Is sugar addiction less “real” than alcohol addiction?

I recently received an e-mail from an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) related app entitled Why are Sugar Addiction and Alcohol Addiction similar. I was really pleased as alcoholics, in general, are quite resistant to accepting the idea that sugar addiction is real. For one thing, it’s recommended in many places in the AA literature that newly sober alcoholics eat sugar to calm down their alcohol cravings. Many meetings have sugary treats next to the coffee for just that reason.

The e-mail went through some of the brain chemistry that is similar in both addictions. But then said “sugar does not alter the brain exactly like alcohol and drugs,” but that it can cause chaos. By the end of the article, it implied that yes, one does need sugar to get through the alcohol cravings but that it is important not to become dependant on sugar. “AA recognizes that having some candy or an energy drink is a better option than relapsing into one’s addiction.” So, in the end, even though the title gave me hope, it was just another article saying sugar is not nearly the killer alcohol is and that one should control it and not become dependant.

I am a recovering alcoholic. I’m a recovering food addict. I would never say that one is more ‘real’ than the other. But it is much harder to get totally abstinent from sugar intake (I’m including carbs and anything that turns to sugar quickly in the body), fructose and dextrose intake than it is to get sober from alcohol. As I sit in AA meetings, I look around me and the percentage of overweight and obese people in meetings is roughly the same as in the US in general. In other words, it’s high. Are alcoholics so resistant to admitting that food addiction is real because they don’t really want to look at themselves and tackle another addiction? I don’t know the answer, I only have opinions.

I do know that I am often asked the question “What do you do when you want to celebrate your birthday or get married or it’s Valentine’s Day?” I think the underlying question is, ‘Is it possible to have fun and celebrate without food, especially sugar?’ I find that question very, very interesting. In my life, eating a birthday cake was never fun. The sight of it would trigger my compulsion and, of course, I would eat a piece and then, when I thought no one was looking, I’d eat the whole thing. I never found that fun. By my thirties, the sight of that kind of sugar caused me to stop breathing and want to disappear. Until I discovered the twelve-step programs, I thought I was the only person in the world who was terrified of a piece of cake yet couldn’t not eat it. I thought I was possessed. I remember seeing a “Star Trek” movie when I was in my thirties. The bad guys put some kind of horrible insect or animal into a good guys ear. Once inside, it killed the person by eating all his insides. To me that was real. I was sure that something evil had entered my being, possessed me and I couldn’t stop bingeing, couldn’t say No to anything that had sugar, grains or refined carbohydrates in it.

That was me for years and years and years. As a friend of mine told me after she got abstinent from sugar, grains and carbos, “I was just lying on the couch waiting to die.” I wrote Saving Save A Memoir of Food Addiction because it has been many, many years since I was held hostage by my food addiction. I strongly feel that if I can do it, anyone can do it. I found a twelve-step program called GreySheeters Anonymous that works for me because it is so much like Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a No Matter What program. We don’t eat those poisons no matter what. It isn’t the answer for everyone but for people like me who thrive with structure, need boundaries because I broke every one that was ever imposed on me. My hope is that my story will resonate with others. One woman who read my book and then went to a meeting with me, said “I didn’t know people talked out loud about things like this. I thought I was the only one.” There is hope for people like me. There is a solution. Don’t ever give up.

Food Junkies Podcast

Readers of this blog know that I’m a big supporter of the work of Dr. Vera Tarman, author of the book Food Junkies: Recovery from Food Addiction. She runs a Food Addictions Institute called Addictions Unplugged. Her book is on my resources list on this site. I was recently invited to speak on a podcast that she and two other women, Clarissa Kennedy and Molly Painschab, started at the end of 2020. The Podcast is called Food Junkies and can be found wherever you listen to your podcasts. I have been listening to the podcast – there are now 6 of them – and wanted to tell all of you about this informative and wide-ranging broadcast about many different ways to look at and approach food addiction. Many of us have gotten our information by doing years of research of bingeing, vomiting and a multitude of other ways of abusing food. A number of the episodes are focused on how the science of food addiction is catching up with our human experience.

Dr Tarman, Clarissa and Molly, also moderate a FaceBook page called Sugar Free for Life Support Group: I’m Sweet Enough. Is that a great name? I’m Sweet Enough!! Something all of us food addicts have to face in order to truly recover: there is enough, I am enough, you are enough.

Since I wrote my book Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction, I’ve been lucky enough to learn how much is going on in the field of food addiction. They will tell you it is not nearly enough. And they are right. Food Addiction needs to get into the Mental Health bible, the DSM-V, and these three women are on the leading edge of making that happen. To me, however, who retired as a psychotherapist 12 years ago, it’s astounding how much is going on.

Some of you won’t be interested in the science that is backing up what we already know: Food addiction is real; it’s a killer disease, and it is akin to living in hell. But many of you will be interested and the podcast is a great place to start. Besides myself, who has no scientific background, you will hear researchers, nutritionists, Yoga teachers, and addictions specialists. What is really impressive is the patience and open-mindedness of Dr. Tarman who does the majority of the interviewing. I could feel myself get huffy when someone was explaining something that truly felt like old news to me. Give the podcast a listen. Let them know what you think. This is a field that needs to know there is a lot of support and encouragement to know as much as possible.

I do not know the date my episode will be available but stay tuned……

Stay safe and stay healthy. We are still in a pandemic that is very bad. Use this quiet time to reflect on your physical and mental health. You may never get this kind of opportunity again.

Sara

Follow Vera:

Website: https://www.addictionsunplugged.com IG: dr_vera_tarman FB: Sugar-Free for Life Support Group: I’m Sweet Enough Twitter: @addunplug Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drveratarman/

Follow Clarissa: Website: https://foodaddictionhelp.ca Email: crissy_kennedy@hotmail.com IG: @reinventyourblisspoint

Follow Molly: Website: unsugaredyou.com Email: molly@mpainschab.com IG: @mollypainschab

“The content on our show does not supplement or supersede the direction of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, substance use disorder or mental health concern.” Molly and Clarissa

Diets Don’t Work

How many people do you know who have gone on a diet and kept all their weight off? In my memory, I know two or three people.  They didn’t have much weight to lose, and usually the weight had come on over a holiday season or a vacation. They took it off.  Two or three people is less than .0001% of the dieting population.

Why is that? Almost all the diets I see advertised, show happy people on the day they reach their goal weight. I can’t help but wonder what those people look like five years later. Chances are good they have gained all their weight back plus more.

We live in a world of instant gratification.  I want this and I want in NOW. We wake up one morning with a burst of willingness to do something about our weight.  We know ourselves well enough to realize the willingness many not last long.  We jump on the computer and google “Can’t Stop Eating” or “Lose weight” and then shuffle through the sites that come up.  The one with the most bling, the best razzle-dazzle, and the promise that in just one month, you can lose up to thirty pounds jumps out at you. You’re afraid if you don’t plunk down your money now, you’ll lose your willingness and not do anything.  Congratulations! You’ve signed up for a diet that has the absolute best marketing plan and knows how to take advantage of your desperation. 

You are not alone.  I’ve done that. We’ve all done that.  And it doesn’t seem to matter how intelligent we are. At the moment of willingness and desperation, we are blind to everything except the overwhelming desire to lose weight NOW.

Some of us may take all our weight off quickly, some of us may make it half-way, and some may falter out of the starting gate. It doesn’t really matter.  What all the research has shown, both my personal research and professional research, is that without changing ways of thinking and much of our behavior, we’ll gain the weight back.  Then we hang our head in shame, want to disappear from the world, and take one more step towards disconnecting from our feelings, our hearts, and our souls.

The truth is that changing our relationship with food is hard work. Any diet program that doesn’t tell you that is lying, is more concerned with making money than they are with your health, both mental and physical. If you are forty years old, you’ve been doing something for twenty or thirty years that has resulted in you being overweight, underweight, or trying to manage your weight with vomiting or exercise bulimia. No one can undo that in thirty days. What is wrong with us is three fold. One, we have physical problem.  We abuse our bodies with food, some make it much worse by vomiting or anorexia. Two, we have an emotional problem. We have no idea how to live with the range of human feelings we all experience.  We let our feelings run our lives.  Three, we have a spiritual problem.  Most of us have a huge, empty hole in our souls that we are desperately trying to fill up. We try to fill it with food, or alcohol, or sex, or any variety of things.  And the hole stays empty because we don’t have any idea what to really do.

We need help. We need the kind of help that treats what is wrong with us. We need a three-fold solution not a diet. In my experience the only solution is a twelve-step program or any program that treats the three problems.  I like twelve-step programs because they are free, they work, and it’s a ‘together’ program.  We all recover together. I found Greysheeters Anonymous. I now live in the solution. I live in today. I’m pretty darn sure I will never be normal around food.  It hasn’t happened in over sixty years so it’s very unlikely. I crossed some invisible line when I was very young.  I’m a food addict. GSA has helped me accept that I am what I am. It gives me a food plan that won’t trigger my addiction. I have learned what behaviors lead me back into active addiction and which ones lead me away. At some point I realized that something miraculous had happened: the impossible.  I hadn’t binged in years; I was right size.  Did I mention GSA is free and that it works!!! That hole in my soul is filled with gratitude for the life I live today.

It’s January.  It’s the month so many of us swear we are going to lose weight. I encourage you to save your money and try something new.

Please look under Resources on this blog.  Especially go to YouTube and do a search for the GreySheet channel and you can hear lots of people tell their stories. And if you feel moved to tell me your story, I would be honored.

Join me in a discussion of Food Addiction with Judy Collins, singer and author of Cravings

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.

available anywhere books are sold.

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,

Sara

Is it ok to eat like a “normie” on Thanksgiving?

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.

Until next time,

Sara

“Now that I don’t binge, I have more time to read.”

Email from a reader:

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). 

Figure 1:  Adult per capita cigarette consumption and major smoking and health events – US, 1900 – 2017. Sources: Adapted from Warner 1985 with permission from Massachusetts Medical Society, © 1985; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1989; Creek et al. 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture 2000; U.S. Census Bureau 2017; U.S. Department of the Treasury 2017.  

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. 

Susanna R

Oxford University Press, 2012

Diabetes Awareness month

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.  

Fight for your health.

Stay safe and please stay well,

Sara

Election Sanity vs Binge Eating

As part of my self-care program to keep my food addiction at bay, I meditate. And, as everyone who participates in any kind of social media knows, once I started asking questions or downloading any thing to do with meditation, I began to receive many invites in my e-mail. One of the best that I have discovered is 10% Happier–an app that had its beginnings with the book of the same name by Dan Harris of ABC Television. This no-nonsence, down to earth approach and aid to meditation is a wonderful way for anyone to get started on meditation as a daily practice.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from 10% Happier inviting me to partake in the Election Sanity Challenge. Of course my mind went on Tilt. No such thing as sanity and election in the same sentence. Elections in the USA have grown more and more insane as the years go by. But, in theory I thought, great idea, sign me up. Each Monday, a talk arrived in my mailbox that addressed one of the four nobel truths of Buddhism: Loving Kindness/Friendliness; Compassion/Giving a crap; Sympathetic Joy/the opposite of schadenfreude; Equanimity/Keeping cool. The second label is Dan Harris’ way of making these truths accessible to all of us. It works.

Why am I telling you all this? This week, I realized that as the election is 7 days away and I have no idea what will happen, this is the kind of worry or anxiety that I would eat over. The more I got involved with something that I feel great passion for, the higher my anxiety got as I realized that I had no control over the outcome. That kind of anxiety is terribly uncomfortable and I would always eat/binge when I was at any level of discomfort. Preferably–my drug of choice ‘ice cream’, which I thought would cool me down. Of course, the quantities that I consumed would knock me out, make me numb, and while numb I might sign up for yet another round of activity with my political party of choice. When the food/drug wore off, there I was: neck-deep in craziness, powerlessness and not knowing. Three quarters of the way towards another binge.

Radical Self-care is the assertion that you have the responsibility to take care of yourself first before attempting to take care of others. It’s necessary to fill your cup first, then to give to others from the overflow. This is what gives you the capacity to heal and to move forward into your next chapter of life.

This is a week of ultimate need for radical self-care. Dan Harris anticipated this and, for the last month, has been preparing us and our active minds to think in terms of kindness–to ourselves and others. He offers a daily mediation challenge through next Tuesday. You can sign up on the app 10% Happier. I find that I need to consciously acknowledge where I can go with this sense of wanting to control the outcome of the election. The first thing is to accept that I cannot control it. This morning, I asked myself if I was pleased and satisfied with all the actions I had taken to participate in this election. As a voter from abroad, I had the extra challenge of making sure I got my ballot in time to get it returned in time. I did. Check. Have I participated in physical actions to get out the vote? Yes, Check. Since my time zone is not conducive to making phone calls all day to make sure people voted, I donated money. More than I ever have in any previous election. Check. But I don’t want my mailbox filled with requests, solicitations, some even shaming me for not doing enough. So this morning, I unsubscribed to every single one of them. I didn’t feel guilty. I felt strong that I wanted to survive this election time abstinent from compulsive eating, abstinent from crazy, insane, powerless thinking, abstinent from the adrenaline rushes I used to get from the highs of sugar misinterpreting that energy as creative energy.

No matter what happens next week, I still have to live with me. I still have to wake up each morning and feed my cat, do my work, write my blog, talk to friends. Do I really want to wake up having thrown away years and years of abstaining from the substances that will kill me? Go back to living in hell praying to the God that I don’t understand to help me stop binging? Having to face all of you and say “I didn’t make it through this election.” NO I DON’T. No election, no political party, no person (other than me) is worth throwing away the life I live today; a life of mostly sanity, a life I have chosen that I love.

What are you going to do this week to take care of yourself? If you have a horse in this race, how can you detach from the outcome today and one moment at a time, abstain from the substances and the negativity that once ruled you and your life. You are worth it. Vote for yourself, for your happiness, for freedom from the food from this moment forward. Then listen to 10% Happier!! It just might give you some new and well needed tools.

Here’s to freedom from Food Addiction, one day at a time.

Sara

When you have finished your meditation, take a look at my memoir–how I went from fat and bingeing on a daily basis to recovery from my food addiction. If you identify, there is hope, I promise. Available at your favourite bookstore, bookshop.com and of course, Amazon.

In the April issue of Recovery Today magazine, p.46 Confessions of a down and dirty, rock bottom food addict. Their title not mine. But it says what it needs to say.

I got sober on June 1, 1998. I was an alcoholic, but alcohol wasn’t my bottom line addiction. Food was. I was a down and dirty, rock bottom food addict who couldn’t ingest sugar and grains in either liquid or hard form. I first went to AA in an effort to learn what the 12-step programs were all about, after coming from Overeaters Anonymous where I had been dazed and confused.

I was so ashamed of my food addiction that I never spoke of it to my sponsor or friends. In private,
I tried to make AA solve my food issues. Such an irony: I knew that AA was a WE program, that connectedness was the antithesis to addiction. I knew that telling like-minded people how I’d used and abused my drugs of choice brought it all out in the open, gave me another 24 hours to keep the disease at bay. But my shame of eating, of my body, was so huge that I found it impossible to share with others. In my memoir, Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food AddictionI once and for all detail how my food addiction progressed and became more unmanageable over the years. I found OA in 1979 but was too arrogant to let go and try it someone else’s way. Then I was introduced to  GreySheeters Anonymous in 1983. I knew immediately it was the solution I had been looking for. But being a hard core addict, hard- wired to do self-destructive things, I felt sure that I could fix myself on my own.

It took me another twenty-six years to crawl back to a GSA meeting, broken and beaten up.
I was seven years sober at that time. I had been sitting in AA meetings wondering why I wasn’t happy, joyous and free. I had done the steps a number of times. But I always kept my dirty secret to myself: I couldn’t stop binge eating. Now, fifteen years later, I have been abstaining from sugar, grains and refined carbs. It helped to accept that I could only deal with food addiction with other food addicts. No matter how much my AA friends loved me, since they didn’t eat like I did, I felt they couldn’t understand. On top of community, what GreySheeters Anonymous gave to me was structure. If I did what my sponsor said, I had a good chance of arresting the bingeing. I weighed my food at every meal and ate the same amounts as the day before. GSA knew I had a life and death disease and that was what the GSA boundaries treated. Since food addiction isn’t discussed as often in our society, I hope Saving Sara will open the door for much needed conversations to arise.

See you next week,

Sara

What was it like?

A reader asked me, “What was it like when you first gave up sugar and grains?” For me, as a food addict, I stopped putting poison in my system. I didn’t completely understand what was happening, but it certainly was very disruptive to my physical being and my life. I’d say I was detoxing which can be both emotionally and physically painful. I was (sometimes still am) an instant gratification person so the desire to stop the pain was intense. All my life I’d used sugar and grains to numb myself from pain. The people I now had to turn to for guidance said, “you are very, very vulnerable right now. Take good care. Protect yourself.” I really didn’t want to be living in hell anymore so I said ‘No’ to most invitations. I wanted the support and encouragement of my friends but, truthfully, it’s very difficult to understand why anyone would go to the lengths I was going unless they also were a food addict and had lived in the hell I had lived in.

It was not so different from learning a new language and the best way to do that is total immersion. I didn’t have the money to put myself into a treatment center and, in the end, it was me who was responsible for my own health and sanity. I had to create a similar atmosphere of immersion so that most of my days would be surrounded by the love and encouragement of the people who had gone before me. That included meetings, phone calls, walks with other recovering food addicts, going to others’ homes and weighing my food with them. Being around others who would love me until I learned to love myself.

Being around beings who love you exactly as you are.

Each thing I contemplated doing outside of this initial time of detoxing and learning the ins and outs of eating healthily without sugar and grains, I had to consider carefully. It wasn’t in my nature to think ahead and to be totally honest how I would respond to certain situations. An example of this was a cruise I had signed up for. A group of friends and I were going to fly to Russia and take a cruise up the Volga to St. Petersburg. It was fun planning it and I was looking forward to it. Then my sponsor asked me how I was going to deal with the food. Well, I hadn’t even thought about it. Not one member of our group was in a Twelve Step program. No one was sure if we would have any WiFi and I probably couldn’t make any phone calls so it was certain I would be out of contact with all my support. Because it was a Russian cruise line, it took me almost two months to get through to someone who could tell me about the food. By that time, there was only about three weeks until we were to leave. I was told that there was one seating an evening and only one choice for a meal. If I cancelled I’d lose my deposit. I started going back and forth in my head. On the one hand, I was trying to rationalise why it would be ok if I went, I’d be fine–even though left alone without support, it had never been fine before. My GSA program was urging caution and “when in doubt, leave it out.” No one said ‘Don’t go’. I made myself crazy trying to fit something I really wanted to do into a hole that it wouldn’t fit in. I didn’t want to lose the deposit. Finally my sponsor said, “What if you lost your abstinence and ate sugar and grains. You likely would binge because that is your history. How much money do you think you would spend on bingeing before you were able to get home?” That was pretty convincing. I could easily see myself terrified and desolate and paying top dollar for an early flight back to California. In the end, it would cost many times more than the $500 deposit. So I cancelled and have never regretted that decision.

My friends didn’t really understand. The average person thinks it’s a matter of will power and knowledge. I had tons of knowledge about food, nutrition, psychology, behavior and I was very wilful. None of that helped me deal with my food addiction.

I have a spiritual disease, an emptiness, that only a spiritual solution can heal. What I had to do during those first days and months of abstaining from sugar and grains, my friends in recovery call Radical Self-Care. Many people grow into adulthood knowing these caretaking things. Addicts don’t. In the quest to feed the habit, many important skills do not develop.

Next week: What are these new friends like, the people I had to depend on for my life and sanity?

Have a great week and plan ahead,

Sara