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Overweight? Obese? Overeating? There is a Solution


Can a person be addicted to food?

Recovering food addicts say yes. They experience their relationship with food as a form of addiction. They are powerless over where, when, and how much they eat, although many have tremendous willpower in other areas of their lives.

Here are some of the symptoms of food addiction:

  • Overeating (bingeing or grazing repeatedly)
  • Purging (bulimia)
  • Undereating
  • Obesity (and related problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and sleep apnea)
  • Compulsive exercise and/or dieting
  • Obsession with food or weight
  • Depression, shame, isolation, and hopelessness related to food, weight, or body image.

Food addiction tends to remain unrecognized because of the focus on these symptoms rather than their underlying cause – addiction.

FA is a program for those who want to stop eating addictively. The first step in FA recovery is abstinence. Abstinence is clearly defined as weighed and measured meals with nothing in between, no flour, no sugar, and the avoidance of any individual binge foods. Abstinence in FA is equivalent to AA’s sobriety. 

FA treats food addiction as a threefold illness: physical, mental, and spiritual. Recovering food addicts in FA remain at their goal weight for years and even decades, yet abstinence is not a diet and FA is not a weight-loss program.

Food addicts cannot sustain long-term recovery by merely following a food plan, even when they’ve reached a healthy weight. Long-term abstinence from addictive eating is made possible by a member’s willingness to live a structured way of life and work the Twelve Steps. When members work the Steps in sequence while abstinent, they experience a spiritual awakening and a transformative change in their personality. Their desire to eat addictively is removed, one day at a time.

In this pamphlet, FA members who were overweight or obese share dozens of brief stories—specific memories of moments in time—describing their experiences in addiction and recovery. Although not all the details will match your own, you may identify with some of what you read here and feel that there is a place for you in FA.

Life in Food Addiction

"I was the guest who broke the dining room chair. As I lowered my 300 lb (136 kg) body onto the wooden chair, I sensed “the wobble” so I sat as still as I possibly could. Without warning, the legs split in four directions, and I landed on the floor with a booming thud. I couldn’t get up on my own. The host was gracious, the hostess visibly upset; I was mortified."

 

"At 31 years old and at my heaviest weight of 255 lbs (116 kg), I had gastric sleeve surgery and dropped to 165 lbs (75 kg).Slowly, however, the weight came back. At 197 lbs (89 kg), I realized I needed help with my eating, not with my stomach."

 

"I proudly declared that Big is Beautiful but was too ashamed to admit that I wore lycra shorts to prevent heat rashes between my thighs; that I had purple and red stretch marks on my stomach, breasts, and arms; or that I ate an entire half gallon of ice cream with my bare hand."

 

"As I was browsing in a clothing store, a saleswoman asked, “When are you due?” I rushed out of the store to a bakery, fighting back tears. It was doubly painful because my husband and I desperately wanted children."

 

“I was picking up my children at school when I heard another kid yell, Hey—your fat mom is coming down the hall. My son hit the kid.”

 

"I promised myself I wouldn’t stop for food on my way to work. But, I pulled into a drive-thru just as the power steering went out in my extended-bed Silverado truck. I drove around the circle to the window before calling the tow truck. If you've ever driven a truck without power steering, you know how hard this is, but I had to get my food."

 

"Because I exceeded the weight limit, I wasn’t permitted to ride, and I had to watch as the other parents and children went round and round on the carousel."

 

"As we were waiting to be seated at a restaurant, my blind date gave me a once over. Noticing my very wide hips, he said, You don't look anything like your picture.

 

"Every day after work, my car drove itself to the donut shop. I would order a dozen and eat them all before getting home for dinner. One month, I gained ten pounds."

 

"In tenth grade, I was 167 lbs (76 kg). In eleventh grade, I was 185 lbs (84 kg). In my senior year, I was 237 lbs (107 kg). In college, I weighed 315 lbs (143 kg). After graduation, I was over 350 lbs (159 kg). When I came into FA, I was unable to weigh myself on a regular scale, so I had to go to the hospital and use a scale that went up to 420 lbs (190 kg); even that scale could not register my weight."

 

"I hated my body and how I looked in clothes. If I was thinner than my peers I was OK; if I was fatter, I was worthless."

 

"At over 250 lbs (113 kg), I became a martial arts instructor and a gym teacher. I always felt like a fraud talking to others about self-control, diet, and exercise."

 

"Although obesity took a toll on my physical body, it took a greater toll on my self-esteem. The most painful aspect of being fat was how invisible I felt. People avoided eye contact and failed to hold the door open when I was right behind them. When they did notice me, it was with a look of pity. Everyone saw my weight before they saw me."

 

"When I needed to eat, nothing could stop me; a curtain of white noise suffocated my rational thoughts. I thought nothing of taking my students’ leftover treats out of the garbage as long as they were in the original wrapper. I did think twice about finishing off the half-eaten treats wrapped in napkins, but I did it anyway."

 

"When someone asked who had eaten the fundraiser cookie dough being stored in our freezer, I blamed my son who, due to limited language, was unable to defend himself. In reality, I’d eaten the giant tub one spoonful at a time."

 

"I pulled food out of the garbage so many times that I started spraying it with Windex. It didn’t stop me; I just went to the store to buy more food."

 

"My first week in a new job I had to explain to my boss (whom I’d never met) that at over 350 lbs (159 kg), I couldn’t fit in a regular airplane seat and needed a travel exception to fly first class. I still had to ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender and to balance the food on my belly since I couldn’t lower the meal tray."

 

"My heart pounded with anticipation as we got to the front of the line and climbed into the rollercoaster car. My friend easily snapped her seat belt closed, but at 250 lbs (113 kg), I couldn’t. The young man doing the safety check attempted to force the belt shut with his knee, but he failed. He apologetically told me I could not ride. I had to get off in front of everybody. Talk about a walk of shame. I headed down the ramp fighting back tears. You would think the humiliation would spur me to lose weight. Instead, I got something to eat as I waited for my friend."

 

"My boss had invited my children and me to her house for a social visit. I settled into one of her Adirondack chairs. As we were chatting, my daughter called out urgently for me. I tried to get up to help, but my bottom half was firmly stuck. I rocked back and forth but couldn't budge. My boss had to attend to my child, then return and hold the back of the chair while I moved from side to side to dislodge myself."

 

"When the pizza arrived, I would call out to an imaginary friend, The pizza is here! so the delivery person wouldn’t know I was going to eat the whole large pizza myself. I even made sure to order two drinks."

 

"After my doctor told me that I must lose at least 50 lbs (23 kg), I went straight to an ice cream parlor. I ate a sundae with five huge scoops, two bananas, and all the toppings."

 

"At 5’4” and 287 lbs (130 kg), I wore a CPAP for sleep apnea and took medication for high blood pressure and depression. I turned my ankles all the time, my back always hurt, and I fell a lot because I was unable to stay balanced. The worst part was, I just did not care."

 

"I had rashes under my stomach, back aches, and ingrown toenails because I couldn't reach down to cut them. Right before I found FA, I spent over $5,000 on a nutritionist and didn't lose a single pound."

 

"I missed my uncle’s funeral, my niece’s wedding, and countless family celebrations because the clothes in my closet never fit. Each time, I was too ashamed to let my family see how much fatter I’d gotten."

 

"In 2003, I weighed 203 lbs (92 kg) and was miserable. I was always sweating, even in the coldest of New England winters. I wore shorts and T-shirts in January and drove my car with the windows open and the AC blasting. I changed my clothes two or three times a day in the summer."

 

"It’s a measure of how desperate and defeated I was that I had bariatric surgery. I expected it would fix me. I lost 120 lbs (54 kg), but over the next few years, I regained what I’d lost and more. I was terrified that my stomach might rupture, but I ate constantly. Worse, the surgery did nothing to stop my cravings."

Finding FA

"I had resigned myself to being fat for the rest of my life until I walked into my first FA meeting. I was shocked when the happy people in right-size bodies shared about the pain of their lives in addiction. They said out loud what I’d been feeling inside. When I left that meeting, I had hope."

 

"A friend who had lost 110 lbs (50 kg) told me that FA was free and that I wouldn’t have to exercise to lose weight. I knew that, besides changing what I ate, I needed guidance about how to live my life, so when she added that FA was based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, I agreed to attend a meeting."

 

"I had been battling the same 20 lbs (9 kg) for years, but I didn’t identify when FA members talked about losing half their body weight and eating until they were sick. I wondered if FA was for me. When I read FA literature and talked to others who were, like me, overweight but not obese, I finally understood that I, too, had been eating addictively."

 

"At my first meeting, I told my new FA sponsor that I couldn’t imagine weighing under 140 lbs (64 kg). She looked me right in the eye and said, Oh, we can do much better than that! She was right. I got down to a healthy 114 lbs (52 kg). At 5’2”, I feel great."

 

"It took me a while to get used to shopping for clothes in the single digits. I’d always worn what I had to wear; now I started to learn what I liked to wear."

 

"Receiving daily help from another recovering addict—a sponsor—was life-changing. I found someone who understood the way I thought about food and with whom I could talk without feeling judged. With that support, I learned to be honest, to navigate changes, and to develop a relationship with a Higher Power of my own understanding."

 

"I felt like my sponsor was trying to control me, but then I reminded myself that she was giving me her time at no cost; I was the one who had asked for help. If an athlete wanted to get to the Olympics, they wouldn’t balk at their coach’s suggestions, so I tried to keep an open mind. It worked!"

 

"I was scared to get thin. I hid behind a wall of fat, believing that it could protect me, that no one would look at me, desire me, or hurt me. When I lost weight, I felt vulnerable, but with the help of other recovering food addicts, I began to feel safe in my new body and was no longer afraid."

 

"I thought the term "food addict" was harsh, but I had to admit I’d been using food as a drug; otherwise, how could an intelligent woman, so successful in other parts of her life, be whipped by food? People’s stories and “before” photos convinced me the program worked for them, but I wondered if it could really work for me. When I became willing to take suggestions, I saw physical and emotional results immediately."

 

"After losing my weight, I felt like I was in an alien body. I had to learn that I could walk down narrow aisles without turning sideways and sit in airplane seats without overflowing onto my neighbor. It took me several years to adjust to the new me."

 

"At first, I couldn’t imagine a lifetime without flour and sugar. But when my husband and kids would ask, So you can never eat this again? I answered, Just not today! I asked myself if I could live without it that day and the answer was always Yes! No FA member has ever died of starvation between meals."

 

"I was belligerent when I joined FA. For two decades, I had failed repeatedly to keep off the weight I lost. Doing things my way had not worked, but I was sure I knew better than my sponsor. Why couldn’t I have unlimited celery? Why eat regular dressing, when any idiot knows low-fat dressing has fewer calories? It took a while to understand that I wasn’t being given a diet, but rather a solution to addictive eating."

 

"I felt too busy to go to FA meetings each week and too private to make phone calls to FA members whom I didn’t know. I was not happy but I was desperate to lose weight. I found time for meetings. And soon, the strangers on the other end of the phone became my friends."

 

Life in Recovery

"My doctors believe me to be a walking miracle. I have ceased taking meds for high blood pressure, reflux, and depression. My asthma causes me so few problems today that I often forget I have it! I climb stairs, tie my shoes, cut my toenails—all without losing my breath. I move without pain, so I can walk for miles."

 

"My goal was to join FA, lose my weight, and get divorced for the third time. Instead, I experienced physical recovery, mental healing, and spiritual growth. I am still married, and more deeply in love than ever. None of this is why I came into the program, but all of this is why I stay."

 

"I was morbidly obese at thirty-five and looking forward to dying. I had premonitions that once I was gone, no one would be able to find a coffin big enough to hold me, but I’m as fit as a thoroughbred stallion now. I can cycle for miles. I’ve been given a taste of the Fountain of Youth, and I love how I feel."

 

"My life circumstances have not changed, but the way I live my life has. I think clearly. I’m not living in fear. I use the FA tools instead of eating food when I am feeling bad. I fit in airplane seats with room to spare! I can even sit comfortably in booths, cross my legs, and stand for long periods of time. I take clothes off the rack in the regular-size women’s department and everything in my closet fits me, months and even years later."

 

"I am not carrying around an extra 185 lbs (84 kg). I believe that if I hadn’t found FA, I would have ended up dying as a 600 lb (272 kilo) woman. The fire department would have had to break down a door to remove my body."

 

"The benefits of abstinence have improved every aspect of my life. Physically, I am healthier in my sixties than I was when I found FA in my forties. Emotionally, I am free from fears of financial insecurity. Spiritually, I am full of gratitude and the hope of better things to come."

 

"At 382 lbs (173 kg), I had almost given up. Losing weight looked insurmountable. As a result of taking one day at a time, I’ve lost 144 lbs (65 kg), and I have structure, routine, and purpose. When I am fearful or anxious—which happens much less often than before—I know where to turn. I am eternally grateful to FA."

 

"In recovery, I am no longer lonely. I’ve made FA friends around the world by picking up the phone and allowing people to get to know me. Locally, I’ve gone on hikes and bike rides and have been invited to movies, dances, house parties, weddings, and graduations…all of which I’ve actually attended!"

 

"Sometimes, when I am tired in the morning, I’m surprised to see my slim face in the mirror. I’m still amazed that my kids can wrap their arms completely around my waist when they hug me."

 

"I don’t apologize for working a program of recovery from food addiction and I’ve stopped worrying about what other people think."

 

"I have learned to manage the stresses of life without eating. I pay bills on time, get enough sleep, exercise and go to the doctor regularly. I listen to my children but keep opinions to myself, unless asked to share them. I can ask for help when I need it. I couldn’t do any of this before finding FA."

 

"My body and feet don’t stink anymore; I smell great, now."

 

"There are plenty of us in FA who have had bariatric surgery, and I’m guessing there will be many more as time goes on. Surgery altered my stomach, but FA gave me a way to change from the inside out. I’ve been abstinent for eight years, and I’m no longer searching for the latest pills, vitamins, exercise regimes, or food trends. I'll always be grateful."

 

"It took me a long time to get abstinent. I could always blame a life situation for taking me back to addictive eating. I had to take care of my elderly mother, or I had that emergency surgery, or work got so busy. By my logic, no one could stay abstinent. Abstinence and the Twelve Steps don’t insulate me from life; they allow me to walk through challenges without using food as a drug."

 

"FA transformed my vision of the possible. Initially, I figured that at most I could lose weight and stay thin. Should this miracle occur, I assumed I’d be fighting with obsession and cravings for the rest of my life. I’ve been abstinent and slender for thirty-seven years, but more incredibly, I have lost all craving for the foods I used to eat."

There is a Place for You

Whether you have 25 or 200 lbs (11 or 90 kg) to lose, or are simply defeated by relentless food obsession and struggles with weight, you are not alone. The recovering food addicts who share their experiences in this pamphlet once felt hopeless. Today, they have found a common solution in Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous.

The Twelve Steps 

  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 food addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are reprinted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Service, Inc. Permission to reprint and adapt the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions does not mean that AA is in any way affiliated with this program. AA is a program of recovery from alcoholism only—use of the Steps and Traditions in connection with programs and activities which are patterned after AA, but which address other problems, or in any other non-AA context, does not imply otherwise.

The Twelve Traditions 

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on FA unity.
  2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.
  3. The only requirement for FA membership is a desire to stop eating addictively.
  4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or FA as a whole.
  5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the food addict who still suffers.
  6. An FA group ought never endorse, finance or lend the FA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.
  7. Every FA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.
  8. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.
  9. FA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.
  10. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the FA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.
  11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
  12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

What is FA?

Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) is a program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics

Anonymous (AA). There are no dues, fees, or weighins at FA meetings. FA is a fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience and mutual support, are recovering from the disease of food addiction.

FA was formally organized in 1998, although it began as part of another twelve-step program in the early 1980s. Some FA members have been continuously abstinent since that time. Abstinence in FA is equivalent to AA’s “sobriety” and is clearly defined: weighed and measured meals with nothing in between, no flour, no sugar, and the avoidance of any individual binge foods.

Who joins FA?

FA members are people of all ages from every part of the world. FA includes people who were morbidly obese, substantially underweight, or even at a normal weight. Regardless of their size, they were tormented by cravings, dieting, bulimia, and/or an obsession with exercise.

Does the program really work?

Many FA members tried other solutions to address their problems with food, including years of diets or exercise. FA offers a long-term answer. Abstinent members find freedom from addiction and maintain healthy weights. The number of people with years of unbroken abstinence continues to grow.

 

foodaddicts.org

FA World Service Office

Phone: +1 781.932.6300

email: fa@foodaddicts.org

 

FA World Service Conference-Approved Literature June 2021