NORMAL EATERS may have problems with weight (even obesity) if they do not eat the appropriate number of calories (and exercise moderately) to maintain an ideal, healthy weight. The problem for normal eaters is primarily physical: If they choose to eat a balanced diet, exercise moderately, and get support for lifestyle changes, they can lose unwanted weight (or gain weight) and keep their weight in a normal range. Basically, willpower works; just put down the fork and push away from the table.
EMOTIONAL EATERS often have similar problems with weight but find themselves powerless to follow directions to lose (or gain) weight and restore their health even when they want to. For those with diagnosable eating disorders – i.e., anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder – the underlying problem is mental-emotional: It’s not what you are eating but rather what is eating you. Problem eaters use food to numb or medicate their feelings. What works for problem eaters are a moderate food and exercise plan, as well as developing skills to cope with feelings.
FOOD ADDICTS become chemically dependent on specific foods or on food in general. The way their body processes food is bio-chemically different that that of normal eaters and emotional eaters. Many food addicts are predisposed to becoming addicted to food – especially to sugar, flour, wheat, fat, salt, caffeine, and/or excess volume to any food – just as alcoholics are predisposed to being chemically dependent on alcohol and drug addicts to heroine, cocaine or prescription drugs. As the disease of addiction progresses, food addicts become powerless over physical craving and develop distortions and obsessions of the mind that keep them in denial.
SO, WHAT WORKS FOR FOOD ADDICTS?
Diets alone don’t work. Simple therapy alone does not work. What works for food addicts is surrender. Surrendering, through physical abstinence, the foods to which they are chemically dependent. Surrendering to rigorous honesty with all their thoughts and feelings about food. Surrendering to whatever structure and support is needed. Ultimately, surrendering to the process of a spiritual experience, i.e., the type of psychic change that has given relief and healing to thousands of chemically dependent individuals.
Most food addicts have weight problems – the majority are obese, though some are a normal weight or may even be dangerously underweight. Many also have unresolved emotional trauma similar to those who are diagnosed with eating disorders, e.g. anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder. In short, most food addicts have problems similar to those of normal eaters and problem eaters, but for food addicts, their addiction to food must be the primary focus.
If food addicts just diet, they may lose some weight but inevitably will gain it back. If food addicts do not commit to being rigorously honest – preferably with another food addict or with a healthcare professional that understands food addiction – they may make some gains in therapy, but will eventually relapse into the food; this will make them even more anxious or depressed. To be successful in healing from food addiction, one needs to first accept that they are food addicted and then, once again, deal with this first.
Most successful, long-term recovering food addicts approach their physical abstinence and deeper internal healing as a spiritual discipline. One simple approach to this concept is to study and practice the Twelve Steps. While this clearly is not the only way – as there are an endless number of spiritual paths that will work – the Twelve Steps are a spiritual practice specifically designed for those who suffer from addiction.
© Copyright Phil Werdell and Mary Foushi, 2007