“Rebecca” is a recovering food addict and a member of the Charlotte Chapter of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. This is her story, which she also shared on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks. If you struggle with your relationship with food, at the end of the article there is a quiz to help you find out if you may be a Food Addict.
I was 26 years old, 288 pounds, very unhappy and in poor health. My resting heart rate was 160. I couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded. I could no longer cross my legs without having to hold them in place. I hated, and tried to avoid at all costs, going places or attending functions where I could possibly run into people I hadn’t seen in a while. I stopped caring about drying my hair or putting on makeup when leaving the house. I walked with my head down and avoided eye contact with people – I was THAT ashamed of the person I had let myself become. I felt hopeless and helpless. I was trapped in a body and in a mindset that wasn’t what I wanted for my life. I couldn’t figure out how this happened to me – someone who was successful and in control in other areas of her life.
I was depressed because I was overweight, but yet I ate to numb the pain and shame. It was a frustrating and never ending cycle. I thought once I was at a normal weight, then I would be happy. I was certain that my life would ‘begin’ when I lost the weight. I had a debilitating case of the “when, thens.” WHEN I lose the weight, THEN (fill in the blank)… I will find my husband, I will land the job of my dreams, and I will have a large circle of amazing friends and wonderful memories. I kept waiting and waiting, without changing any of my behaviors, and not surprisingly, the weight didn’t fall off and happiness didn’t show up on my doorstep. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I definitely felt insane.
So what finally changed? I was desperate – at my personal rock bottom. I wanted to stop eating over life and start showing up for it and living it instead. I had tried every diet, every club and if they sold it as a weight loss solution on an infomercial in the middle of the night, I owned it. I finally became willing to look at something I hadn’t yet tried. I knew I had an unhealthy relationship with food and I needed help, fast.
In my doctor’s office one day, I found a brochure for Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA). The cover read ‘Do You Have Trouble Controlling the Way You Eat?” Yes! I answered the 20 questions listed below and realized for the first time that I might not have a weight problem, but rather an addiction to food. I decided to go to a meeting to learn more. After all, what did I have to lose but weight and unhappiness?
Fast forward almost 4 years. I am an active member of FA. I lost just under 140 pounds in the first 14 months in this free program and have been maintaining that weight loss ever since. My meals no longer come straight from a bag or a box. I no longer think I am eating healthy if I have a side order of fruit and a ‘Diet’ Coke. I no longer have food delivery phone numbers memorized or place my order pretending to ask my ‘guests’ what they want, knowing full well I am alone and that all this food is for me. I no longer hide wrappers in soda cans or ‘shake the bag’ to redistribute the food so no one sees how much I have eaten. I no longer have to pour pepper, my beverage or dishwashing detergent over food so that I stop eating it. I no longer look to a particular food for comfort or a particular restaurant for joy – in fact, I don’t eat over my emotions at all.
Instead, I eat 3 well-balanced meals a day. I weigh and measure my portions because I cannot gauge what an appropriate portion size is nor have I ever cared to stop eating when I felt ‘full’. I’m healthy for the first time in body, mind and spirit. No one is selling me prepackaged foods, a special pill, a gym membership or a protein drink mixture. No one is profiting off of my inability to control what I eat or how I abuse food.
[pullquote]While I still haven’t found the ‘perfect’ life, I am living the ups and the downs of the amazing one I’ve been given without celebrating or numbing by misusing food. Plus, I found more important things…self love, hope, and my smile![/pullquote]
Today, I have also been given the gift of freedom from my obsession with food and my weight. I am no longer shopping for the next great diet, making and breaking New Year’s resolutions or promising to ‘get back on track on Monday’. I am not counting points or calories or figuring out how many miles I need to walk in order to eat a particular food item. Just by working the FA program and getting the food under control, I can now reach and paint my own toe nails. I get ‘dressed’ up instead of ‘covered’ up. I fit in all the clothes in my closet week after week. I now eat to live instead of live to eat. Food is the fuel for my body, not my source of excitement or an escape from reality.
Additional Information about Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA)
FA is a program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. We offer help and recovery to those whose connection with food can be understood as a form of addiction. We are not a medical group, nor are we connected with hospitals or surgical clinics. We charge no dues or fees and our meetings include no weigh-ins. Our membership is international and includes men and women, adolescents, and the elderly. All are welcome.
Who Joins FA?
People who find help in FA vary greatly. Some of us have been diagnosed as morbidly obese while others are undereaters. Among us are those who were severely bulimic, who have harmed themselves with compulsive exercise, or whose quality of life was impaired by constant obsession with food or weight. We tend to be people who, in the long-term, have failed at every solution we tried, including therapy, support groups, diets, fasting, exercise, and in-patient treatment programs.
Does the Program Really Work?
Typically, FA members have tried any number of solutions to their problems with food, including (for many of us) years of diets or exercise. In FA, we have finally found an answer that is long-term. Some of our members have been in continuous recovery (maintaining a stable, healthy weight and enjoying freedom from obsession with food, weight, binging, or bulimia) for over twenty-five years. Members with five to ten years of recovery are increasingly common.
Are You a Food Addict?
To find out, ask yourself the following questions and answer them as honestly as you can:
- Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
- Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
- Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
- Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
- Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
- Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
- Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
- Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
- Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
- Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
- Do you eat in secret?
- Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
- Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
- Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough”?
- Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
- Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
- Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
- Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight”?
- Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then you may be a food addict.
For more information on Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA), including a list of meeting locations, please visit www.foodaddicts.org.
To receive a return phone call from a member of FA in the Charlotte area, please leave a message on the local hotline by calling (704) 348-1569. You can also contact the FA World Service Office by emailing email@example.com or by calling (781) 932.6300.