Recovery From Food Addiction

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright 2000


The physiologically addicted person cannot stop the addictive cycle. S/He is chemically bound to continue it or go through chemical withdrawal and depression. Depression may continue indefinitely depending on whether the body's regular chemical sites, which have shut down, will restart after the abuse has stopped (Sheppard, 1993; Nakken, 1988).

To recover the physiologically addicted individual should not eat processed sugars, sugar substitutes, or excessive amounts of carbohydrates like processed flour or s/he will go right back into the addictive cycle. S/He will act like a drug addicted person who needs a fix. S/He is chemically hooked (Sheppard, 1993).

It is hoped that after the addict quits overpowering the brain with chemicals from excessive processed sugar and carbohydrates that the body will revitalize the chemical sites in the brain that produce chemicals that give a natural high to fight depression (Shkurkin, 1994). People must evaluate where they are in the development of the addicted self, and work back from there to gain normalcy physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, and bridle one's passion for food to gain good health (Nay, 1998).

Recovery for the food addicted person begins by asking his or her Higher Power for help. Most get counseling both individual and group. Some join Rational Recovery groups or Overeater's Anonymous (OA). By joining a group of recovering addicts the addict learns how to recover from someone who has been there (Sheppard, 1993).

Physiologically addicted people's binge and trigger foods such as those containing processed sugar and excessive amounts of wheat or processed flour are eliminated from the diet (abstinence program). Excessive exercising, bingeing, purging, fasting, and any other unhealthy practices are stopped. The addict needs to commit to a ninety day abstinence program to clean the body from the chemicals that are causing their addiction. Overeaters Anonymous (OA) helps their members overcome their addicted behavior with a controlled food program and a "12-steps" sponsor. OA members understand and help addicted people get through the physical withdrawal of the chemical dependence. There are some individuals who need medical supervision for their withdrawal because their symptoms are so sever.

The PAW model by Terence T. Gorski (Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms) outlines the withdrawal symptoms some psychological and most physiological addicts go through to gain chemical independence. There are six main symptoms. These are, "inability to think clearly, memory problems, emotional over-reaction or numbness, sleep disturbances, physical coordination problems, and stress sensitivity" (Sheppard, 1993).

Journaling what is to be eaten and having it approved by an OA food program sponsor is a good way for most addicted people to get clean from the addictive chemicals of sugar and starch. It also helps addicted people to eat healthfully.

Journaling is also used to help addicted people get in contact with their feelings about food, overcome withdrawal cravings, and understand how to dealt with them. It is used to work through the feeling addicted people have about the negative treatment they received from others and how they were able to handled those feelings (Sheppard, 1993).

OA food sponsors tell their newly recovering members to stick to the food plan. They are not to diet, just follow the plan and the weight comes off. They need to stop obsessing over weight-loss. They help the recovering addicts to focus on the pleasurable food available in their new life style, not what has been given up (Sheppard, 1993).

Recovering people begin to develop a new attitudes and relationships. They ask for help from their Higher Power to achieve these and understand the things that are best thing for them. They learn to do away with self-pity (Sheppard, 1993).

Studies have shown that recovery has a much greater chance of success when done with the help of an experienced recovering person. The chances of failure are almost assured when going it alone (Sheppard, 1993).

Those who do not change their attitude towards food are like dry drunks in that they still have the desire and thoughts of the addicted person. These individuals are most likely to fall into addiction again. A new attitude is often achieved through counseling. Both individual and group sessions teach the recovering people how to deal with the problems they have covered up with food. Stress management, exercise, yoga, journaling, deep breathing, and other tools are used to help recovery happen. Counseling helps one identify one's emotions and how to express them.

OA groups have their members "name (identify), the feelings, then claim or take responsibility for what part is theirs, and dump feelings out in the open and talk them out. Counseling teaches recovering people the nature of food addiction. This is so they understand what they have gone through. It is important to understand the nature of the disease so they can recognize the addictive aspects trying to lure them back into addiction. The recovering person learns that food addiction is a disease and cannot ever be eradicated only controlled (Sheppard, 1993).

Counseling helps the recovering person identify the affect the addiction has had upon his or her significant others. It helps the individual work through rough spots such as making amends with those they have been hurt by the addiction. Counseling also helps the families of the addicted person. It can help the family of origin or the current family unit. They come to recognize the addicted person has unhealthy behavior toward food. Often these behaviors adopted by family members who in turn need help for their own food abuse, food addiction, or codependency. Counseling can help the family enjoy improved relationships within the family, with others, and have a good sense of self esteem. It can help them develop new interests and hobbies or possibly go back to school with the time that was used to obsess and deal with food. Counseling can improve the families health physically, physiologically, socially, spiritually and emotionally (Sheppard, 1993).

Good sources of psychoeducational material on food addiction for those who are physiologically addicted are available in Kay Sheppard's book Food Addiction, OA food advisor, or professional counseling.

There are behaviors which signal that individual's are relapsing back into food addiction. Examples of these warning signs are obsessing over food, weight, dieting, obsessing over one's body image, or returning to bingeing and/or purging. Other signs are trusting in one's addicted-ill mind instead of others, getting overly hungry, lonely tired or physically ill, going off the food plan, changing it, or not attending group. Other signs of relapse behavior are engaging in rapid eating, compulsive eating, overeating, not checking one's food plan with their OA food advisor, and/or not working the 12-step program. Warning signs for some individuals are not facing up to problems or letting pressure, stress or tension to build from those problems, eating one's binge foods, carbohydrates, wheat, and or processed sugar. Other causes for relapse is lying to oneself or others, not asking for help when it is needed, neglecting to read labels, not measuring the amounts of food, and/or not staying with safe foods. Finally, people should pay attention to the warning signs of starving themselves, getting over angry, and/or not dealing with one's feelings, negative self-talk, reminding themselves of the positive points of addiction, and/or reminding themselves of the negative points of abstention, disregarding the thoughts and help from one's Higher Power and/or entertaining irrational thoughts (Sheppard, 1993).

Using Spiritual Means for Recovery

It is important to realize there is someone out there that can help addicted people get out of their addiction. This is the individual's Higher Power. Each person has thoughts about what his or her relationship Higher Power is.

It is each person's responsibility to reach out to this power and tap into it. This entity will not and cannot help individuals unless they ask. Tapping into this source of energy and intervention is done through prayer or meditation. One must address their Higher Power and ask for the things they need in their life (Cook, 1996). In case it would be help overcoming their addiction. If done honestly and with true intent of the heart, the help will be forth coming (Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1976; Cook, 1996).

The scriptures say God finds each person special and worthy of help (Smith, 1981). The bible states in James 4:10 that God wants every individual to be a better person. That is why S/He has chosen to help those that are sincerely searching and asking for help. Through one's Higher Power one can receive the guidance and strength in finding a new life style that will allow a healthier body and eating habits (Cook, 1996).

The first step back to recovery, then, is to pray for help. It is best for a person to find a place of solitude where s/he can speak out loud his or her thoughts and feelings without being disturbed from outside interference. This helps keep one's thoughts focused and helps the person examine his feelings and thoughts even as s/he is speaking with Deity. When a private place cannot be found and help is needed now, this dialogue can take place silently in the mind. Talking to one's Higher Power can be done as if in conversation with a close friend (Cook, 1996).

Just asking for help is not enough. A person must do his or her part to make recovery work. James, in the Bible says, "faith without works is dead." One must work their treatment plan to find a way out of addiction and a way back to normalcy and one's Higher Power will strengthen him or her and prepare the way for him or her to be able to over come the addiction. Another words one should work as his or her progress is all up to himself or herself but also pray as if it is all up to their Higher Power. It will take constant work and prayer or meditation with one's Higher Power to get through all the rough times life will give him or her (Cook, 1996).


Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous (50 ed.). Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.: New York City.

Cook, G. R. (1996). Receiving answers to our prayers. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co.

Nakken, C. (1988). The addictive personality. U.S.: Hazelden Foundation

Nay A. (1998). A Holistic Approach to Weight-loss. Unpublished manuscript.

Overeaters Anonymous, (1993). The twelve steps and twelve traditions of overeaters anonymous.

Sheppard, K. (1993) Food addiction. (2nd ed.). Dearfield Beach, FL: .Heath Communication, Inc.

Shkurkin, K. (1994, December). Master's class in Substance Abuse. Presented at University of La Verne: Elmendorf A.F.B., AK.

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Annette Nay Homepage

If you found this article or website to be of value to you, please click here to support this website with a voluntary donation. $5.00
Suggested payment per online question asked of Annette. $10.00
Suggested payment per hour of phone consultation or counseling. $80.00
Search This Website
Search The Web