I’m 41 years old, and I’ve battled food addiction all of my life.
My recovery journey started nine years ago but I found true food freedom only four years ago. Nothing in the world would bring me to give up this cherished freedom. If I chose to go back into my food addiction, I’d die, either from the complications of rapid obesity or from the mental insanity of constant food obsession.
So, what is food addiction?
It’s when you eat uncontrollably and in excess despite the negative consequences of doing so. It’s a condition which has physiological, emotional, mental and spiritual components. The main characteristics of a food addiction are the combination of physical cravings for food and a mental obsession with food and eating. This drives you into a cycle of constant binge eating because eventually your cravings and obsessions have the better of you. It’s deeply demoralising.
It’s hard to say when it started. I remember sitting at the dinner table as a young child always wanting more. I remember going to birthday parties and being more interested in the food than the other kids. My most distinct memory from kindergarten was the biscuits and the strawberry milk. When I was seven years old I took my first pocket money to the gas station and spent it all on candy bars which I ate in one sitting.
The food addiction had become progressively worse.
My binge eating had become a part of me, and I learned nifty tricks to control my weight by starving and purging between binges. After years of suffering in silence, I sought help. I was 32 years old.
After a few years floating in and out of 12-step groups I finally hit my rock bottom at age 37. It happened on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t even bingeing that day. But I was consumed with food obsessions. I was terrified of losing my mind and was more afraid of overeating than I was of giving up the food. I had to let go. I had to completely turn over my food and weight problems to someone or something else.
I was done.
I accepted the guidance of a mentor, who gave me a food plan and told me exactly what and how much to eat, and what daily actions to follow to stay ‘abstinent.’
The first night on that food plan I couldn’t sleep. I felt scared and out of control. The next day, I realised that my food obsession had disappeared. My mind was free. That was the day I found food freedom, and my recovery radically expanded. I was beside myself with joy and continued following the food plan and whatever suggestions were made to me without reservation.
Everything wasn’t all happy after that. It was time to begin the real work.
I soon discovered that all this inner work I had been doing up until that point had not been ‘the real thing’ because I had still been ‘in the food.’ Yes, I had made progress in gaining self-awareness. But I had not worked through my emotions because I had been using food to stuff them down.
The first six months of my real recovery were tough. I was anxious a lot of the time and found it hard to calm down. It seemed that all the anxiety I had been eating through all those years was now ready to come up. Most of the time I didn’t know what I was anxious about.
I moved into a quiet house with a beautiful tropical garden and spent nearly two years practicing extreme self-care. On weekends I would do nothing but yoga, lie in my hammock and stare at the sky, journal, pray, do 12-step work, and talk to fellow food addicts around the world. I joined online meetings every day and started mentoring others.
I had worked through the 12-steps program several times since 2009 and had learned a lot.
This time it was different. I was sober and raw. It totally changed me. Whenever I was working with my mentor, with other food addicts, and also with therapists, I felt elated. I sometimes looked at myself in the mirror after a session of ‘step work’ and found that I looked different. I still get that now. It’s not only my mind but it’s my whole being that’s different. A whole energy shift has taken place. I was never able to feel those kinds of subtle energy shifts when I was still eating addictively.
So, how do I keep my food freedom today?
I stick to a weighed and measured food plan, I abstain from trigger foods, especially foods containing sugar and flour, and I follow daily actions to help me keep my recovery. I no longer eat for recreational or emotional purposes, just for nutrition. I’ve learned to maturely deal with my emotions without food. I have a rich spiritual life and am compelled to act in line with spiritual principles and personal values on and off the plate.
The biggest lesson I learned was that of surrender. I had to experience the tipping point at which I was more afraid of continuing my addiction than to let it go.
I learned that surrender is not the same as defeat or submission.
When you submit, at an unconscious level you still believe that someday things will be different; that one day you’ll be able to control your eating. When you’ve surrendered, you’ve fully accepted reality at a conscious and unconscious level. You’ve stopped resisting. You’re relaxed and free from mental strain. The greater the relaxation, the greater the inner acceptance of reality.
That’s when you become open to true freedom.