Food addiction support group changed her life

By Nathaly Sierra

Valeria Johnson [not her real name], 35, joined the Food Addicts Anonymous group or FA when she was 19 years old. While her friends went to parties, drank, and stayed late, Johnson was trying to stay committed to her goal: overcoming binge eating.

“I had to be [operating by] a different clock, compared to other people,” Johnson said. She followed the FA’s program and made sure to make healthier choices regarding food choices, sleeping the recommended number of hours, and adhering to other strategies. 

Before joining FA, she lost some weight through exercise and dieting. However, Johnson’s binge eating problem began getting worse during her first year attending college. She recalls relying on low-calorie foods to avoid consuming many calories, which caused her many stomach issues.

Cover of the FA book, that explains all about the FA program, personal stories of members and more information about food addiction. | Photo by Food Addicts Anonymous

While majoring in psychology, Johnson learned all about eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, but not so much about binge eating or food addiction.

Still, she knew she had a problem. 

“I knew I had an issue with food,” Johnson said. 

Through family members, she found out about the non-profit organization Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous in 2014.

According to the FA’s website, their purpose is to help people by guiding them towards recovery and teaching them better ways to nourish themselves, with the help of counseling, literature, and meditation. 

People who join this program commit themselves to completely avoiding foods containing flour and sugar. With the help of a sponsor, they can communicate what their journey being abstinent has been like, their struggles, and achievements.

“I had to get to a point where I was really desperate to be willing to do the program,” said Johnson after she realized the level of commitment involved.

Like Johnson, an estimated 2.8 million people struggle with binge eating in the United States, according to a national survey by the National Eating Disorder Organization (NEDA).

According to NEDA, a patient suffers from binge eating when they eat large quantities of food in a short period of time, often to the point when it is uncomfortable for them. Other characteristics people with this disorder present are eating faster than usual, eating when not hungry, eating alone to avoid feeling judged, and feeling guilty after binge eating.

Binge eating disorder was formally recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in 2013. Prior to that, many people could not get the proper treatment for this eating disorder covered by their insurance because the DSM-5 did not recognize it.

The Mayo Clinic reports that the risk of binge eating disorder can increase, depending on genetics, biological factors, dieting, and psychological issues.

Issues addressed at the FA meetings according to a FA survey in 2016.
| Photo by Food Addicts Anonymous

Women have a higher risk of suffering from this disorder, which is more common in early adulthood.

Although the exact cause of binge eating disorder is unknown yet, a study by The Obesity Society determined that dopamine levels in the brain could be a reason. Higher levels of dopamine can cause a person to have almost no control over their cravings and increase the enjoyment of certain foods.

Some complications of binge eating are obesity, poor quality of life, social isolation, and other problems related to health, such as diabetes, and sleep-breathing disorders.

It is recommended that people with binge eating episodes seek the help of a professional, family, or someone close to them.

According to the National Health Service, binge eating can be treated through therapy and working with a healthcare professional who can monitor recovery. Counseling groups, such as FA, can also help with this disorder. 

Antidepressants should be administered by a professional only if it helps the patient deal with other conditions such as anxiety or depression, which can intervene in the treatment process, experts say. 

Today, Johnson believes she overcame binge eating disorder because she reached out for help and was willing to change her lifestyle.

Benefits members of FA have experienced after following the program according to a FA survey in 2016. | Photo by Food Addicts Anonymous

“Having the support from somebody else really helped me,” Johnson said. 

Through FA, Johnson connected with a sponsor that guided her through the process of dealing with food addiction. In the beginning, she contacted her sponsor daily and talked about what she had eaten for the day.

Now, Johnson feels she has more control over her eating habits and does not talk to her sponsor that often, but still attends meetings and tries to follow the food program. She believes having a meal plan, rules to follow, and a person to talk to was of great help in her journey.

Johnson also commented how the COVID-19 pandemic affected her. She is thankful for the FA program because it allowed her to continue her healthy habits despite the stress brought on by the pandemic and being in quarantine for months.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, FA meetings are now held online, with members from all over the country sharing their personal experiences.

“I have never been more grateful to be abstinent because thinking of what that could have been like scares me,” Johnson said. 

Contact Nathaly Sierra at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu.

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