While more than one-third of American adults are considered obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is just one possible symptom of the more complex issue of food addiction.
Food addiction can show itself through symptoms ranging from tolerance and withdrawal to allowing the substance use to affect other activities and neglecting the consequences, according to “Symposium Overview—Food Addiction: Fact or Fiction?” from The Journal of Nutrition.
While food addiction and drug addiction have different aspects, the authors Rebecca L. Corwin and Patricia S. Grigson state that brain activity in food addiction is similar to that in drug addiction, in which a particular substance triggers the addiction.
Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous is a free, international, recovery-based program that models itself after the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the FARA website.
Three members of the Ithaca community — Audrey*, Ria*,Ithaca College employees, and Joy*, a senior at the college — each shared details of their stories and how the program has been helpful for them.
Meetings are available in most cities, and attendees are encouraged to find a sponsor if they decide to officially join, according to the website. While there are not meetings held within the college, there are meetings held throughout the week in Ithaca for any interested students and community members.
Audrey recalled her struggles from as far back as when she was 3 years old, when she was sneaking food and didn’t realize it was wrong, she said. She said she would always go to friends’ houses where food was available, which became a large part of her life.
“Food would somehow be the center of any activity,” she said. “It would be forefront in my mind. For so many years of my life food was a major focus, and when I became a teenager I started putting on weight.”
Audrey said she has now lost 50 pounds since joining FARA.
Joy’s struggles also began when she was young. She said her obsession with being thin began in middle school, when she began to realize how much more she was eating than other girls her age.
“My food addiction led me to doing things that I really never imagined myself doing that was harmful to my body and mental health,” she said.
Joy said she started her journey to relief at the college by speaking to a counselor at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, who helped her learn about her behaviors and identify the problem. Through CAPS, Joy said she learned about FARA. After six months, she finally attended her first meeting in search of someone she could relate to, she said.
Julia Lapp, associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, said food addictions are more widespread in women than men and can lead to other potential disorders.
“The big problem is overconsumption of calories and, of course, if the addiction lapses into an eating disorder — bulimia or anorexia,” she said.
Ria said she has been struggling with food addiction since the age of about 10 or 11. Now 60 years old, she said she decided to join FARA 16 years ago when there was nothing else she could do about her addiction.
“I was at the end of my rope with trying every conceivable way to stop binging,” she said. “I would eat till it hurt and then eat some more. I did that interspersed with a lot of dieting and a lot of attempts to control.”
Joy said since joining FARA, she has become an all-around better person.
“I would have never thought that recovery from food addiction could make me a better student and a better employee and a better friend and daughter, but it really has affected every area of my life more positively than I could have ever imagined possible,” Joy said.
Audrey said many people are unaware of the severity of a food addiction and don’t realize that it’s a real disease.
“I think that people who don’t understand food addictions don’t believe that it’s a real thing,” she said. “I’ve had people joke with me about ‘Oh, come on, you can have a cookie.’ But I can’t. I can’t eat one cookie. I won’t stop.”
Joy said members of FARA are trying to get the word out about the program. They plan to reach out to the college’s health department professors and local doctors’ offices to help teach young people about the program.
Audrey said her journey was so successful it was as if she could see clearly after years of being blinded.
“I felt like a fog lifted that was over my head all of my life,” she said. “I never remembered not having the fog, and all of a sudden it lifted and it was clear. I just felt lighter, like I had a bounce in my step and a smile on my face, and people noticed.”
*Some names in this article have been changed to protect anonymity.