By Greg Price
It is a battle that continues to rage on for Amy (her name has been changed due to the sensitivity of the story) with her addiction to food, but one that she continues to win thanks to the help of a southern Alberta support group.
Amy has been a member of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous for 17 years, as she finally realized she had a problem with her body image/eating, tracing back that obsession to when she was a teenager.
“I’ve been professionally dieting since I was 15 years old, and the thing is, I now weigh 20 pounds less than I did when I was 11 years old and I’m 65 years old now.”
The scars Amy has shown in her battles with food addiction have been many, including having her stomach stapled twice and has done every fad diet under the sun.
“I’ve done all the professional diets that cost you mega, mega dollars, be it Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, Diet Centre, Weight Watchers… I’ve done them all,” said Amy, who at her heaviest, weighed 280 pounds, and now weighs 130. “I’ve now lost in weight a whole other person.”
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I tell people, it’s like being an alcoholic, but with food. Once I start eating, I can’t stop,” said Amy. “It’s like taking drugs or alcohol, you are looking for that next fix or thrill. Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is not a weight-loss program, it’s a life-changing program.”
Numbers fluctuate, but Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous usually average around 20 members per meeting in Lethbridge. Amy highlighted the intensity that is required of such a group, because unlike say other addictions like smoking, drugs or alcohol, it’s not like you can go cold turkey by stopping food consumption.
“It is a rigorous program. We are the only addiction in the world where you have to go in three times a day (breakfast, lunch, supper) to live. If you don’t have a food problem, most people don’t understand. They think it’s just like smoking, they say ‘just stop smoking.’ To them it’s just like food where they say ‘well, just stop eating’,” said Amy. “But you can’t. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and forage for food. I’d stay up to eat and eat to stay up. It was crazy the things I did.”
For Amy, finally going to Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous when she was in her 40s, it wasn’t about just her weight, but healing her mind, body and soul.
“I had to learn how to feel my feelings, because I didn’t know how,” said Amy. “I didn’t know how to take care of myself and trust myself. The support in this program is second to none.”
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous will be holding a free community information meeting in Lethbridge on Saturday, Sept. 19, from 1:30–3:30 p.m. at Chinook Regional Hospital, 10th Avenue and 19th Street South, in the Lethbridge County Hall Room.
“It doesn’t cost anything. We do pass the hat to pay for the rent of the hall and some literature, but it doesn’t cost so much a month to go and there’s always someone to call if you’re having a problem,” said Amy. “There’s people from all over the world in this group. I’ve talked to people in Sweden, Australia and Japan.”
Apart from the community information meeting, the regular group meetings go from 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“It’s not quite run like an AA meting, we are a little more stringent. We have speakers and they shares their experiences, strengths and hopes,” said Amy. “The thing is, you have that support, you always have someone to talk to. One day, my husband had a car accident. And with the stress, instead of the first thing me going to food, I phoned somebody. It’s engrained in me, that I don’t take that first bite. Taking that first bite is like taking that first drink of alcohol.”
Amy has managed to keep her weight off now for 17 years using the positive messages and tactics learned through the support group. Staying away from processed foods, flour and sugar, the group has taught her healthy eating habits to help keeps the pounds and mental stress off.
She cautioned the group is not just for overeaters, but for people with eating disorders in general.
“This isn’t just a program for people with weight problems. It is for people with anorexia or bulimia. Family members may want to come check it out to see if they have concerns about someone else,” said Amy. “We have letters from doctors and clergy to help them understand what people are going through.”
For more information on the free information session on Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous on Saturday, Sept. 19 in Lethbridge, call Ron at (403)-320-2075. The Web site for Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is http://www.foodaddicts.org.