I reached 25 years old and it hit me one day that I was ‘done’ physically, emotionally, and mentally, as I thought to myself I am never going to be able to ‘control’ how much I eat (or more to the point stop eating). I had put on 10kg in one month as well as waking up at night to go and eat more food. I would then continue to be driven to ingest (even though I didn’t want to!!!) AND for myself MORE importantly, had a mind that would NOT stop thinking, overthinking, analysing, judging, ridiculing… it was relentless!! I often daydreamed I could go into a coma just so my brain could rest and magically I’d be restored to a normal body weight and ‘life troubles’ straighten out.
A bit more of the specifics to perhaps help you identify what brought me to this day at 25 years old. I was obese since primary school. My first memory of life is of an apple and blackcurrant rollup my cousin gave me. Many children at school would give me their lunches to eat as they knew I would eat them (as I never had an off button) and they didn’t want to get in trouble by their parents for not eating their lunches. I was too embarrassed to do physical activity at school and would lie and forge notes to get out of it, as I didn’t want my fat to jiggle or be the slowest runner. I also faked asthma attacks so I could have a reason to stop and not be embarrassed as I always ran slower than others.
High school continued with low self-esteem, using the excuse of being depressed to get out of things and trying to escape responsibility. I used academia to attempt to give myself a sense of purpose; I wasn’t too bad at school and got a sense of identity and pride by getting top of the class marks. This also gave me an excuse to eat as much as I wanted as I had ‘convinced’ myself I needed the brain power to perform academically, which had become my sole focus in life. I was able to make friends, however I could never sustain friendships; I was too caught up in myself, study, or whatever else I thought I had to achieve at the time.
Fast forward a few years; I continued to try ‘achieving’ or’ distracting’ to feel ‘ok’ in life. Two degrees, three TAFE certificates, global travelling, got married, brought a house, got a dog, and then got another dog. Things were definitely not great and so I thought it was the marriage so tried counseling for the marriage (not to mention counseling for myself for 7 years along with anti-depressants to no avail). Not to mention all the attempts to control my food, weight, and mood. The 1200-calorie diet, the 17-day diet, green tea pills, nail polish on nails, chewing 30 times per bite. Drinking one glass of water before a meal, one during and one after, hot lemon water in the morning, exercising 3x per day, sleeping instead of eating, inspirational posters, cognitive behavioral therapy, Opti-fast, protein supplements to try to reduce hunger, the 12WBT Michelle Bridges online program with support groups, weight watchers and so on.
Back to that day when I was 25 years old and was ‘done’ the thought crossed my mind… suicide versus hypnotism and at this time this was a serious contemplation. Gratefully a saner thought crossed my mind, and I sent a text to my sister saying I was done and what should I do. She suggested I attend a 12 Step food fellowship program, like Alcoholics Anonymous. This baffled me; I had never heard of 12 Step programs. I was so beat down and willing to try anything, so I looked online and found contact details for Recovery from Food Addiction (RFA) one of the 12 Step food fellowships. I attended and cried my whole first meeting as I felt these people too had experienced difficulty with their eating and weight. Over the next six months I went between every week to three weeks and spoke with a few people. However I was not abstinent, and I continued to have periods of going away on holidays and trying to eat normal like my friends, but I’d end up bingeing all the way home at least at five roadhouses in four hours –this did give me a bit more honesty and breaking the denial that I could ‘control’ what and when I ate.
It was whilst in RFA a fellow member told me ‘K-L’ (Dr Raymond) was flying in and presenting a one-day workshop about the disease of Processed Food Addiction. To be honest, I didn’t think much of this and what all the hype was about. I only agreed to go, as I was a people pleaser and didn’t have the courage to say no. At this workshop, the concept of the empty processed food addict syndrome was introduced to me. That being someone who has the substance of processed food down, however, has not grown emotional, mentally, physically, or spiritually AND as a result is in a place of more pain and distress as the substance that had some relief (albeit minimal by the end stages of my ingesting) was taken away. PLUS I was now feeling all these emotions processed food used to push down. Needless to say, I was so scared, petrified, and angry if I were honest. I thought shit – ingesting processed food is too painful and yet not ingesting I thought the emotional pain will only make the pain of feeling everything worse if I don’t take some serious action!!
I was encouraged at this time by an older member to talk with K-L after the workshop and find out about treating this addiction. I learnt treatment started out once a week and increased to therapy twice a week. I had to swallow my financial insecurity regarding the cost for treatment sessions however, in saying this I had no problems spending large amounts of money on other things such as Opti fast, Lite and Easy, Weight Loss Programs, Vitamins, shopping sprees to make myself feel better on things and so on I ‘had’ to have. Very gratefully I was able to follow this suggestion and not overthink it – I was desperate. From this time I commenced treatment with K-L as my Addictionologist typically two times a week.
Some questions you may have? What does treatment consist of? How long do you need therapy? What did K-L do differently that you couldn’t do in a 12 Step fellowship?
Well for myself working with K-L was initially on the phone consults, some video based consults and in the end face to face consults as well as periods of voluntary inpatient rehabilitation. How long the treatment is basically asking how long a piece of string is as I have since learnt that everyone is different depending on their chronicity of the disease, their age, their circumstances, etc. For me it has been a couple of years as my disease was severe and very acute in the early stages however started to progress rapidly into chronic. Treatment frequency has reduced now but in times of more acute need i.e. when getting divorced, moving, changing jobs I have asked for some more help. I have come to understand I will have this malady until I die similar to other chronic diseases. When I need help from a professional for my disease of addiction I make an appointment and seek it. Essentially you will get to know what you need (with time). For me, the main difference between fellowship and Dr Raymond is that she is a professional and this is her sole purpose treating addicts to get well. She is not there to be my friend or has other motives or lets me stay in denial. She tells me the truth when I am trying to justify something, person, or place. Ultimately she is not a family member etc. that is invested in my life that it matters if I get well or not, she is an addiction specialist providing a service that she is trained to do. Don’t get me wrong, she is warm and loving, however ultimately she will not enable me or people please or agree with what I (the disease) wants. The members in fellowship can’t do this as they are not able to say it down to the line as a professional can, nor have the understanding, professional education, and skills to know when the disease is active (empty processed food addict) and messing with my mind. Members also naturally want to be liked and are also there to focus on getting well themselves – I am not their priority, however in treatment with Dr Raymond I continue to experience that my recovery is her utmost priority.
The last three and a half years in recovery has been a vast transformation, even though at times it feels so slow and even sometimes I feel I am going backwards; ultimately it was two steps forward and one step back – I believe I would not have had this solely in 12 Step fellowships. I needed individualised professional help from an addictionologist (addiction specialist) who knew firsthand about the disease and wouldn’t dance around me, but just tell me how it is. I hated it and needed it at the same time!!!
Initially it was eliminating processed foods, convalescing, and then weaning off antidepressants. During this time Dr Raymond strongly encouraged me to seek and access the support of a 12 Step fellowship called Processed Food Anonymous (P.F.A.). I started calling other members, so I was not alone – I kept forgetting to reach out though as ‘I’ wanted to isolate. Over time I learnt to trust Dr Raymond, share my thoughts, and not keep them locked up inside me which used to always lead me to feeling more alone each day. I learnt how to make decisions (as I did not have a substance anesthetizing me anymore) and I was not paralysed by fear, perfectionism, low self-esteem. More things started to change as I was taking more responsibility at work and working a normal work week – I used to over work to get a sense of self. Today I treat people with respect – rather than what ‘I’ can get from them, whilst I am getting a greater understanding of who I am with an ability to stand on my own two feet and not unhealthily rely on other people, places, and things. I ended a marriage that was so dysfunctional and was formed around my disease of addiction – I found a way out (I was so unhappy, but my mind had convinced myself I had to stay).
To be succinct yes, many external things in my life have changed that were guided in treatment, (work, accommodation, family, relationships), HOWEVER, the main change I can express to you is increasing peace of mind. I can make decisions with increased ease today; I have reduced care if people do not like me today and I can genuinely care about other people and want to do nice things for others. I have respect for myself and others, I go to work with an attitude of service opposed to righteousness and pride. AND, most importantly when I feel emotions, I have a greater knowing of what to do with them and not act out in panic and anxiety. The daily feeling of suicide, anxiety (with heart numbness), and such dread when I wake up has left me albeit, at times these symptoms may drift in, but not for long. I have been restored to a hopeful state of body (urine incontinence mostly resolved that was stress based) and mind. I am forever grateful for the time and patience Dr Raymond has shown myself over these last few years and in my heart know my life would have been a very different trajectory if it have not been for treating my disease of processed food addiction with the professional help K-L provided.
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