I'm a personal trainer that identifies as a food addict. At 34, I'm a healthy size 6, but by the time I was 18 I had high blood pressure and weighed in at over 300 pounds. Every day I obsessed about what I would eat. Every day I binged. Every day I felt ashamed of my lack of control. And every day it happened again.
Like so many of us, I thought dieting was the solution. I joined popular weight loss programs. Controlling portions felt like torture, and every tiny meal I ate was like an archer's bowstring being pulled back, tighter and tighter. Always, at some point, came the moment of weakness -- I would let go, and eat. And eat. There were few things as intense in my early life as the binge that followed an effort to control how much I ate.
It never occurred to me that I had an addiction. Why? Because the medical community doesn't call it that, despite mounting scientific evidence that that's what it is, and that it effects all kinds of people (see the chart in the infographic below). The Yale Food Addiction scale has been used in studies since 2009. These studies have shown that food addiction has no universal body type -- that not all obese people are food addicts, and not all food addicts are obese.
I was both, but instead of addressing my addiction, I tried to exert more willpower. I struggled to get and stay motivated. I wondered how my desire to change kept losing out over my desire to overeat. I wasted years of my life, thousands of dollars, and tons of emotional energy trying to control that which cannot be controlled because I didn't have the language I needed to seek help.
Desperate, I had gastric bypass surgery in 2003. Not one doctor, nurse, nutritionist or therapist ever mentioned food addiction in the pre-operative screening process. Shortly after surgery, I fell back into my old patterns. At first, by necessity, my portions were small. But like any good addict, I took in as much as I could, over and over again. Though it hurt like hell to overeat, I stretched my post-operative pouch to the size of a normal stomach in under 3 years.
Food addiction needs to be a part of the conversations we're having around both obesity and weight loss surgery. Bringing the term 'addiction' to the table will introduce the language and the framework of recovery, making it possible for food addicts to get the help we need. Ever since I accepted the fact of my addiction, I've been empowered to develop a healthy relationship to food. Acceptance has given me freedom and pleasure far beyond anything I might have experienced through any foolish diet or weight-loss program.
Only by calling food addiction by its proper name can we begin to speak frankly about how to help one another recover. Until then, food addicts like me will continue to struggle to control that which cannot be controlled. Many will keep trying, and failing, to "eat like a normal person." And many will decide, like I did, that their inability to change is simply a sign of weakness.
Food addiction is real. Dieting is not a solution. But recovery is possible. I'm living proof.
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