This post was originally published on December 11, 2014.
Recently a brave woman came forward: a woman named Sandie Leonard who told NBC News’ Maria Shiver that she hoarded Little Debbie cakes the way an alcoholic hides bottles of booze—everywhere and anywhere she could. A self-admitted sugar addict brave enough to tell the world she is powerless over a box of .99 cent pastries, Leonard is part of the eight percent of women between the ages of 45 and 64 who could be considered food addicts.
The Sugar Struggle Is Real
As the debate over the reality of sugar addiction goes on, it strikes an alcoholic like me that it must be akin to being gay in the early 1970s when people debated over whether homosexuality was a mental disorder or not. As someone who struggles with the compulsion to eat sugar whether I mentally want to or not—that is, whether I have decided “no more sugar” past a certain hour or not—I can say from experience that not only is sugar addiction real but it also might be one of the more cunning ones out there.
I admire Sandie Leonard. If anyone thinks there is a stigma around being an alcoholic, food and sugar addicts have it way worse. While people may not be in jeopardy of losing jobs because of their sugar addiction, many have certainly not been hired when they were qualified because of it—that is, if the addiction had physically manifested into obesity, poor hygiene or depression. In much the same way that alcoholism was once universally seen as gluttony or inexcusable weakness, there’s a serious prejudice against fat people out there whether you want to admit it for yourself or not. Sure, you can be overweight to a certain degree without anyone really noticing, but once you start needing a seat belt extension or to buy two airline seats, make no mistake about it: people are judging with silent scorn.
But why do we do that? Other than the obvious direct personal inconveniences that might be caused by someone who is taking up too much space in a small plane or (dare I say it) the sometimes stench that comes from a person who is doing a poor job efficiently washing their overwhelmingly large body, what business is it of ours if someone is visibly struggling with an illness that very well could be just as severe as one that most people reading this site probably deal with not-so-publicly? Is it really the alleged burden they put on the healthcare system or social services? Maybe. Or maybe we need to open our minds the way we have in the past decade about alcoholism and drug addiction.
Look Good or Taste Good Stuff?
It’s a constant battle for me—and most non-ectomorphs I know: what is more important, enjoying my food or enjoying my body? And if you are a woman in the entertainment or modeling business, add enjoying a career to that list because the only thing worse than being a normal weight in show business is being over 35. Since we only (allegedly) have control over one of those, how much do you think we are going to obsess over weight as we turn a year older and desperately claw onto our dreams? Exactly. And so I wonder: could we possibly be envious of those who let it all go and even have an excuse for it?
Snack Cakes Anonymous?
Back to Sandie Leonard, a woman whose life has become unmanageable as a result of her addiction to Swiss Rolls. It would be a direct contradiction to judge Leonard for getting honest and speaking out and to scoff at the obese woman next to you at the movie theater. Thankfully the world is becoming increasingly aware about the process addictions out there but we still have a ways to go.
While part of the reason we see so many overweight people is because of the overall decline of the American diet, we also don’t put enough emphasis on seeking help when eating—and subsequently weight—begins to spiral out of control. The more mainstream compulsive eating and sugar addiction programs become, the slimmer and happier we are going to find ourselves as a country overall.
Of course writing about all of this makes me crave a brownie. Though they say identifying the problem is the first step, when it comes to sugar addiction, that second one may not be so simple.