Written by: Mel Tonken


I have an amazing new trainer at my gym. She is helping me with balance, flexibility & strength. Her knowledge of of the musculoskeletal system, how muscles work, how one muscle can affect another & how small alterations in the way I do an exercise can make a profound difference in effectiveness of an exercise. She is a true professional and I respect her immeasurably.
However, I had a discussion with her the other day about my personal struggles with food & eating, and she immediately had a number of strategies for dealing with my struggle, such as eating more during the day, balanced meals, nothing to eat after dinner, drinking lots of water, rewarding myself with a sugary food when I achieved a couple of days of healthy eating & several others. As professional as she is in her area of expertise, she didn’t understand that my personal struggle with food is beyond these attempts that ‘normal’ folks might use for support.
I‘ve been through all of this before and in spite of the fact that I have often tried these suggestions, as well as countless others, I continue to struggle with my food intake. What she was not unaware of, is the fact that I am a food addict. I use food inappropriately and I am powerless over the amount that I eat, and the types of food that I sometimes gorge on.


For me, there are many foods that cause a physical craving. I believe that I have genes which govern receptor sites in my brain which are stimulated by particular foods (in my case often sweet foods and the volume of food I think I require for satiety) ) and when I trigger myself by eating these foods, a chain reaction is set up which initiates cravings for more of those foods. The cravings can be intense or subtle, and in any event results in my consuming more of the trigger foods. A vicious cycle is set up over which I have very little control. Taking responsibility for myself is an important feature of my personality. With the food, however, there seems to be an overriding mechanism which I often feel is beyond my control. Sometimes, I don’t even have to ingest the particular food. A T.V. commercial, or a strong smell can trigger the craving, and the pleasure centres of my brain demand to be fed!

New research is providing substantial evidence that there can be physical cravings, that may have nothing to do with my psychological longing for food to medicate my feelings. This does not mean that I am immune to environmental & psychological triggers such as family dysfunction, trauma or other various stress factors. I know that I use food inappropriately to deal with stresses of various kinds in my own life. It is helpful for me to understand that most often I don’t notice a direct link between the way I am feeling and being drawn to food. I simply find myself eating without being hungry, or even worse, while being full. I comfort myself with this research, because for me, it helps explain why dozens of different diets, therapy, commercial weight loss programs have been ineffective for me. I have been on this roller coaster ride for most of my life.


For me, participation in a a 12 step food recovery program has provided the answer that no other treatment or therapy has provided in the last 50 years. By having a dsciplined was of eating, I eliminate the foods that trigger these physiological cravings. Psychologically, addiction to food has very little to do with the food. I have benefited from examining the reasons that I want to eat compulsively. I do that by looking at the way I live my life, both in the past and in the present. Foods in themselves do not have the addictive properties like alcohol or cocaine that makes people dependent on them in a physical way. For me, I need to examine, with other people with whom I can identify, how I behave around food, what I think about food and what habits I have picked up with food, as well as how I use food to cope with emotional problems. Anxiety, stress, grief etc. can temporarily be moderated with food, often sugar, salt & fat, and the body is conditioned to expect relief with these foods. Unfortunately, doing this is slowly killing us. Recognizing that I am a food addict, has given me relief from this vicious cycle.