Thursday, June 25, 2009

Food Addict? Powerless Over Food?

In that way of conversation, particularly the conversations of therapy, my PhD2 and I somehow started talking about Overeater's Anonymous. I think it may have come up because I was talking about the desire to have someone that I could call every time I eat to help me remember what I am trying to do. It's like all my focus vanishes in a split second. And that lead to the concept of sponsors, the veteran guides to newcomers in 12 step programs.

Is Powerlessness a Temporary State or an Identity?
I went to OA meetings when I was in college. I made some friends and learned some things but I didn't lose any weight. When PhD2 first brought OA up, my first thought was Do I really believe I am powerless over food? That's what the first of the 12 steps of OA is: Admitted we were powerless over food and that our lives had become unmanageble. I mean if I define myself as powerless, how am I able to change? Without power over food, how do I master it?

I can admit powerless now. Powerlessness is defined by The Free Dictionary. com as Lacking strength or power; helpless and totally ineffectual. I certainly feel ineffectual. But I don't think clinging to powerlessness as the cause behind my eating or as the defense for why I don't lose weight seems helpful. It seems like the idea should be to admit powerless now but to gain power through the program. Maybe that's what they are trying to get to with the 2nd step, about a higher power restoring sanity. But are they then equating powerlessness with insanity? I'm sorry as a word person that doesn't sync up for me.

I'm certain that there are discussions and proposed answers to the concept of powerlessness in the vast amount of meeting materials (that you have to buy), which I would look up had I kept the $$ worth of ones I bought back then but unfortunately (?) I gave them all to Good Will during one home/clutter purge before on of our cross state moves.

Plus, the role of the program as restoring personal power is not how I remember my experience before--it seems like every time someone had a problem with eating, it was sort of dismissed as due to their powerless over food. That seems like a weakened state and one I don't want to maintain.

Granted the meeting I attended before was very small (~5 or 6 people with 2 of them being at a healthy weight), so I might not find the same thing in Atlanta.

Would Claiming Addiction Help Me or Hurt Me?
I called a friend of mine who had just discovered OA when we were moving away. Turns out that was 2.5 years ago. I knew she'd lost weight rapidly. In fact it was 90 lbs--and she's kept it off. In my brief chat with her, she talked about being addicted to food. Here we go again.

Technically there is no such thing as food addiction (technical as in a medical or psychological diagnosis). It is being studied by obesity experts, however. I found one article from USA Today in 2007: Does Food Addiction Explain 'Explosion' of Obesity? Here's the bottom line about what they decided about food addiction:

Although there is no official definition of food addiction, Gold [Mark Gold, chief of addiction medicine at the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida]defines it in much the same way as other substance dependence: "Eating too much despite consequences, even dire consequences to health; being preoccupied with food, food preparation and meals; trying and failing to cut back on food intake; feeling guilty about eating and overeating."
He believes some foods are more addictive than others. "It may be that doughnuts with high fat and high sugar cause more brain reward than soup."
Others pooh-pooh the idea of food addiction. "This is a dumbing down of the term 'addiction,' " says Rick Berman, executive director of the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group financed by the restaurant and food industry. "The term is being overused. People are not holding up convenience stores to get their hands on Twinkies.

In the broadest sense, I can sign on to the concept of food addiction. Webster's Dictionary broadly defines addiction as "persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful."

Even pieces of a more specific definition resonate with me chronic relapsing condition, uncontrollable craving, severe physical and mental reactions from withdrawal. E medicine says, "Every addictive substance induces pleasant states or relieves distress." Of course I couldn't know without researching it if so-called food addicts like other addicts have chemical changes in the brain and scientifically recognizable physical dependence.

The definition from carries a hard punch: the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.

But again, I ask myself would defining myself as an addict end up being a crutch? I just don't know.

I Made an A+ on Compulsive Overeater's Quiz
I am not sure how much the OA literature relies on the term addict. What they do talk about is compulsive overeating. Here's their list of questions to help you decide if you are a compulsive overeater. Answering yes to 3 or more means you probably are. I answered yes to all but 2.

  1. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  2. Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
  3. Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
  4. Do you give too much time and thought to food?
  5. Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
  6. Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
  7. Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
  8. Is your weight affecting the way you live your life?
  9. Have you tried to diet for a week (or longer), only to fall short of your goal?
  10. Do you resent others telling you to “use a little willpower” to stop overeating?
  11. Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet “on your own” whenever you wish?
  12. Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
  13. Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
  14. Have you ever been treated for obesity or a food-related condition?
  15. Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?
Of course I raised this with PhD2, and he sort of challenged me by saying I wanted the sponsor part without buying the program. And that's true. But the problem is there really is no other established way to get a "sponsor." And I admit I felt a bit excited about the prospect of making some friends. But maybe not friends who all speak using the same slogans. . .

There will likely be more about this. . . but what do you have to share?
Have any history or thoughts on OA?
Would you claim powerlessness over food? Would that "free" you somehow or label you negatively?
Do you think food is an addiction? And if so, what does that do for you in terms of helping or hindering your success?


  1. My name is Sean and I am a food addict.
    It's so true! However, that doesn't give me an excuse to continue my horrible eating behaviors.
    It's amazing to me how much money is spent on "studies," and analysis. As a former 505 pound man, I could have saved them a bunch of research dollars.
    Yes, food addiction is real.
    No-It doesn't sentence you to a short life of morbid obesity.---Only if you allow it can it do that.
    It's more about personal responsibilty and transforming our minds and behaviors with food.
    I will always love ice cream in a very obsessive way...and i will enjoy ice cream from time to time, but I choose to enjoy it in a responsible way instead of a completely out of control mad man with a spoon way.

    Too many people rely on excuses and rationalizations to make themselves feel better. If they refuse to become completely honest with themselves about their own self-destructive food behaviors, instead deciding that they're a "victim" of food addiction---then they'll never get it off.
    My success has evolved because I refused to be a victim of my own bad choices, I refused to accept the title of "victim." I decided that I was breaking free from the self-pity, the "poor me" syndrome, I was done with excuses and rationalizations. If one popped up, I recognized it as such by being completely honest with myself about it.
    Gravitating to the line of least resistance is a horrible thing to do, but it's the easiest. Because at that line, you don't have to care about anything...including yourself.
    Care about you long enough to break free and you'll wrap yourself in a loving embrace for ever more...even after admitting your food addiction.

    Like I said, unless it becomes a way to rationalize bad choices, then admitting to being a food addict isn't a bad thing, it's a good thing.

    Contact me anytime if you need anything. You can do this, i know you can. How do I know? Because I can. And I was really convinced at one time that I was completely hopeless.

    My best always,

    Sean Anderson
    The Daily Diary of A Winning Loser

  2. I used to be about 300 pounds and lost 150 pounds twelve years ago, and have maintained it. There were times where I did feel powerless in trying control my eating. But I'm not sure, even at that weight, that I would have said I was powerless over food, because there were times when I controlled my urges.

    In any case, food is powerful, and once I started losing weight I did have to make a conscious decision to put food in its place in my life. Thanks for the really interesting and thought provoking post.

  3. I read the dictionary one year - it was an education. I love words, too.
    "Sanity" comes from the same root word as "sanitary" for clean and health.

  4. I went to an OA meeting a few years ago with a friend of mine who asked me to go with her. It was not the right thing for me. I saw this same friend a couple of months ago and she had lost weight (she was never more than 30 pounds overweight to begin with) and she looked great! She had been working out with a personal trainer for the past 2 years and had success through that.

  5. Nice post. I lost 150 pounds and have kept it off for over 35 years. As a psychotherapist and recovering food addict I have found the addiction model to have been a major part of my recovery. I also have found paying attention to the "how to" of recovery as opposed to the "why it happens" to be of most value to me. If you want to learn more of my story, genetic causes and my approach to "how to" go to my blog at I hope you find some value there for you.

  6. This was so good and timely. I am coming off of vacation food and feeling yucky. Need to get back to healthy eating. Yahoo for the kick in the (too big) pants! :)


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