Food Addiction Recovery: Through Education and Support
“I was depressed because I was overweight, but yet I ate to numb the pain and shame. It was a frustrating and never ending cycle. I had tried every diet, every club and if they sold it as a weight loss solution on an infomercial in the middle of the night, I owned it,” she said.
At rock bottom, she came across a brochure for Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) at her doctor’s office. After reading it she realized for the first time that she might not have a weight problem, but rather an addiction to food. Being an active member of FA for the past six years has completely changed her life.
“I lost 140 pounds in the first 14 months and have been maintaining that weight loss ever since. My meals no longer come straight from a bag or a box. I no longer have food delivery phone numbers memorized or place my order pretending to ask my ‘guests’ what they want, knowing full well I am alone and that all this food is for me. I no longer have to pour pepper, my beverage or dishwashing detergent over food so that I stop eating it. I no longer look to a particular food for comfort or a particular restaurant for joy – in fact, I don’t eat over my emotions at all,” says Rebecca.
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have experienced difficulties in life as a result of an obsession with food. The program is based on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are no dues, fees, or weigh-ins at FA meetings and membership is open to people from every religious tradition and those with no religious inclination.
Through shared experiences and mutual support, members help each other recover from the disease of food addiction. The practice of anonymity is described within FA as the spiritual foundation of the program, and FA seeks to ensure the confidentiality of anyone in the program or anyone exploring it.
FA defines food addiction as “an illness of the mind, body, and spirit for which there is no cure.” They acknowledge that food addiction involves physical craving and the manifestations of it can vary from overeating, undereating or self-starvation, bulimia (including exercise bulimia), and extreme obsession with weight or food.
According to WebMD, experiments have proven that, in some individuals, the same pleasure centers in the brain that get triggered by addictive substances like heroin and cocaine are also activated by highly palatable foods like flour, sugar, fat and salt. Consumption of foods containing these substances may release feel-good chemicals like dopamine. After repeated experiences with heightened dopamine transmission, some may compulsively feel the need to quickly eat again. The FA program addresses physical refrain from the addiction through abstinence, which is the parallel of sobriety in AA.
A paragraph read at every FA meeting defines abstinence as follows:
Food addicts have an allergy to flour, sugar and quantities that sets up an uncontrollable craving. The problem can be arrested a day at a time by the action of our weighing and measuring our food and abstaining completely from all flour and sugar. FA defines abstinence as weighed and measured meals with nothing in between, no flour, no sugar and the avoidance of any individual binge foods.
Abstinence is a planned, disciplined way of eating that leads to the addict’s release from food cravings, obsession, and self-abuse. Through regular contact with a sponsor, attendance at FA meetings and frequent phone contact with others in the program, members of FA begin to maintain daily abstinence.
“Kasey,” 56, joined FA four years ago and went from a size 24 to 4 her first year in the program. Her father was an alcoholic and her mother a bulimic who put Kasey on her first diet at age ten. From then on she never felt comfortable in her body and was consumed with food, especially sugar products.
“Once I started eating sugar products or flour products that processed as sugar to my brain, I had no control over the quantities I would consume. I went from extremes of controlled eating to binges. Food was what I used to cope with feelings of fear, doubt and insecurity. I ate when I was sad or happy. ”
At her first FA meeting, Kasey was convinced she was in the wrong place because there were so many beautiful women who looked like they had never had a weight problem. She was skeptical until members showed her their before pictures and told her they had kept their weight off for years. Kasey got a sponsor that day who provided a food plan and the support she needed.
“I learned quickly that after about a week, I no longer craved those foods and could be around them when my family ate them without eating them myself. I also found out it wasn’t just a diet, but a way of life,” she said.
Today, Kasey is an FA sponsor. She says there is great acceptance and peace in the label of food addiction for her. “I have a disease for which there is no cure, but there is a solution - one day at a time. It works when I work it to keep my disease arrested. I no longer have uncontrollable cravings that obsess my mind with food thoughts. I can focus on living my best life and for that I am more than grateful.”
For more info on FA, including a list of meeting locations, visit FoodAddicts.org. To receive a return phone call from a member of FA in the Charlotte area, please leave a message on the local hotline by calling (888)349-7870. To find out if you may have a food addiction, visit foodaddicts.org/Am-I-a-Food-Addict.