Treatment is simple but not necessarily easy, and like other addictions and chronic diseases, there is no permanent cure. It is possible however, to put food addiction in physical remission and then slowly to repair the psychological, social, economic and spiritual damage it has caused. The principles of recovery are simply to: 1) completely eliminate specific binge foods and compulsive eating behaviors; 2) develop feeling skills to deal with difficult emotions without using food; 3) ask for help, especially in identifying and making decisions about chronic irrational thinking about eating, body image and food; and 4) effectively break biochemical denial regarding food addiction.
What one needs to do varies in difficulty as the disease of food addiction progresses.
- In early stage food addiction, recovery begins by identifying potentially toxic foods and abstaining from them. Considerable education about food addiction is often needed to do this. The following questions should be addressed: What is the difference between physical craving and hunger? Why will such a radical step in the short term prevent much more serious problems in the long term? Why is it that some need to abstain completely while others can eat the same foods safely in moderation?
- In middle stage food addiction the distortion of instincts has usually distorted conscious thinking and it is often important to ask for help. This might mean asking a sober friend, a counselor, a minster or even a level-headed family member for help. One might also consider attending a meeting of a food-related 12-Step fellowship. The advantage of a food-related 12-Step organization is that you can usually find others who have similar problems with food and are working together toward a solution. In some of the stronger meetings, you may also be able to find a person to serve as your mentor. In 12-step jargon, this person is known as a “sponsor.”
- In late stage food addiction there is often a need for more structure and support. This might mean going to more 12-Step meetings, joining the more structured programs for critical level food addicts – OA HOW, OA 90 Days, FAA, FA, RFA, CEA HOW or GRS, or seeking professional treatment. The week-long residential workshops of ACORN, Kay Sheppard, and Shades of Hope are often a good place to get help.
- In final stage food addiction, residential treatment, halfway houses and long term-care are appropriate. We recommend the following: Milestones in Recovery, Turning Point of Tampa, and Shades of Hope. We will add others as we learn of them and evaluate their success. When residential treatment is too expensive or when primary hospital-based treatment is needed, there are currently very few options.
© Philip Werdell, 2011