Is overeating an addiction, an eating disorder, a bad habit, or self-indulgence gone totally off the rails?

Several book sites such as Book Club Buddy have asked me to come up with a question or two that readers of The Whole Clove Diet, my new novel, might want to discuss with one another. To answer this one, you don’t need to have read the novel (and there are no spoilers in this post).

I was talking to one of my readers who had a problem with anorexia in the past (which she has overcome), and she told me that she had a really hard time reading about Rita’s over-eating because of that. (She said she finally managed to keep reading and that ultimately she liked the book, for which I am very grateful on both counts.)

Some of MY weaknesses: I’m working on them!

Her statement made me think again, as I often did while I was writing the book, and often do when I am overeating – is overeating an addiction, an eating disorder, a bad habit or just overindulgence and lack of willpower?

Maybe eating disorders ARE addictions – I know they have a lot in common. I’ve been addicted to cigarettes and other things myself in the past. And I know that in my mind, Rita and Harry (Rosa’s father, who drinks too much) have a lot in common. (I have a very soft spot for Harry.)

Anorexia and bulimia are certainly addictions and very hard to overcome. Times have changed in the past decade or so when it comes to public awareness of these conditions. When I see a really really thin woman, now I immediately think, “She’s anorexic. That is a fatal addiction. I hope to God she can overcome it before she dies.”

But most of us never feel sympathy or concern when we see a woman (or man) who is obese. We think, “Push yourself away from the table, Woman! Get some exercise, Guy! Don’t be a sloth!” (Most of us know better than to say it out loud any more, but we do think it. Even those of us who are also overweight and haven’t been around the block for months. ) And overweight people know what other people are thinking, and of course that becomes another hurdle to address, which just makes them want to eat something to feel better and think “Why bother?” when it comes to getting outside for a walk. Not everyone has a live-in mother-in-law she needs to escape from, like Rita does.

So. What do YOU think?

Post your comments here or over on my Mary W. Walters, Writer page on FaceBookΒ  or on my GoodReads Blog.

Thank you!



Filed under Addiction, Book Clubs, Eating Disorders, Habits, Reading Group, The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel, Weight loss

14 responses to “Is overeating an addiction, an eating disorder, a bad habit, or self-indulgence gone totally off the rails?

  1. It’s probably difficult to choose, Mary, because I think it depends on the person whether true overeating is habit, disorder, or addiction. I’m relatively fortunate in that I have a naturally higher-than-average metabolic rate, which means that the five or so years I spent carrying too much weight were caused by eating to avoid confronting problems I was having in my marriage, i.e., I was looking for love in all the wrong places (ice cream, sausages, and other high fat foods.)

    We can’t assume, when we see overweight people, that they have an ‘eating disorder’ or that even they overeat, because some people really do have a physical limitation or must take drugs for some other condition, and those drugs cause them to carry extra weight, i.e., no matter what they do in terms of diet and exercise, they still won’t be svelte. My ex-sister-in-law is an example of this type of person.

    Sometimes, yes, the overweight indicates that the individuals aren’t coping well with other problems in their lives, but not always. Sometimes it indicates that those people were abused as children, but not always (e.g., there’s a correlation between anorexia and some kind of abuse.) And sometimes, they were simply born that way, and nothing they do can change it.

    There’s a huge “cult of thinness and youth” in our Western society. If we were able to get rid of that cult, I think many people who struggle with their weight might be able to control it better, i.e., to their own personal satisfaction.

    • Mary W. Walters

      You are so so right. And in the last sentence, you basically just nailed the theme of my novel. Nice work. πŸ˜‰

      • Dr. Shabraham Lorasbee, who helped me with some of the technical aspects of my novel, happens to be a forensic psychiatrist who treats pedophiles – a court-recognized expert, in fact. He believes that the cult of thinness and youth in our society contributes to the problem of pedophilia, too.

      • Mary W. Walters

        Wow! Now there is something (one of many things) I didn’t know.

  2. Kate

    I suspect sugar is an addiction that can be driven by parasites candida and other infections, as well as dysfunction in hormones that cause adrenal fatigue and depression. Food intolerances such as fructose intolerance etc can also encourage the addiction as reactions cause reactive hypoglycemia. The brain for es fhe search for sugar as a consequence. It is difficult to resist or fight the addiction when these other factors are relevant. It needs a lot of help and support like any other addiction but sadly little attention is paid to this issue. Surprising when you consider the statistics resulting in the burden to the health care system compared to tobacco drugs and alcohol! Even so called diet supplements and aids seem to be riddled with sugar or sweeteners that cause just as much damage. Any concerns just seem to fall on public policy deaf ears. Good to see sites that help raise awareness.

    • Mary W. Walters

      Thank you, Kate! Great comment and really important info. Thank you. I’ve now quit sugar for about 11 weeks and I’m down 23 lbs and feel a huge improvement in my health and zest. Here’s a a link to another article about what I’m doing.

      • Kate

        A truly amazing achievement – one you can be proud of. Is there anywhere on your site where you share your daily menu? And how did you manage cravings? I often see a reference to many people using fruit for cravings as well as dextrose and yogurt or milk. It surprises me as sugar is still sugar even if it comes packaged in ‘natural’ containers. This makes me question whether we can ever be truly sugar free. Even vegetables have sugar in them albeit much lower than the levels found in fruits. I suspect the real problem is not so much the sugar (apart from fructose and lactose malabsorption issues) but all of the additives color flavours and preservatives that are included in processed foods. These seem to me to be the real nasties that distort normal appetite regulating hormones and are the addictive factor in the equation. A similar issue also arises with salt. For instance the more you have, the more you want. Salt also drives the desire for sugar as a balance to our taste receptors. at least this is what some theorists seem to think. I am curious … Did you find yourself naturally cutting down also on salt?

      • Mary W. Walters

        Will respond to this later today or tomorrow. In the meantime, am about to serve a sugar-less brunch to family (one of the guests is bringing a bowl of sugar in case anyone wants it in their coffee. I don’t have any in the house — and intend to keep it that way. πŸ™‚

      • Kate

        I really had to smile when I read this. Bring your own sugar:) I imagine they wonder what to give you when you come for dinner … A dilemma not too far removed from family and friends who have to cater for those of us with gluten lactose and other intolerances:) Enjoy! will look forward to hearing from you Mary.

      • Kathryn M

        Mary Your picture on the website is lovely – you radiant health beauty and happiness:)

        Sent from my iPhone

      • Mary W. Walters

        Thank you! I feel that way. (May it last.) There’s a longer version of the article on the front page of this blog. A bit more detail.

    • Mary W. Walters

      Hi, Kate,

      Back again to answer some of your questions.

      As far as my daily food plan, I will go into this in more detail in a future blog post but this is not a written-in-stone diet — I am primarily concerned with avoiding all processed sugars (including honey and sweeteners, and in that regard also including stevia).

      For breakfast I usually have some steel-cut oatmeal and cottage cheese and applesauce (made by me by simmering apples, some water and some cinnamon until apples are mushy) or other fruit. Or a smoothie, involving plain yogurt and protein powder and fruit only. Lunch is usually a big big salad with some fruit in it and protein — feta cheese, chicken breast, tuna, whatever — and olive-oil based dressing. At about four I have some Ryvita crackers (2) and peanut butter (made of peanuts only), and an ounce of protein. For dinner about 3 oz of chicken or fish or meat and vegetables and margarine. Maybe 1/2 potato if I feel like it or some pasta or rice. And in the evening another cracker with peanut butter or, more likely, popcorn made in a hot air popper with margarine on it. If you have looked at many diets, you will recognize this as basically the Zone and/or the Harvard Food Pyramid and/or the food pyramids in Ray Kurzweil’s and Terry Grossman’s books. But I am not on a diet and I am not sticking to any food plan. I’m just avoiding sugar.

      I don’t worry about fruit in its raw form (no fruit juice though, not even home-made). If I feel like having fruit, I have it. According to Lustig, it has enough fibre in it to cancel out the sugar high and i don’t seem to overeat it. I am eating fruit several times a day and enjoying it more than I ever have before. I nearly died of happiness over a mango one day last week.

      If I’m out, i don’t worry about the white flour part so much. I’ll have a slice of pizza or a 6″ sub or (last night) tacos. I just avoid eating like that more than once or twice a week. If I eat at someone’s house, i eat what they serve except no dessert or fruit drinks.

      Since I don’t drink alcohol any more, it’s easy for me to avoid the sugar in drinks, and I sometimes will have a diet pop if I’m really thirsty because i love the feeling of pop going down my throat. But mostly it’s water, clear tea, coffee and club soda. (I love bubbles.)

      I probably eat too much cheese, but my cholesterol is good and I do try to choose other proteins. Maybe 2 eggs a week, max. I am eating more salt than I did before, but not a huge amount. I use Mrs. Dash or equivalent to season almost everything except corn-on-the-cob and popcorn, which NEED margarine (Becel) and salt. And I don’t eat those every day. I don’t add salt to food when I am cooking.

      As far as beating the cravings, as I mentioned I used a chart and filled in squares to mark each hour I was victorious and just toughed it out until the cravings were gone. At a certain point, I didn’t feel the need to continue with the squares. The most important part is that I had a goal — to beat my sugar addiction — rather than a barrier (not being “allowed” to eat sugar). It was (and is) a mental posture.

      I think that answers everything you asked, Kate, (thanks for asking!) and now I’ve written that blog post I mentioned: I just need to cut and paste this, revise a bit and post it, which I will do when I hit minus 25 pounds. Which will be soon. So thanks for that, too.

      • Kate

        Sounds like a really healthy regime Mary and just gorgeous fresh food. I can relate to your comments about mangos! I absolutely love them too and miss them, along with custard apples, pawpaw and grapes. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption and lactose intolerance – both have been difficult to manage and have caused alot of internal damage. I also have a lot of other food and chemical intolerances. Of all of these, up fruit and many vegies has been one of the hardest things I have had to do. I confess i often fail (temptation strikes when I go through fresh produce markets) and I suffer the consequences pretty severely:(. You are lucky you can handle the foods you are having. Oats cause me to end up in the emergency ward with a massive drop in my oxygen levels and I struggle to breathe for days after. Similar problems occur with many other grains and seed alternatives. Amines and other food chemicals also send me into a bit of a state. All of this has been made much more severe since a lengthy period of antibiotics due to extensive mouth surgeries and numerous medications I was made to take over the past 2 years which I reacted badly to. Perhaps a tip for you and others…..stay clear of antibiotics especially unless absolutely necessary. They do a lot of damage, weaken your immune system and facilitate yeast and other infections that feed off any type of sugar you consume. The sad thing is you need the medicines sometimes to survive (like me) but sometimes the medicine does just as much damage as the infections and conditions you are trying to battle. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The result though is that sugar does become a particularly dangerous Ingredient in the mix when you are battling serious health conditions. I take my hat off to you Mary – you have adopted a new eating lifestyle that will protect your health and well being for years to come. Thank you for sharing and inspiring.

      • Mary W. Walters

        Sorry! Thought I’d approved this days ago. Thank you so much.

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