Am I a food addict if I can’t stop eating?

In new memoir, Sara Somers reflects on her hard-won battle with food addiction

Steven Winn July 8, 2020Updated: July 8, 2020, 8:24 pm

Friday was her favorite day when Sara Somers worked at the American Red Cross in Alameda. It had nothing to do with the weekend coming up and everything to do with sugar and grains.

When the weekly donation from Mother’s Cookies arrived, Somers would help herself to a plateful. And then another. And another after that. Finally, as she writes in “Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction,” she’d steal the cookies that were left and smuggle them home for more bingeing.

Today, 43 years later and 11 years “abstinent” from the addiction that dominated her life for decades, Somers regards herself as a “walking miracle.”

“The percentage of the food addicted who can stay abstinent over the years is pretty small,” she told The Chronicle by phone. “It’s very hard.”

Scores of books, a dizzying array of therapies and diets that propose everything from the Christian faith to a potato-only regimen testify to the extent — and difficulty — of the problem and sufferers’ desperate search for help. Somers, 72, a longtime Bay Area resident who now lives in Paris, tried one approach after another: hypnosis, encounter groups, Weight Watchers, amphetamines, promises to friends, the Atkins diet, a macrobiotic diet, SlimFast and many more.

Even when she was introduced to a system that would ultimately work for her — GreySheeters Anonymous, which involves weighing everything one eats — it took Somers another 14 years before her recovery took hold.

“Saving Sara” was released in May, and Somers is scheduled to have an online conversation about the book with Jacquelyn Ekern, founder of the organization Eating Disorders Hope, on Saturday, July 11. In her frank and forthright memoir, Somers recounts not only the dashed hopes and doomed follies along the way, but also what she sees as the tormenting question behind them. “What,” she kept asking herself, “is wrong with me?”

Twenty pounds overweight at age 9, she was an angry, quick-tempered child and young adult. “I always wanted more,” she writes. And when she didn’t get something she craved, whether it was food or clothing, her longing was intense. It could be ice cream or a pair of Frye boots worn by a svelte stranger. “Deep in the recesses of my crazy mind, I thought if I had those boots, I would be attractive like her.”

The daughter of a caring but doctrinaire father and a “perfectionist” mother, Somers had attended 13 schools by the time she graduated from high school. (Her father’s hopscotch career as a college professor accounted for the moves.) After her own college years, Somers traveled in Europe, moved to Berkeley in 1971 and eventually found her way to graduate school at Cal State Hayward (now East Bay) and became a therapist.

“Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction” by Sara Somers.Photo: She Writes Press

Through it all, her relationships with men kept imploding. Related in unsparing detail, the stories of boyfriends coming and going from her life are touchstones of flailing need and self-sabotage. There’s Eddie, the earnest Dutchman who has another girlfriend. And Dmitri, a handsome Greek who “changed his mind.” For Coop, an unrequited college crush she met again in Berkeley, Somers fell hard. But even as she got control of her eating for a while and started grad school, Somers flirted with other men, took drugs and failed to recognize her partner’s depression. The unhappy end was inevitable.

“I was mostly interested in being loved,” Somers said. “That’s why I wanted a boyfriend. But that I was to be a good girlfriend — that never occurred to me.” What’s true about addicts of all sorts, she believes, is that “we are self-centered, self-pitying, and we blame other people for our problems.”

Somers assesses her own experience, both in the book and in conversation, with honesty, modesty and a sense of purpose. Her own story isn’t important, she said. Her goal in writing the book was to demonstrate by example that recovery is possible and to help others find the way.

While Somers found professional fulfillment as a therapist and enjoyed the work, she has some cautionary notes about therapy and addiction: “I think therapy can be a good companion to 12-step programs, but that can be limited.”

Treating addiction is about behavior modification, she explained, “and then the feelings will follow. Often in therapy, you have the insight first and then make the changes. That can end up discouraging addiction recovery. People think, ‘If the therapy didn’t work, what am I going to do now? It’s all about addressing the behavior first.’”

Somers, whose life never lacked for drama, lost her home in the 1991 Oakland hills firestorm. She rebuilt a house she loved but spent the next six-plus years addicted to alcohol. It led to a bottoming-out, including a stay at the Hazelden recovery center in Minnesota. A chance meeting with an old friend from Overeaters Anonymous reopened the door to GreySheeters Anonymous, the program Somers has followed ever since.

Somers retired from therapy in 2008. Struck with the idea of learning French, she started making periodic visits to Paris and moved there full time in 2014. While the French think it’s “sad” that she can’t enjoy alcohol or the bounty of a boulangerie, Somers says Parisian waiters don’t bat an eye when she pulls out a scale to weigh her portions.

Another discovery is public transportation, which Somers rarely used in the Bay Area. In Paris she rides the Metro all the time.

“I think I’m a more interesting person over here,” she said with a laugh. “Who knew a subway could be so much fun?”

“Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction”
By Sara Somers
She Writes Press
(235 pages; $16.95)

Sara Somers: Read the author’s blog at www.savingsara.home.blog.

GreySheeters Anonymous: Learn more about the weight-loss therapy program by visiting www.greysheet.org

More reviews for Saving Sara: A memoir of food addiction

If you would like to hear more about Food Addiction and the book, Saving Sara A memoir of Food Addiction, please join us at a webinar sponsored by EatingDisorderHope.com: https://eatingdisorderhope.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_XFz58w39S266Qhjyq_WL8A

When: Jul 11, 2020 12:00 PM Pacific Time (US and Canada) (3pm ET)
Topic: Sara Somers, author of  Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction in conversation with Jacquelyn Ekern of Eating Disorders Hope 

Register in advance for this webinar:
https://eatingdisorderhope.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_XFz58w39S266Qhjyq_WL8A

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

“This is a riveting and deeply human memoir about one woman’s crazily disordered eating, and the path to freedom she discovered. But it is also the story of Sara Somers’s fight to save her soul, spirit and life.”
―Anne Lamott, New York Times best-selling author and past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship

“Read Saving Sara to see how bad it can get before it gets great―and find out just how [Sara Somers] did, so you can do it too.”
―Judy Collins, New York Times best-selling author of Cravings, Grammy-nominated singer, and Academy Award-nominated director

Saving Sara is a mental anguish page turner, depicting the relentless drive to eat that can dominate and destroy life’s opportunities, just like any other addiction . . . ideal reading for someone who is struggling with compulsive eating or who is suffering with complications from obesity. It is essential reading for someone working in the addiction field. A critical book for anyone who really wants to walk in the shoes of a food addict, who lives in the disease, and finally finds her recovery.”
―Dr. Vera Tarman, MD, FCFP, ABAM, medical specialist in food addiction, author of Food Junkies: Recovery from Food Addiction

“When it comes to eating disorders, both professionals and the public have a great deal of understanding of anorexia and bulimia. There is very little understanding, however, of Binge Eating Disorder. In this wrenching book, Sara describes in detail―sometimes painful detail―what her disease of food addiction was like and the depths to which it took her. But this is also a volume about hope. Her journey to finding her solution is only one person’s story, but as we know from the long history of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs, one person telling their story can transform lives. I hope that mental health providers will read this, learn from it, and share it with those who might benefit from knowing they’re not alone with their eating behaviors.”
―Dr. Kristi Webb, PsyD, Licensed Psychologist, Raleigh, North Carolina

Yvonne Spence  https://yvonnespence.com/book-reviews/review-of-saving-sara-a-memoir-of-food-addiction-by-sara-somers/

  • “I found Saving Sara to be well written and an interesting and compelling read. I appreciated its honesty and Somers’s willingness to take responsibility for her part in conflict… Somers’s honesty and compassion for all involved is clear throughout…. even for someone without an eating disorder, Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction is a compelling read in its own right.”

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3329682832?book_show_action=false

Thank you EatingDisorderHope.com

Author Sara Somers on Writing Her Story of Food Addiction

Sara Somers: A former food addict

In December of 2005, I walked into the rooms of Greysheeters Anonymous, and this time I stayed. I was fifty-eight years old. My life, up to that point, had been one of a food addict, abusing food and my body by bingeing uncontrollably, going on diets both sensible and crazy, having ‘who knows what’ shot into my butt, losing and gaining hundreds of pounds.

I made obtaining sugar and grains the focal point of my life. Then I’d do an about-face by denying myself food altogether. I had stolen food from friends, from families that I babysat for, and from grocery stores – and I lied if I was caught.

In complete sincerity, I had made countless promises to myself in the morning, throwing out binge foods, covering them with coffee grounds. By mid-afternoon, I was diving into the garbage to retrieve and eat it.

I called myself names for being so weak. I felt deep shame. I thought I was the only one who did these things. There was little doubt in my mind that I was a down and dirty, compulsive bottom of the barrel eater.

But I didn’t have the words to say that. In my view, I was despicable, defective, and only when I lost weight, could I show my face to the world.

I knew about GreySheeters Anonymous, but I didn’t want to go to their meetings. I didn’t want to be the kind of food addict that needed GSA. I refused to accept that I was exactly the kind of food addict that needed their ‘no matter what’ structure. I had been in AA for years and knew that message of ‘you either are, or you aren’t’ worked for me.

In 2005, I was at the crossroads of desperation and hope. I shut my mouth and opened my ears. I learned there is no easy fix for someone who is a true food addict. I heard people describing the insane things they did in the pursuit of beauty and normalcy. I learned I was not alone. People said to me, “raise your hand and share whenever you can. Your story is your most valuable asset.”

After I moved to Paris, I started taking writing classes. I found myself remembering specific incidents of food abuse. I wrote vignettes. After three years, it occurred to me that I could write down my story.

I was told over and over that, as a person abstaining from sugar, grains, and refined carbs, my primary purpose is to stay abstinent and help the suffering compulsive eater who didn’t know there is a solution. I wrote it all down, and it became the book, Saving Sara.

Writing my story showed me in black and white that I had a progressive disease that could only end in insanity, death, or recovery. By the grace of a Higher Power, I chose recovery.

Do I have any insights about food addiction? What I know is that it is real, and it is deadly. It only gets worse as a person ages. It is a disease that tells me I don’t have a disease. It is a disease that tells me, “go ahead, have one bite, it’s okay.” It is a disease that tells me I don’t need the black and white structure even though I’ve seen it work in AA. I’ve learned to recognize the voice of the disease.

I wrote my story so that food addicts who identify with my journey might find hope. Addicts of my type do not want to be told what to do by anyone. Addicts of my type only listen if they know someone else has experienced the exact same thing. My hope is that food addicts will recognize themselves and say, “if she can do it, I can too.” That they will come to a GSA meeting with an open mind.

I hope that families, educators, and medical professionals read Saving Sara and rethink their attitudes about this disease. I have written my story in the hope that it will shine a little more light on the very serious problems of obesity and loneliness as a result of food addiction.


About the Author:

Sara Somers suffered from food addiction from age nine to age fifty-eight; she has been in food recovery since 2005. In a double life of sorts, Somers worked as a licensed psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area for thirty-four years. After finding recovery, Somers moved to Paris, France, where she currently lives. She writes a blog called Out My Window: My Life in Paris. When she’s not writing, Somers volunteers at the American Library in Paris, enjoys the cinema, reads prolifically and follows her favorite baseball team, the Oakland Athletics. Most importantly, Somers devotes time each day to getting the word out about food addiction and helping other food addicts. “Saving Sara” is her first book. To learn more about Sara and her work, visit www.saving-sara.org.


Saving Sara Book Cover

Personal stories of food addiction in ‘Saving Sara’ help readers better understand addiction

A riveting and deeply human memoir.”

– Anne Lamott, California Hall of Fame inductee, novelist, and nonfiction writer

PARIS – For nearly fifty years, Sara Somers suffered from untreated food addiction. In “Saving Sara” (She Writes Press, May 12, 2020) Somers’ intimate memoir, 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 Somers’s addiction from childhood to adulthood, beginning with abnormal eating as a nine-year-old. As her addiction progresses in young adulthood, she becomes isolated, masking her shame and self-hatred with drugs and alcohol. Time and again, she rationalizes why this time will be different, only to have her physical cravings lead to ever-worse binges, to see her promises of doing things differently next time broken, and to experience the amnesia that she –like every addict– experiences when her obsession sets in again. 

Even after Somers is introduced to the solution that will eventually end up saving her, the strength of her addiction won’t allow her to accept her disease. Twenty-six more years pass until she finally finds her way back to that solution. 

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.

“Read Saving Sara to see how bad [addiction] can get before it gets great – and find out just how she did it, so you can do it too. What a great read!”

– Judy Collins, New York Times bestselling author of Cravings


Dear Reader,

Thank you for traveling with me. I am taking the next two weeks off for a much needed vacation. Stay safe and stay prudent. We aren’t out of the woods yet.

A bientôt

Sara

Education is always a good idea

Someone e-mailed me at the beginning of the week and told me, “It’s a good thing I’m not compulsively eating. I’d eat everything I had stored for the entire time we are in lockdown. I wouldn’t be able to get away from myself. It would really truly be living hell.” I’ve had similar thoughts of deep gratitude that my disease is not active. Many people are frightened. For food addicts, being frightened or not knowing what is coming around the corner is a reason for bingeing. Bingeing eventually numbs us, pushes the fear and anxiety way down under temporarily. It can seem like a solution. In fact, it is part of the problem. We food addicts do not know how to live with discomfort, any kind of discomfort. So we try to escape into the food. It didn’t work for me. Does it work for you?

My friend I haven’t met yet, Dr. Vera Tarman, wrote to remind me that there is a second edition of her wonderful book: Food Junkies, Recovery from Food Addiction. Dr. Tarman has been a huge supporter of Saving Sara the book. She read it cover to cover and pointed out some inaccuracies. So I need to amend what I have posted. Her first book is the Food Addiction: Truth about Food Addiction. Dr. Tarman works with food addicts on a daily basis. “As founder and spokesperson for Addictions Unplugged, she’s has focused her medical practice over the past 7 years on addiction treatment and recovery. Along with serving the addiction community through her own private practice, she has been the Medical Director at Renascent since 2006 and the Staff physician with Salvation Army Homestead since 2004.”–Linkd In. Of course I want you to buy my book Saving Sara when it comes out May 12, 2020, but educating yourself about food addiction is always a good idea. My book is my story. My story is one of hundreds of stories, all very similar. My story ends with hope and recovery. Dr. Tarman’s book gives you facts from the medical perspective, from her experience of working in the field. Dr. Tarman’s book is a good read.

Last week, I had the honour of being interviewed by Public Radio in Santa, Fe, New Mexico. http://healthywoman.libsyn.com/healthy-woman-march-28-2020-sara-somers-on-food-addiction

Stay inside. Wash your hands and don’t touch your face,