Food Addiction: A Spiritual Malady

I received a heartbreaking e-mail just yesterday. I spoke to the person who wrote it last night, and received permission to post it anonymously here.

I am posting this because I believe that addiction to wheat, flour and sugar is a real phenomenon. I have worked with many who suffer from it, and it’s one of the worst addictions out there. Here’s what the author of the e-mail wrote:

“Hi Mike,

I’ve attended a lecture/seminar that you and Vera gave at the University Of Toronto a couple years ago. I’ve also seen you and Vera on TV a few times as well (via youtube) so I decided I’d drop you a line.

I am a food addict, as of right now I feel hopeless to the point of despair about my eating… I have type two diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea. I am 5’10 and currently weigh 380 pounds (down from 505 pounds)… I am 36 years old. The weight I lost happened even though I’ve been bingeing every day for the last 5 years on sugary pop, chips, chocolate bars and other high carb/sugar junk food. My weight loss is a mystery, but I am sure it has nothing to do with the healthfulness of my diet or physical activity because I have not been physically active and I don’t even try to healthy or control my portion sizes.. I assume there are diabetic factors that has contributed to my weight loss.

I’ve decided this week to start eating non-addictively. For me, this means cutting out sugar, wheat and flour. I also need to cut out potatoes and rice (which are huge triggers for me). The goal is to start eating mainly meat, veggies and some fruit in moderation (berries, Apples and Pears… Avoiding banana and grapes).. I plan to do this next time I go grocery shopping.

I feel horrible. Since I have made this commitment I feel so depressed. I cry almost every day, I am dreading making this transition. I am terrified of doing this. It feels hopeless….My only experience with eating non-addictively has either been in combination with exercise bulimia (3 hour long work outs trying to burn 3 or 4 thousand calories) or it has been the first month of a low carb-atkins style diet.. So I have never ate non-addictive and felt well/good and I have a hard time believing it is even possible.. It has always been a matter of white knuckling it.

If the choice is between dying in my addiction or white knuckling a diet for the rest of my life, I’d rather die in my addiction.

My question, does eating non-addictively actually get easier? Is it a matter of white knuckling for the rest of your life? Have you worked with people who started their recovery journey feeling hopeless and despair and who eventually found hope? I want to believe that hope exists, though I am having a hard time believing it.

I understand if you are unable to reply to this, my appreciation for all that you do will not change.

Take Care,

XXXXX”

My answer to this person was a simple “Yes, it does get easier.” If the right solution is applied to the problem, it actually becomes quite simple.

Solution #1 is to abstain from all products containing wheat of any kind, flours of any kind (that includes non-wheat flours), and processed sugars of any kind.

Solution #2 is to engage in a journey to find a spirituality that works for you: one that will replace the obsession to eat flour, sugar and wheat. There are 12 step programs for food addiction that can help you do this (see www.recoveryfromfoodaddiction.org).

In the weeks and months to come I will share more on the phenomenon of food addiction, and how to get over it. Not everyone with a weight problem is a food addict, however some are, and their solution MUST be different from the non-food addict. One key difference is that, for the food addict, there is no such thing as a cheat meal. Ever. Period.

To cheat would be the same as giving an alcoholic who has been sober for a time a drink, and hope they can learn how to moderate drinking. They can’t, and in the same way, neither can the food addict moderate eating addictive foods.

The mechanism that causes the addictive response is not known, however Vera Tarman outlines the science behind food addiction in her excellent book, “Food Junkies”. The science is irrefutable: the phenomenon exists, and the only solution is entire – and permanent – abstinence.

NOTE HERE THAT I AM NOT SAYING EVERYONE NEEDS TO EAT ABSTINENTLY. ONLY THOSE WHO SELF-DIAGNOSE AS BONA FIDE FOOD ADDICTS!!!

Abstinent eating is actually easier than you might think. I know. I had to face the fact that I am a food addict several years ago, and since that time have not knowingly ingested any flour, sugar or wheat products.

I eat whole, unprocessed foods. Lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains (rice, quinoa, steel cut oats), fruit and healthy fats (olive oils, avocado oils, coconut oils).

Most of my clients don’t have to eat this way. Many are not food addicts, but for the ones that are, they do have to eat this way. I have a questionnaire that I administer that helps them determine whether or not they are. If you’re interested in knowing whether or not that’s your issue, drop me a line and I’d be happy to share the questions with you. As a matter of fact, I may just post them here, and you can diagnose yourself.

The most effective solution to the problem that I have come across is a spiritual one. People replace the obsession to eat by a spirituality that makes sense to them. I’m not necessarily talking about God folks. Many of us have been beaten up enough by organized religion. I’m talking about that part of us – I call it the spiritual part – that wants and needs to grow, to develop, to reach beyond who and where we are. Do you develop this part of yourself?

If not, and if you’re having trouble with your eating, you may want to give it a try. I read somewhere once that a “Spiritual Awakening” is simply a “personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from [whatever addiction you struggle with].” I like that. No religious dogma or terminology associated with it, and it’s easy to understand.

Do you identify with the person who wrote me the e-mail? Maybe you’re not as large as they are, or eat as much as they do, but do you find yourself consistently eating too much, too often? Does it frustrate you? Are you baffled as to why you can’t control it?

Read Vera’s book. If you find yourself in the stories that she shares, then I invite you to contact me. I’ll give you several resources that are 100% free for you to explore. It can’t hurt, and it may just solve a mystery that you’ve struggled with most – if not of all – of your life.