Why 'This Is Us' Portraying Food Addiction Is So Important


If you are one of the 9.7 million of us who are obsessed with the Pearson family of NBC’s “This Is Us,” you will be familiar with the character of Kate and her struggle with weight. You may have been shocked when the topic of Kate’s food addiction was brought up in the same sentence as her brother Kevin’s pain pill addiction and their deceased father’s alcoholism.

As a food addiction counselor, I yelled “Thank you!” at the television. My husband came in from the other room to see if something was wrong. I have been watching the show for a year and a half wondering when the writers were going to address one of the biggest issues of the extremely popular show. I was hoping the writers and producers weren’t going to take the easy way out by sticking her on a familiar weight loss plan and choosing not to use the word addiction because it makes so many Americans uncomfortable.

So many of us are addicted to food. I spent most of my later teen years, my 20s and 30s going back and forth between gummy bears and diet soda all day. No one said anything to me about my constant companion of an extra-large diet soda — not doctors, not my friends — it was a non issue. I would wake up with a headache until I had my first diet soda and had some type of sugar during the rest of the day. It wasn’t pleasant; as I got older and it became harder and harder to not be impacted by the caffeine, my need for more candy led to having secret stashes of high fructose corn syrup in the house, car and my purse. I was thin and exercised all the time, so I never thought much of it. In fact, my neighbor, Judy, thought it was cute how much I liked candy.

In my late 30s, I learned about what I was doing to myself by understanding the dangers of sugar and sugar substitutes, and started down the path to quitting both. I had no idea how harmful diet soda was and how it made me want even more sugar, or that sugar often demanded more sugar. I was truly shocked when I found out. Until this point in my life, the only addiction issues I had ever heard of were drugs and alcohol. Food was a new concept, and didn’t we all drink diet soda because it was it was better than sugar? My friends noticed my constant companion was gone, and I didn’t have the words to tell them why my diet soda was no longer with me. At the time, I made up a weak story about my teeth being newly whitened and my dentist telling me to stay away from diet soda. Even at this point, I was not ready to out myself as a “sugar addict” — an addict isn’t a nice stay-at-home mom who runs the school book fair and will happily drive your child home when you are stuck in traffic.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association helpline: 800-931-2237.

A few years later, I became a food addiction counselor. My friends and family seemed to be fine with me saying I gave up sugar, but when I used the term “addiction” and how I am a “sugar addict”… talk about a way to ruin a mood at a party. I hope “This Is Us” continues using the term “food addiction” for the character of Kate, because she presents as a food addict on the show. The way she binge eats, hiding the evidence under the real trash, the emotional trauma from childhood expressed through food, and turning to food for comfort after a miscarriage and her anger toward others who do not have the same problem.

Kevin’s pain pill addiction and his father’s alcoholism are taken seriously by NBC and the producers of “This Is Us.” Kate’s food addiction was danced around for the last season and a half. Sure, Kate’s drug is easily purchased at your local convenience store, while Kevin’s addiction pushes him to sleep with a doctor to obtain pain pills and makes him attempt to forge a prescription for his drug — an addicts behavior is an addicts behavior, the rest are all details right? Not necessarily, because Kate’s addiction does not have the same stigma, and an 8-year-old can walk into a drug store and buy candy, while getting a prescription for Opioids is a much more elaborate and expensive process.

In Hollywood, addiction can be common. Going to rehab isn’t what it once was. Randall even calls Kevin’s court mandated 28 day inpatient drug rehabilitation center “the Four Seasons.” However, the shows producers have seemed to be reluctant to use the term “food” and
“addiction” in connection with our beloved Kate until last week. My gut instinct is they were reluctant to attach the term to Kate due to the polarization around the term “food addiction.” The audience and the Pearson family is fine with calling Kevin an addict, as he is the brother we all sort of resent — life has always been easy for him, he was born gorgeous, popular and athletic, his biggest complaint is he didn’t get to play at Notre Dame, but he dates supermodels and is rich. We love Kate, she is the sister we all want to have, the friend we lost touch with from high school, the beloved “Katie girl” of the world’s best dad who just found the world’s best fiancé, Toby.

Food addiction is real and it is all around us. It takes many forms: it sometimes looks like your overweight sister, or your thin neighbor who is always on her way to spin class. The more we ignore it, the worse it becomes. I am hopeful “This Is Us” is going to start more conversations amongst families, and the millions of Americans who struggle with food addiction will start to have more awareness and receive treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Lead image via “This Is Us” Facebook


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