Food - Does It Meet the Official Addiction Criteria?

When it comes to sugar + certain foods, I'm an addict.

Sugar is my favorite white powder. 

Yes, this holistic nutritionist used to rub sugar in her gums, melt it by the spoonful, chug it, scrub it in her skin, consume it in questionable brownies, chain-eat it, shoot it up Pixy Stix style... and more.

I might make light of it, but I'm not joking when I say I used to be a sugar + food addict. 



I know a lot of people out there aren't convinced that sugar + food addiction is real. They argue that you can't be addicted to food -- because that's like saying you're addicted to air or water -- it's a substance you need. That the key is just to practice Moderation. Exercise more Willpower. Maybe learn a little Self-Control

Unfortunately, as any addict (or addict professional) can attest, the crux of the addiction beast is that it doesn't play by the nice-sounding rules of Moderation, Willpower and Self-Control. The truth is:

Many, many people have problems with food -- including sugar + food addictions.

Particularly with things like sugar, sweeteners, soda, donuts, cakes, pizza, crackers, candy, chocolate everything, fast food, baked goods, ice cream, etc. And while food itself can't be avoided. specific foods can. Nature's given us a beautiful, bountiful array of food options. This permits us the option of giving up the specific foods we are addicted to, while still having plenty of foods left to eat.

Sadly, sugar + food addiction isn't taken this seriously, if seriously at all.

Many people are blissfully unaware of how their patterns with sugar + food fit exactly into the official criteria for substance addiction. 



Check it out:

The DSM-5 (the official, medically accepted base criteria for declaring addiction per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) states that:

"regardless of the particular substance, the diagnosis of a substance use disorder is based upon a pathological set of behaviors related to the use of that substance."

The DSM says these behaviors fall into four main categories:

(1) Impaired control (Consider criteria 1, 3 + 4, below)
(2) Social impairment (Consider criteria 5 + 6, below) 
(3) Risky use (Consider criteria 7, below)
(4) Pharmacological indicators of tolerance + withdrawal (Consider criteria 1+ 2, below)

And, per the American Psychiatric Association's 2013 version of the DSM, the 7 criteria for substance dependence are:

(1) Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:

(a) A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect. Consider how consumption of sugar or a food "creeps" in:  e.g. 1 cookie or brownie or chocolate treat on special occasion turns into 1 on more frequent occasion, turns into 1, 2, 3, 5+ consumed in shorter + shorter spaced intervals of time

(b) Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance. Consider how a sugar or a food starts to get boring unless more sugar or foods are added to make it better or more exciting:  e.g. a scoop of plain vanilla ice cream starts to "need" hot fudge, plus chocolate brownie chunks, plus fake cherries, plus crumbled candy bars, plus sprinkles, etc.

(2) Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:

(a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance. Consider intense hunger, intense cravings for more sugar, food hangovers, lethargy, need to "sleep it off," shakiness, irritability, "hangry" mood swings, blood sugar swings, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, inability to focus, energy swings, feeling blue/depressed.

(b) The same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptomsConsider how more sugar or food is used as a "pick-me-up" and/or to "relieve" the symptoms of 2A above.

(3) The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended. Consider how the intention of having 1 reasonable serving rarely remains that 1 reasonable serving. How excess amounts or whole container(s) are consumed in a sitting or through constant grazing.

(4) There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use. Consider the short-lived attempts to control + limit sugar or food intake on one's own, including all manners of diets, substitution, willpower, brain power and strategic technique.

(5) A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance, use the substance or recover from its effects. Consider time spent looking at recipes, watching "food porn," dining out, making additional or special trips, preparing lavish dishes, eating while cooking/at dinner/while cleaning up, working/volunteering in food arenas, attending food events. Consider actual time spent eating. Consider time spent not being able to sleep from stimulating foods like sugar or "passing out from a food coma"+ sleeping too much. Consider excess amount of time spent compensating for eating, particularly through exercise or purging.

(6) Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use. Consider thepreference or action of eating alone or in secret. Consider not eating desired amount of food in public + "making up for it" later. Consider arriving late, leaving early, cancelling or staying home from activities because of increased desire to be alone, reduced level of interest in activity, inability to be away from food for long and/or feeling "too gross/fat" to go out. Consider the common occasion of "needing food" to get through activities or daily life.

(7) The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance. Consider the constant state of thoughts creating an obsession around getting + eating (more) food before, during, after and in between actual occasions of eating. Consider health conditions -- obesity, weight problems, diabetes, kidney problems, loss of limbs, neurological problems, high cholesterol, eating disorder diagnosis, heart disease, hypertension, sleep apnea, gout, non-alcoholic cancers or failure of liver + pancreas, digestive conditions, mood disorders, autoimmune diseases and other disease resulting from or worsened by diet.


Despite the fact that the use of sugar or food clearly meets all its above outlined criteria, the DSM-5 still doesn't recognize sugar or food as substance addiction.

(the closest it gets is to classify binge eating as an official eating disorder)

Personally, I find this

And yet somehow... very believable. I've got endless theories on why Sugar + Food Addiction hasn't been given much attention -- from lack of information + understanding, to lack of admittance + honest appraisal, to less-than-reputable influence + support from the insurance companies, food giants + other "health" bigwigs who might suffer greatly were Sugar or Food Addiction given the focus it deserves.




Even among the savvier health professionals, you won't find a lot of understanding or consensus on how to help sugar + food addiction. Not to mention there's almost no insurance coverage or support for treatment + related healthcare needs.

Sugar is my favorite white powder.

Until the scientific, medical, health + insurance communities fully acknowledge how present and out-of-control this addiction is, and give us the support we need, we have to be satisfied with our common knowledge that Sugar + Food Addiction is very real

It's real for me, for my clients, and for the people I help, volunteer + interact with daily. 

The good news is...

As long as we have each other -- those who get it -- there is support + hope for our recovery from Sugar + Food Addiction.    

❤   ❤   ❤