May I see your ID please?

It’s not a question you'd expect to be asked upon picking up an order of donuts, but we're not talking about any donuts here. We're talking about "Mafia Donuts." The delectable, gooey, warm rings of crispy fried dough were a specialty item at Eileen’s Coffee Shop in a sleepy little Wisconsin resort town, which was at one time a residence of Al Capone. Yep, Scarface himself. Hence the tribute name of our donuts.

It's been 13 years since I owned Eileen’s. When I purchased the diner, my original plan was to serve organic, farm-to-table, locally produced "good-for-you" fare. At the time, I was completing my PhD in Holistic Nutrition. But upon hearing my business plan, the wise old sage who'd previously owned and operated the establishment for 25 years said, "You silly girl! This is a resort town. People come here on vacation. They don't want to eat healthy food. They want greasy fries, hamburgers, and donuts! You'll be shooting yourself in the foot!" So, I caved. I succumbed. I buckled. I submitted myself willingly to "sugar dealer status."

Here’s the way the "no ID, no donuts" rule came about. Each day, I'd make enough donuts to fill the case, and when they were sold out, they were, well... sold out. So, if you wanted more than just a cup o' joe with a side sinker, you had to call ahead and put an order in for a pick up. We'd take your name, put it on a ticket, and attach it to the box. We'd line the boxes up on the counter and as people filed in, they'd state their name and exit with their "fix."

My employees started to notice, however, that as folks would file in, they'd glance over at the donut case. If it was empty, they'd look down the counter, see a name on the ticket of the box and say, "Hi, I'm Mr. Brown here to pick up my order." Money exchanged, thank-yous were said, and they’d exit stage left. But when the real Mr. Brown would show up... you guessed it! His order would be gone, the jig would be up, and we would have one furious customer (and sugar addict) on our hands.

I was supplying, supporting, and charging people for feeding their addiction... literally. Most of my customers were unaware of the intense dopamine signal that hijacks the biochemistry of the brain. The receptors in our brain respond in the same way, whether the stimulant of choice is heroin, cocaine, or sugar. An addiction is an addiction. Just like a dealer is a dealer. And I knew better! I was about to receive a doctorate in the polar opposite of the spectrum. Guilt set in, but only temporarily, just as it does when you're the addict. It passes... and back on the gerbil wheel you go.

I was supplying, supporting, and charging people for feeding their addiction... literally.

People with a disposition to food addiction are drawn to highly palatable foods. Foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. In short, fries, hamburgers, and donuts. Enough said.

Addiction is all about tolerance and withdrawl. Someone addicted to food has the same behavioral symptoms as someone addicted to drugs or alcohol. The more they eat, the more they can tolerate. Not only the amounts, but also the circumstances they are willing to go through for the sake of feeding their insatiable addiction. Additionally, the withdrawl symptoms mirror each other in that the same receptors are hormonally biochemically driven. Withdrawl leads to the beginning of the destructive cycle of the "user using till they're all used up."

The law of addiction is as follows: "Administration of a drug to an addict will cause reestablishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance."

A former smoker who has a puff of a cigarette will become addicted again instantly. An alcoholic who has a sip of beer will relapse, suffering all the horrible consequences. For someone addicted to food, the scenario remains the same. The one bite of a donut, the small order of fries, the "just this one time" carries the same guillotine effect.

The thing to realize is that addictions are often rooted in lack of self-esteem, insecurity, and the need to be loved. There's a void that was created somewhere, sometime in our lives that craves to be filled or eradicated. The tendency is to want to cover it up or rip it out when we can't cope with it. Neither is accomplished without love being allowed to enter.

As someone who has teetered on both sides of this chasm of food addiction, I much prefer helping people out of it versus into it! If only I could go back, if only I could have a "do-over." If only I'd have stuck to my original plan for a more healthful restaurant.... Nah, I'd not be as effective as a person who's been there, done that, and can report that the end result of healthy eating is positive!

And as for those "Mafia Donuts," my dealing days are over.

This article was written by: Eileen Smith

Photo Credit: Bethany Newman