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50 posts categorized "Food Addiction"


Identifying Your Addictive Foods

Similar to emotional eating, treating food addiction involves a therapeutic process of gaining insight and awareness into unresolved emotional issues. Besides that, the food addict must also identify and stop eating the foods he or she is addicted to.

A food journal can be a valuable tool in this process. Try writing down the foods you're eating, as well as your thoughts and feelings before and after eating. You'll also want to record your physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, hunger, pain, irritability and anxiety.

After a week or so, reading back over your answers is bound to reveal some patterns. For more clarity, support and guidance, bring your food journal to a therapy session or an appointment with a dietician who specializes in food addiction (contact us for referrals).

Here are three questions that may help you hone in on foods that are addictive for you:

  1. While I'm eating this food item, am I already thinking about the next time I will eat it?
  2. When I finish eating this food item, do I feel a sense of loss or panic because it's gone?
  3. Do I think about this food item many times through the day?

For a more comprehensive food addiction assessment, click here to take the Yale University Food Addiction Scale.


Jane's Story of Food Addiction

All her life, Jane noticed that other people around didn't seem to look at food the same way she did. While she waited all day for school to be over so she could come home and snack (usually right up until dinner), other kids hung out with friends, worked in the library or played sports.

While her sister would have her Halloween candy in her desk drawer for months (and Jane knew, because she would sneak in there and eat some – but never enough to be noticed), Jane's was usually gone in just a few days.

When she grew older and started to be more conscious of her weight and appearance, Jane tried diet after diet to slim down and get some control over her eating. She would diligently follow all the rules, and then after awhile she would reward herself with a treat for being so "good." That little taste of whatever it was would set off a whirlwind pattern: eating, hiding what she was eating, scheming about how she could eat more, and feeling a deep sense of shame for having blown another diet.

When one of her co-workers was hospitalized for medical complications due to alcoholism, Jane actually envied him, wishing someone would lock her up to keep her away from her "treats." She had no idea that she was dealing with a condition just as debilitating and pervasive as alcoholism. That, in fact, certain foods triggered an alcoholic response in her body – once she started with them, she couldn't stop. Jane was a food addict. Are you?


You Can't Heal Food Addiction by Treating Emotional Eating

Not everyone with a compulsive or emotional eating disorder is a food addict. There are many people who can heal their emotional issues with food without ever having to acknowledge or give up an unhealthy relationship with a specific food or type of food.

And for others, those foods can be as problematic as alcohol is to the alcoholic. Even one bite can set off a chain of physical, biochemical reactions in the brain and body.

While a food addict may have as many unresolved emotional issues to work through as the emotional eater, a food addict also has to deal with the physical dependence. Though some people (including professionals) are unsure or uninformed about the theory of food addiction, research has shown that some foods, including sugar, can be just as addictive and harmful as other serious drugs.

Dr. Mark Gold, head of psychiatry at University of Florida in Gainsville, has done a lot of work in food addiction research, along with many others.

It's not as simple of identifying yourself as either an emotional eater or a food addict. In some cases, you might not know the food addiction is there until you start to unravel the emotional problems. As a first step, you might review this self-assessment created at Yale University:

Another challenge is that while most therapists are equipped to deal with emotional eating, very few therapists have the training and understanding to treat food addiction. That is a specialty here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, and we take a highly individualized approach to support people through the process of identifying the true nature of their food issues.

We are also beginning to train our interns in this area, as well as enlightening other students and therapists with our seminars and presentations.

It's not easy to face addiction – once you "put the food down" (stop eating the food you're addicted to), more emotions can come up and you may even feel a sense of loss from giving them up (you can contact us for more details about our "Grief, Loss and Food" workshop).

On the other hand, it can be validating to realize that your compulsion around food is not due to a lack of willpower; it's a chemical reaction that's the same as gluten or lactose intolerance. And that can be a real relief after struggling for so long.


Resources for Your Haven at Home

Many people believe that there is a direct correlation between food addiction and clutter – it's that disease of "more." If you're struggling with clutter or just want more suggestions for how to make your home a haven, these resources may help:

Marla Cilley, AKA "Fly Lady" is an expert at helping "sidetracked home executives" take baby steps towards achieving a clean and orderly home. Visit her site at for many helpful resources and tips.

Clutterers Anonymous is a 12-step program that addresses the specific issue of clutter. You can visit their website for more information.

Here is a list of books from my own personal bookshelf:

  • The Emotional House: How Redesigning Your Home Can Change Your Life by Dawn Ritchie and Kathryn L. Robyn
  • Spiritual Housecleaning: Healing the Space Within by Beautifying the Space Around You by Kathryn L. Robyn
  • Shelter for the Spirit: Create Your Own Haven in a Hectic World by Victoria Moran
  • Spirit of the Home: How to Make Your Home a Sanctuary by Jane Alexander
  • Reinventing Home: Six Working Women Look at Their Home Lives by Laurie Abraham; Mary Beth Danielson

One last resource is bestselling author Karen Kingston, an expert in Space Clearing, the feng shui art of clearing energies in buildings. You can get free tips on her blog, or check out her book.


Make Your Home a Haven, One Room at a Time

Last week I mentioned that "if your emotions are feeling chaotic and cluttered, you may also be expressing that by letting dishes and mail pile up, not taking care of your clothes, or not keeping up with regular cleaning. That can start a vicious cycle."

Housework can seem overwhelming, and you may not look forward to the task because you're convinced that it's just boring drudgery.

Maybe a change of mindset is in order! Have you ever noticed that being near a body of water can feel calming, and even spiritual? Maybe you find the same effect by just sitting and watching the rain. Why not see if you can find that same spiritual connection when you do household chores with water (washing dishes, mopping).

Other people find it absolutely meditative to do things like knitting or needlepoint. They lose themselves in the repetitive motions – the end result is almost a bonus! Housework can have a similar effect. And in the case of housework, the end result is a clean, orderly haven that will promote your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellness.

If you're feeling overwhelmed or just plain unmotivated, try setting a date to have a friend over. Now you have extra incentive – and a due date – to make your home a welcoming place. And you'll get the extra bonus of a social connection.

My final, most important suggestion is that you start small. Instead of thinking about how you have to "clean the house" or "get rid of all your clutter," plan to just tidy up the kitchen counter, or vacuum one of the bedrooms. Enjoy the feeling of gratification from completing that task, and then move on to your next one.

Next week, I'll send some helpful resources that will help you make your home a haven. If you're interested in attending a workshop on this topic, please visit to request the details.


Your Home is Where Your Recovery Lives

In last week's introduction to this topic, I mentioned that "as important as it is to do the inner work of healing from an eating disorder or food addiction, the physical environment around us can go a long way to establish and protect our serenity."

When you look around your home right now, does your outside environment match your inside environment?

Sometimes that match is not always a positive or helpful thing. For example, if your emotions are feeling chaotic and cluttered, you may also be expressing that by letting dishes and mail pile up, not taking care of your clothes, or not keeping up with regular cleaning. That can start a vicious cycle.

I suggest that you start thinking of your home as an expression not only of who you are, but also who you want to be. If you're looking to attract more order and calm into your life, you could start by tidying up your home and giving it a sense of order. If you're looking for more peace, you could choose sounds, colors and items that make you feel peaceful, and eliminate or relocate the things that rob you of your peace of mind. You don't need to be a design professional, just ask yourself which colors make you feel peaceful and wonderful.

Or you may be going through the opposite scenario, dealing with depression and lowered mood and energy. In your case, you may want to bring in colors that have more energy and passion – even if they're just used as accents (pillows, art work, etc.).

And as you grow, change and progress in your recovery, your home can evolve with you. Inexpensive changes like a fresh coat of paint, moving furniture around or updating your accessories can make a big difference.

For compulsive overeaters, anorexics, bulimics and food addicts, the kitchen is a very important room of the house. Though it's often the source of anxiety, there can be mixed emotions as well. Take an objective look at your kitchen, and consider how you could make a more pleasant, peaceful place to be. What would make eating at home a more enjoyable experience? What tools would make it easier to cook healthy meals?

Challenge yourself to eat more meals at home, and to fall in love with your own cooking!

Do you share your space with a spouse, children or roommate? Even though you may not have control over the entire house, you can still create a mini-sanctuary in a dressing room, guest room, or even a corner of the living room or bedroom where you have a comfy chair, inspirational books and your journal.

These home updates don't have to happen all at once. Next week, I'll share a new approach to housework and decluttering that will make it easier to start and to keep going at your own pace. Then later this month, I'll send along more resources that will help you create a haven in your home. We're also planning a workshop on this topic. If you would like to attend, please visit to request the details.


Is Your Home a Haven?

In this stressful world, we all need a haven. And for many of us, the home can be that place. As important as it is to do the inner work of healing from an eating disorder or food addiction, the physical environment around us can go a long way to establish and protect our serenity.

I'm someone who happens to be influenced by my surroundings. I make very conscious choices about things like lighting, color, flow and furniture placement. When it's feels right, I feel calm and peaceful in my home. When it's not bringing me the serenity I relish, it can be somewhat jarring or even unsettling.

In fact, my first career was helping people design their comfortable and soothing home. I worked with each individual or family to pull together the right combination of elements that would give them a haven at the end of the day.

Though I no longer provide this as a professional service, I'm still passionate about designing peaceful spaces. I loved being able to do this at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, creating a welcoming and comfortable space where our clients can feel safe and supported.

We'll be exploring the theme of "the home as a haven" for the rest of the month. Feel free to send your comments or questions – I'd love to hear from you. We're also planning a workshop on this topic. If you would like to attend, please visit to request the details.


You Can't Lie to Your Journal

In a previous article, I wrote about how journaling can help you choose the right tools for your recovery. Of course journaling is a powerful tool in its own right. It's very difficult to lie to yourself when you're writing. There's something about putting pen to paper that always brings out the truth.
If you've been getting complacent with your recovery, your journal will start to reveal if you're headed towards relapse. Here are a few suggestions to make sure you get these important messages:
  • Keep writing, even when you don't feel like it. Start with "I don't feel like writing today..." and see where it takes you.
  • Read your journal entries to your therapist, support group or a trusted friend or family member. You'll get an outside perspective and they may recognize the warning signs before you do.
  • Re-read your own entries. You may see patterns, such as more negative thoughts or particular issues coming up day after day.
For additional free journaling tips, download the Therapist at Home e-book from our website. You may also benefit from the spirit of change 21-day journaling course. A new lesson is delivered by email every day for 21 days, but you're welcome to go at your own pace.
As we learned from Beth's story, even when you're doing many of the right things in your recovery, relapse can sneak up on you – especially if you're lying to yourself about what's going on. Keep talking to your journal and the truth will come out.



Upcoming Groups and Workshops - New Starts and Ideas

Upcoming Groups and Workshops will help you get a jump start in your personal growth process.  Click here to view and download your own printable copyTell us what you think of the new workshops - let us also know what interests YOU!


The Danger of Easy Recovery – Beth's Story

Beth (not her real name) had been recovering from a compulsive eating disorder for eight months. She visited her therapist once a week, attended 12-step program meetings, and wrote diligently in her journal every single evening. She was gaining more confidence eating in public settings, and was usually able to speak up and ask for what she needed, whether that was specific foods, or extra support.
Things were going so well that she didn't want to rock the boat by paying too much attention to a few niggling thoughts in the back of her mind. For example, she was feeling really nervous about starting a new role at work. Sometimes when she started thinking about it, her thoughts would spiral down until she felt so low she wondered if an extra helping at dinner or a sweet treat might make her feel better.
She'd heard the word "relapse" and the idea terrified her. So much that she didn't even want to mention her worries to her therapist or anyone else in her support network. She thought that talking about it might make it happen. She was probably just being dramatic.
Two weeks later, Beth was in a full-blown relapse, wondering, "How did this happen? Things were going so well!"
At the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we hear from many people who let their guard down and then fell into a relapse situation.
You never actually "graduate" from a recovery program, because life will continue to present new challenges that you must go through without sinking back into your compulsive behaviors. But you can pursue more intensive "graduate-level" recovery activities.
Your goal is to constantly strive for your next level of recovery, and to always be on the lookout for anything that could threaten your new way of life.
Learn from Beth's experience – talk about your troubles and don't stop working on your recovery. That way you can avoid relapse before it starts.


10 Ways to Take Your Recovery to the Next Level

StairsWhether you're just starting to address your food issues, or you've already had some healing from eating disorders and food addiction, there is always a next level of recovery to be reaching for.
The truth is that if you get stuck in a rut in your recovery, it puts you in real danger of relapse. It's crucial to keep taking actions and work constructively on finding new solutions to your daily issues – because life will always bring new challenges.
"90 in 90" is a technique that people in 12-step programs use – they attend 90 meetings in 90 days, striving for one meeting per day (but sometimes doubling up). This method of enveloping yourself in recovery has a powerful impact. If you're new, it's an intense introduction to the 12-step way of life. If you're floundering, it's a fresh infusion of experience, strength and hope for dealing with the struggles of food addiction.
Compare that to someone who dips a toe into recovery once a week – maybe at a therapy session, group or 12-step meeting. That's still a strong commitment and a wonderful act of self-care, but what happens in between?
If you've stopped gaining new insights from your journaling, if you're struggling to stay clean with your food, or if you're just feeling stuck in your recovery, it's time to take that next step. Here are just a few possibilities to consider: 
  1. Group work – Join a support group of people who are dealing with similar issues. If you're already in a group, try adding a second one.
  2. 90 in 90 – If you're in a 12-step program, try the "90 in 90" approach.
  3. Food log – Share your food log with someone every day as a way of staying accountable and honest with yourself.
  4. Shared meals – Find a safe and supportive place to prepare and eat healthy meals. Ask a friend or family member (you may even want to move in for a short time), or see if your treatment center or counselling center can dedicate a space for this purpose. 
  5. Inpatient care – There is something very powerful about surrendering your day-to-day responsibilities and putting yourself in the care of healing professionals.
  6. Intensive therapy – If you're doing one therapy session per week, consider upping that to two or three sessions.
  7. Support team – Add people to your support team. This will probably be a mix of professionals, friends and family. Make more calls, schedule more visits and ask for the support you need.
  8. Community service – Volunteering to help others is a way to focus on something other than your food issues.
  9. Creative expression – Write stories, poems or your own life story. Make music or art. These pursuits can be very therapeutic and personally fulfilling.
  10. Sharing your story – At the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we host events called "Living Room Stories." Sharing your experience can be healing and validating for you as well as very important for those who need to hear about your successes.
If things are going well in your recovery, you may be thinking you don't have to worry about any of this. Why rock the boat? It can be painful to keep pushing through every new issue that is revealed. It can leave you feeling raw and vulnerable.

Keep going up those steps. It's worth it. The amount of effort you put into your recovery will determine the level of relief you get from your eating disorder and food addiction. And don't forget – there are people who can help you walk through this tough stuff. 


Tools only work if you're ready to use them

I've noticed a pattern in my therapy practice over the years, where there will be an influx of people flocking to the Center in search of tools – the right food plan, exercise plan, journaling method, etc. that's going to deliver freedom from food addiction and eating disorders.

"Just give me the answer!"

We understand and empathize with the desperation. Sometimes it comes from an imminent physical crisis, such as a doctor warning about diabetes, hip surgery, heart failure or other serious health effects of eating disorder behaviors. Other times there's an internal motivation to change, yet the strong desire for a quick and easy solution.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, food addiction and compulsive overeating, entering into therapy may open up a hidden wound or make you feel a little more vulnerable. Your emotional symptoms can even increase for a little while. This is the nature of recovery – it's an up and down process.

Using tools can bring up feelings or emotions or memories you may not have known were in there. And that can start a destructive cycle of wanting to use your eating disorder behaviors again to shut those feelings down.

Before you can make the best use of any tool, you need to want to and be able to change; there's a readiness level that has to be there. In the therapy process we work on the issues that are blocking that readiness, so we can clear them away and get to that "1st step" (admitting your powerlessness over your problem).

As we mentioned in a previous article about denial, one tool that we use is motivational interviewing. This is a form of questioning that challenges how you're thinking and introduces a new way of thinking. We know how difficult this can be, and we approach the process with much compassion.

When tools are presented as part of a therapy process, we can help people walk through these changes. Because we've had the experience of witnessing many people get through it, we can share those examples with you and reinforce the possibility of recovery.

It's also important that people learn how to apply specifically to their situation, rather than just take a tool and run with it. While one person may find relief by replacing their compulsive overeating with a new habit such as gardening, for someone else that wouldn't work at all.

Joining a therapy group is one of the most helpful ways to learn about tools because you hear other people's experiences and suggestions. And in turn, you can help someone else the same way. Plus, you'll have the support of the therapeutic process to help you address whatever may be blocking your readiness, and then to help personalize the tool to your specific situation.


Seeing The Truth

In previous articles, we've been looking at the issue of denial. Denial is one of several defense mechanisms we all find ourselves using, even if we're not aware of it. When we use a defense mechanism, we are trying to protect ourselves from unpleasant emotions and feelings.
Although on the surface this sounds like a good thing, this tactic works against us by keeping us from seeing things as they truly are, effectively addressing our problems and issues, and moving forward with our lives in a positive way.
Some of the most frequently used defense mechanisms in individuals with eating disorders are rationalization, projection and denial.
When we use rationalization in relation to food, we use a plausible excuse to justify our behavior. ("Although I planned it, I didn’t eat that snack because I knew I was going to eat again in three hours!")
Projection is when we assign our own thoughts, feelings or motives to another person, e.g., accusing a co-worker of being angry at you rather than recognizing your own anger.
Denial, the most common defense mechanism, is when we completely reject that we have a thought or feeling, or that we are engaging in a specific behavior. ("It wasn't me who ate all the ____________”! or “I am training for the triathlon only because I can have structured workouts with a group and not be exercising alone in my house”.)
Reducing the use of defense mechanisms helps us to engage in the process of personal growth. As we rely less on defense mechanisms, we become more in touch with ourselves. We begin to increase our awareness of our thoughts and feelings and develop a healthy acceptance of those thoughts and feelings. We become less critical and judgmental of ourselves, and learn to develop a repertoire of coping strategies that, in the long run, serve us much better than our defense mechanisms. Aside from connecting better with ourselves, we also connect more with others, and that's a very good thing! 


Who does your addiction hurt?

This month we're looking at denial, a big issue for people with all types of addictions, including food addiction and eating disorders.
Denial in relationships

Addicts often think their behavior is invisible to others. It's like how little kids play peek-a-boo. They think that as soon as they cover their eyes, we can't see them, either. Dogs will do the same thing – as soon as they turn away from you, they'll try and get away with stuff they shouldn't be doing because they think they've turned invisible.
There's an expression that food addicts and those with eating disorders "wear" their disease. Whether it's excess weight, dull eyes and complexion, swollen glands or a sad expression, there's not much about the effects of an eating disorder that are hidden – especially to the people closest to them.
Food addicts and emotional eaters may also be in denial about how their addiction impacts the other people in their lives. These disorders affect everyone in the family. And that's a sad fact to face.
Breaking through the denial
Overcoming denial is one of the first steps of recovery – sometimes people address it before they even make the call to come and see us. Yet breaking through denial is like peeling an onion.
For someone who's always been a "good girl," it can be shocking to realize that you're lying about what you're eating, how much you're eating, or what you're doing with food and exercise. Or maybe it's something else – like shopping, over-spending, or people-pleasing.
While only the person with the problem can face the denial and make that breakthrough, there are some strategies that we use in therapy to help make that happen.
Motivational interviewing is a form of questioning that confronts the way someone is thinking, and provides evidence for a new way of thinking. For example, addicts can easily get caught up in "all or nothing" thinking. In that case, the therapist can point out options in the middle area, which the person may not even have considered.
Groups are an excellent way to pierce the denial, because you'll hear other people say they have a problem. If you can relate to what they've shared, it may open your mind to acknowledging that you have the problem as well. You'll also be able to support other people and witness as they get through their denial as well.
Is there something you've been denying to yourself or others? Is it time to break through?


Are you lying to yourself?


Denial leads to relapse
Have you ever heard the expression, "Denial is not a river in Egypt"? It's also the name of a funny book of sayings for people in recovery, and denial is the theme of this month's blog posts.
Alcoholics will often minimize their consumption and say they're drinking less than they actually are. Meanwhile, because of the changes that happen in brain chemistry in addicts, the more they drink the more they need to drink in order to feel normal, let alone good.
The exact same thing happens in people with food and weight obsession. Whether it's how long they exercise or how much they eat (either restricting or overeating), they need more and more of the behavior – but will still under-report what they're actually doing. Tolerance continues to grow, and so does denial, until soon they're in full-blown food addiction. Usually, it's someone else who recognizes it before the person with the food addiction – a friend or counselor may be the one to point it out.
Complacency is a form of denial
People get excited and enthusiastic at the beginning of the recovery process. They're in therapy, a support group or a 12-step program, and they're taking actions. Inevitably, something happens in life, or they just wake up a little tired one day, or that "high" of early recovery wears off and they become complacent.
Complacency becomes a form of denial. In addiction recovery, we talk about something called euphoric recall – people dwell on remembering the "good old days" of indulging in their addiction, and completely deny that there were any harmful, unpleasant or life-threatening effects.
Being in recovery can seem boring compared to a fantasy of life with excess food. That's why in 12-step recovery, the first step is often to write out a history of all of the ways that food, weight obsession, over-exercising, etc. made your life unmanageable. Please contact us at White Picket Fence Counseling Center if you would like to try a journaling exercise like that.
Denial is a definite path to slips and relapse. Let's say someone has long-term abstinence from binge eating. She has a slip, one binge, but gets right back in the saddle. She may decide, "Hey, I can handle a binge once in awhile," and it happens again, and again, until all of a sudden (but it's really not) she's face down in the food again.

In the next post, we'll look at how denial can affect relationships, and some of the ways we address denial in the therapy process.