How serious is Food Addiction?

Anyone that has suffered from food addiction, has lived in the hell of not being able to stop bingeing or has been starving themselves for weeks on end, looks in the mirror and sees a fat person, can tell you ‘This is serious.”  But the diet industry will have you believe that the answer is simple: Just cut back on your food intact until you reach your goal weight and then you can eat like a “lady” or a “gentleman”.  I believed that for years.  And because it never worked for me, I also was deeply ashamed, thought I was a complete failure and not worth the ground I walked on.

What a relief it was for me to learn that food addiction is a disease, a serious disease, and requires a serious, some would say radical, solution.  If you had lung cancer, no one would tell you the solution is to just not go around smokers.  If you do that long enough, the cancer will go away, and then you can live your life normally again. Lung cancer requires some serious steps: probably surgery, maybe chemotherapy, maybe radiation.  These solutions will upset your life for a long time and you won’t like it and you’ll be uncomfortable.  I don’t know anyone who would say ‘well I don’t like that solution so I’m not going to do it.’

But when faced with a serious life and death disease like true food addiction, the addict will decide the future of their life on whether they like the solution or not. There is a quote at the back of the text of Alcoholics Anonymous commonly called the Big Book that says “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”—Herbert Spencer

That is what I practiced for the first half of my life.  If I didn’t like the solution, I would decide it wouldn’t work for me.  I’d feel sorry for you that you must do something hard but not me, oh no!  So, what I was really deciding was that the pain and misery and total hell of bingeing and loneliness of my eating was better than trying something that works for others but I was too scared to try for myself.  And they say there is an insanity about the addict!!!! 

The thing that differentiates an eating disorder/food addiction from someone who has gained weight over Christmas and needs to lose it again is all the crazy thinking, the absolute unwillingness to let go of faulty thinking and self-abusive behaviors.  It is why so many people are successful dieters and then gain all their weight back plus more.  They haven’t changed any of their thinking and behaviors.

So how do you know if you are a food addict? Any program that says they are treating food addiction will usually/hopefully ask you a series of questions.  I went on-line, typed in ‘quiz for compulsive eaters‘ and clicked the first one that was listed.  These were the four questions asked:

  • Do you have episodes where you eat more than what most people would eat in the same time period?
  • Do you experience any distress around your eating, including guilt, shame or regret?
  • Do you often sneak food or eat alone due to embarrassment over what or how you are eating?
  • Do you feel like your eating is out of control?

I suspect that most of you don’t need to take the test to diagnose yourself.  I believe only you can diagnose you.  Others can have opinions based on knowing you but you know the truth about yourself. I also believe that you won’t get the appropriate help until you can admit to yourself what the truth is.

What I write here is my opinion. I don’t speak for any Food Addiction program or any diagnostic tool. I speak from my own experience of living in the disease and in recovery. While living in the disease made me ‘an expert’ on nutrition (I probably owned fifty or more nutrition books before I finally broke down and accepted that what was wrong with me was a lot worse than a nutrition problem), living in the solution has made me a thorough researcher on the disease of Food Addiction/Compulsive Eating.

After writing my book Saving Sara A Memoir of Food Addiction(She Writes Press, 2020), I am using this space to try and bring education, an alternate voice to the world of ‘losing weight’ and eating disorders. I say all this because everything I know about myself and all the stories that have been shared with me underscore my belier that Food Addiction is very serious and, untreated, has the power to kill. It killed Mama Cass. It killed Karen Carpenter. It has killed six friends of mine.

If you think you might suffer from food addiction, do your own research. Go to GreySheeters Anonymous and just listen to the people share. Or go to the GSA YouTube channel and listen to a fifteen minute share. Only you can diagnose you.

To your physical and emotional health,

Sara

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