rest of the sugar and refined flour she had come across, every day for decades.
This is the inevitable result of the inability to identify addictive overeating in the first place, and secondly the inability to take control of it. My point is, if I didn’t have that awareness and ability, I’d have been eating the cake as well! (1)
There is a cultural blindness amongst us about food addiction that has worked its way into our lives, and few people see it beyond a vague notion that cake is ‘naughty’ because ‘it makes you fat’. This cultural blindness shows up in the common tradition of bringing birthday cakes and biscuits into offices on a regular basis. And it’s this blindness that led a neighbour of mine to give me half a dozen fairy cakes she had baked as a gift for a favour I’d done. I’m sure you can see similar examples all over the place in your own life.
It’s essential to see addictive overeating and name it for what it is before you can deal with it. If you don’t see it, fairly obviously, you won’t get very far in breaking its hold on you. It’s not only waking up to the fact of addiction in yourself, that you are reacting automatically and largely unconsciously because this stuff has just got itself into your life without you even realising. It’s also realising that everyone you know is doing the same thing, so it seems not only completely normal – but innocent and completely harmless.
This makes addictive eating the default setting for a great many people, so seeing it is the first step, and in seeing it you begin to distance yourself from it: there’s ‘you’ and there’s ‘it’ and they are two separate things.
You can see this separation in the difference between “I’d love some chocolate” and “I have an addictive desire for chocolate“. The second shows an awareness of addiction that is the starting point for a genuine change in what you eat. It initiates change because you are no longer identifying so completely with the addiction. You are beginning to see that your addiction (and even your collective cultural addiction) isn’t you.