“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

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

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

Bedroom Slippers

“My first sponsor told me that food and eating addiction is the strongest of all the addictions yet other addicts are hospitalized to sit around in their bedroom slippers for thirty days before they graduate to a half-way house. New (Greysheeters) think they can continue doing their (usually) crazy lives while detoxing, learning to be abstinent from sugar, grains and refined carbos, and establishing a new way of living. Wear your figurative bedroom slippers for at least the first thirty days” —-member of GSA

I asked this woman if I could share what her sponsor told her with my readers. It underscores what I want to tell everyone who is detoxing from sugar and grains. As a population, we do not take seriously enough the deadly power of those substances on food addicts. We have grown up thinking that we can just make up our minds to lose weight, find a diet that we think we can stick to and then go on with our lives changing nothing. Even after years of losing and gaining wight over and over, it still doesn’t occur to most of us that in order to kick the dependency on these substances, we have to do what every other addict has to do: cut out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary for our daily life and focus on getting through the detox and withdrawal time.

There are those in the substance abuse field who think that sugar is as hard or harder to kick than heroin. Just the fact that they think this should be important information for us. My own experience is that for me to get through this difficult part of recovery, I had to find a group of other food addicts and place myself right in the middle. I had to call on them for help and advice and just to talk to me on a daily basis. I had to commit out loud to another person (in my case, my sponsor) exactly what I was going to eat that day. Experience and my history showed that unless I did that, I could not be trusted to follow through on my intention even though it was helping ME that I was doing this for. I joined them in group meetings as often as I could. I had a friend at the time who told me “you need your brain washed! Everything you thought you knew about weight, food and how to deal with the accompanying shame is wrong. You are a food addict, you need to start thinking like a food addict.”

There are care units for compulsive eaters and food addicts. They are expensive. I didn’t have health insurance that would cover that kind of treatment. I had to create the CARE unit myself. I capitalized the word CARE because self-care is not something I was familiar with. I focused on others and assumed they would do the same—care for me. Then someone said ‘You have to do this for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. YOU are your own responsibility.’

After many, many years of trying to breeze through withdrawal, of not being willing to go 100% in total acceptance that I had a disease that would kill me, that wanted me dead, I let go of all my preconceived notions and followed the examples of those that went before me. Now 15 years later and 11 years of back to back uninterrupted abstinence from sugar and grains and MORE, I believe these words more than ever. The further I am from that last binge, the clearer my head gets on how insanely I binged, how crazily I tried to run my life, how distorted my thinking was in order to rationalize eating foods I thought nurtured me (and, in fact, were killing me). They say the disease of addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. I say ‘and sneaky, and cruel and viscous and always just one bite away from jumping back into your thinking and doing.’

Most of us cannot kick this addiction alone but together, helping each other, reminding each other, we can move on and have lives worth living.

What is your story?

Sara

Withdrawal

“Withdrawal occurs once a person stops eating any addictive food. Though abstaining from foods is a contentious subject in the scientific literature, there is no question that it will cause a level of discomfort that often drives addicts back to eating… Feelings of deprivation, obsessions about food, and anxiety arising from unresolved trauma that was being ‘medicated’ by the addictive foods may appear like spectres that linger, worsening before they get better… It may seem that life without one’s comfort foods is simply not worth living. Even problematic eating is seen as better than feeling bereft to the point of suicidal thoughts. But others might find the symptoms so common they are not even recognizable as withdrawal… The good news is that detoxification is not a long process; it only lasts for a relatively short period – between one week and four weeks… Cheating by having a bite here or a spoonful there is also an excellent way to suffer withdrawal in perpetuity. Withdrawal will not end if the substance is constantly being reintroduced back into the brain reward pathway.” 
― Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: Recovery from Food Addiction

Some people who believe they are food addicts and let go of the substances that make us sick: sugar, grains and refined carbos, are completely surprised and shocked by how bad the detoxing and withdrawal process is. Even smart, well educated people with knowledge of food addiction, seem taken by surprise at the discomfort. The discomfort can be great. The physical detoxing can last anywhere from three to twenty-one days. But the emotional withdrawal can last a long time. We know that drug addicts and alcoholics go through bad times. Withdrawal symptoms can include severe anxiety, headaches, sadness, anger, sweating, shaking, disorientation and depression. Why are we so surprised that sugar and grains do the same thing. I think it’s because most of us come from a diet mentality. It’s just food and we go without until we reach our goal weight. Then we are told we can have all those foods back. After all, we’ve earned it! So clearly, they aren’t bad, just give them up for awhile until we get down to a weight we like.

WRONG! That might be true for non-food addicts. They can give up those sugary foods, using willpower, and then not abuse them once they lose the weight. But not us food addicts. Those ingredients are like putting poison in our system. Enough of it for a long time and they will kill us. Strong words I know. The truth is it’s so much easier never to eat those substances than give them up, take them back, give them up, take them back. As Dr. Tarman says “Withdrawal will not end if the substance is constantly being re-introduced back into the brain reward pathway.”

I believe this is why addicts cannot get sober or abstinent on their own. The opposite of addiction is connection. We take away something from our bodies that it is habituated to and it leaves a big hole. We have to fill it with something or we won’t last through the withdrawal. The best (and cheapest) way to fill that hole is to find other recovering food addicts. Talk to them, find out how they got through painful times. They will tell you. They will also tell you to make wonderful meals, to love your food. There is no deprivation in letting go of sugar and grains. When was the last time you felt joyously happy after bingeing on sugar? What’s left without those foods? An abundance of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fish, chicken, beef or, if you are vegan, other proteins.

Look into the Twelve-Step programs. There are a number of food programs. The worse the food addiction, the more structure one needs. Find out what the community of people are like. Are they happy, in recovery and can tell you about it? Do they reach out to you because they know how you are suffering? Because they’ve been there and know what you are going through? Those are the people you want to surround yourself with. People who can say “I did and you can to.” Yes, sometimes the pain gets worse before it gets better. Do you remember pulling a splinter out of your foot? It always hurts more for a short time. There is a hole there and the air is getting in. Soon it will close up and the body, our magnificent bodies, will heal the wound.

Getting rid of the poison we put in our bodies is worth the short time pain. Then you have the possibility for a life full of other things than obsessing about food. And you get to have different problems just like normal people and not the same problem over and over and over–how to stop eating?

Have you been through withdrawal? Write me and let me know how it was for you.

Sara

What Exactly is Withdrawal: https://foodaddictionresearch.org/question-and-answer/what-is-withdrawal/

Is Food withdrawal a real thing?: https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2017-01-03/is-food-withdrawal-a-real-thing

Food Addiction: Consideration of Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms: https://www.addictionhope.com/blog/food-addiction-withdrawal-detox/