Snack Urge

A friend visiting us has described her unsuccessful battle to keep her weight down. She’s not obese, just cuddly, but she is fatter than she wants to be. She has some very thoughtful reasons about why this is so, and why she seems unable to do anything about it. She is in her own words a ‘control freak’, a much-loved GP who runs her work life and family with enormous efficiency. But this is the one part of her life that she can’t control. She grazes on snacks all through the day; longs for a slice of cake with her coffee, and surrenders to the longing; and salivates as she pulls up at a filling station, because she always buys herself a bar of chocolate with the petrol. Filling station indeed. The pleasure she gets from these constant treats is very real, if short-lived. The only times she’s safe from the snack-urge is when she’s working so hard she’s distracted. At home the snacks in the larder are for the children; but her own hand reaches out, as it were unnoticed by her mind, for the biscuit tin. She has become able to snack without knowing that she’s doing it. The snack-urge has taken control of her conscious mind and found the pause button.

Her conclusion, and she speaks as a doctor, is that she has become addicted. Her behaviour is that of an alcoholic or a drug user. She has tried many diets, but been forced to accept that no diet will save her. So what can be done, for her, and for our growing nation of snack abusers?

Her answer is: regulation. Treat sugar-fat snacks like cigarettes. Put them out of reach, in plain packaging, and tax them so heavily the price alone is a deterrent. At present the world is a whorehouse of temptation for the snackaholic. Every shop places quick bites heavy in sugar and fat right where you can scoop them up as you pay your bill. Every fast food outlet offers sugar-fat meals that are easier to get, as cheap or cheaper than eating at home, and far more delicious. The culture of the workplace revolves round cookies, doughnuts, cupcakes. Every railway station lures eyes and taste buds with multiple pastry outlets. How is the poor snack addict to resist? It’s more than the sugar-fat addled brain can endure.

Shut the snacks away in high white cupboards with sliding doors, like the cigarettes in supermarkets. Let consenting adults only ask for their fix in low voices, giving wads of notes in return, before shuffling off to get their high beneath the railway arches. The day will yet come when we’ll pass a sad heap of failed humanity begging on the pavement and will shake our heads and say, ‘Sugar addict.’ We won’t drop a coin in the hat because we’ll know that money only feeds the addiction. Big pharma will come up with sugar-fat substitutes – ‘You won’t believe it’s not pizza!’ A new generation will grow up that has never known temptation, and will look with scorn at the few remaining blubber mountains that tour their schools as living warnings.

One step I believe we should not take. The use of sugar-fat should not be criminalised. Let there be no War on Snacks. Look what happened in the Prohibition era. Look at the disastrous failure of the so-called War on Drugs. Let’s not abandon our housing estates to roaming gangs of violent criminals peddling cookies in plain wrappers, and slipping bags of crisps to dead-eyed teenagers. They’ll adulterate the cake mix, and who knows what they’ll put into the fizzy drinks. So we have to keep this thing in proportion. Don’t panic. After all, there are people we all know who’ve snacked all their lives, and reached a grand old age.