A virtual “Evening with an Author” hosted by the American Library in Paris featuring a conversation between Judy Collins and Sara Somers about food addiction and recovery to celebrate the release of Sara’s new book “Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction.” Filmed via Zoom with a live audience on 18/11/2020.
For nearly fifty years, Sara Somers suffered from untreated food addiction. In “Saving Sara,” she offers readers an inside view of a food addict’s mind, showcasing her experiences with obsessive cravings, compulsivity, and powerlessness regarding food, with the hopes of educating her readers and promoting life-saving conversations between loved ones and those suffering with addiction. “Saving Sara” chronicles her addiction from childhood to adulthood, beginning with abnormal eating as a nine-year-old. A raw account of Somers’ decades-long journey, “Saving Sara” underscores the challenges faced by food addicts of any age – and the hope that exists for them all.
Since childhood, legendary folk singer Judy Collins has had a tumultuous relationship with food. Her issues with overeating nearly claimed her career and her life. For decades she thought she simply lacked self-discipline. She tried nearly every diet plan that exists, often turning to alcohol to dull the pain of yet another failed attempt to control her seemingly insatiable cravings. Today, Judy knows she suffers from an addiction to sugar, grains, flour, and wheat. She adheres to a strict diet of unprocessed foods, consumed in carefully measured portions. This solution has allowed her to maintain a healthy weight, to enjoy the glow of good health, and to attain peace of mind. Alternating between chapters on her life and those on the many diet gurus she has encountered along the way, “Cravings: How I Conquered Food” is the culmination of Judy’s desire to share what she’s learned—so that no one else has to struggle in the same way she did.
Thank you and look forward to any of your comments,
In the world of food addiction, Thanksgiving is just another Thursday where the food is concerned. For me, it’s a day to look around and say ‘Thanks’. Since I no longer binge and I no longer eat massive amounts of sugar or carbos or grains, I now have the bandwidth in between my ears to have a day of true Thanks Giving. A day when I can say with all my heart how grateful I am that I live in the solution and never ever have to binge again. A day when I can say with all my heart how grateful I am to have the willingness to do everything I need to do to show that I care enough about myself to work hard not to engage in self-abusive behaviors that drove me deeper and deeper into food hell.
Normally, this is a lethal time of year. Starting with Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then all the Christmas parties, then Christmas itself and finally New Year’s Eve. At every single one of those occasions, there is always an over-abundance of food. Does that mean we have to eat as everyone else does? Does that mean we aren’t celebrating if we say No to foods and alcohol that will hurt us? These are loaded questions with difficult answers. Most people I know want to belong. Whether to a family, to a close organization, somewhere that they know they can let their hair down. So many of us have grown up thinking of food as love. “If I eat everything at Thanksgiving, I belong. I’m home and I know I’m loved.”
For some people that may be true. There is a joke amongst recovering food addicts: Thanksgiving is amateur day for normal eaters. Everyone overeats. But not everyone pays the price of triggering the phenomenon of craving. Not everyone starts with Thanksgiving and can’t stop bingeing until they wake up on January 2nd determined to start yet another diet. We food addicts are different. We will never be normal eaters and therefore Thanksgiving and the rest of these holidays have to be about something else. About being with family, about knowing what works well in your life and saying thank you to the universe. It just takes practice. One holiday at a time.
This year, nothing is normal. It’s all different. Here in France, ex-Pats do celebrate Thanksgiving but we won’t this year. We are in lockdown and no one I know would risk exposing someone they love to the possibility of getting sick with Covid-19. In the US, I’m hearing that more and more states and cities are entering lockdown. New Mexico went into lockdown today. One thing both Covid-19 and food addiction have in common—they don’t take vacations. We can’t let up on our vigilance of either disease just because it’s a special day. Wanting to belong to your family has to take a backseat to true love and telling them that we aren’t celebrating in person this year and let’s brainstorm how we can celebrate. On-line? Zoom? FaceTime.
This Too Shall Pass. We all have the opportunity to wake up January 2nd and not be vowing to diet and not have the deadly Covid disease. To do that, we have to expand our imagination. We have to put our heads together and ask each other “How do we celebrate? Do we celebrate? Maybe we wait and have Christmas in July?” There are as many answers as there are people.
So to all of you I say: You don’t have to eat foods that will ultimately kill you. You can provide yourself with an abundant delicious meal on Thanksgiving and any day. You can stay “sober” and truly let the people you love know how much you love them. You can walk through the holiday season, one step at a time, one day at a time without engaging in self-abuse. This is the Holiday Challenge. Can I love myself as much as I love others?
Let me know how you are doing? Please write some encouraging words to other compulsive eaters and let them know they are not alone.
Food addiction is REAL. Sweet foods are potentially more addictive than heroin or cocaine. It’s going to take more than 50 years to reverse the tide of the global obesity pandemic. How do I know this? Well – years of personal experience as a food addict and sugar junkie apart, over the last few months I have been reading Brownell and Gold’s Book “Food and Addiction”. I sit down and read it for fifteen minutes each day over my delicious abstinent (for me, being abstinent is not eating sugar, grains or starchy foods, eating only three meals a day and I do this every day without exception) breakfast. The book is subtitled “A comprehensive handbook” but it is so much more than that. This book is an extensive academic research compendium laid out as a series of academic papers (two columns per page, Vancouver-style referencing) containing 66 articles in seven parts.
This may sound off-putting to the casual reader but in reality, this is one of the most compelling and fascinating books I have read for a long time. And it’s one of the few books that I have ever read that – when I had finished reading it – made me want to turn back to page 1 and re-read the whole book again!
The sections take the reader on a journey – starting with the neuro-anatomy, neuro-biology and psychology of addiction, through to clinical approaches to and implications of addiction and obesity via research on food and addiction and ending up with public health approaches and legal and policy implications for the global obesity pandemic.
This book’s great strength is its impartiality. There are so many other books out there about the gut, diet, just about any food group….…. as a food addict struggling to control my compulsive behaviour around food I have read many of them, and I always feel slightly uneasy that the author is only really representing the research that supports their hypothesis and the inevitable “eating plan that is going to change your life” at the end.
In this book, if there is no research then that is not ignored or padded out with some obscure paper reporting small numbers. It is just stated. Where a food addiction research vacuum exists, there is discussion as to how the available research might apply to food addiction and what further research needs to be done.
So – what did I learn in reading this book? Several key themes emerged:
1–There is an awful lot of very elegant research that has been carried out on sugar, addictive behaviour, reward neuro-circuitry, how these interact and what influences them. OK – so much of the research for that was carried out on mice but – bearing in mind we share 60% of our DNA with a banana – mouse behaviour and brain structure ain’t that far away from humans – especially around behaviour as fundamental as reward, addiction and food intake regulation. Where comparisons are possible, the human research is clearly analogous to what they are finding in rats and mice.
2–The idea that a lot of our reward circuitry is hard wired not only from a young age but also during fetal life made a great deal of sense to me. Hell – if whale blubber or mammoth is/was the only item on the menu, and that’s all your Mom ate when you were in her womb – then you had better be born with a preference for the major food source in your community. It’s simple survival.
3–The concept of control of weight and body shape through delicate and intricate internal balancing (homeostatic) mechanisms which have evolved over millennia versus loss of control of weight and body shape through hedonistic (pleasure) eating – particularly highly refined carbohydrates and sugar was a new concept for me. Since food is needed for survival, it is likely to have complex and interconnected mechanisms for making sure that we are motivated to find food, remember those sources and to protect them. This all takes place in the parts of our brain associated with reward, emotion, and memory, to say nothing of the feedback via the enormous communication highway that exists between our brain, our gut and our gut bacteria.
4–We are hard wired to like sweet flavours. Sweet foods are more likely to be energy dense – which is clearly advantageous when life was hard and food was seasonal and scarce – but does not serve us well in our current food environment. Imagine – millennia of evolving higher functions around eating for survival laid waste by just reaching out and putting a single tub of Ben and Jerry’s in my shopping basket!!
5–The food/sugar lobby is more powerful than the tobacco lobby and we have to eat. There is evidence that the food/sugar corporations are using the same tactics that the tobacco lobbies used back in the day so I expect that it will take as long, if not longer, if ever, for per capita obesity levels to show a similar fall to tobacco consumption (Figure 1).
So – why did I read this book? As a recovered alcoholic and food addict I wanted to explore more about the dis-ease that I suffer from. Coming from a scientific/academic sort of mindset and being a bit of a nerd, this book appealed to me on many different levels. But even for those that don’t have that background, this is a great book for just dipping into when the interest takes you.
It helped me to understand my part in my story and also to understand more clearly why this dis-ease wasn’t just going to go away after a few months of eating abstinently. It also helps me to accept myself as a person whose brain just happens to be wired in a different way – a way that makes me prone to addiction and addictive behaviour……. but also a way that qualifies me for a life in addiction recovery and all the benefits and rewards that that brings.
November is Diabetes Awareness month. There are many websites that one can go on to learn more about this truly devastating affliction. The American Diabetes Association is one of them: https://www.diabetes.org/greaterthan
I’ve been reading up on some of the sites and found that almost all them put nutrition first as a way of managing one’s diabetes. I am not a doctor but I’ve seen many a food addict come into GreySheeters Anonymous and ,after 6 months or so, their diabetes seems to have gone away. My guess is that like food addiction, it is arrested and kept at bay by the food plan offered by GSA.
“Making healthy choices and taking steps to manage your diabetes can ensure you don’t just live but thrive with diabetes. But it’s important to take steps now-your health can’t wait. It’s time to thrive by finding a balance of nutrition, physical activity and mental health management.” ADA
One of the worst factors for being pre-diabetic is being overweight. Of course, not all food addicts are overweight. Many are underweight or at a normal weight but fighting twenty-four hours a day to maintain that weight. However, those of us that were/are overweight are at risk of diabetes. I believe that most overweight people eat far too much sugar and starchy foods. This is like throwing gasoline on a fire. If you are a food addict like me, you can know this information but it doesn’t stop you from bingeing.
Why is that? Food addiction is real, it’s an addiction. When we are addicted, the craving for the substance(s) becomes far more powerful than our own will power. We can know a lot about health, about nutrition, about diabetes and still not be able to control the addiction. We become ashamed and add that to the list of things we think we have failed at. The longer we keep trying to manage and control our food, the more miserable we become.
Do yourself a favor. Go on the above website. There are tests you can take to see if you are pre-diabetic, to tell you your BMI and there are lots of suggestions and advice. If you think you are at risk of getting diabetes, go to a doctor now and talk to him or her. If you are also a food addict, a compulsive eater, a binger, like I was, you will need double the help. Go to www.greysheet.org and read up on this life saving program. There is a long page of video meeting information. All meetings are on Zoom, Skype or by phone while the pandemic rages through our countries. Get information on how this 12-Step program can help you.