The Dietary Guidelines Saga


The Congressional hearing about the revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans came up in October of 2015. As we discussed, tension was in the air between the writer Nina Teicholz and people who thought she was not acting ethically. The other side was aghast at the knowledge that The BMJ had been paid by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to publish an article in which Teicholz criticized the proceedings of the Guidelines committee.

On the eve of the hearing, a new political action group suddenly emerged. This was the Nutrition Coalition, and the response of the other players was “skeptical” to put it mildly. In addition to the controversial journal article, Teicholz had written a book proposing that dietary fat is not such a bad thing. She generously distributed copies around Washington to influential people whose acquaintance she was able to make through the Nutrition Coalition’s lobbyists.

Bill Tomson at Politico learned that the Nutrition Coalition/Arnolds had already spent, one way and another, somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million on improving nutrition science. Their foundation claims not to be rigidly biased, and to be genuinely interested in pursuing truth no matter where the chase leads. The blogger known as CarbSane goes into great detail about the funding mechanisms that are utilized to advance the Arnolds’ interests.

There is not necessarily anything wrong with these strategies. It is the way things are done. And just because someone publicizes a book that praises dietary fat, that does not mean dietary fat is ipso facto an evil.

Fancy hospitality and entertainment are always features of events designed to persuade thought leaders. For Politico, Chase Purdy and Helena Bottemiller Evich evoked the atmosphere of a gathering held at a hotel in Georgetown, a very elite section of Washington, D.C., for heavy hitters concerned about the Guidelines. Among the attendees were lobbyists, consultants (lobbyists with multiple clients), food industry executives, and “nutrition power players.”

The writers said:

Some were interested in changing the guidelines for commercial reasons. Others were deeply concerned about the scientific integrity behind the government’s advice. But the Arnold’s lobbying group had brought them together.

Sometime after that meeting, the separate Nutrition Coalition — funded solely by the Arnolds’ Action Now Initiative — started to take shape, several sources told POLITICO. The Nutrition Coalition does not allow industry funding or membership.

Suspected of subpar ethics by some, and scorned in some quarters for advocating saturated fat, Nina Teicholz became one of the human assets in the Nutrition Coalition’s “vigorous advocacy campaign to reshape how the U.S. government determines what makes a healthy diet.”

One critic called the Nutrition Coalition’s campaign dangerous and harmful. This was Dietary Guidelines panel member Barbara Millen. Teicholz retorted that Millen should not have even been on the panel, much less chairing it, because of a rather glaring conflict of interest.

Meanwhile the renowned Marion Nestle came down on the side that doubted Teicholz’s legitimacy to speak on the subject. And on and on.

(… To be continued.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Billionaire-backed coalition edges into nutrition sphere,”, 10/07/15
Source: “Laura and John Arnold Foundation,”, 10/08/15
Source: “The money behind the fight over healthy eating,”, 10/07/15
Photo credit: Evil Erin via Visualhunt/CC BY

The Problematic Dietary Guidelines


The theme here is how the most recent set of Dietary Guidelines for Americans went from recommendation to reality. The Guidelines may not sound like a big deal, but they matter. Their publication every five years influences hundreds of millions of people and billions of dollars worth of commerce.

How does nutrition policy get made? We spoke of the article Nina Teicholz wrote for The BMJ criticizing how the revision of the Guidelines was handled.

A highly opinionated author who goes by the handle “CarbSane” asserts that Teicholz misled readers. (CarbSane, by the way, has only a first name, Evelyn, and has worked as a research scientist.) At any rate, Teicholz is said to have pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by referring to a “BMJ investigation,” when in actuality the article originated not with any sort of investigative body, but in the mind of a freelance writer (Teicholz). Worse, the medical journal was actually paid to publish it, a practice that is frowned upon in many quarters.

Is this okay?

The money came from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), the philanthropic endeavor of a billionaire couple. The LJAF is against a lot of things, like when the click-baity results of an outlier study are blown up into a story that seems to imply causation where there is only correlation. The foundation favors rigorous science and modest journalistic claims. Its position is to decry bad research and bad science — which some critics saw as hypocritical, considering how the LJAF conducted itself in this instance.

To put it another way

No independent person or team was commissioned by The BMJ to investigate the Dietary Guidelines committee. Instead, The BMJ accepted the LJAF’s money, said CarbSane, as a “publishing fee for a Nina Teicholz hit piece.” By implication, the once-respected journal performed like a sleazy vanity press.

CarbSane was also doubtful of the objectivity, given that Teicholz received speaking fees for addressing various professional and business groups, including the dairy industry and especially the meat industry. In fact, Teicholz gave seminars on how to “gain the tools to intellectually and scientifically defend meat.”

Coincidentally, one of Teicholz’s own recommendations for the newly revised guidelines was more dietary fat, such as that contained in meat. Whether or not she was completely right about that, the fact that her patrons bought her a platform served, in the eyes of many people, to invalidate her claims. Among other inquiries, CarbSane used the Internet to question the credentials of the Nutrition Coalition vis-a-vis its official non-profit status or lack thereof, and to suggest that The BMJ ought to reveal how much money it received to publish the controversial article.

(The saga of the Dietary Guidelines will continue.)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Nina Teicholz Reports in the British Medical Journal: The Conflicts and Funding,”, 09/27/16
Photo credit: BullionVault via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Guidelines of Contention


How did the most recent revision of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans come into being? The backstory is more complicated than a spy novel. We mentioned how the process attracted interest from a billionaire couple, the Arnolds, and scornful derision from the president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In September of 2015, The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published a widely discussed article by journalist Nina Teicholz. Basically, she asked why the bureaucrats in charge did not seem to be paying attention to the actual science of how the body is affected by food.

Teicholz wrote:

The expert report underpinning the next set of US Dietary Guidelines for Americans fails to reflect much relevant scientific literature in its reviews of crucial topics and therefore risks giving a misleading picture, an investigation by The BMJ has found. The omissions seem to suggest a reluctance by the committee behind the report to consider any evidence that contradicts the last 35 years of nutritional advice.

The author pointed out that rather than reinventing the wheel, many other countries adopt the American dictums, so the Guidelines are not just theoretical, but have a profound real-world effect. Inside out country, they translate into concrete reality in the form of “public feeding programs which are used by about a quarter of Americans each year” — school lunches, for instance, and the WIC program for new mothers and infants. Furthermore, Teicholz asserts that the National Institutes of Health allots research funds based on the Guidelines.

Of course, the government would be foolish to spend millions on studies, and then decline to consult the findings of those research projects. Yet that appeared to be exactly what the government was doing, or, more accurately, not doing. We might add that each five-yearly revision offers the opportunity for a new graphic to be designed, like the $2 million “My Plate” icon unveiled in 2011 (pictured.) But back to Teicholz, whose eloquent and multi-faceted indictment of the government committee’s shortcomings is best experienced in her original prose.

Saturated fat was a subject very much on the author’s mind. Although the committee had been active since 2012, it had resisted reading up on the latest discoveries about dietary fats, having ignored “several prominent papers, including a meta-analysis and two major reviews (one systematic) that failed to confirm an association between saturated fats and heart disease.” Government employees and officials were also found to be woefully ignorant about controlling both obesity and type 2 diabetes by slashing carbohydrate intake.

Teicholz raised questions about ingrained bias, special interests, conscientious intent, undue influence, and conflicts of interest among the committee members. The chair, for instance, was Barbara Millen, president of a company that produced “web based platforms and mobile applications for self health monitoring.”

Coincidentally, the committee’s recommendations included the use of self-monitoring technologies. Needless to say, Teicholz’s article garnered much criticism, especially from Millen, who is quoted as saying:

On topics where there were existing comprehensive guidelines, we didn’t do them.

But… But… Would it be out of line to suggest that the purpose of a revision is to do exactly that — to revise?

The next post will delve into this and other questions.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!
Source: “The scientific report guiding the US dietary guidelines: is it scientific?,”, 09/23/17
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How Policy Is Made


In late 2015, the five-yearly revision of Dietary Guidelines for Americans was in the planning stage, with the House Agriculture Committee and the House Human Services Committee in charge, as usual.

The big question was, where should nutrition advice come from? Many things were said at the hearing, but Michael F. Jacobson, President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, remarked that the members of the committees were clueless about both the Dietary Guidelines and about nutrition in general. He went further, and characterized the whole proceedings as “theater of the absurd.”

Around the same time, the website Politico published a piece by Chase Purdy and Helena Bottemiller Evich. The government bodies responsible for the Dietary Guidelines were asking for input, and an advocate of dietary fat (which is now widely believed to be not a bad thing) had the nerve to try and influence the revision.

In some quarters, outrage ensued. The previous set of guidelines had allowed for olive oil and avocado as sources of good fat, but warned against saturated fats as being hazardous to cardiovascular health, an idea which has subsequently been deemed erroneous.

Meanwhile, a couple of relatively young billionaires, John and Laura Arnold, were taking an interest in the revision of the Guidelines. Two years previously, when the government was shut down, this couple had benefited 7,000 kids by donating $10 million to the Head Start program.

They were already involved in the food world through their research institute, Nutrition Science Initiative, which is run by science writer Gary Taubes and Dr. Peter Attia, who trained as a surgeon. The reporters say:

Taubes and Attia advocate a low-carb diet… [H]owever, they have hired researchers who disagree with them to conduct groundbreaking nutrition studies.

Any outfit that hires scientists with whom it disagrees sounds like a fair-minded place to work. But in this wicked world, a plump salary can buy consensus starting on Day One. In another scenario, an scientist who begins as a contrarian might, in the course of doing the work, honestly change her or his mind. But when there is a paycheck involved, it would be all too easy to label that researcher as a sellout.

So it makes sense, in a way, to prefer government-funded research, because if through taxation everybody is paying for it, scientific impartiality might be expected. That simple proposition has caused millions of words of debate all over the world. If the wealthy wish to buy studies to satisfy their curiosity, and if they can then afford to spread their own message, why should they be stopped from funding research that will add to the total fund of knowledge? Apparently, there are many reasons to resist that model.

At any rate, Laura Arnold explained to the press that she and her husband had no agenda in mind, but sought the truth:

Our issue with the Dietary Guidelines is to pose the question of whether or not these guidelines are as definitive as they sound, and whether the science behind them is as definitive as it should be.

… Which is where we will pick up next time.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “House Agriculture Hearing Shows Why Experts, not Politicians, Should Guide Government Nutrition Guidelines,”, 10/07/15
Source: “The money behind the fight over healthy eating,”, 10/07/15
Photo via Visualhunt

Lobbyistic Nonsense


Recently, Childhood Obesity News looked at the activities of the consumer protection organization known as the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD). Today we consider an example of the type of resistance the CDD and other advocacy groups have been up against for years.

Shortly after the turn of the century, the Institute of Medicine decreed that there was not enough evidence to surmise a causal link between TV ads and juvenile adiposity, aka childhood obesity. Attempts to regulate advertising were scorned as a “quick fix” that would not address the real problem. The real problem was the government, which makes too many prohibitive rules. This viewpoint was vehemently espoused by Beth Johnson, former USDA official turned lobbyist, in a piece written for The Washington Times.

Among other things, Johnson says that by denying advertisers unlimited rights, the government “stymies our opportunity to learn about new products that can help us put together a healthy diet for our families.” She also speaks of “empowering consumers with more information,” which is lobbyist-speak for letting corporations pour as much nonsense as they want into the ears and eyes of children.

But that wasn’t even the most surreal part of Johnson’s argument. Here it comes:

Moreover, of the 100 most commonly consumed foods and beverages in America (as reported by the NPD Group Inc.) 88 would fail the federal working group’s proposed standards, leaving only fresh fruit and vegetables and nonfat yogurt. Though these are healthy foods, they don’t provide enough nutrients to constitute a healthy diet.

What is this industry apologist even talking about? Fresh fruit, vegetables, and nonfat yogurt may indeed be insufficient to “constitute a healthy diet.” But does she suggest that the other 88 products — the ones that would fail the proposed standards — would somehow make up for that deficiency? It doesn’t even make any sense, but that’s how industry spokespeople keep their jobs.

It gets worse

As if that weren’t bad enough, the piece was subtitled, “New federal rules would place most common fare off-limits for kids,” a line that needs a reprimand, because many people use news aggregation services, or just scan their social media timelines, and the title and subtitle are the only parts of a news item they see.

First of all, there was no new rule; there was a proposed rule, which is a totally different and separate thing. “Most common fare” in this context simply means junk food. And to suggest that the government intended to somehow make this “fare” unavailable to children is just an outright untruth.

Nobody was talking about yanking bottles and packages from grocery store shelves to be destroyed. Nobody was even talking about putting a “Must be 21 years of age!” sticker on the toaster waffles.

In Johnson’s first sentence, the issue is explained more accurately:

The federal government is pursuing a plan that will effectively ban advertising of some of America’s most popular and nutritious foods because they have been deemed unhealthy for kids according to strict standards created by the federal government.

So the government desired to ban, not junk food, but the advertising of junk food to humans of certain ages, at certain times, and in certain places. Which is kind of a different thing, isn’t it?

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “JOHNSON: Enough to make you lose your appetite,”, 08/05/11
Image by richcat/123RF Stock Photo

The Epigenetics Obesity Dream


It has been known for a while that obesity can be a “legacy” passed on to succeeding generations, not only for genetic reasons but for epigenetic ones. We are born with an array of genes, but they predict our destiny only to a certain extent. The decision to switch genes on or off is often made by things that happen within our lifetimes, like exposure to toxins and consumption of certain foods.

For years, pregnant women have been warned not to smoke cigarettes, and one of the reasons is that smoking moms tend to have children with allergies. When those children grow up, even if they don’t smoke, they tend to pass along messed-up DNA to their own kids. That is called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. It isn’t fair, but it appears to be happening anyway.

The further scientists inquire into the secrets of this new field, the stranger it becomes. As we mentioned, the sperm cells of obese men even look different from those of lean men. When a dad is obese, his kids are more likely to have metabolisms that are not correctly regulated, and even more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. One research team found evidence that women with obese fathers are more likely to get breast cancer.

The questions are so urgent because if we can figure out what is going on, as writer Bill Sullivan states, “a new wave of therapeutics could be developed that focus on reversing these changes.”

One-stop learning

The website covers two fronts. It is basically two websites in one, with scholarly articles for professionals, and accessible, educationally entertaining posts for the general public. Most of them contain at least one sentence or paragraph where the writer encapsulates the significance of the research in an easily absorbed package.

For that website, Bailey Kirkpatrick wrote about the work done by scientists at the Max Planck Institute and their collaborators, noting that “new research is uncovering the possibility of an epigenetic switch that is, interestingly, either ‘on’ or ‘off’.” A group of researchers from several internationally renowned institutions did mice experiments and published a report suggesting that a network of imprinted genes can act as a switch to turn obesity on or off — but only once.

One of the group, J. Andrew Pospisilik, told the journalist:

Once the switch is triggered, it is a lifelong, epigenetically-driven decision that ends in a stable, either a lean or obese phenotype. Such clearly separated phenotypes have a genetic cause; here, though we found that the effect was non-Mendelian. The effect is akin to a light switch — on or off, lean or obese.

Applied to humans, this seems to indicate how there can be a pair of identical twins where one is lean and the other obese. Because they have the same genes, that shouldn’t happen. But the difference is epigenetic, caused by “the expression levels of TRIM28,” which is the designation of a certain gene.

Kirkpatrick says:

The researchers set out to see if the same pattern existed between obese and normal children. They teamed up with specialists in childhood obesity and analyzed adipose, or fat tissue, from children with these body types. In half of the cohort, results aligned with what they found in the mice.

This is all explained much more thoroughly in Kirkpatrick’s article, but the bottom line, as voiced by Dr. Pospisilik, is a hope that eventually “we can permanently flip the system back to lean in one shot.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Epigenetics: Feeding the Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic?,” 03/21/16
Source: “Epigenetics Could Turn on an ‘Obesity Switch’,”, 09/06/16
Photo credit: ethermoon via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Letting Moms Off the Hook


When John Lennon and Yoko Ono were anxiously trying to start a baby, legend has it that they sought a healer’s guidance, and followed a strict macrobiotic diet for months, and eventually Sean was conceived. The field of epigenetics offers an explanation for how something like that works.

As we have seen, genes are either expressed or not expressed, and something tells them to switch off or on. When our whacked-out inner chemistry messes with the genes, the DNA is disordered, and then it resembles a supervisor with no leadership skills, who can’t properly tell all our zillions of cells what to do. However, when people eat real food, and eliminate toxins and stress, less damage occurs and sometimes things happen that seem miraculous.

Science continues to learn surprising lessons about babies. Because the mechanics of gestation are so obvious and so culturally imbedded, the mother has, until recently, been assumed to be the only prenatal influence. Especially in the area of weight, mothers have taken the rap.

As it turns out, fathers are also accountable. It has been known for some time that epigenetic markers in a man’s sperm can be influenced by the amount of exercise he engages in. A couple of years back, Danish researchers discovered that obese men’s sperm cells actually look different.

Eric Boodman wrote:

Those differences might be tiny changes in molecular architecture, but they can determine how genes are switched on or off, and could potentially affect the behavior of any offspring those sperm produce.

Furthermore, it appears that a father’s life experiences can influence heritable epigenetic programming. In fact, inherited paternal epigenetics is now a field. For, Bailey Kirkpatrick wrote:

Additional studies suggest a father’s obesity can impact his child’s likelihood for developing diseases like diabetes or experiencing abnormal metabolic regulation. They found that “paternal obesity is linked with hypomethylation at the differentially methylated regions (DMR) of the IGF2 gene.” This epigenetic modification leads to an increase in IGF2 proteins, which are, in turn, linked to obesity.

Kirkpatrick also wrote a post titled, “Overweight Fathers May Epigenetically Increase Their Daughters’ Risk of Breast Cancer.” The bottom line is, a father’s weight at the time of his daughter’s conception will affect her birth weight, and her weight as a child.

Not only that, but it seems that the father’s overweight condition somehow connects with the daughter’s breast cancer, later in life. The scientific team at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center believes that paternal obesity also leads to other detrimental consequences for daughters.

According to current thinking, for true understanding of epigenetic influences on a child, it is necessary to consider each parent separately and also to study the interplay between them.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A father’s sperm could predict whether his child will be obese,”, 12/03/15
Source: “Dad’s Life Experiences May Epigenetically Influence His Children’s Health,”, 05/31/16
Source: “Overweight Fathers May Epigenetically Increase Their Daughters’ Risk of Breast Cancer,”, 07/05/16
Photo credit: Donald Windley via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Rough Seas in the United Kingdom


After years of tortuous debate the U.K. instituted a tax on soft drinks and some other sugary items that will finally go into effect a year from now. What they do in Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales is worthy of attention for more than one reason, and it seems almost impossible to catch up with the cascade of events in the Queen’s neck of the woods. In the United Kingdom, the ferment never stops.

Like the USA, it is an English-speaking realm, and shares many of our characteristics, values and concerns. Unlike the USA, they are still thinking about obesity, and especially child obesity. Over here, we have way too much else going on. Since former First Lady Michelle Obama vacated the White House overweight children are far down the priority list.

For, Matt Crossman wrote a piece suggesting that investors might take a second look at the deadly risk posed by sugar and rethink their holdings in food and drink corporations. Crossman also found occasion to mention the U.K.

Enumerating the things that could actually hurt manufacturers, his words evoke the sensation of walls closing in. Science is catching up with the true threat posed by sugar; consumers and public health professionals are getting smarter; and the burden of cost to treat obesity-related disease increases every day.

Worst of all, the risk of litigation looms ever larger. Crossman says:

The UK is in the midst of a shift in consumer behaviour when it comes to eating “well,” with sugar intake at the very front of people’s minds. But beyond notoriously fickle consumer tastes there is a growing awareness of the massive cost burden imposed on healthcare services by poor diets.

He also observed that the U.K. government’s strategy to combat childhood obesity was greeted with a lack of enthusiasm, and is widely considered to be a dud. The long-awaited “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” was published in August of 2016 to resounding disappointment in many quarters.

Childhood Obesity News noted that when the report came out doctors took to the pages of the British Medical Journal to express their chagrin at how the original 50-page draft, that had seemed to hold the promise of actual change, had shrunk to 10 toothless pages.

Obesity researcher Dr. Zoe Harcombe pounced on it, finding something objectionable before the body of the report even started:

Disappointingly, the introduction then moved straight to the classic misrepresentation of obesity “obesity is caused by an energy imbalance: taking in more energy through food than we use through activity.” Worse, it then played beautifully into the big food companies’ hands by emphasising the activity part of the “eat less do more” erroneous message…

The 14-point action plan did not fare much better in her esteem. The first part addressed the upcoming soft drinks levy, or tax, with language that started out weak and seemed vulnerable to further enfeeblement before the law could even be passed. Part 3 was titled “Supporting innovation to help businesses to make their products healthier,” and talked about encouraging science and technology and industry to “create” healthier products.

To which Harcombe sarcastically replied:

We won’t even mention real food in this entire report, or encourage consumption of real food. Instead we’ll support the invention of fake food in laboratories. You couldn’t make this up.

But wait, it gets worse. She characterized Point 4 as “moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The deadly risk of sugar: It’s time investors reassessed food and drinks companies,”, 03/15/17
Source: “UK Childhood Obesity ‘Strategy’,”, 08/22/16
Photo credit: sammydavisdog via Visualhunt/CC BY

Significant Developments in Treating Obesity


Last month at the Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management, Dr. Pretlow conducted a two-hour workshop on “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model.” He says:

I will be conducting a similar workshop on Tuesday for a streaming conference out of the UK. Our 90-min symposium submission on this topic was accepted by the World Congress of Psychiatry in Berlin in October. There appears to be significant new interest in this topic.

This last sentence is an understatement. The idea of treating obesity by using the addiction model is catching on. At this same gathering, speakers delved into such related topics as pedagogy; lifestyle management; binge eating; weight loss maintenance; mental programming; eating behaviors; hormones; diabetes; the gut microbiome; emotionally struggling adolescents; the brain; bariatric surgery; and more. Directly or tangentially, many areas of expertise impinge on the territory of compulsive overeating.

The presentation

The “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model” presentation reminds the audience of the Early Bird Diabetes study, one of the first to suspect that “Physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness rather than its cause.” Dr. Pretlow mentions again that 68% of his survey respondents said they have overdosed on healthy eating information.

Treatments that work are bariatric surgery and residential immersion programs, aka rehab centers. Both are expensive and time-consuming; neither can guarantee sustained long-term success. Evidence accumulates, indicating that the overeating that leads to obesity is an addictive process.

Slide 14 begins with the story of two groups of genetically identical rats. When researchers placed hyperpalatable foods on the far side of an electrified floor, the obese rats who were already hooked on the stuff went right ahead and endured the pain to get it. (We have all known people like that.)

“Something had changed in these obese rats, presumably something in their brains.” But the ones raised on plain rat chow did not volunteer for shocked feet, not even for a high-pleasure reward. Many of us want to become people like that.

But other rat studies showed other different and interesting things. Dr. Pretlow suggests that the substance might be beside the point, as overeating addiction might just boil down to the two components, comfort eating (sensory addiction) and nervous eating (motor addiction). He talks about body hunger versus brain hunger. Brain hunger is an emotion, an illusion, a promise of pain relief that can only be kept in the very short term, and is always broken in the long term.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management,”, 03/20/17
Source: “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model,”, March 2017
Image by Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management

The Universality of Addiction


Many health professionals believe that all addictions are one. The addictive personality will latch onto whatever addictor is most convenient, and, lately, for a large part of the world, that has been food.

At this point, opinion goes both ways. There is plenty of evidence that hyperpalatable foods are purposely engineered to be addictive. But is overeating a substance addiction? A mass of evidence points to overeating as a behavioral addiction. Probably, like so many other things, it’s on a spectrum, depending on the person and the environment.

The similarities that many seemingly different addictions have in common are astonishing. The ingenious human brain is always ready with a rationalization for anything it wants to do, especially when what it wants to do is pursue a substance or a behavior that will temporarily ease existential pain.

Here, from a well-known writer, are a few examples of junkie logic:

I must be at my very best to do what I have to do. If I can bring that off, I need never take it again.

I must show I am master of it — free to say either “yes” or “no.” And I must be perfectly sure by saying “yes” at this moment.

I am feeling very, very rotten and a very, very little would make me feel so very, very good…

Those quotations are from The Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley. He was talking about heroin, and Robert Anton Wilson said of him:

Crowley has great understanding of the addict mentality and the way the biological need for the drug can generate “reasons” that almost seem rational at the time.

Crowley enjoyed one of the worst reputations of any human being, but he shared many traits with millions of today’s overweight and obese people. Plenty of compulsive overeaters have thought, “It’s really not healthy to be so preoccupied with that ice cream. I’d better just go ahead and eat it, and stop obsessing about it.” That is a loose paraphrase of one of Crowley’s justifications, and he had a million of them.

A really sly mental gymnastic is to convince oneself that the only way to bring the substance use, or the behavior, to an end, is to keep on doing it. “The only way out is through,” someone might say.

Crowley wrote:

We can’t stop while we have it — the temptation is too strong. The best way is to finish it. We probably won’t be able to get any more, so we take it in order to stop taking it.

Probably the most dazzlingly familiar excuse that Crowley came up with is equally valid (or invalid) today. What if the person goes through the pain of withdrawal — and then gets hit by a bus? They could have had all that extra time to stay addicted, and would have chosen to, if only they had known that death by accident was approaching.

It is a well-known trope of addiction folklore that hard drug addicts have a ranking system, a hierarchy of what are considered high-class and low-class addictions. One of Crowley’s rationalizations is classic:

Most of us dig our graves with out teeth. Heroin had destroyed my appetite, therefore it is good for me.

He’s copping a superior attitude, with the subtle implication that food addicts are inferior to compulsive heroin users. The really interesting part is how easily the sentiment could be flipped. A compulsive overeater could just as reasonably claim the moral high ground by saying, “Most of those idiots kill themselves with drugs. At least food is healthy and natural.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Diary of a Drug Fiend,”
Source: “Sex, Drugs & Magick: A Journey Beyond Limits,”
Photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann (Abode of Chaos) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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