Celebrating 25 years of food addiction treatment and recovery!

Fundamental Concepts

Principles of Recovery

Below is a list of Principles of Recovery by ACORN Food Dependency and Recovery Services.


  • If you already have a food plan that works, i.e. one on which you have been abstinent 30 continuous days without cravings, don’t change it.
  • If you need a food plan, find a person with strong abstinence and ask them to be your sponsor. Begin with the food plan your sponsor uses, or try the ACORN Healthy Eating Plan.
  • Identify and eliminate all binge foods and any food that triggers bingeing, purging or restricting. You may need help from other food addicts to do this.
  • If you binge on almost any food, or if you tend to overeat or under-eat food, or if you have trouble estimating portions, then weigh and measure your food. (If you are primarily anorexic and your condition is advanced, surrender to having someone else make your meals and/or decide each meal what and how much you should eat.)
  • Make sure your food plan provides overall nutritional balance by consulting with a doctor, dietitian or eating disorders specialist about nutritional balance.
  • Put down unhealthy eating behaviors, e.g., diet pills, skipping meals, fasting, vomiting, eating while driving, grazing between meals, eating in front of the TV, using laxatives, and eating too fast or too slow.
  • Don’t make a decision about what a normal weight will be for you alone; surrender to consulting a health professional and/or someone with strong recovery; let them decide.
  • Do not make decisions about food alone. Check your food plan and any changes you want to make in it with an abstinent food addict whose recovery you trust (ideally, your sponsor), and/or a health professional with success helping food addicts.
  • As with other chemical dependencies, the first principle of food addiction recovery is “abstinence first, absolutely.”

©Philip R. Werdell, 1995
Revised 2009, with A.E. Heald.

Flour: Addictive Substance for Food Addicts

Many food addicts are willing to give up sugar, but not flour. Paradoxically, because we believe it makes us appear “different,” and because flour has been embedded in so many foods, we may have more difficulty surrendering flour than the more obvious issue of sugar.

We fear appearing “different” when we already appear very ill with food addiction. Normal people think we are “just fat.”

Unfortunately, the food industry is willing to cater to “flour-free” advertising. It is considered a niche market in many health food stores that cater to people with celiac disease (a wheat allergy) and gluten allergies. Some food addicts have these medical issues, but specific to food addiction is the issue of bioavailability.

Bioavailability defines the ease with which something is absorbed from the digestive tract. The higher the bioavailability of a food, the greater the total absorption and rate of absorption. The faster a food is absorbed, the more quickly it turns to glucose in the body.

Whole grains have been in the human diet for thousands of years. Milling and grinding grains is a relatively recent. Whole grains take much longer to be digested that refined flours. The more refined a flour is, the more bioavailable it becomes. And the more quickly it turns into a spike of blood sugar followed by a drop in blood sugar.

The perfect recipe for triggering a binge.

We may initially be persuaded by “faux foods,” i.e. “whole-grain bread,” “flour-free bread,” etc. The fact is that such breads are all made from refined grains. It is a matter of definition on a nutritional label. Reading the glycemic index of such foods tells us the truth about their composition.

Many food addicts find that flours made from other grains are just as bioavailable. Rice flour is likely to trigger the same reaction in a food addict as rice syrup: both are highly refined.

How do you know if you are addicted to flour or sugar?

Check out our self-assessment questions on Am I a Food Addict?  Also read about different types of eaters so you can come to your own conclusions.

The Food Addiction Institute has an extensive research on food and the impact to the human body.

If, despite your best efforts, you are not able to control your intake of flour products, you are not alone.

© A.E. Heald, M.Div.

Sugar: Addictive Substance for Food Addicts

As food addicts, most of us find we have to pay a great deal of attention to what is in the content of the food we eat. Unlike alcoholics and drug addicts, we cannot just “stop eating.” However, we do have to surrender our binge foods and addictive eating habits as part of our recovery.

After making a list of our binge foods, we can identify the substances that we are addicted to in order to surrender them to our Higher Power so that we don’t have to eat them anymore.

“Surrender,” in this context, means doing something we don’t want to do in order to recover. Many of us are not able to surrender our binge foods without the structure and support of other abstinent food addicts.

Despite what we are doing to our bodies because of our food addiction, many of us are unable to remember what the addiction is actually doing to us. We can only remember how “good” it tastes. This is called “euphoric recall,” and is a classic symptom of addiction.

How do you know if you are addicted to sugar or flour?

The simplest way is to use the test provided by the book Alcoholics Anonymous, written eighty years ago. We can just change the text from using “alcohol” to using “food:”

Try some controlled eating. Step into a bakery and have one piece of candy, one donut, one piece of binge food, and then stop. Stick to a diet and maintain your weight loss.

Try it more than once. If you are like us, you will no more be able to do this than an alcoholic can step into a bar and have one beer.

Check out our self-assessment questions on Am I a Food Addict?  Also read about different types of eaters so you can come to your own conclusions.

If you think you might be a food addict, then you need to know a lot more about what foods are the most likely to be addictive, even though you may not want to give them up. Most food addicts don’t want to give up their binge foods; they just want to avoid the consequences of eating.

For the purposes of this article, we will address sugar and flour, the two most common substances that food addicts become addicted to. Although some food addicts report addictions to fatty, salty and volumes of food we will address those substances in a later article.

Sugar

Sugar is a carbohydrate, and we often think of it only as the white or brown stuff, but sugar is also a natural part of many other foodstuffs such as lactose in milk, maltose in grain, fructose in fruit, sucrose (refined sugar), and more.

The simple refined carbohydrate, crystalline table sugar, is first extracted from sugar cane with the bulk and fiber being left behind. It is then purified, filtered, concentrated, and boiled down to sugar crystals produced out of the syrup. Substances such as sulfur dioxide, milk of lime, carbon dioxide, charcoal from charred beef bones, and calcium carbonate are used in this industrial refining process as purifying agents.

Flour is also a refined carbohydrate, and for many of us who are addicted to sugar, we find that flour acts in our bodies the same way sugar does: it gives us a “high.” Often flour and sugar come together in a food package – equivalent to high-quality crack cocaine to a food addict.

Brown sugar is simple white sugar with a bit of molasses added back in, or colored with caramel.

The food industry has developed enormous sidelines of “diet” food, usually labeled “Sugar-Free” and “Fat-Free.” Given the many different varieties of sugar, derivations of sugar such as Splenda, sugars formed from alcohol (not surprisingly, these can be very addictive), chemical sweeteners, (the “polys”) artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine, etc., the label “Sugar-Free” usually means the food industry is simply using a different kind of sugar. For some food addicts, these non-sugars can have the same impact as refined sugar: the inability to eat reasonable amounts.

Conversely, it is worth noting that many of the foods labeled “Fat-Free” are loaded with sugar. And “Fat-Free” certainly doesn’t mean calorie-free.

Sugar is rapidly converted in the blood to fat (triglycerides), which increases obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. It is devoid of vitamins, minerals, or fiber; it is an empty food. Its main purpose in the food industry is a stabilizer, flavor enhancer and appetite stimulant.

In 1973, the per capita consumption of sugar and other highly refined sweeteners (such as high-fructose corn syrup) was 126 pounds a year. Today, it’s 158 pounds – an increase of 26 percent. During the same time period, the percent of overweight Americans increased by nearly 20 percent.

Here is a list of types of sugar that are commonly found in foods we find in most grocery stores. Many labels list more than one kind of sugar; only the total grams of sugar give a true idea of how much is actually in the package. Although some artificial sweeteners have no caloric value, their impact on our bodies can be just as deadly as those with calories, if we cannot stop eating it.

  • amasake
  • apple sugar
  • Barbados sugar
  • bark sugar
  • barley malt
  • beet sugar
  • brown sugar
  • brown rice sugar
  • buttered syrup
  • evaporated cane juice, or cane-juice crystals (non-FDA approved terms for sugar)
  • cane sugar
  • caramel
  • carob syrup
  • chicory syrup (non-FDA approved terms (non GRAS and non-CFR compliant) for high fructose syrup)
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • corn syrup solids
  • date sugar
  • dextrin
  • dextrose (refined corn sugar)
  • diatase
  • diastatic malt
  • Diglycerides
  • Disaccharides
  • D-tagalose
  • ethyl maltol
  • Florida crystals
  • fructan
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • fructose
  • fruit juice
  • fruit juice concentrate
  • Galactose
  • Glucitol
  • Glucoamine
  • Gluconolactone
  • glucose
  • glucose solids
  • Glucose polymers
  • Glucose syrup
  • Glycerides
  • Glycerine
  • Glycerol
  • Glycol
  • Hexitol
  • golden sugar
  • golden syrup
  • grape sugar
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • inulin syrup (non-FDA approved terms (non GRAS and non-CFR compliant) for high fructose syrup)
  • inversol
  • invert sugar
  • isomalt
  • invert sugar
  • karo syrup
  • lactose
  • lactitol ++
  • levulose
  • malt syrup
  • malted barley
  • maltodextrin (derived from the corn “wet refining” process)
  • maltose ++
  • malitol ++
  • mannitol ++
  • maple syrup
  • microcrystalline cellulose
  • molasses
  • Monoglycerides
  • Monosaccarides
  • Nectars
  • Pentose
  • Polydextrose++
  • Powdered sugar
  • Raisin juice
  • Raisin syrup
  • raw sugar
  • refiner’s syrup
  • rice malt
  • rice syrup
  • saccharides
  • sorbitol ++
  • sorghum
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucanat
  • Sucanet
  • sucrose (from cane or beet)
  • sugar cane
  • trisaccharides
  • turbinado sugar
  • xylitol ++
  • yellow sugar
  • zylose

++ Sugar alcohols aren’t sugars or artificial sweeteners. The name “sugar alcohols” comes from the fact that their structure resembles sugar, and they’re chemically similar to alcohol. They’re typically genetically modified from corn or wheat.

Those food addicts who are also addicted to or have an allergy to wheat receive a double impact from sugar alcohols.

Experts say that sugar alcohols can cause stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and anal leakage, because our bodies poorly absorb them. In large quantities, they’re non-GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) and some research shows that they can cause cancer.

Foods with average added sugars

  • Applesauce contains 11 g
  • Peanut Butter contains 18g
  • Flavored Yogurt contains 23g
  • Fruit drinks contain 40g

A single can of soda contains 12 teaspoons of added sugar. That’s 120 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily intake of sugar.

In 2005, researchers examined the impact of sugar on the immune system. A published study at the National Institute of Health documented the impact of sugar intake on the immune system: Sugar steals the ability of white blood cells to destroy bacteria. White blood cells are known as “phagocytes” and phagocytic tests show that a couple of teaspoons of sugar can sap their strength by 25 percent. A large helping of pie and ice cream renders your white cells 100 percent helpless. This effect lasts from 4 to 5 hours. Consider a 900 ml serving of processed and packaged orange juice or one 683 ml of cola—either of these will depress the immune system by 50 percent, 30 minutes after ingestion and this will last for hours! Consider if you have sugar at every meal, which many do by eating processed foods alone, that the immune system is constantly ineffectual.

For food addicts, who binge on enormous amounts of sugar, eat meals consisting of large amounts of processed food, or diets consisting almost totally of binge foods, the impact could be exponential. For us, to eat this way is to die.

© A.E. Heald, M.Div.

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