Celebrating 25 years of food addiction treatment and recovery!

The Process of Abstinence is Surrender

The initial surrender necessary for recovery from food addiction is to accept completely that you are a food addict. This means that you have a progressive disease that is physical, mental-emotional and spiritual in nature. Because it is a disease of the mind, there are times when you cannot trust your own thinking, so you need to rely on a Power beyond yourself. What does this look like specifically?

Physically

Physically, it means – A surrender of one’s specific binge foods, i.e.foods to which you are addicted. If one is addicted to volume, surrender to weighing and measuring or to some other external form of portion control.

This is most commonly done by surrendering to a food plan. A food plan defines the general content of abstinence. Food addicts need to be specific about what it means to be abstinent. What foods can you eat? What foods can you not eat? How much do you eat? How do you determine nutritional balance? It is common for food addicts who are new to recovery or are having difficulty getting abstinent to make this decision with someone who understands food addiction. If this person is not medically trained, it is also important to consult with a doctor, dietitian, or other health professional.

It also may mean to surrender to more structure and support until you are able to be food abstinent and stay abstinent. This might mean physically being in meetings, physically eating with other recovering food addicts, even staying with other abstinent food addicts 24/7. It might also mean putting oneself in a professionally-led recovery group, workshop, or in-patient treatment.

Mentally

Mentally it means – Surrendering to not making decisions about your food by yourself. Since most food addicts are not able to do this alone, it is common to make day-to-day decisions with a food sponsor. In the 12-Step fellowships, this is called committing your food to a sponsor. It also means accepting direction and support to surrender your food specifically one day a time.

In practice, the most common way of surrendering with a sponsor works like this:

  1. Write down your food before you eat it. This means you let go of or surrender spontaneity regarding food. You have to plan ahead. There is a slogan that goes with this principle, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
  2. Read what you wrote to your sponsor. This means you give up or surrender self-sufficiency and making decisions about your food alone. It means you give your word regarding your food. The slogan is, “Commit what you eat, and eat what you commit. Nothing more, nothing less.”
  3. Don’t change your commitment (unless there is a health emergency). This means let go of or surrender grazing or snacking between meals. It means let go of or surrender making decisions about food impulsively.
  4. Afterwards, be rigorously honest with your sponsor. This means let go of or surrender of your self-sufficiency and pride. If you are abstinent, say to your sponsor that you are. If you are not abstinent, i.e., made changes, eaten something you didn’t commit to eat, skipped a meal or forgot to eat something, be rigorously honest about how you are not abstinent and develop a surrender plan for the next day. The principle is again summarized in a fellowship slogan, “You are as sick as your secrets.”

This practice of rigorously surrendering one’s food daily with a fellow recovering addict may sometimes seem drastic, but it also seems to be what works for most of the thousands of food addicts who have found abstinence and recovery in the various food 12-Step fellowships. A common response about committing one’s food and/or weighing and measuring is as follows: “No, while I sometimes don’t want to do it, I no longer see it as a burden. It gives me a freedom regarding my food and my life that I never had before.”

Spiritually

Spiritually, it means – Surrender your food and your will to the care of a Power greater than yourself. This usually means surrendering to the practice of making conscious contact with God (as you understand God). This might be as simple as praying for help with your abstinence and life each morning, and saying” Thank You” at the end of the day. It might mean taking time each day for spiritual reading and/or silent meditation.

For someone having trouble with the God idea or with having a personal relationship, it means surrendering to work through the Twelve Steps rigorously from beginning to end (or some other effective spiritual practice).This is best done with a sponsor – or in a group. The bottom line is to have an effective spiritual awakening; a change in personality that enables us to live soberly without using food addictively.

Finally, the ultimate spiritual act for a food addict is surrendering to regularly helping another food addict. This is at once the most practical way to stay food abstinent when all other things do not work and the best way to assure there will continue to be a spiritual community to help you if and when you need it. In the end, often in spite of themselves, abstinence is a way of life for food addicts in that they surrender to being with and serving God.

There are, of course, as many ways of looking at surrendering one’s food as there are paths to God. This is just one that works for many food addicts. Thank God.

© Phil Werdell, M.A.

Practical Reasons for Weighing and Measuring Your Food

While every food addict does not need to weigh and measure their food, there are some very compelling reasons for doing so:

  1. Weighing and measuring simplifies portion control. There is no question of how much of each food to eat.
  2. For the food addict who is weighing and measuring, it is always clear exactly what surrender means.
  3. If the amount of food in your plan has the amount of calories to be your ideal weight, you will eventually reach it and maintain this weight.
  4. For those who sometimes – or always – have a distorted concept of food volume, weighing and measuring is like wearing glasses with the corrected prescription.
  5. Weighing and measuring is a gentler and a much less expensive alternative to intestinal bypass surgery.
  6. For volume addicts – who almost always want more food – weighing and measuring assures that you are getting enough to eat.
  7. Weighing and measuring eliminates the need for all the head talk about “how much is enough today?”
  8. Being committed to weighing and measuring assures that you know there is one important way you are remembering that you are a food addict.
  9. No one gets hurt– including the food addict – by a practice of weighing and measuring.
  10. When a food addict weighs and measures in public, there is always the chance another food addict will be helped by seeing and talking about this practice.

© Phil Werdell 2010

Diet vs. Food Plan

Why Use the term Food Plan?

Since most of us have been unable to eat or diet like normal eaters, we choose not to use the word “diet”. To us, diets mean something we can follow by reason and will power alone. We have come to accept that we cannot manage our food by self-control alone. Willpower failed us utterly, so we surrender to our powerlessness over food. The purpose of the food plan is to make this surrender more specific.

Few compulsive eaters chose a food plan because this is always the way they want to eat the rest of their life. Rather, we chose to surrender to a specific food plan because we have admitted we are powerless over food. There is real choice in deciding to use a food plan and what specific plan to use, but the first and most important decision is choosing to use a food plan – and practice surrendering to it – that works for the specific ways we are addicted to food.

Most abstinent food addicts have an abundance of choice regarding what they eat. There are over two hundred different foods in most grocery stores, and only a handful are foods most of us find addictive. However, there is no choice about which food plans or principle will work and which will not. If you are addicted to a specific food, for example, it is not likely you will be able to include this food in your plan and have an abstinence that works.

Most compulsive eaters would like to be able to eat everything they want, exactly the way that they want, and suffer no consequences. Most of us would like to eat like normal eaters, but this choice is simply not available to us if we also want recovery. There is no such thing as surrendered food abstinence without giving up foods and ways of eating that your disease has long been wanting dearly.

By Phil Werdell, M.A.

Normal Eater, Emotional Eater, Food Addict

NORMAL EATER, EMOTIONAL EATER, FOOD ADDICT ©
NORMAL EATER
(problems of obesity)
EMOTIONAL EATER
(eating disorders)
FOOD ADDICT
(chemical dependency)

The Problem is Physical:

  • Excess Weight

The Problem is Physical and Emotional:

  • Binge eating, restricting, and/or purging over feelings
  • Unresolved trauma
  • And possible weight issues (either over-or- underweight)
The Problem is Physical and Emotional and Spiritual:

  • Abnormal response to specific foods
  • Physical craving (false starving)
  • Mental obsession (false thinking)
  • Self-will run riot (false self)
  • And often trauma and weight issues
The Solution is Physical:

  • Medically approved diet
  • Moderate exercise
  • Support for eating, exercise and lifestyle change
The Solution is Emotional:

  • Develop skills to cope with feelings other than with restricting, purging or bingeing
  • Resolve past emotional trauma and irrational thinking (healing trauma)

. . . and Physical

  • Include solutions to the left
The Solution is Spiritual:

  • Abstinence from binge foods and abusive eating behaviors
  • Rigorous honesty about all thoughts and feelings
  • A disciplined spiritual program, e.g. the 12 Steps

. . . and Emotional and Physical

  • Include all those applicable to the left
Using What Process?

  • Willpower
Using What Process?

  • Moderation (along with expressing feelings)
Using What Process?

  • Surrender, i.e., deep acceptance
© Copyright 1997 by Philip R. Werdell & Mary Foushi. Edited by A E Heald 2009

CHART EXPLANATION

NORMAL EATERS may have problems with weight (even obesity) if they do not eat the appropriate number of calories (and exercise moderately) to maintain an ideal, healthy weight. The problem for normal eaters is primarily physical: If they choose to eat a balanced diet, exercise moderately, and get support for lifestyle changes, they can lose unwanted weight (or gain weight) and keep their weight in a normal range. Basically, willpower works; just put down the fork and push away from the table.

EMOTIONAL EATERS often have similar problems with weight but find themselves powerless to follow directions to lose (or gain) weight and restore their health even when they want to. For those with diagnosable eating disorders – i.e., anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorder – the underlying problem is mental-emotional: It’s not what you are eating but rather what is eating you. Problem eaters use food to numb or medicate their feelings. What works for problem eaters are a moderate food and exercise plan, as well as developing skills to cope with feelings.

FOOD ADDICTS become chemically dependent on specific foods or on food in general. The way their body processes food is bio-chemically different that that of normal eaters and emotional eaters. Many food addicts are predisposed to becoming addicted to food – especially to sugar, flour, wheat, fat, salt, caffeine, and/or excess volume to any food – just as alcoholics are predisposed to being chemically dependent on alcohol and drug addicts to heroine, cocaine or prescription drugs. As the disease of addiction progresses, food addicts become powerless over physical craving and develop distortions and obsessions of the mind that keep them in denial.

SO, WHAT WORKS FOR FOOD ADDICTS?
Diets alone don’t work. Simple therapy alone does not work. What works for food addicts is surrender. Surrendering, through physical abstinence, the foods to which they are chemically dependent. Surrendering to rigorous honesty with all their thoughts and feelings about food. Surrendering to whatever structure and support is needed. Ultimately, surrendering to the process of a spiritual experience, i.e., the type of psychic change that has given relief and healing to thousands of chemically dependent individuals.

Most food addicts have weight problems – the majority are obese, though some are a normal weight or may even be dangerously underweight. Many also have unresolved emotional trauma similar to those who are diagnosed with eating disorders, e.g. anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder. In short, most food addicts have problems similar to those of normal eaters and problem eaters, but for food addicts, their addiction to food must be the primary focus.

If food addicts just diet, they may lose some weight but inevitably will gain it back. If food addicts do not commit to being rigorously honest – preferably with another food addict or with a healthcare professional that understands food addiction – they may make some gains in therapy, but will eventually relapse into the food; this will make them even more anxious or depressed. To be successful in healing from food addiction, one needs to first accept that they are food addicted and then, once again, deal with this first.

Most successful, long-term recovering food addicts approach their physical abstinence and deeper internal healing as a spiritual discipline. One simple approach to this concept is to study and practice the Twelve Steps. While this clearly is not the only way – as there are an endless number of spiritual paths that will work – the Twelve Steps are a spiritual practice specifically designed for those who suffer from addiction.

© Copyright Phil Werdell and Mary Foushi, 2007