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Just Who Is a Food Addict and Is There Help?

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Food addiction is real and it can destroy lives, but there IS hope--and real help.

Who is a food addict?

Many people think they can spot a food addict because he or she is obese. A food addict is no doubt eating all the time, doing little else, and watching their waistline grow and grow and grow, right? But, being overweight is not necessarily a given for a true food addict. It would surprise many people to know, in fact, that there are many people out there who do not fit the common stereotype of what a food addict must be, but they are, nevertheless, food addicts.

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) is dedicated to helping those with food addictions, following a long-term program that helps individuals break their destructive cycles with food. According to their website:

FA members are men and women of all ages. Some have been obese; others have been severely underweight, bulimic, or so obsessed with food or weight that normal life was difficult or impossible. The common denominator uniting members of FA is addiction and a relationship with food that parallels an alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol. The program offers the hope of long-term recovery, evidenced by many members who have continuously maintained a normal weight and healthy eating for periods of twenty-five or even thirty years.

It would surprise many to know that thin people, like Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBCs Morning Joe and self-described “skinny girl,” can be food addicts. In her book with Diane Smith, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own, Brzezinski describes a woman scarily out of control when it comes to food, eating massive amounts of food and punishing herself with days of starvation and excessive exercise. Yes, Brzezinski is thin, and admits she has never had a weight problem. However, “not having a weight problem” is not the same as “having a good relationship with food.”

Food addicts come in all shapes and sizes. For the food addict, his/her relationship with food is one that has been described, according to FA, as “a progressive illness that is rooted in a combination of factors: physical allergy, mental obsession, and problems in the personality (fear, doubt, insecurity, and negativity), all of which drive the addict to repeated, destructive behaviors and a dependence on substances or behaviors in order to cope.” And, without help, those who are under the control of a food addiction can see their lives destroyed, as well as the lives of those around them, all the while not realizing that, yes, there is help to be found for their situation.

Part of the problem for many food addicts is, no doubt, the fact that their addiction stems from something that is vital to all of our lives: food. And, for most of us, having a healthy relationship with food truly is simply a matter of educating ourselves on what we should be eating and just making a decision not to eat too much—willpower, as we hear so often. But, in the case of a food addict, “willpower” is not the simple answer; getting help from someone who understands exactly what food addiction IS is the only way most food addicts will ever be able to get their relationship with food under control.

FA literature and meetings remind members that “when we abuse food as a drug, our lives become unmanageable.” But, to continue on that idea, when we blame ourselves—and others blame us, as well—for continuing that abuse, not understanding that it is an actual addiction, things are bound to get worse, not better.

But, there IS help.

FA indicates that they address addiction on every level, from the physical cravings for food to the mental battles the food addict will inevitably fight to the spiritual emptiness that many food addicts find is hiding within their addiction. The 12-Step program endeavors to lead food addicts from the darkness and loneliness of ongoing addiction to controlling, managing and being in charge of their own lives after seeking and getting help.

Is everyone who is overweight a food addict? No. But, as people like Mika Brzezinski demonstrate, food addiction is not about weight; it is not about appearance; it is about something deeper, something not all of us can relate to, but something of which we should all be aware: Yes, food addiction IS a "real" addiction and food addicts deserve real help.

For more information about food addiction and how to get help, visit the Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous website.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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