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Alumni Retreat:  Blocks to Working Steps 4 through 9

For over twenty years, ACORN Primary Intensives have focused on helping food addicts do deeper food First Steps – “We admitted we were powerless over food….”  We have received numerous requests for a workshop focused on blocks to working Steps 4 through 9.  Please join us as we launch this new alumni workshop.

Here are some of the blocks ACORN alumni have shared with us while working Steps 4 through 9:

  1. Some find it difficult to complete a 4th Step inventory; others have difficult starting the process.
  2. Some find that when they get into the substance of 4th Step work, emotional issues arise that they either don’t have the skills to deal with or which trigger prior unresolved trauma.  While the place to actually do the rigorous process of Steps 4 through 9 is in a Twelve Step fellowship, and the place to do long-term work on unresolved trauma is in professional therapy, ACORN staff are skilled at helping people sort these issues out and developing a plan of action.
  3. Some who have relapsed or are chronic relapsers, find that one of the problems is that they have never gone through the Steps rigorously and fully “cleaned house.”  Paradoxically, this is often because they do not believe that they need to do this in-depth inventory work in order to sustain long-term recovery; this means they need to do deeper First Step work to accept they have a substantial brain disease as well as a craving for specific foods.

The workshop will begin in the usual ACORN style with secrets about food and current Twelve Step process. Then we will have an exercise in which everyone will do a piece of writing on Step Four – looking at resentments, fear and relationships (sex conduct). This is followed by a simple process actually doing Steps Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine together. Then, in a process group format, we will focus on any difficult emotional and spiritual issues which come up for each person. For those needing instruction in rigorous approaches to the Steps, there will be help similar to that in alcohol and drug addiction treatment. The workshop will conclude with people doing an aftercare plan which incorporates structure for continuing the work begun during the weekend.

The groups will be led by ACORN facilitators who are, themselves, long-time abstinent recovered food addicts, have done all the Steps thoroughly, and who have experience in helping with the deeper emotional and spiritual issues that often come up in the course of serious food addiction recovery.

Please note:  Our assumption is that it remains best to actually do the inventory Steps in a food-related Twelve Step fellowship of your choice, and the workshop is not meant to replace such work.

Upcoming Events

Phil’s musing about World Health Day and Food Addiction

World Health Day and Food Addiction

World Health Day is a global health awareness day celebrated every year on April 7th, under the sponsorship of the World Health Organization, as well as other related organizations This special attention on issues of world health affords me the opportunity to muse about the critical issue of food addiction.

We don’t have solid data on how many in the world are food addicted. That’s the first problem. However, we do know that the obesity and other problems of overeating now affect more people of the United States and worldwide than the problems of starvation and malnutrition. [1]

The best information we have about food addiction is from a study of one U.S. metropolitan area, reported by Dr. David Kessler (not yet published). From this research, Dr. Kessler estimates there are 70,000,000 adults, in the United States alone, who have the characteristics of food addiction: physical craving and loss of control. [2]

Another significant problem is that most of those with food addiction are misdiagnosed, mistreated or not treated at all. Since food addiction progressively creates a problem of loss of control, this means that millions of those who are overweight or obese are not able to achieve and maintain necessary weight loss. Worse, they also suffer from a brain disease which distorts the mind and causes enormous emotional suffering.

Finally, of course, there is the cost. If we assume that the cost of food addiction is just one third that of obesity, [3] it would mean that food addiction and its associated medical problems are costing $49 billion per year, just in the United States.

The third problem, also related to money, is that Americans below the median income level are almost entirely excluded from short- or long-term residential treatment for food addiction. We talk with self-assessed middle- and late-stage food addicts every month who cannot achieve and maintain abstinence from their binge foods, and who find the cost of a five-day residential ACORN Primary Intensive beyond their grasp financially, even though there is a high likelihood that it could help them get abstinent and save money in the long term. [4]  In the case of ACORN workshops, the cost of services is cut as much as possible, [5] and financial help is only possible when there are donations for this purpose from others who have funds to contribute. At residential treatment centers a major problem is that health insurance frequently does not cover addiction model treatment. This is unlikely to change until the American Psychiatric Association accepts food as a substance use disorder as a formal diagnostic category.

[1] Danielle Dellorto, CNN, 2012.

[2] Kessler’s figure of 70,000,000 adults with food addiction was report in Your Food Is Fooling You: How Your Brain Is Hijacked by Sugar, Fat, and Salt, the follow-up book to his New York Times bestseller, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. In an NPR interview about the book, Kessler said that the estimates from this study found 50 percent of the obese, 30 percent of the overweight and 20 percent of those at a ”healthy” weight or less to be, at least, at an early stage food addiction.

[3] CDC, annual cost of obesity and its associated health problems in the U.S., $147 billion, 2018

[4] Most of those who become food addiction abstinent spend less on food than on their prior binge foods.  Those in later stages of food addiction are often having difficulty working and maintaining the quality of their work; their earning capacity becomes more stable over time and often increases with abstinence and recovery.

[5] The ACORN residential workshop model offers services at one-quarter to one-half the cost of most food addiction treatment centers. Of course, it is not a licensed treatment center with traditionally certified health professionals.

Space is available for the Men’s 3-Days with Phil – April 6 – 8
Don’t delay registering for this event! You can register online or call the ACORN office at 941-378-2122.


Join us in wishing Phil a Happy 77th Birthday, April 2!



Upcoming Events

National Nutrition Month and message from dietitian David Avram Wolfe

Happy National Nutrition month!

Every March since 1973 the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has run a campaign focused on bringing people nutrition information and education. The campaign’s focus is on the importance of making informed food choices. “Making informed food choices”…hmm, for a food addict like me, this sounds like an oxymoron!

While I was active in my addiction, shoving food down my throat, there was absolutely no way I could make any informed decisions, much less about food!  And unfortunately, once I got that I was addicted to food, it was pretty hard to get any helpful information on what “making informed food choices” would look like for someone with the disease of food addiction.

The many well-meaning, doctors, nutritionists and dietitians I sought out for help simply made it worse, as they had – literally – no idea what I truly needed to treat my food addiction. And, the truth is, there are only a small handful of doctors and nutritionists/dietitians who do have the knowledge that an addict, like me, needs to support her recovery.

We asked one of those “knowledgeable” dietitians, David Avram Wolfe, to write a brief article (see below) on what he believes it takes for a food addict to be successful in their recovery. David is a registered dietitian, sugar addiction coach, food addiction counsellor and the founder of Trigger Free Nutrition,

Wishing everyone an abstinent, peaceful last week of March,


From David Avram Wolfe MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, FAC . . .

Ellen, a food addict from Boston, had this to say about her experience working with dietitians and nutritionists.

I loved my previous dietitian, she was sweet, but she never understood my food addiction. She did not understand that I could not eat my trigger foods in moderation or just once in a while. Now that I have a dietitian that understands food addiction, I have a much better chance of sustaining the recovery that I have established. I have been abstinent for nearly three years. I have never been happier!”

As a dietitian, I believe that it takes a village to raise a child; however, it takes more than that to support a food addict into sustainable recovery. A food addict needs a professional who understands not only food but also the disease of addiction. The truth of the matter is that if you have everything in place in your recovery except a food plan that is working for you in your life, you will fail over and over again. Regardless of your efforts, you will return to the food every time!

The first thing I do with my clients is establish which foods cause them guilt, romance and/or debate. These foods must be eliminated. I believe if consumed, even in microscopic amounts, addictive eating patterns and behaviors will eventually return. I also discuss the concept that addiction is no longer just a brain disease; it affects the entire body! So, we must treat the entire body. We must heal the gut; we must heal the joints; we must heal everything. Maimonides, a 15th century Rabbi once said, “No disease caused by diet should be treated by any other means.” I believe his words ring true today. This is the medicine of the future!

As a dietitian, I know and understand even minor changes can cause huge problems in a food addict’s recovery and life. So, when in search of the right nutritional support, here are some key questions you may want to ask before making a decision.

  1. Does the dietitian/nutritionist believe in abstinence as the primary treatment for food addiction?
  2. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand what it means to be in recovery?
  3. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand what powerlessness means in regard to food and eating?
  4. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand what it means to be willing to go to any lengths to recover?
  5. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand that you may be a low-bottom, high-maintenance food addict and what that really means?
  6. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand what kinds of secrets you have kept and lies you have told in reference to your eating?
  7. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand that once you are triggered you will do nearly anything to fulfill your food cravings?
  8. Does the dietitian/nutritionist understand the role of a food sponsor?  If necessary, is s/he willing to work together with a sponsor to increase your chances for success?

The one thing to always remember is that no matter what you decide, your recovery is your personal responsibility. Do not put it at unnecessary risk. You are worth more than that!

David Avram Wolfe MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, FAC

Space is available for the Men’s 3-Days with Phil – April 6 – 8

Don’t delay registering for this event! You can register online or call the ACORN office at 941-378-2122.

Upcoming Events

Weekly Teleconference “Nuts & Bolts”

Please join us Wednesday evenings for recovery support.

This no-cost abstinence support group is open to all. Led by Sherri Goodman, professional trainee.
Wednesdays at 7 pm (EST.)
Conference call in number:
(605) 468-8002
Access Number 1014962#

A Note from Phil and Men’s 3-Days with Phil – April 6 – 8

Men’s 3-Days with Phil – April 6 – 8

“I feel so blessed to have found ACORN and to have the support I needed to do my work. The intensives and 3-Days have moved me further along in my recovery journey at a deeper level. “

ACORN has a lively history of men’s workshops. Personally, I did not meet another man who was food abstinent until I was in stable recovery for over a year. I was delighted when I heard about a men’s Twelve Step group for overeaters in Los Angeles that had been meeting for over two decades.

They began each meeting by saying, “There are some things that men find it very difficult to say in a female-majority meeting. This is the place where we can say it all.”  With that in mind, that’s how we have begun every men’s retreat or workshop that I have led for ACORN.

I remember when we announced at an early Philadelphia retreat that one of the breakout groups would be all male.  There was some loud whooping – and not just by the men.  That’s when I learned that this work was even more important than I had thought.

At a men’s “3-day” at a motel in New Jersey, several men started taking turns doing tantrums.  When the police knocked on the door and inquired if something was wrong, we told them, “We are practicing for the performance of a play.”  It was not entirely a deception; we were practicing being truthful about our feelings in the play of life!

Another men’s gathering, this one in New Hampshire, was a bit more subdued.  Group feedback regularly began with the phrase, “This is another thing I have never said at a meeting.”  Men have a unique box of secrets; and it is not just their feelings about intimacy and sex. Men have been especially grateful for the opportunity to work on their recovery in groups set aside for men only.

So, we have another men’s workshop coming up in New England, this one in Charlton(outside of Boston) outside of Boston on April 6th to 8th, 2018. Men, bring your secrets and the issues about which you have hesitated being vulnerable. As with all ACORN events, we will focus on abstinence first, absolutely, and move to emotional and spiritual work in a male voice.

“I came to ACORN somewhat blind, having hit my rock bottom. I did not want to die before I tried these resources. I came in blind and I’m now getting enlightened and “ABSTINENT.”

More from Phil…

As food addicts, many of us have special awareness of eating disorders. Personally, I spent over a decade doing serious work in therapy on my ‘underlying issues’ and, while I developed some serious emotional coping skills, my problems with food just got worse.
So, many of us have had to give up the belief that we are “just emotional eaters.”  Eating disorders originate in families who don’t deal with feelings well and from traumas which are pushed down; we find that foods, often special ‘comfort foods’, take away or minimize the pain.  Food addiction is an entirely different disease. It is caused by specific toxic foods which change the brain biochemically and turn it into being chemically dependent on these very same foods.
With eating disorders, “It is not what you are eating, but what’s eating you.”  The solution is to work towards being able to eat all foods in moderation by using emotion skills to deal with difficulty feelings and resolve prior traumas.
On the other hand, with food addiction, “It’s not the food – unless it is the food. Then it is the food – until it is not the food.  Then, it is not the food.”  Whew!  Got it?  The solution is to begin by eliminating all your binge foods completely, and then work on the deep emotional and spiritual issues.
Many people come to ACORN workshops pretty certain that they are emotional eaters, that is, bingeing, purging and/or restricting out of control because they have an eating disorder.  They are confused as to whether or not they are food addicted. In fact, many are surprised to find that they would rather have an eating disorder than a food addiction.  They really do not want to abstain from their ‘favorite’ foods, much less have to work with another food addict to be accountable. It is often seen as too much work.  Moreover, they want to be able to eat what they want to eat, as much of it as they want, and when they want to.
The ACORN Primary Intensive is a way to learn about eating disorders and food addiction intellectually, and then match it to your own experience.
There is no better way to do so than to act as if you are food addicted with a group of other people.  Do you resist surrendering toxic foods?  Could it be a sign of physical craving?  Do you experience symptoms of withdrawal when you abstain?  Does the craving diminish or go away after a few days of abstinence?  What do you learn from looking at ways you are secretive or manipulative about food?  Has dieting and other ways of controlling your weight worked?  Can you identify specific incidents when you were powerless over food?  What do you learn as you discover the emotional, mental and spiritual distortions with these physical attempts to control?
That’s what the work of the ACORN Primary Intensive is all about.  By actually doing the work of food addiction recovery, you don’t try to think your way into recovery actions; rather, if you are food addicted, you act your way into accurate thinking!
For many, there is a second important learning.  When abstinent, difficult feelings often come to the surface and the old coping mechanisms of food are no longer of any help.  Personally, that’s what happened for me in early recovery.  When I was abstinent, feelings of fear, anger, sadness and willfulness arose that I never learned to deal with while in therapy and still active with the food. 
So, some of us are both food addicted and eating disordered.  I had to learn how to deal with both of these brain diseases through abstinence first.  That is exactly what we work to help people learn to do at the ACORN Primary Intensive.  Please join us.  I would love to see you!

Men’s “3-Days with Phil” April 6 – 8

MEN’s “3 Days with Phil”
April 6 – 8, 2018

“Phil’s compassion, humor and competence have helped thousands of food addicts.” – Mary Rice

This 3-day workshop will help you work on deep emotional and spiritual blocks that prevent you from becoming food abstinent or maintaining long-term abstinence and recovery. If you have trouble identifying feelings, dealing with anger, fear, or grief, or surrendering to powerlessness over food; this workshop will give you practical skills that will support your abstinence.

Join Phil and other men in a safe nurturing small group format to learn how to do a food slip inventory and written incidents of powerlessness to remove stumbling blocks that prevent deep emotional and spiritual recovery.

  • Workshop Hours:  9:00 AM to 4:30 PM (break for lunch)
  • Cost for the workshop only: $1,500 USD (does not include meals & lodging)
  • Limited onsite lodging $45 USD per night

Location:        Charlton, MA

Contact:          941-378-2122 or

Register Online: or call 941-378-2122

Bullying STOPS here! Pink Shirt Day Feb 28th

February 26th is Pink Shirt Day, a day when people stand up and say “NO” to bullying. Are you going to join the efforts and don your best pink shirt?

It is said that 1 in 5 kids is affected by bullying (! This is a tragic epidemic. Bullying has become a major problem that takes place in our schools, workplaces, homes, online – really, it takes place everywhere. Pink Shirt Day aims to heighten awareness and raise funds to support healthy self-esteem in our kids.

Pink Shirt Day began in Nova Scotia, Canada, and is now celebrated across the globe. In 2007 two teenage boys organized a protest in their high school urging classmates to wear pink in sympathy for a fellow student who was being bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school.  These two boys, along with support from their teachers, purchased 50 pink shirts, sent messages to their schoolmates, and the next day stood in the school’s foyer handing out the shirts. When the bullied boy saw all these other students wearing pink, one of the teachers said, “His face spoke volumes; it looked like a huge weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.” These boys took a stand against bullying, and the bullies were apparently never heard from again! Thus, Pink Shirt Day was born.

Has bullying affected you? It certainly has affected me. I was bullied when I was young for being overweight. I remember the blatant bullying where kids at school would say incredibly hurtful things, such as, “Hey, can you feel the shaking? Oh right, that’s because Blubber is walking down the hall.” I, of course, was Blubber. Or, when a group of us were on the playground and some kids had made pen darts by inserting a needle into a hollowed out Bic pen and shot the needles at me to see if I would pop. Or, when I was walking home and a bunch of kids threw rocks at me calling me a fat loser. Basically, the message was clear: if you were fat, it meant you were “less than.” And, I took it a step further and added that it also meant I deserved every negative thing that came my way.

I was a kid that actually had a lot of friends and was always in the “cool” group – although I believed I was only holding on to that status by a thread, believing any minute I could be kicked to the curb. My point being that I can’t imagine a child feeling much worse than I did, and I KNOW, for certain, that many, many children have it far worse than I did, and truly have no friends.

Will you take a stand, with me, against bullying?  On Wed, Feb 26th, put your pink shirt on and let people know that you have zero tolerance for bullying at any age!!

Yes, bullying is on the rise and, as we all know, so is obesity. As many of us have observed or known from personal experience, people who are overweight – both young and old – deal with fat oppression and bullying every single day. Many of us suffer this abuse in silence. Do you believe that you or someone that you love struggles with weight issues related to food addiction? If so, the struggle is very real, and there is a solution that truly works.

We have a solution and we want to help.

Peace & Abstinence,