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Managing Food Addiction

Many of us who have struggled with body, weight and eating issues have tried many ways to deal with our "issues."
  • Some of us have tried every different diet that exists from the cabbage soup diet, to Dr. Bernstein’s diet, to being vegan.
  • We have gone on the artificial sweetener, gluten free and “anything from the health food store” diet.
  • We have excessively exercised and then done no exercise at all.
  • We have seen counselors and joined support groups that teach us that we can eat anything in moderation once we learn to not eat over our emotions.
  • We have thought about or followed through with weight loss surgery only to find we can’t adhere to the required eating plan.
The misdiagnosis of food addiction is rampant in the world today.
  • As a result, many people are given the wrong treatment plan. The majority of misdiagnosed food addicts are being treated for obesity and/or eating disorders. The former is too imprecise, completely ignoring the possibility of a chemical dependency on one or more foods. The recommended treatment for many eating disorders emphasizes psychological approaches and encourages a person to eat their trigger foods moderately, which for a person with food addiction simply does not work.
  • Moreover, obesity can be a symptom of food addiction; much like sclerosis of the liver can be a symptom of alcohol addiction. However, a doctor would never treat a person’s sclerosis of the liver and expect that to heal their alcohol addiction. And yet this is often what is expected and done in the medical world today when treating people struggling with food addiction. They are told to eat less and exercise more and all will be well.
  • Successful treatment of food addiction teaches people to abstain from eating their “problem foods” and to abstain from engaging in their negative eating behaviors. Any approach other than this one only prolongs the problem.
There is not a cure for food addiction or any other addiction. But there are ways to arrest and reverse the progression of this disease.

A successful treatment program teaches food addicts how to live their lives without resorting to consuming their “addictive foods” simply out of habit or in order to deal with daily stresses, pressures and disappointments. Along with complete abstinence from the “addictive foods,” the treatment plan should consist of guidance from experts and the support of peers focusing on physical, mental and spiritual recovery.

The key to sustained recovery from food addiction is for food addicts to be honest, open-minded and willing; treatment only becomes effective when the individual becomes willing to surrender to the reality of their current condition. Food addiction can be described as an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. Complete abstinence from the addictive substances is essential for recovery.

Once it is determined that a person is suffering from food addiction, it is important to take into account that there are many different levels of care and treatment. It is important that food addicts get the level that is appropriate to their particular stage of food addiction.

Regardless of what stage of addiction the food dependent person may be, abstinence is the first and most essential step in long term recovery.
  • Abstinence for a food addict is more complex than the abstinence of an alcoholic.  A person can’t just stop eating, however we can stop eating the foods and engaging in the eating behaviors that our bodies have become dependent on in an unhealthy way.
  • Different people have different sensitivities, just as with allergies. However, foods that tend to be highly addictive for a great many people are foods that are high in sugar, flour, grains, salt,  fat or a combination of these ingredients.   
  • Addictive eating behaviors include binging, purging and volume eating. Each food addict must identify the foods and eating behaviors they personally are addicted to and begin to abstain from them. After a detox period (usually 3-5 days), physical cravings and food obsessions will often be reduced or eliminated.  Continued abstinence can be tough.  We recommend seeking  peer support and professional help, if needed.  Click here for a list of professional supports that follow the addictive model of treatment.  
  • When problem foods and eating behaviors have been removed, the next step is to get support with the mental and spiritual aspects of the disease. The most successful recoveries seem to come from doing this with support from a group of like-minded people, (click here for more information on the different peer-support groups) and with the help of a professional who specializes in addictions.
The goal in food addiction recovery is freedom from food cravings as well as freedom from food obsession.

Abstinence in food addiction recovery is not about deprivation. Recovering food addicts learn to create a meaningful and purpose driven life by using physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual practices to remain free from trigger and binge foods. Recovery brings relief, renewal, and freedom. Daily positive actions sustain and enhance recovery. Abstinence is the foundation of a lifelong and transformative process of well-being and of learning to live successfully with food use disorder.

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