Nourishing the Self
Recovery from Food Addiction
Everyone needs food to survive, but for an estimated 1 in 20 adults, food is an addictive substance linked to overuse, misuse and related compulsive behaviors.
Food addiction refers to an uncontrollable craving for certain types of foods, despite negative consequences this may have on one’s health, relationships or daily life. People with food addiction often experience feelings of shame and anxiety around food. In addition to uncontrolled or binge eating, behaviors related to food addiction include binging/purging (bulimia), undereating or restricting (anorexia) and compulsive dieting.
Elizabeth*, a recovering food addict, describes food addiction as a disease that, over time, can take different forms. She traces the roots of her own compulsive and addictive relationship with food back to her adolescence. “I was a kid who turned to food to cope with trauma. I started restricting and became anorexic and bulimic. Food addiction is progressive. For me it turned into the inability to stop eating.”
Although not all food addicts trace the roots of their addiction to trauma, many have grown up in families where some form of addiction was present. In Elizabeth’s case, there was alcohol abuse in her family.
Like any substance use issue, food addiction at its core is “looking for a substance that fixes that immediate need,” Elizabeth said. Using food to blunt difficult emotions like fear, doubt and insecurity is a common trigger for turning to food. However, food addiction can also have physiological roots.
Arlene*, another food addict in recovery, describes some of the physical manifestations of food addiction. “I was really irritable when something came between me and food. My behavior around food was totally incongruent to what was normal,” she recalled.
After entering recovery, Arlene came to understand the root of her food addiction. “In my case, I realized that I have an allergy to flour and sugar that produces an inability to stop eating,” she describes.
Both Elizabeth and Arlene entered recovery for their food addiction through Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, a 12-step program that helps individuals who are addicted to food break free from their destructive patterns of eating and achieve long-term recovery. The program offers in-person and online recovery groups here in Maine. Meetings are free and welcoming to anyone interested in food addiction recovery.
“When you walk into a meeting, even your first one, you immediately feel enveloped,” Elizabeth said. “People talk about things [about food addiction] that you didn’t know about, but suddenly make sense. People share their stories … their struggles and successes. You start to make connections and come away knowing there are solutions.”
What won’t you find at a Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous meeting? A scale. “There are no weigh-ins at meetings. There is also no expectation to speak at meetings, especially for your first three months of abstinence,” Elizabeth said. “Abstinence is obtained by weighing, measuring and committing our food to an FA sponsor and abstaining completely from flour and sugar.”
Beyond attending meetings, members work with a sponsor to develop healthy coping mechanisms for daily life and receive a food plan.
Recovery from food addiction leads to powerful inner transformations as relationships with food are healed. For many members, recovery is visible on the outside, too.
According to Arlene, recovery from food addiction was the key to finally changing her relationship with food. “If you’ve tried white-knuckling your way through diet after diet, Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous gives you tools so you don’t have to do this. There is so much hope. Food is now something that nourishes me.”
Do you or someone you know question whether you have a food addiction? Visit Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (www. foodaddicts.org) for signs and symptoms and scheduled local meetings to connect to others and get help. Maine in-person meetings take place in Augusta and Westbrook. Online meetings originating in Maine and other online meetings from all over the world also are available. Call 207.775.2132 for more information.
* Names were changed.