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,

Obesity

The other night, the channel OCS in France, showed the February 28th episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. One of his guests was Nicholas Kristof who is one of my favorite columnists at the NYTimes and anywhere. I subscribe to his column and pay attention to the issues he writes about. I find that he is thoughtful, kind and extremely intelligent. He and Bill were talking about drugs, alcohol and obesity. Maher said “The Chan School of Public Health at Harvard says that in 10 years, half the country will be obese, 1/4 of the country will be severely obese and 40,000 people will die of obesity every week”. Kristof didn’t disagree with him. He said that it was all “part of the miasma of depression.” When things feel hopeless, “people self-medicate with soda and potato chips”. I could have jumped through the TV screen and kissed the man. I don’t think I have ever heard a public figure as famous and as well-respected as Kristof is talking about self-medicating with food.

One of the comments on the show in YouTube read: “Obesity is on the rise due to stress we have to deal with.” Kristof says much of this is the lack of education made available to people. I could hear Melinda Gates, in my head, saying that much of the inequality in the world is due to lack of education. I wrote my book Saving Sara in part to educate people. In my opinion to say that one is obese because of the stress we have to deal with is a lack of education. In this day and age, we have to learn to deal with stress without turning to soda and potato chips. Sugar and grains, the ingredients in alcohol and many of the foods we binge on, are depressants when taken in vast quantities. In our world where so much is unfair, where hopelessness is on the rise and depression seems to be a companion to many people, those ingredients only make a bad situation worse. There is so much we cannot control in our lives. We are in the midst of a pandemic and the majority of us are self-isolating in our apartments or homes. What happens tomorrow is out of our control. Speaking personally, what is within my control is what I put in my mouth, how I prepare to spend maybe up to two months alone in my apartment and how I chose to face my small world each morning.

I was obese. I am 5’6″ tall and weighed almost 200 hundred pounds. One of the ways I stayed in denial about that figure is by only looking in the mirror from my neck up. The rest of my body was deep in the sand just as if I was an ostrich. I was miserable, I felt hopeless, abandoned by the world and very, very sorry for myself. When I finally asked for help, the solution was not what I wanted it to be. It was not easy. I was told I would be unable to do it alone, that I needed all the support I could get and the best support would be from recovering food addicts. I was ashamed and didn’t want other people to see me so I resisted the group idea. Sure enough, I couldn’t do it alone. My solution was joining a 12 step group that treated food addiction like alcoholics treat alcoholism: it is a serious disease and you can’t be half-way committed. In order for me to turn my life around, I had to change my behaviors 180o, accept the black and white nature of the solution, the no matter what of the solution. Then I could learn how to live in the grey areas of life.

I thought depression was in my DNA. By the time I found the 12 step program, I had accepted that I would be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life (I am one of the fortunates who has health insurance). I can honestly say that since I have stopped putting sugar, grains and refined carbohydrates, in liquid or hard form, into my body, I have not had a long depression. I have felt blue. I have felt down when something didn’t go my way. When my Aunt died, whom I was very close to, in 2011, I got depressed for 4 days. It was NOT the depression that used to send me under the covers for days on end, praying that I would die but too scared to kill myself. I felt really, really awful. My friends in recovery said “You don’t have to binge over this. You can feel your feelings and grieve your loss and in two weeks, a month, you will still be abstaining from sugar and grains. If you use this as an excuse to binge, you will be back facing the only problem you have ever known–How to stop bingeing. You’ll have no room to find solutions for your everyday problems.

Today, here in France, we are on Day 10 of Lockdown or as the French so quaintly call it “our confinement.” I used every tool I learned in my recovery program to plan ahead, to make sure I had enough food in my apartment to last two months if needed. I started a Zoom meditation group in the morning of every single day of our confinement. This gave me a reason to get out of bed and to get dressed. I have reached out to my friends and started using Zoom to connect. I even threw a birthday party on Zoom. Someone said to me “we shouldn’t be calling this social distancing. In reality, it is physical distancing and doing whatever we can to socially reach out to each other.” We need each other now more than ever. We will get through this. Yes, it is stressful but it is not a reason to drink, take drugs or binge.

Thank you for your precious time in reading this. If you go to http://www.sarasomers.com, I have put up a long and, I hope, comprehensive list of things to do at home right now.

Until next week,

Sara

Time on our hands

In general, addicts, all kinds of addicts, don’t do well with time on their hands. Thinking tends to turn towards self-entered thinking. Then peppered with self-hatred and fear, it tends to become extremely negative thoughts. Without a strong program, a strong support group and a strong commitment, a crisis is often the time people go backwards and start practicing their addiction.

With that in mind, I thought I would post something a friend posted on her blog yesterday. Since most of us are at home, in lock-down as in France or Shelter in Place as in California, this will give you something to think about.

“What if…
we subscribe to the philosophy that life is always working out for us, that there is an intelligence far greater than humans at work.

That all are interconnected.

What if…
the virus and it’s demands of social distancing actually help us?

What if..
We reset as individuals, taking time to recall all that is truly important, as we reconnect with family, loved ones and community- in giving.

What if..
By reducing travel? Our environment, the skies, the air and our even lungs get a break for a bit.

What if…
Our cities see blue skies and less smog for the first time in a long time, with factories being shut down.

What if..
Many get to work from home, during this time, as oppose to commuting which lessens pollution and provides more personal time.

What if..
Families reconnect; having more time at home. Lovers reengage and remember the gratitude they have for one another.

What if..
It’s an open invitation to turn inwards in deep thought, as oppose to the pressured social gatherings, with self-soothing drinks involved.

What if..
It’s a time to reconnect with self and ask, what is really important to me?

What if..
It’s a economical and social reset, balancing and reevaluating both our minds and business structures.

What if..
It’s a time to understand the working poor, with a lack of healthcare access for the over 30 million in the U.S. alone. Giving a greater understanding of the importance for paid sick leave.

What if..
It’s a time to revalue spending habits, retirement, college funds, IRA and savings, along with 3-6 month rainy day, or in this case- pandemic, funds.

**How hard does one need to work to be able to LIVE, to HAVE A LIFE… outside of work? Let us contemplate our career, home and extracurricular time we allot for ourselves.

What if..
Washing our hands properly and proper hygiene was something many needed as a reminder. Yes, one irresponsible person effects many. Yes, we are all interconnected.

What if…
It resets our gratitude and a provided a presence of peace we haven’t felt in long while.

What if…
There is a favorable shift underway in our society?

What if…
this virus is an ally in our evolution?

What if..
We needed a reminder to be and stay connected, humane, to live a simpler life, with more joy.

What if..
We needed a kick to be less impactful to our environment and more giving to each other.

What if..
It triggered more offerings of the heart.

What if..
We give these uneasy times an offering to another perspective, another way to impact and unfold our evolution in a positive manner.

What if…
We remembered the gifts we are receiving by this virus and continue on with some of the simplicities this has provided.

What if…
We are better tomorrow, for what we were given today.

What if…—”

Sara

Resistance to calling a spade a spade

“Addiction is a term that’s used a lot these days. People claim to be addicted to everything from romance novels to cars. They feel guilty when they enjoy something just a little too much. When it comes to food addiction, the misunderstanding is epidemic…

Until now, scientists and clinicians alike have been reluctant to acknowledge that food addiction even exists. Yes, abnormal eating behaviours have been identified throughout history, but there has long been a resistance to labelling it an addiction.” 
― Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction

I first genuinely started down the path of recovery from my food addiction in my 50s. Only I called it compulsive eating. I’d never heard the words ‘food addict’. It is true that I used to compulsively eat, but it’s also true that I obsessed about food all the time. I could obsess about food even while bingeing, wishing I was eating something else. The obsession, 99% of the time, led to bingeing. So I had a mental component to this problem. Once I was bingeing, and I had my favorite foods that usually consisted of sugar and wheat, no matter how hard I tried to stop, I couldn’t stop. I could be crying on my bed, praying to God, even making phone calls for help, but nothing stopped the binge until it stopped. That is the physical component. A mental obsession and a physical allergy adds up to addiction. When I first heard the words ‘food addict’ I think I actually cringed. I had just barely accepted that I was a compulsive eater but an addict, that was going too far. Yet, as the years have passed, and I accept that that is indeed what I am, the recovery is more solid and easier.

The thing about most addicts is we just want to belong. So we turn ourselves into chameleons trying to fit into any and every group that attracts us. To stick out as different spells horror and leads to loneliness. When I was in my thirties, and most of us were turning into foodies, as we discovered what we liked and didn’t like, I was terrified of letting my friends know that I didn’t really know how to savor a bite of food. I often couldn’t tell a musk taste from a dust taste. I was appalled at restaurants that served itty bitty servings and charged enormous prices. My friend, Georgia, really understood food. She worked at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Ca. She would talk about food and it’s differentiations like I talk about mystery authors. I went along because I desperately wanted to belong. I wanted her friendship and I wanted her friends to be my friends. I knew I was different. I just prayed that no one else did. I did a pretty good job. Today Georgia tells me, “I had no idea what you were suffering.”

So telling me that the only way I could recover from the bingeing, the insanity of disordered eating, was to call myself a name that would, not only make me different, but make me something much further down the social chain (that is how I thought of addict), was telling me that if I flew to the moon and back, I’d be a normal person. Wasn’t going to happen. Not ever, not to someone like me who was smart, had post-graduate degrees, had a successful business and could travel comfortably to other countries.

So how does someone like me, who thinks she is too smart to be something she is, get her head out of the ground?

“Read Saving Sara to see how bad it 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 best-selling author of Cravings and Grammy-nominated singer

What is a food addict?

People ask me what I mean when I say I’m a food addict or a compulsive eater. The dictionary defines addiction as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity: he committed the offence to finance his drug addiction | addiction to crack cocaine is spreading | [count noun] :  an addiction to gambling.” This isn’t exactly helpful since the definition assumes you understand addicted. The way I understand addiction is that one is compelled to keep doing something like eating, drinking alcohol, gambling. Even when one wants to stop, they are unable to. It seems to the person that they have lost all power to control what they are doing. An alcoholic will binge drink until he blacks out, there is no more alcohol to drink or he is in an accident or dies. A food addict is no different. In my case, the ingredients in alcohol are the substance I seem to be addicted to: grains and sugar. Once I put them in my body, I binge until I run out of food, pass out in sleep or have some kind of accident.

In Healthline.com, Kris Gunnars says there are eight common symptoms of food addiction:

Cravings, Eating more than intended, Eating until stuffed, Feelings of guilt, Making up excuses, Setting rules, Hiding food intake, Inability to quit. While food addiction is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it typically involves binge eating behaviors, cravings, and a lack of control around food. http://www.healthline.com  

It is easy to think that if a person consumes a huge amount of food, they will be fat. This isn’t necessarily so. While it’s true that obesity is on the rise in USA and UK, teens, dancers, jockeys etc will learn to throw their food up after a meal. This is physical abuse that one does to oneself. It is as easy to get addicted to the throwing up as the eating and becomes a viscous circle. The movie Judy, that is in theatres right now, shows the result of Judy Garland being told she was too heavy as a child and the studio giving her pills. Then she needed pills to sleep. In the end, she died of all her pills.

The outside world sees a fat person or a horrendously thin person or someone who pushes food around on their plate but never actually eats. What isn’t well known, is what goes on inside the head of a food addict. The self-hatred, the anger, the pain, the panic attacks, the exhaustion that comes with an inability to sleep, feelings of hopelessness and despair are just some of the many mental and emotional symptoms that a food addict lives with and believes are true. Many people in recovery from alcoholism and food addiction believe that this is a disease. That it is a cancer that will eat a person up alive unless they get help. And of all ironies, the addict is just about as stubborn as they come and will reject any suggestions of help though they are screaming inside for someone to help them.

Food addiction is more rampant that one may think. Not all obese people are addicted but ingesting sugar and grains at high warp speed will push them closer to crossing the line. If a body is only fed these substances, it learns to subsist on them and cry out in rebellion if the addict takes them away. In future blogs, I will talk about why dieting doesn’t work. Why food addicts believe in magic and will do absolutely crazy things both to get food and thinking they will be cured. The world really needs more understanding that the food addict is not just some weak person who can’t take care of themselves but under the influence of substances much stronger than their will power.

Do you have a question about food addiction?

Sara

Saving Sara

I am a compulsive eater, a food addict. What does that mean? That means that, similar to an alcoholic who cannot stop drinking once booze is in their system, I start bingeing once certain foods are in my system. Bingeing is the same. Bingeing is doing something excessively, having no on/off button, completely unable to slow a speeding train down even though you know it will end in tears, self-hatred and recriminations. I’m that kind of compulsive eater. The foods that set off the bingeing are sugar, grains and refined carbohydrates.

I have compulsively eaten since I was a young girl. I didn’t know what was wrong. I knew I was different than other people and it seemed a very bad thing. I didn’t seem to fit in with girls my age. I would watch them and not understand how they knew to get along. I was often in trouble with my parents usually for disobedience, daydreaming, not trying hard to be a part of the family unit. I stole food out of the fridge all the time. I say stole because I was always sneaky about it. I knew even at that young age, it was wrong for me in my family to eat all the ice cream and not leave any for anyone else.

By the time I was in my fifties, I had spent my life trying to get thin, trying to understand what was wrong with me, trying to be happy, trying to be loved and, in my judgement, failing at everything. When I was fifty-eight, I gave up the fight. I discovered a solution for me, for my kind of compulsive eating. After fifteen years of recovery in that solution, I wrote a book: Saving Sara; A Memoir of Food Addiction. It will be published by She Writes Press May 12, 2020.

I wrote the book to tell other food addicts like me that there is hope. I had spent thousands of dollars on therapists. I had tried every diet under the sun except stapling my stomach. I had joined encounter groups and therapy groups, taken dangerous medications because they were advertised as reducing my appetite, bought over the counter medications that did nothing but they had pretty people in their ads. I had had shots in my butt and I don’t even want to know what was in that cocktail. I had tried hypnosis and religion. All in the hopes that I could get thin. Getting thin to me was the promise of happiness, that all my problems would go away, that people would like or love me. By the age of fifty-eight, I was running out of hope that there was a solution for someone like me. Thank goodness, I persisted.

This is a blog about food addiction. This is a blog written by a recovering food addict to give hope and inspiration to people like me. People who can’t stop bingeing. People who can’t stop self-destructing with food. It is also for their families who don’t understand what is happening to the people they love. Why they are so angry all the time? Why they feel criticised if someone makes the simplest suggestion. This blog will be a work in progress. There are a lot of blogs out there dealing with the same issues. Most are sincere and helpful. I hope that by adding my blog, people will benefit from the wealth of information accessible to them so they can take an action towards Hope.

Each week, I will pick a theme to discuss. I invite feedback and suggestions. I have found that on my own I never could have succeeded at most of my life goals. I have found that together, bringing out the best in each other, we can achieve what we thought was impossible. I invite you along for the ride.

Sara