Food addiction often stands apart from drug and alcohol addiction, but is defined similarly: an unhealthy relationship with food. It’s not just overeating. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA), an international organization combating the addiction, says it can mean that, or bulimia and obsession with exercise, dieting and self-image, or all of those.
Sarah, Ruth and Miriam, all speaking anonymously, know all too well how an unchecked relationship with food can spiral out of control. They wanted to speak to the issues of food addiction and the importance of getting the word out about FA.
“But we hardly know where to start,” said Miriam as Ruth fanned out some of the organization’s latest pamphlets.
Miriam, 59 when she started, has been with the program for 14 years. “I was in terrible condition. I was on all kinds of medications, I had that kind of trio of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and type two diabetes.”
A relatively average child, Miriam said as the years went by she gained more and more weight until her 40s when it started taking off. In the six months before she found FA, she gained 25 pounds solely on prepackaged meals and snacks.
“I stopped eating anything that was good for me and I just wanted to eat sweets. Nothing seemed to taste good anymore. My life was in a downward spiral in many ways.”
Miriam considered herself sick, but 10 years since losing about 80 pounds, she has kept the weight off, has healthy numbers and escaped the clutches of regularly administered insulin. She even said she thinks she may be healthier now in her 70s than ever before.
Sarah was in a Weight Watchers program when her doctor told her losing weight was her only option to avoid diabetes. “I wasn't losing the weight. I was gaining it.”
Weight Watchers is a great organization for many people, said Sarah, but her troubles were deeper than the program can dig into. In the summer of 2006, Sarah bumped into a friend from the previous summer who had lost considerable weight. That is how Sarah learned about FA.
Through FA’s 12-step program, Sarah learned most food addicts are really addicted to two things: flour and sugar. Coming into the program, Sarah was frightened because those were basically everything she ate.
“Don’t get me wrong, flour and sugar are great foods which have kept nations alive, but I was up to 204 pounds and I'm 5'6."”
Within a year, Sarah lost 80 pounds and over the 10 years she has kept it off, she has made many friends through the program. The camaraderie has made an awesome support system for living in a new way.
“It changed many things in my life … I can't tell you how grateful I am that that happened.”
Ruth found FA in 2002 at 47 years old desperate to change her relationship with food. A nurse coming from a family at significant risk for heart disease and diabetes, Ruth still could not manage to eat the way she knew she should. Stringing a few days of healthy eating together at a time, she would be back “overeating the wrong foods.”
“Like with any anonymous program, a relationship with food is just like an alcoholic. Just like 'I'm not going to have another beer,' I'd have one thing and then I'd say 'Oh, well, I did it anyway,' so then I would just eat and eat because tomorrow I'm going to be perfect again.”
Over 200 pounds when she joined the program, Ruth lost 80 pounds and has kept it off for 15 years. Like Miriam and Sarah, Ruth feels better now than she did a long time ago.
FA has over 6,000 members with over 400 meetings in 10 countries. Maine has 23 meetings available including eight in the Midcoast. The group Miriam, Sarah and Ruth attend meets in Brunswick at Midcoast Hospital on Saturdays at 9 a.m. There are also meetings in Topsham, Freeport, Bath and Newcastle.
For meeting places and times or other information, go to: http://www.foodaddicts.org