Click here for the SHiFT Strong Online Meeting Schedule

Searching for "weighing and measuring"

Bulimia & Food Addiction

Food addiction begins with physical craving, evolves into mental obsession, and, ultimately, becomes a whole life of spiritual illness. It is also a physical disease of chemical dependency upon one or more foods or on volumes of food in general.

Bulimia is a psychological illness, a mental-emotional problem usually rooted in unresolved trauma from before the earliest incident of purging.

It is fairly straight forward to know if you are bulimic. Do you binge and purge?

Do you keep doing this after you decided to stop? More specifically, do you physically vomit food that you have eaten when you are not sick? Or do you use pills, ipecac, laxatives or diuretics to try to take off weight? Or do you exercise excessively – sometimes to the point of hurting yourself – to try and control weight? Do you use highly restrictive dieting over and over again? These are the most common physical symptoms of bulimia. If you are not sure if you are bulimic, you can ask a doctor or eating disorder specialist for a diagnosis.

How does a bulimic know if they suffer from food addiction?

One simple indication is if they were obsessing about and/or bingeing out of control on commonly addictive foods before they started purging. The “food drug” to which people most often become addicted is sugar in one of its myriad forms. The second most common “food drug” is flour and other refined carbohydrates which metabolize quickly into simple sugars. Further addictive food substances may include: chocolate, excess fat, wheat, artificial sweeteners, salt, caffeine and a large volume of any food.

Sometimes addiction to volume is simply another form of sugar addiction, but there is also a separate process in which people do not have the normal bio-chemical sensation of satiation.

If someone was binge-eating before they became bulimic, it is usually clear that this is a primary mental-emotional complication of bulimia nervosa. But is this binge-eating due to psychological problems? Or is it the beginning of chemical dependency? Or is it both?

This is sometimes less easy to discern. One possible indication of food addiction is that there are symptoms of detoxification when specific binge foods are completely eliminated. If the person has food cravings soon after abstaining and wants to eat to deal with the cravings, this is an even stronger sign of addiction to that particular food.

Not all bulimics are food addicted, but, for the many who are, understanding and treating their chemical dependency on food is essential to long term recovery from bulimia. Abstinence and recovery helps develop better emotional skills and enables healing of primary trauma.

If you do not want to abstain from all binge foods completely, there is another way of seeing if you are food addicted. When you try to eat all foods in moderation and find that you still want to binge even when you work at dealing with underlying feelings, this could be because you are also chemically dependent on food. It will take some time to be sure about this, of course, for it can take months or years of intensive work to develop strong emotional skills and work through all unresolved trauma.

One test: have you been doing therapy for a year or more for your eating disorder and are you still bingeing and purging? If so, it might be useful to look more seriously at food addiction, because you may not just be medicating feelings; you may also be biochemically addicted.

Treating Food Addiction

To treat food addiction, it is important to begin by detoxifying from all binge foods and eliminate the physical cravings for them. This means abstaining from all trigger foods completely. You can identify the foods you are addicted to and get support for detoxification exactly like other food addicts, though the bulimic often commits to abstaining from purging as well as specific foods. The Twelve Step fellowships (such as Overeaters Anonymous and Food Addicts Anonymous) are excellent support programs for this process. ACORN workshops are designed to help those who need additional professional help.

We have a number of people working in ACORN who are bulimic and have spent a year – sometimes several years – in therapy for their eating disorders. These bulimics said that although they had been helped in dealing with their feelings, their eating was still out of control. Often their therapist had said that they “should” be able to eat in moderation or that the rigor of committing food to a sponsor every day and weighing and measuring was “too rigid.” However, when they tried treating themselves as if they were addicted, their cravings diminished. They were better able to deal with difficult feelings, and they came to see that they had a food addiction.

There is a lot of misunderstanding about food addiction – even in the medical community. It is not taught at all in many medical schools or graduate programs for dieticians and the differences between bulimia and food addiction are seldom clarified for counselors and therapists.

Questions for Bulimics to Ask

Do I ever think of purging without bingeing first?

If you always plan on bingeing – especially if the binge is on addictive foods – before you purge, then the primary problem may be the food, and the underlying problem may well be chemical dependency. Food addiction is a primary disease, just like addiction to alcohol or drugs. If someone is drinking out of control and depressed, the alcoholic must begin by putting down the drink and accepting that he or she is an alcoholic. If one is medicating feelings with pot or some prescription medication, the drug addict must first put down the drug. For most, there is usually much more emotional and spiritual work to do, but this is not possible while still self-medicating with an addictive substance. It is the same with food addiction.

Another basic question helps you see the difference: Would you suggest to an alcoholic or drug addict that they work on underlying therapeutic issues while they are still using alcohol, cocaine, or some other drug of choice? Well, some foods have exactly the same opiates as in these more socially identified addictive drugs.

The best way for you to tell if you are addicted to food is to treat yourself as if you are food addicted for six months to a year.

  1. First, look at your own eating experience and identify foods and eating behaviors to which you may be addicted.
  2. Second, get the support – from peers and or professionals – to eliminate those foods entirely and to make abstinence the number one priority in your life.
  3. Third, continue to work on any difficult feelings, irrational thoughts and deeper spiritual issues that pull you back to the food.

If you are able to stay abstinent – or, if you make substantial improvement in dealing with food – it’s likely that you are food addicted. If you are not, you are still making progress.

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, 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 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, 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.

Frequenty Asked Questions

What program do I chose if I am new to SHiFT?

The SHiFT 5-Week Program is mandatory for those attending a SHiFT Progam for the first time. Click here for more details.
What payment options are available?

At SHiFT we are passionate about making our programs accessible to everyone. If finances are an issue please contact us and we will work with you as best we can to work out a financial situation that suits all.

Brief payment plans may available for those who demonstrate financial assistance. Please call 941-378-2122 to discuss details.

Where will I stay during the programs?

Participants will stay at the program site, which is a private home in a residential neighborhood. Bedrooms will be shared by 2 or more participants. Click here to view photos of Sugar Free Place.

Additional lodging before and after the group is available for $45 per night.

Is there any financial assistance available?

At times, limited scholarships are available or a brief payment plan may be set up for those who demonstrate a need for financial assistance. Please call us at 941-378-2122 to discuss details.
When should I arrive? When does the event end?

ACORN Intensive

The ACORN Intensive© begins at 6:30 p.m. on the first day. We encourage participants to arrive by 6:00 p.m.

The event will end on the last day after lunch (approximately 2:00 p.m.). Departing flights should be scheduled accordingly.


Living in Recovery

The Living in Recovery Program begins at 6:00 p.m. on the first evening and ends approximately 4:00 p.m. on the last day.


3 Days with SHiFT

The 3-Days with SHiFT program is from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. This program typically begins on Friday morning and ends Sunday afternoon.


Alumni Weekend

The Alumni Weekends begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and ends approximately 4:00 p.m. on Sunday.

I am traveling from out of state. What is the nearest airport?

Bradenton, Florida

If you are flying to Florida, you have two options for airports: Sarasota/Bradenton International (SRQ) or Tampa International (TPA)

SRQ is closer to the site (about a 20-minute ride), but it is a smaller airport and therefore has fewer flight options. You can catch an Uber from SRQ for about $20.

TPA is about a 1-hour drive from the site. This airport has several transportation options, including Uber/Lyft (about $75) or Airport Transporter.

Vancouver, BC

If you are flying to Vancouver, your best option is Vancouver International (YVR). As soon as you exit the airport, you will find a line-up of taxis waiting. It’s about a 30-minute ride to the site and will cost about $40.00 CAD. 

Can I attend the programs if I am not abstinent?

All of our programs are open to people struggling with abstinence, have slippery abstinence or for those who are stable in their recovery. The Acorn Intensive allows up to 5 days for those who are not abstinent to remove certain foods from their food plan and detox from addictive foods.

Are meals included in the cost of the programs?

5 Week Program/ACORN Intensive: Yes, meals are included. Dinner is NOT provided the first evening but feel free to bring your own meal or eat before you arrive. Meals will be provided beginning with a metabolic snack the first night through lunch on the last day, including any meals you may need to pack for your return trip. Food is prepared according to the Acorn Food Plan, which excludes sugar, flour, caffeine and alcohol.  You will be responsible for weighing or measuring your portions.  If you have questions about your particular food needs, please let us know in advance!

Living In Recovery: Meals are not provided during the Living In Recovery. The purpose of this program is for folks to get comfortable in a more real-life setting. You will grocery shop and prepare your meals with other participants.

3 Days with SHiFT: Meals are not provided during the 3 Day program, there will be plenty of time for people to prepare their meals in between groups.

Alumni Weekends: Yes, meals are included. Dinner is NOT provided the first evening but feel free to bring your own meal or eat before you arrive. Meals will be provided beginning with a metabolic snack the first night through lunch on the last day, including any meals you may need to pack for your return trip. Food is prepared according to the ACORN Food Plan.  If you have questions about your particular food needs, please let us know in advance!

Do I have to follow the Acorn Food Plan?
If you have been stably abstinent for at least 90 days on a different food plan, you can maintain your current food plan – this information must be received in advance. All others will begin with the Acorn Food Plan. We are open to working with other abstinent food plans however we will need to have a discussion about the details prior to the start of the program.
Will my insurance cover the program fees?

Typically, insurance policies do not cover programs for food addiction. We will provide an invoice upon request for you to submit to your insurance company. Please check with your provider as we do not submit claims to insurance companies.

Focusing on you (This is important)

During the Acorn Intensive the complete focus is on your recovery, no outside distractions are permitted. This means no telephone calls, no TV/video/audio, no e-mail, computer, non-recovery books or activities. Please do not make commitments (e.g. job concerns) requiring outside attention during the Intensive. When you arrive, we will ask for your cell phones (for safekeeping)!

But … In Case of Emergency:

Please have your family members the emergency number provided in the Event Details you will receive upon registration if there is an emergency. This number will be checked for messages several times each day.

What should I bring?

You will need:

  • Casual, comfortable clothing and walking shoes
  • Bring a sweater due to air conditioning
  • Digital food scale
  • Your personal toiletries
  • Prescribed medications

SHiFT will provide:

  • Towels, linens  (you are welcome to bring any bedding that makes you feel more comfortable)
  • Writing paper and pens
  • Binder with materials

Special Considerations:
In support of those with environmental sensitivities, we wish to make the meeting space as scent-free as possible. Please do not bring or use cologne, perfume,

In support of those with environmental sensitivities, we wish to make the meeting space as scent-free as possible. Please do not bring or use cologne, perfume, scented lotions, scented aftershave, aerosols, etc. as these products may cause reactions in some people.

It is recommended that you plan at least one day with little or no responsibility following the Primary Intensive©.

Rest, get your abstinent foods in place and ensure implementation of your aftercare needs.

Are Coffee and Tea provided?

Herbal teas are provided at all SHiFT events. Caffeinated tea/coffee or decaf coffee are not permitted at any of our events. Caffeine is an addictive substance that has been found in some people with food addiction to elicit cravings. Caffeine withdrawal can be hard for some folks so we suggest if possible that you slowly wean yourself off caffeine before you attend (being off caffeine before you attend is not mandatory).

Is smoking permitted?

Smoking is permitted outside at all events. We have had several people who choose to give up nicotine while they are with us and we will support them through this. If people choose to continue smoking that is fine, they will need to do so outside.