Maintaining 200 lb. Weight Loss for 19 Years
My name is Mary F. and I am a food addict. I was morbidly obese for the first 37 years of my life. I weighed 160 pounds when I was in third grade and weighed almost 300 pounds throughout my high school years. My top weight was 340 pounds when I was 34 years old. On five separate occasions I lost 100 pounds only to gain it all back. I felt hopeless and depressed most of the time, and I repeatedly considered suicide as the only option to relieve me of the intense shame and despair I felt.
In 1990, after deciding I would eat myself to death because I could not stop bingeing on sugar and flour products, I went to treatment for food addiction. I learned that I am a food addict and that I cannot eat certain foods without creating cravings that I am unable to resist.
Now, I have maintained a 200 pound weight loss for 19 years. I have not binged since 1990 and no longer experience cravings. I have a normal size body. I am healthy. I have not had any form of bariatric surgery. Rather, I treat myself as a food addict.
From Fat to Thin: One Man’s Story
Fat Boy, Thin Man tells the story of Michael Prager, a journalist whose fat childhood became an obese adolescent that lasted into his 30s. He was a champion dieter, losing more than 130 pounds three times but always finding it again, and more. As a child, he stole food, stole money for food, hid food, lied and schemed for food, and continued as an adult, if with a slightly more refined technique:
A 365-pound guy walks into a sub shop, with or without mustard stains on his sweater, and orders a couple of foot-longs. Anyone in the place is going to think they’re all for him, no matter what he does. That’s why, sometimes, I’d just go in and order, and let them think what they wanted. But sometimes I’d go with the list.
I’d grab a scrap of paper off the floor of my car and scribble on it, or write it out as if it were real, in case the clerk grabbed it to check for grammar or something. Then I’d roll out the driver’s side door and roll on inside. In the mid-‘80s, friends and colleagues at work suggested he wasn’t very happy and urged him to seek counseling, a path that led to suggestions that he might be a food addict, rather than just a weak, lazy slob. It wasn’t welcome news by far, but it eventually opened a range of changes in attitude, practices, and treatments that are sustaining a 155-pound weight loss for two decades.
Over the next several years, my life would head in beneficial directions I had neither expected nor even contemplated: Relationships, work performance, and personal productivity all began to improve; I was able to take on challenges and expand creatively; I grew willing to see the world in new ways and to take responsibility for my actions. I started dating successfully. And that doesn’t even broach what most people would consider topic No. 1: I lost weight in a balanced, sane, and healthy manner and kept it off.
Recovery didn’t arrive on a straight path, but it did arrive, and continues to.
Bariatric Surgery Fails, Food Addiction Treatment Succeeds
When Deborah finally accepted that diets did not work for her and that therapy did not curb her overeating, she elected to have bariatric surgery. Deborah lost weight at first, but then she found herself eating out of control and gaining weight faster than ever. She could not stop until she discovered that she was chemically dependent on specific foods and starting treating herself as a food addict.
I have always known I was a competent person. I am a graduate of an Ivy League university, earned two graduate degrees with honors, and serves capably as one of the nation’s first women ministers with her own congregation. So, it was confounding to me that I could not control my eating or my weight.
I wasn’t overweight as a child, but once in college I became morbidly obese. I tried diet after diet – always succeeding at first, then gaining it all back and sometimes more. Some of the therapy approaches I tried also worked temporarily, but I gained this weight back too. I tried Overeaters Anonymous, but could never achieve a stable abstinence.
So, at my doctor’s urging, I elected bariatric surgery. This, too, was successful at first. I lost more than 100 pounds, felt better, and my blood test results started pleasing the doctor. Then I started overeating, just a little at first, then wildly out of control. I was very confused and really depressed.
Someone told me about her success with ACORN’s (Food Dependency Recovery Services) primary intensive for food addicts. I was skeptical that it would work for me, but I had to try it.
By the end of the five-day workshop, I was “rigorously abstinent” from all my binge foods. I had a few difficult days of detoxification, but then I knew that something was different. My food Craving disappeared and my crazy thinking about food lessened incredibly. That was almost two years ago. I haven’t picked up any of my binge foods and I’ve found an inner peace. I am maintaining a 220-pound weight loss with ease. I’ve never felt or looked better.
I may have had to fail after the bariatric surgery to fully break my denial that I am food addicted. I have no regrets, and I am grateful to be learning how to work a daily recovery program as a recovering food addict
A Vegetarian Solution to Food Addiction
Miki was overweight and had a history of dieting, losing some weight and then soon gaining it back. One day she accompanied her husband to see Dr. Neil Barnard. Her husband had cancer, and Dr. Bernard’s center had a reputation for using both traditional medicine and a holistic nutritional approach. They went to a series of classes at the center and started taking the steps also suggested in Dr. Bernard’s book, Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons for Craving and 7 Steps to End Them Naturally. Miki decided to do the program with her husband.
They followed the suggested steps which included elimination of sugar, chocolate, cheese, and fatty meats, and replaced these and other foods they craved with a primarily vegetarian diet. Several months later Miki wrote to Dr. Bernard and told them they were both feeling “wonderful.” Not only was her husband much better, so was she! Here is part of her story:
The most amazing things have resulted from this endeavor. I have enjoyed the new foods and wonderful tastes, but also a marked improvement in my health. I have lost sixty-seven pounds in one year. For the first time in my life I was not on a diet. I was able to increase my exercise regimen due to the weight loss. My cholesterol is under control (having dropped significantly in the last year). One of the most amazing results for me has been the disappearance of all diabetic symptoms. My blood sugar measurements have decreased, on the average 185 points without medication. I feel fantastic, and, for the first time in a long time, I have a clean bill of health from my annual checkup. We started these classes for my husband; however, I have gained as many benefits along the way as he has. You have my profound gratitude. (Bernard, 2003)
(Comment: Miki hadn’t called herself a food addict but she likely was in an early or middle stage of chemical dependency on food. When she treated herself as if she was food addicted, it worked.)
Morbidly Obese: Breaking the Addiction to Food
Nearly 4 years ago, Amber W. was struggling with her weight. At the same time she was struggling to fit into a society that puts blame and shame on the obese. But an involvement with a 12 step program put her on a path to truth of self, recovery and eventually life changing weight loss. “Prior to being introduced to 12 steps, my life was about food and the acquisition of it,” said Amber. Only 48 months ago Amber weighed nearly 320 lbs with a dress size of 26. Tired of fad diets and breaking self promises, she turned to the help of the well-known 12 steps for addiction and as she put it ‘got real’ about her food addiction. She found a long term solution for her food issues in understanding the science of addiction to food and by committing herself to the 12 steps of addiction recovery.
Both Amber and her colleague Dr. Vera Tarman agree that weight loss is only one result of the recovery process for the food addict. Amber went from sneaking food and staying away from public interactions to becoming an advocate for food addiction in the public eye, truly a real life success story.
“The process of surrendering to addiction is difficult for most people,” said Dr. Vera, Canada’s foremost food addiction expert. “For those people like Amber who embrace the science behind food addiction and the need to change the way they think and act, the results of recovery can be remarkable.”
Today Amber has lost over 150 lbs and more importantly is totally committed to the recovery process, including abstinence from sugars and starch. “It’s one day at a time for me, like it is for most people recovering from addiction”, noted Amber. Amber has taken control of her life and her story is one of breaking through the denial of her addiction and developing a passion for living life to the fullest.