I struggled with weight problems for most of my life. I tried a plethora of diets, exercise classes, and therapy. The solution, I was told, was either, “Eat less and exercise more,” or, “Work on your emotional issues with a good therapist.”
I did these things over and over and over again. Nothing shifted. For over ten years I regularly saw a therapist that specialized in eating disorders. I joined groups where the focus was on mindful eating and working on emotions that I “ate over.”
I remember one group where we all had to bring in a piece of our favorite food. I brought a rich, moist, dark chocolate brownie. I couldn’t wait to get to group that night to see what everyone else had brought.
We sat in a circle on the floor with our food in front of us, on display. There were six people in the group, and we had to cut the item we had brought into six pieces. We were told to be quiet, to mindfully take a bite of our favorite food, then to put it down and slowly taste and enjoy the bite before we took another. We could choose another item that someone else had brought in, if we wanted. We could have as much or as little as we wanted, as long as we ate slowly and paid attention to what our bodies really wanted — and, most importantly, to what we were feeling.
“What my body wants… Be mindful of every bite… What I’m feeling… Are you kidding me!?” My brain was in overdrive with thoughts flying around like a whirling dervish. ”What? I have to share this one brownie with six other people? I usually have at least two in a sitting. What am I going to eat next? There isn’t enough food for me. People will be watching what I’m eating because I‘m the fat girl. Oh no — everyone is choosing a piece of my brownie! There won’t be any left for me. I should’ve bought several more and left them in my car!”
As long as there were high-sugar, fatty, floury foods in front of me, I had absolutely no serenity or peace. I could think of nothing but eating them, and if I couldn’t be stuffing them in my mouth as fast as possible, I felt anxious and jittery.
I now understand why this sort of therapy was not right for me. However, at the time it just told me that I was a failure and couldn’t get a grip on the simple task of eating, no matter how much support I had.
Before recovery, summertime equaled profuse sweating, with perspiration rolling down my neck and face while my hair stuck to my forehead — a very sexy look! On top of that was an uncomfortable heat rash, meaning major chafing between my legs and under my stomach roll — painful, and smelly!
When I thought no one was looking, I walked as if a beach ball were stuffed between my legs, so my thighs wouldn’t rub together and exacerbate the rash. Summer also meant avoiding the beach and pools at all costs — or going only when I was the only one there. That was because if people saw me in my bathing suit, they would know I was overweight (ummm, I think it was obvious fully clothed, Amanda).
Summer meant lying to my friends when they invited me to the beach. It meant camping, which I really enjoyed until the sadness crept in. You see, camping included eating junk food all day and night. As the rest of the world became excited and energized, connecting with others in the picturesque outdoors, I stood on the sidelines watching — sad, lonely, and ashamed — while desperately trying to portray that all was good and that my life was great.
The truth was that my life was far from great, as I was tethered to my obsession with food, body, and weight. I felt anything but free.
My doctor began to tell me that I needed to be careful because I was “pre-diabetic.” I would leave those appointments feeling ashamed and embarrassed, blaming my lack of willpower as the reason I couldn’t stop shoving so much food in my mouth. I would then become determined to change. But … I couldn’t. I really wanted to and I really tried, but nothing changed. In fact, it seemed to get worse.
In June 2013, I went to another doctor’s appointment — except this doctor specialized in obesity! My hopes were high. I hoped with all my might that this might be the day when I finally got the help I needed, whatever that was. And I did get help — I was told that I was no longer pre-diabetic. Now, I was a full-blown diabetic with Type 2 Diabetes!
The good news was that the doctor prescribed me a medication that would control my blood sugar levels. I only had to inject myself with it every day. How simple is that? Plus … there was more good news … it would help me lose weight. YAY! Phew. I was finally getting some real help. My doctor was treating me for diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, sleep management, and obesity!
I continued to see this doctor, who regularly suggested I consider weight loss surgery. The thing is I had already had weight loss surgery. It had completely failed because I couldn’t follow the diet.
All along, I was being treated for the wrong disease! All of the maladies I was being treated for were only symptoms — horrible consequences — of the primary disease I really had. I had untreated food addiction and, until I received treatment for that disease, my symptoms might be managed but they would continue to worsen — which they did!
Over the next few years, my anxiety, sleep apnea, diabetes, and high blood pressure were being “managed” by drugs, my weight was holding steady at 300 pounds, and I continued to hate myself and believe I was a failure. I joined a 12-Step program for eating problems and got a sponsor. There I received help and support from others, but my weight didn’t go down — and my grasp on “abstinence” seemed shaky at best.
In January of 2015, I was morbidly obese, incredibly depressed, and hopeless. I had no faith that anything would ever really change. I was resigned to being fat and miserable for the rest of my life (which, at 42, could be a long time) — as long as my obesity-related health concerns didn’t kill me sooner. This was highly probable.
What I didn’t realize was that I was a food addict. This meant that my body had become dependent on ingesting certain foods in order for it to function “normally”. That made it next to impossible for me to ever control what and how much I put in my mouth.
The methods I had tried would work for a period of time — but in the end, they always resulted in more weight gain, shame, and guilt. It was a never-ending cycle of dieting and bingeing, feeling excited then scared, embarrassed, and ashamed, as I would slide back into the compulsive eating behaviors — thinking, “I’ve got this,” to thinking, “I am such a loser; I have no will power; what is wrong with me?”
I finally learned what was “wrong” with me by attending the ACORN Intensive, a renowned food addiction treatment program. There I was presented with a solution to the disease I actually had which, wouldn’t you know, cured ALL of my secondary diseases. I was taken off all diabetes medications within six months. (This is not rare — we have worked with others who, under doctor supervision, have had their insulin reduced after only a few weeks of abstinence.)
When I found out I was addicted to certain foods, I felt relieved. It made sense, as I had literally tried everything to get my eating under control and to lose weight — and nothing had ever worked. When I found out what was wrong with me, I felt relieved. I wasn’t a weak-willed human being. Even more exciting was that there was a solution. There was help and support — different than I had ever received in my life through the gyms, the nutritionists, the doctors, the weight loss surgery staff … the endless people I had reached out to for help.
This was new information, and it all made sense. Better yet, it worked! It worked in ways I never thought possible. Yes, I cut my weight in half by releasing over 140 pounds and keeping it off (one day at a time). However, the things that have been more life-changing, surprisingly, are the internal changes — the changes in how I show up in the world, the changes in my thoughts, feelings, and actions throughout the day.
I have a lot more joy and gratitude every day. Most days I get up and want to participate in the world. This is not what I was used to. Before I was in recovery from food addiction, I just wanted to stay in bed, watch TV, eat food, and shut out the rest of the world. I was miserable, sad, angry, and obese.
Today, I can honestly say I am happy, joyous, grateful, and physically healthy. I truly never believed this could ever happen to me; as I said, I was resigned to being fat and miserable the rest of my life. But that isn’t the case today. I found a solution, and now I work with people every day to help lift them out of the trenches of food obsession and addiction.
The ACORN Intensive has been supporting people with food addiction for over 25 years. This program saved my life, without a doubt. That is why I decided to join their team and switch my focus as an addictions counselor from working with drug and alcohol addiction to working with people struggling with food addiction.
Now that I am in stable food addiction recovery, I feel free. I am free to take my niece, Georgia, hiking up Grouse Mountain and to know that when she gets tired and “can’t walk anymore” (as is almost a guarantee with any four-year-old), I have the ability to hoist her onto my shoulders and keep going.
I am free to hop on my bike and go for a spin around beautiful Vancouver. And, best of all, I am free to snuggle with Georgia and to feel the pure contentment, peace, and utter joy that this little human being is in my life.
Yes, I could have done these things before. However, they would have been far more physically challenging — I didn’t really have a lap that my niece could sit on! More importantly, I would not have been truly present, as my mind would have been hijacked either by obsessing over how I looked or what I was going to eat next — or, even more devastating, how much I hated myself and my life!
Recovery has brought me the freedom to live a life beyond my wildest dreams, including all the ups, downs, and in-betweens that make up life in our magnificent world. It has allowed me to show up for my niece and for everyone else in life in an authentic, integrated way.
I have so much to be grateful for. I don’t always see this — but, if I choose, it is always there, available for me to be aware of and to bask in the glory of my gratitude.