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

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/

One person’s story

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.

To pre-order the book: https://www.amazon.com/Saving-Sara-Memoir-Food-Addiction-ebook/dp/B07VBKZK3Y/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3NEQDD6UPIVF4&dchild=1&keywords=sara+somers&qid=1587045620&sprefix=Sara+Somers%2Caps%2C337&sr=8-1&fbclid=IwAR0tQzP3fs3RkgrH4LbL3TuNg-lqaUiuSLzWV-qK319S8PvCjZmziSNV9_U

As always, ask your questions, make comments, this is a blog for all of us

Sara

“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…” ― Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction

Dr Tarman’s book. Available at your Indie Bookstore or Amazon.com

All my life, I was told that I just needed to get a grip, pull my bootstraps up, that discipline was the word when it comes to dieting. That I couldn’t diet or, if I did lose weight on some diet, wasn’t able to keep it off, caused me no end of shame and humiliation. It was reflected in every area of my life. I was known as the girl who could never finish anything. I would be gun-ho about learning to play the guitar and after four lessons, I was ready to give up. In my head, I had determined how much I should know after four sessions. It didn’t happen that way.

After I became a therapist, I started doing research on different drugs. I went to recovery centres, asked a lot of questions and took careful notes. One thing that stood out everywhere was addiction professionals telling me that sugar was harder to kick than heroin. I’ve never tried heroin so I can’t speak from my own experience. These people were speaking from experience of their work, having done brain research and talking to multi-addicted addicts. ‘Why didn’t people tell me this?’ I wailed internally, ‘How could they let me think that getting off sugar was easy or should be easy?’ More research and more talking revealed that the majority of people just plain didn’t know. Neither of my parents had a weight problem. They had nothing to go on except what they were told. Food was food. Why would anything be suspect of a hidden drug with the power of heroin. Alcohol and drugs were different. People my parents age had seen Days of Wine And Roses and Man with the Golden Arm. They were the real mccoy. Take sugar and grains away from a practicing food addict and you will see a similar type of withdrawal as to drugs. It is so uncomfortable and scary that, unless a person has been forwarned to expect a time of de-toxing, the compulsive eater will ran as fast as she or he can to the refridgerator or McDonalds.

If you are jonesing for sugar and flour and going through withdrawal without much support, which of these is going to be calling your name? Do food addicts have a chance?

How do we get educated? How do we help our families, ourselves, our students, our patients? First take an honest look around you. Obesity is on the rise at a deadly speed. Then ask people what diet they tried and how well it worked. 9.9 people out of ten will tell you they lost weight only to gain it all back. The only honest places to really get information is one of the twelve-step programs that deals with food. They make no money, they are just one person trying to help another person. One person who has suffered from weight-related issues, shame, humiliation, unable to work or can’t get a job because of their weight telling another person “I get it. I’ve been there too.

I’ve heard it said that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety/abstinence but is connectedness”. It’s easy for the disease of food addiction to ruin a person’s life. The fatter they get, the more shame they feel, the more they isolate. Reaching out to others who have the same problem, can tell you what to expect as you detox from the foods we are allergic to, brings one back to community. Wise people have known for centuries that a group of people can often do what is impossible for the single person to do alone.

Think about it.

Sara

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