The self-anointed food police like to play down the idea of personal responsibility when it comes to weight gain. In this narrative, a victimized fat person is unable to control their behavior, and everything and everyone else is to blame: the fast food industry, bioengineering, supermarkets, and more often, some form of so-called food“addiction.”
The Huffington Post recently explored the distinction between supposed “eating” and “food” addictions. According to scholars cited in the piece, there is an debate surrounding the validity of the activist-preferred “food addiction” argument: that is, the idea that certain foods—especially those high in sugar, salt, and fat—are irresistible to consumers.
In other words, food companies are villains for—wait for it—making their food taste good. This theory of addiction has come under fire from researchers, and it’s also silly: Companies that produce food that tastes like cardboard don’t tend to stick around too long.
But now, there is a new version of this “addiction” theory: maybe, the thinking goes, consumers are addicted to eating in general, rather than specific foods in particular.
This distinction doesn’t exactly revolutionize the dialogue about health eating. Before, unhealthy individuals were told to blame fatty and sugary foods for their health problems. Now, they are told to blame some vague notion of a predisposition to overeating. If you actually enjoy eating, the thinking goes, you could be an addict.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. Whether defending unhealthy consumers as food addicts or eating addicts, advocates of addiction theories inevitably prescribe solutions that curb consumer choice.
These comparisons are not only ludicrous, they are also very dangerous: Busybodies frequently evoke the language of addiction—and eventually, substance abuse—as justifications for everything from soda bans to Twinkie taxes. Yet studies show that lack of exercise, and not diet, is responsible for the American obesity epidemic; limiting consumer choice isn’t the best way to shrink America’s waistline. The Food Police need to realize that with regular exercise, you can have your cake—and eat it, too.