addiction, shame and secrets

medicalnews reports this today:

An article published in the recent issue of Psychological Science … demonstrates that individuals have a strong tendency to eat only a single unit of food, regardless of the unit’s size or caloric value.

The authors conducted experiments with offering free food in public areas, varying the size of the product unit and the size of the serving utensil …

The results demonstrate an identifiable unit bias, as passersby tended to take a single unit or spoonful of food without consideration for its size or quantity. As tests were conducted both within eyesight of others and in a more discreet location, the bias in favor of consuming a single unit cannot be attributed solely to the avoidance of perceptible gluttony …

well, that may be the case for some people. however, this last sentence reminds me how little people know about the inner workings of people struggling with addictions. a “discreet location” would still not be safe enough for many people with a food addiction.

the vast majority of people struggling with addictions function quite well in the “normal” world. part of this functioning involves an intimate relationship between addiction, shame, and intricate techniques designed to conceal the addiction.

for many overeaters, a “discreet location” in a public place will still bring forth the need to appear a normal eater. the deep shame over the addiction would be much stronger than the apparent safety of such a discreet location. many overeaters will only overeat in the privacy of their homes, often alone, maybe even with the curtains drawn.

i have met food addicts who had become experts at climbing out of bed, getting dressed and driving off in the middle of the night without barely making a sound, so as to not wake up anyone in the house and alert them to their excursion to a 24 hour convenience store.

of course, this often turns into a vicious cycle. the person wants to eat, eat, eat – but not be seen eating. so she creates a bubble of isolation around herself. this isolation is depressing, and the depression is then medicated with more food – and thus the cycle continues.

ironically, then, eating in public can be the first step towards recovery for some people. eating that second chocolate bar in public, or finishing off the big bag of chips for all to see, can be a healing experience. maybe the eating behaviour is still there, but at least the layers of shame and hiding are taken off.

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