Hi, I am a processed food addict. This means I have an allergy to processed food. When I ingest it, I develop a physical craving plus a mental obsession to ingest more, to binge until I can’t keep going. When my disease is active, I obsess about how I can get more processed food, how to hide more to eat later, how I can isolate to eat it, and so on. The cravings feel like hunger, and the obsession compels me to binge long after I am full, when I don’t want the food, when I feel miserable or have aches and pains, when tired, excited, nervous, anxious, or frightened – or when I don’t want to feel at all. Normal eaters do it sometimes, binge on chocolate, ice-cream, pizza etc. in front of TV or reading a book, they drown their sorrows or blot out the world for a while. But afterwards they stop and get on with their life. I don’t, I just keep going.
This obsession also compels me to eat when excited, happy or celebrating. And did I mention bored? Cold? Hot? Sad? To put me to sleep or wake me up after a nap? I regularly ingested to the point of oblivion, rested, then got up to ingest more. I pulled food out of the rubbish bin where I’d thrown it in disgust, never to eat another crumb, yet there I would be, scraping off dish liquid or something else I’d put on it, thinking that it would stop me. It didn’t. I tried vomiting but having a cast iron gut, it never worked. I fantasised about being called ‘bulimic or anorexic’, just for a while, to lose my weight – that meant I could ‘control’ my weight. Thank God neither happened. My addiction drove me, I had no power over it, no willpower at all. For other things I have an enormous amount of willpower, but there is no normal functioning of the will power where addiction is concerned. I went anywhere and did anything to get a fix. I stole at home and at work, manipulated situations and people to suit my needs, nothing was sacred. Maybe this sounds crazy and far-fetched to you, maybe not. If you identify at all, you may be one of us.
Was I always like that? I suspect so – without even knowing it; at eight I remember standing in our pantry in the dark, sneaking and eating bikkies out of the tin. I was filled with shame and fear of being caught but I had to do it. I wasn’t a fat child – but thought I was. At 13 I got teased about my “punga stump” legs which started decades of yo-yo dieting using pills, exercise, fasting, weight-loss groups, all types of therapy, even subliminal tapes. Little did I know I had no weight problem – that instead I was in the grips of a disease about which I had no idea. I was attractive and well-liked, had good jobs, paid my bills, got on with friends and family who accepted my weight fluctuations and efforts to control it. All I wanted was to eat normally and stop when I wanted, to eat how I wanted and not get fat! At my heaviest I was 100kg (220 lbs) I’m 5’4” or 163cm and I thought I was an elephant. My head drove me … always wanting to be thinner. I also tried, gyms, books, massage, acupuncture, herbs, drugs, alcohol, and sex. I spoke to counsellors, psychologists, and a psychiatrist, none helped as none of them had experience in active processed food addiction, they didn’t understand and didn’t have a solution for my problem other offering control approaches – trying to change my behaviours and my thinking – to no avail – long term with any peace of mind. Food still continued to ‘rule’ over me.
In 1992 I joined the first of five twelve-step food fellowships I spasmodically attended. They helped me learn the value of support; the twelve steps and twelve traditions; and a spiritual way of living -but not how to live without a substance. Addiction wasn’t mentioned in the early days. I spent my time struggling to abstain, watching the scales, craving dreadfully as was I drip-feeding my disease with allotted portions of processed food on whatever food-plan I was following, subliminally awaiting the day I could ingest again, and never gaining the serenity and peace of mind that I saw others had in these programs (A.A). This continued until 2014 when I was introduced to Karren-Lee (K-L) Dr Raymond of K-L A Addictionology. She was based in Brisbane, Queensland Australia. I lived in Perth, Western Australia and this was the start of my recovery from the disease of Processed Food Addiction.
I did twice weekly sessions with K-L by Skype for two years. I learnt how my brain had been hijacked for years, how my life was very unmanageable, and that I was a sick person not a bad person or a glutton. I eliminated all processed food including alcohol. I have an alcoholic mind and did some dangerous and unhealthy things when drunk. K-L challenged my disease and not only treated me for my addiction but also used her life experience to help me understand how my disease plays out. For years I wanted to speak to a professional who knew how I felt, understood what I did, but most of all, had actual, live experience of what I was going through… living with the disease of processed food addiction And now recovered!
In treatment I suffered the withdrawals associated with eliminating all processed foods and addictive substances. There was emotional upheaval, exhaustion, grieving, whilst learning to accept I have a chronic illness. Treating this disease is no different to treating heart disease, cancer, or diabetes – except our prognosis is often far more robust in the physical and mental health realms than we had before treating our disease! This is certainly my experience. I have a friend with cystic fibrosis. A double lung transplant recipient, she will take a piles of tablets before eating until she dies; regularly attend hospital for treatment; and do many other things daily to keep her disease in remission. My disease is as serious to me. In early treatment I convalesced, got used to the changes, had the support I needed. I abstained from processed food and joined Processed Food Anonymous (P.F.A.) , a 12step program specifically for processed food addicts. Things went quite well for three years.
Unfortunately, after this time I got complacent and was not growing spiritually. Addiction recovery requires a complete lifestyle change. I must think, act, and do that which I couldn’t do when in active addiction. Impossible by my own unaided will I had to put my faith into a power greater than me to enable a psychic change to take place, to enable me to do those things.I needed to be willing to go to any lengths to recover and stay recovered. I thought I had done this, but pride took over. I was getting very egotistical and controlling, was starting to think my disease wasn’t that serious, was using tiny bits of non-processed food outside of the amounts we eat for our nutritional needs, and not telling anyone about it. I also didn’t want to follow suggestions Dr Raymond had made regarding changing my living arrangements. I relapsed in early 2018, stopped treatment and suffered terribly for six months. After this I regained abstinence, started treatment again – then repeated the same pattern leading up to July 2020.
Early in July 2020 I finally admitted that I wasn’t abstinent, (this disease is not only cunning, powerful and baffling, but very, very, subtle), the use of extra non-processed food had eroded my serenity, I was being dishonest, and my brain had been getting a kick from it. I was headed for a binge. I was still in contact with an ex-partner who was supposedly out of my life, and I was interacting with a married man – dangerous behaviour me. Each of us has our own gateways to addiction and mine are dishonesty, sex, and relationships. I thought I was a sex addict because I was so promiscuous but learned that acting out sexually and having inappropriate relationships were merely a gateway to the Real Deal – they always led me back to ingesting. Because I used processed food to cope with life, I never grew up emotionally. My sex and social instincts were out of kilter and in situations where a non-addict would make mistakes, learn, adjust, do different next time, I would instead eat, feel nothing, moved on, learn nothing, repeat. So, in July 2020 I was jumping onto that crazy merry-go-round again. I had relapsed twice in the past six years and was acting out again. I was, baffled, frustrated, scared, disgusted, and disappointed with myself. I wasn’t a bad person, or wrong, I was sick. I knew that and had reached rock-bottom, I needed help.
On the 15 July 2020 I moved from Perth to Brisbane for face-to-face intensive outpatient treatment with Dr Raymond, leaving my home, job, family, friends, lovers, ex-partners, social groups, and work mates. I came to get clean and treat my disease, to learn to trust my higher power (whom I call God) and to abstain from using substances, people, things, and activities to get me through life. In short, for A WHOLE NEW LIFESTYLE as outlined in the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous and guided by Dr Raymond as a part of her treatment approach when treating processed food addiction. There is a larger group of recovered processed food addicts here, and we attend P.F.A. meetings together, spend time together outside of fellowship, whilst helping each other out. I also attend A.A. meetings.
Today I am comfortable being substance free, as today I live life without using anything. I don’t crave processed food or desire to ingest more than is required for my body. I avoid relationships with people who enable my disease; I trust and rely on other recovered addicts; but most of all I trust and rely on God as I understand him. Moving here required a period of convalescence, to grieve the loss of my old life and get used to the new. Last week I stopped interacting with a potential lover I had “shelved” before coming to Brisbane. It took me four months to get honest about them, my denial and dishonesty are so strong. I finally understand and accept I can’t interact with someone on that level until I can do so in a healthy way that won’t take me back into active addiction and dysfunctional relationships.
I am slowly starting to do service in my 12 Step fellowship, and to help others instead of constantly thinking about myself and what I want to do. I am seeking part time work whilst completing a Cert III in Health Administration, God willing this will be the first qualification I have ever finished. I couldn’t do it before as was in a food-induced brain-fog most of my life. I never finished anything.
My body has been a healthy weight for a few years now and I’m fit and strong. I wear dresses for the first time since my early 30’s… they are so much cooler than pants! My thighs don’t rub and cause a rash (yippee) and my feet don’t hurt all the time, but best of all – my head is not driving me insane with the desire to ingest processed food, or to not ingest it.
My disease is in remission today, I haven’t ingested processed food itself for nearly two years, but I continue working regularly with K-L as am still in early recovery. It’s not just a physical disease, I have work to do around my basic instincts, about the curious mental twist that will come one day encouraging me to ingest processed food. It’s difficult to duck and weave, lie and justify when confronted with a professional sitting nearby who knows the disease of processed food addiction inside out as well as my life story and my weaknesses. K-L may seem unconventional at times, with her approach of honesty and calling the disease for what it is – she does not pander to my denial either OUCH!
I spent years in denial and did not want to ‘accept’ I was a processed food addict, but this is a complicated, tenacious, and relentless disease which manifests differently in all of us. It needs someone tenacious and relentless to approach it and open our minds to it, but who is also kind, understanding, and knowledgeable, with I believe a gift to be able to speak from their own experience. I value that very much.
Over time treatment sessions will drop off. As with other chronic diseases, I should only need to attend for check-ups or if there should be a flare-up of symptoms or disease-related problems that I need to discuss and address. I’m 61 and growing up, am excited about my new life! And about what the future may bring…
I thank God every day that someone understands – for specialist treatment and the resources we have available for the processed food addict today – actually for everything and everyone I have in my life today. Grateful.
Full name and home address supplied.