Holiday Magic

I’ve always been one to romanticize “holiday magic”, yet I’d never truly felt it before recovery. Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming sense of love and appreciation I felt as I moved through (what appeared to be) an ordinary day. But in part, I put it down to the magic of the season. This feeling first struck me, in the quiet of an empty mall. I saw a beautiful young family, they were taking photos of their toddler who was looking up in wonder, at a glorious display of lights. There was magic in that moment and like a wave, I felt it wash over me. It was only when this family walked away, that I even noticed I was standing in the middle of a gourmet food emporium.

In an effort not to take my food neutrality for granted, I consciously remember that it wasn’t always this way and I recall the measures I took to stay in recovery.


I happen to celebrate Christmas and with each year in recovery, it has brought new and different challenges. Some of which I can now laugh at and some of which have given me a deeper sense of humility. My personal experience of recovery has shown me that no matter how much abstinent time I have, every time there is a “first”, it requires me to explore new levels of planning, surrender and support.


Let’s go back to November 2018. I was approaching my first Christmas in recovery. Still working as a pastry chef in a high end bakery, my first 11 months of abstinence had gone very well. Despite this, deep down I was truly wondering if I could maintain my recovery throughout the month of December.




What was it that was so different about December? Why was December looming over me, casting doubt in my mind and filling me with fear?

My disease was telling me that recovery in December was insurmountable. I mean, thus far, I had maintained my abstinence while navigating such things as travelling, health crises, weddings and everything in between, yet somehow, my addict brain would have me believe that “December is different”.


December was the busiest month of the year, I’d be working long hours on the night shift. With this knowledge, I decided that December was no reason to stray from the key pieces of my program. First, I would arm myself with a plan and next I would commit to following it, one day at a time. I prioritized meal planning. I continued to commit my food (daily) to a sponsor and an accountability partner. I listened to recovery resources during my commute. I added another layer of structure by setting alarms on my phone to ensure that I was eating my meals on time.

I was off to a good start!


Until an unexpected and surprising challenge presented itself….

The daily arrival of Starbucks promotional emails.

(That’s ok, go ahead and do a double take! Thankfully, this is one that I can chuckle at now!).

At the time, it was shocking to me, the range of emotions I felt when I saw “Starbucks” in my inbox. I felt fear mixed with excitement. I felt longing mixed with grief. These emails might as well have been love letters from a long lost ex.

While all of this sounds dramatic I’m sure, perhaps even absurd, it is the very nature of addiction. I had been receiving these emails all year and yet suddenly, day after day, I was

deeply triggered by them and I didn’t know why. In a moment of clarity, I recognized that I was powerless. Powerless over my reaction to those emails and the images inside.


I was in that space of wanting freedom from the torment but not wanting to let go of that which tormented me. Up until this moment, I had always measured and judged my own acts of recovery. Certainly for an act of recovery to have impact, it had to be grand, no?

With one quick click, “unsubscribe”, I learned that no act of recovery is too small.


As I continued through the weeks, I simply didn’t let anything get in the way of putting my recovery first. I heard that there would be a 24 hour “open meeting” running in my community from noon December 24th into the 25th. I kept this in mind, considering I might attend “if I needed it”.


When December 24th arrived, I had worked my last night shift. Exhausted (but peaceful), I was eager for alone time before gathering with family the next day. Sitting in a cozy chair, I settled into the silence and looked out the window to see my most favourite sight. Huge fluffy snowflakes tumbled and swirled, all was beautiful and calm. Suddenly, I cried tears of gratitude, not only for this moment but for my abstinence itself. I felt relief at the thought that I didn’t “need” that 24 hour meeting after all.


Then I experienced one of those magic moments. At a soul level, I felt that I owed my recovery, my very life in fact, to those who had gone before me, who shared their hope and offered support.

I will never forget that first Christmas Eve in recovery. Carrying a spirit of joy and a message of hope, I walked through the door of that 24 hour support meeting. I sat with strangers until the wee hours and shared in the magic, not of the season but of recovery.



It’s The Holiday Season…


Last night, I looked out the window and saw this year‘s first snowflakes falling. They gently floated down against a backdrop of brightly coloured, twinkling lights.

The peace and beauty of this moment was not lost on me, despite my sudden childlike excitement.

Let me assure you, the holidays haven’t always excited me. In fact, it would be accurate to say that while I anticipated the holidays, I experienced extreme highs and lows in emotions. The holidays can be wonderful in many ways but they can also be stressful. For me, this time of year had the potential to elicit powerful feelings, from joyful excitement one minute to painful loneliness the next. This used to catch me off guard. Looking back, it makes perfect sense. My life was driven by the stresses of overwork, overcommitment, people pleasing and above all, the mental prison of active food addiction.

As Amanda would say, ”thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to urges, which lead to actions”. My thoughts included judgement, for “still being single” and having to face another season’s social gatherings on my own. My racing thoughts centred around how I would shop, bake, decorate, wrap and get everything else done while working 16 hours a day. My punishing thoughts revolved around the fact that I’d “wasted another year” and not lost the weight I’d resolved to. Even with that, my brain still managed to simultaneously obsess over bingeing, restricting, food and cravings.

My thoughts created a storm of feelings such as overwhelm, loneliness, shame and insecurity (just to name a few!). My addict brain offered up the promise of comfort, urging me to isolate and indulge in holiday decadence. This inevitably led to action. I acted every time. I didn’t know that it was possible to interrupt that urge and choose a different action. All I knew was “it makes me feel so good”.

“It makes me feel SO GOOD”.

Until, on December 25th, 2017, I found myself sitting alone in a Starbucks. Isolated from my family and friends, incapable of feeling joy, I was grasping to recapture that “ SO GOOD”. I thought I could find it in the sweet, creamy, holiday beverage that I was quietly sobbing into. I wondered, asking myself out loud, “How did I end up here, like this?”

8 days later, on January 2, 2018, I entered residential treatment for my food addiction.

Today I don’t have to wonder how I ended up where I was. Today I know that this is where my untreated food addiction had taken me. It made my life small, it kept me hidden away from loved ones and ultimately extinguished my already dim spiritual light. Fast forward to today and I am grateful to say that I am still abstinent.

Looking back on my first year in recovery, the very idea of abstinence through the holidays made me feel sad, scared and overwhelmed. I remember thinking there was nothing left to celebrate. What would fulfill me without the ability to eat my family’s traditional favourites? What joy could be had without freedom and spontaneity around food?

Then the thought occurred to me that perhaps I’d never really known freedom. Perhaps my obsession with food euphoria had prevented me from meeting with joy in anything else. That thought gave me a feeling of hope. My hope grew to curiosity and urged me to be willing to put my recovery first. Day after day, I saw myself taking action, practicing the foundational pieces of my program, no matter what. I’ll admit, it wasn’t as easy as I may have just made it sound but it was that simple.

With each year of recovery, the holidays have brought new and different challenges, yet somehow, the challenges feel “less challenging”…. (for more on that, you’ll have to stay tuned for my next few posts!).

What I’ve learned is that I can’t trust my food addiction but I can trust my recovery. My recovery doesn’t discriminate based on the calendar or the events taking place around me. My recovery is there for me, every day of the year, it is the key to my freedom. My recovery allows me to experience every range of emotion, eventually leading me back to profound peace and finding joy, even in the snowflakes and twinkling lights of the holiday season.


Andrea Ascione

Professional Food/Accountability Coach

Independence, Dependence & Interdependence


At this time of year, I usually find myself thinking about independence and what it means to me. My recent reflection brought three different aspects of the word to my mind and how each has played – and continues to play – a role in my life.


The three words are Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence. What does each word mean? How do they relate to me, especially with regard to being a food addict? defines the words as:


  • Dependence is defined as “the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support, or the like; an object of reliance or trust.”


  • Independence is defined as “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”


  • Interdependence is defined as “the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other.”


Each of these concepts has played a role in my life as a food addict.   


First, when actively eating addictive foods, I was dependent or relying on particular “somethings” for aid and support. Specific foods, especially sugar and volume, became my Number One Go To! When depressed and in need of support, I turned to food. When sad or lonely, the food was there. When happy and in celebration mode, I turned to food. When afraid, I relied on and trusted that food would make it better. I would go to any lengths to get what I needed to feel better. It satisfied me in ways no one or nothing else ever did. I was dependent upon certain foods and volume to feel any sense of normal. My brain is wired such that certain addictive foods and excess volume worked! It was all I needed.   


During my dieting years, I became quite independent and free from the control, influence, support, and aid of others. I didn’t need anything or anyone beyond my own self. My willpower would triumph over any perceived problem with food. I had periods of great success where my sense of independence, self confidence, and self control grew and grew. The possibility that I was powerless over certain foods was presented a few times but was easily replaced with another bout of self will and self reliance. I don’t need anyone’s help. I have within myself what it takes to win this time. Just put your nose to the ground and stop eating. You can do this, Mary!  You’ve got this! Unfortunately, periods of “controlled eating” grew shorter and shorter.


I remember the pain and despair while dependent on sugar and volume. I remember the pain and despair during years of independence and the freedom of doing it my way.   

If dependence doesn’t work and independence only goes so far, might there be another option? 


What I discovered through years of trying and failing is the vital necessity of interdependence; the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other. 


First, I had to be convinced that dependence didn’t work and attempts at being independent resulted in isolation, fear, hopelessness, and relapse. Through professional support for food addiction and being an active member of a Twelve Step program for food, I have been shown how to become interdependent. Others show me how to live with reliance on a Higher Power. I learn how to weigh and measure food to deal with volume addiction. People show me how to pack food for travel. Sponsors model recovery and putting abstinence and recovery first in their lives. I adopted SHiFT’s process of surrender that removes “self” from food decisions. I found someone who “holds” my food plan so that no changes to the plan are made without their (and my sponsor’s) approval. I have weekly sessions with professionals to deal with emotional trauma from the past and situations that arise as I walk through life. 


There is no perfection on this journey. Even though the food is down today, life is still life, and emotional balance sometimes eludes me. I vacillate between being dependent on others for emotional security to being independent and taking care of business all by myself to waking up to the need for an interdependent relationship with others and with God. 


I am grateful to be in a network of support where we are mutually reliant on each other. Others are there for me. I am there for others. There is nothing like it. 


Thanks for listening.



July Jewels

What are “July Jewels”?


July Jewels are each and every one of us. That’s right – You’re a gem!


Why is that?


Let’s use the analogy of a Diamond.


Diamonds are formed under pressure, and under intense heat. This is not an easy formation. Not only that, but it can take over 1 Billion years (Yes, with a B) for them to form naturally in these conditions.


Now how does this relate to recovery? 


You are the diamond, in fact we all are.


Recovery is not easy, it is extremely trying and will test the best of us, but it is our recovery that forms us into the shining diamonds that we are, and enables us to live a life we didn’t believe was possible.

Now recovery may not take 1 Billion years like the formation of a diamond does, however it is a lifelong process of working at it every day and adding tools/knowledge along the way. We get to experience the richness in life and persevere all because of our recovery. How great is that? When things feel rough or challenging, we need to remind ourselves of the beautiful life in recovery that we have worked so hard to craft.


This month is all about celebrating the incredible life that is enabled by recovery, and highlighting what our recovery allows us to do!


What does your recovery enable you to do?

Whether it’s being able to focus more on your family, spending more time being active outdoors, cooking healthy meals… we want to know!

Let us know at: for a chance to be featured on our social platforms!

Weighing & Measuring Food

Many food addicts who had resisted mightily the idea of weighing and measuring report later that, after they tried it for a while, they found a great relief. Rather than experiencing it as harshly restrictive, they say that they actually feel much freer when they weigh and measure. It helps relieve the obsession with food before, during and after a meal. Compulsive eaters who have weighed and measured know for certain that they have eaten exactly what they committed.

There are variations of weighing and measuring. Some weigh and measure all their food; some will weigh and measure only their protein, starch and dressing. Others will weigh and measure at home but not at restaurants or social events. Some will measure their vegetables and starches in a cup; others will weigh them. Some will weigh and measure for the first 30 days, 90 days or a year, then do it only when they feel anxious, notice they are getting sloppy or just want the practice of surrender. There are some with long time, stable abstinence and recovery who have simply integrated surrender to weighing and measuring into their food plan one day at a time for life. For those who are addicted to volume, the use of a cup, scale and measuring spoons is not a form of dieting but rather a physical aid to portion control.

As with bottom lines, the decision about weighing and measuring comes down to individual choice – usually in collaboration with a sponsor – based upon past experience and upon what works and what does not work when it is tried. What is important – as with other parts of a food plan – is to first make a decision then do the spiritual work of staying surrendered to that commitment.

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

Men’s Mental Health Month


“Men are supposed to be tough!”


Our society has this perception that men need to be tough and that seeking help for mental health issues is seen as weakness. This is a major issue, and this notion could not be further from the truth. In this week’s blog, we aim to shed some light on some unfortunate statistics that showcase the negative impact of this perception while also pointing towards some resources to help those in need get the help they deserve, and should be seeking out without fear of ridicule.


When we talk about the health of an individual, we aren’t solely talking about the absence of illness, but a state of mental, physical, and social well-being. Mental health is such a vital component of overall wellness, but is often overlooked as a negligible determinant of our overall health picture. More than 42 million Americans experience a mental illness each year, and we are focusing on one group in particular this month. June is Men’s Health Month, and we are exploring the critical mental health needs of men, as part of their overall health and wellness.


The following statistics help us to understand the complex needs surrounding men and their mental health:


Nearly 1 in 10 men experience depression and anxiety. That’s 162 Million men just in the USA alone!

According to a poll of 21,000 American men by researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), nearly one in ten men reported experiencing some form of depression or anxiety, but less than half sought treatment.


Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women. Men experience a higher rate of suicide than women specifically because they do not seek out the help they need. Depression, when left untreated, can in some cases reach a crisis point of suicidal thoughts/contemplation. With so few men reaching out for help or support, and instead suffering in silence, this is a major contributing factor in why men face a higher suicide rate. You should never have to suffer in silence over the fear of perception if you talk to someone.


Forty-nine percent of men feel more depressed than they admit to the people in their life. A Today Show commissioned survey of more than 1,000 men revealed the truth that many assume. Men are much less likely to voice struggles with mental illness, and even thoughts of suicide.


Making the decision to start a conversation with a friend or loved one about mental health is not an easy thing to do, and takes tremendous courage and strength. The Canadian Men’s Health Foundation has produced a great video on the subject of approaching these tough conversations – Click here to watch it


It’s likely that someone you know is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety, and you have the power to make a difference in their lives. Take action for Men’s Health Month by looking out for those that you love. Check in with the men in your life, and make sure they are doing okay. The more awareness we bring to this subject, the more the perception will shift, and more men’s lives will potentially be saved as a result. If you are a man reading this, if you need help, this is an opportunity to not only get the help you need, but also to set an example for other men out there. The importance of de-stigmatizing men’s mental health cannot be stressed enough, and the responsibility lies with every one of us.


For more information on this subject, or resources if you need help, please visit: