Obesity is a medical condition that affects over 4 million Americans and is the number one cause of many diseases including: diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Food obsession or addiction is especially prevalent among adolescents and teenagers, but also affects many adults as well. Binge eating and bulimia are the most common types of food addiction, which are characterized by compulsive eating and an obsession with weight and body image. Food obsession is usually associated with some emotional need or used as comfort for loss or grief. It can also be a “substitute” for low self-esteem and self-confidence.
Learn to recognize and accept that you have a food addiction or obsession; this is crucial before you can start finding ways to stop it. The psychological and emotional underlying causes for the food addiction must first be addressed before you can start to change the behaviors that are causing and perpetuating the addiction.
Some signs to look for in recognizing a food addict and compulsive eater:
• Constantly thinking about food
• Constantly measuring and weighing, counting every calorie or ounce of the food or meal
• Eating for emotional or psychological support
• Binge eating or cravings for food when alone or in the middle of the night when nobody is around or asleep
• Continuing to eat even after feeling sick from eating too much
• Preoccupation with body weight and food
• Depression and mood swings determine and control your eating behaviors
• Food causes anxiety and worries
• Guilty feeling when you eat
• Eating alone due to shame and embarrassment
Treatment for food addiction is available and involves counseling for medical and nutritional support as well as psychotherapy and group network support systems. There are also many self-help and spiritual groups available by referral from your medical doctor or professional healthcare giver. The Internet can also be a very helpful resource for online support groups and clubs to help food addicts or compulsive eaters.
Two very useful resource groups and websites to help food addicts and people obsessed with food are Overeaters Anonymous and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (see links in Resources below).
Overeaters Anonymous and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous are worldwide fellowships of men and women who have experienced difficulties as a result of the way they eat and cannot control their eating or are obsessed with food. They help each other through shared experiences and mutual support in order to recover from the disease of food addiction. Both programs are based on the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. There are no dues, fees or weigh-ins at the meetings and membership is open to anyone who needs help with a food addiction.
The Twelve Steps of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous are:
1. We admitted we were powerless over food–that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and practice these principles in all our affairs.
Ask yourself the following 20 questions to see if you might be a food addict (taken from Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous):
1. Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
2. Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
3. Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another with no lasting success?
4. Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives or other forms of purging?
5. Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
6. Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
7. Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
8. Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
9. Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
10. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
11. Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
12. Do you eat in secret?
13. Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
14. Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
15. Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
16. Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
17. Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
18. Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
19. Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
20. Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?