Food addicts

A battle of body.

Woman standing on bathroom scale measuring her weight  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Woman standing on bathroom scale measuring her weight
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Of the many afflictions with which Western society grapples in the modern age, few are as pervasive and elusive as the growing epidemic of eating disorders.
Though the issue has never really stood in the spotlight of public discourse in Israel, the reader will be surprised to learn just how many of the people around them are fighting this ruthless condition in its many subtle forms, often showing few signs in their physical appearance that may hint at their daily struggle.
The shame and frustration commonly felt by the victims of eating disorders – as many as five percent of the Israeli population by some estimates – means, more often than not, that they keep their ailment a secret from their surroundings, and in doing so, deprive themselves of potential helping hands. Many even carry on their private struggle completely unaware that their suffering is a diagnosable disease. It is hardly a surprise, therefore, that most who battle alone bitterly fail to overcome the disorder.
“I tried practically every method and diet that is out there, sometimes failing completely to drop the pounds, other times losing weight but then quickly gaining it back again,” recalls Abigail (a pseudonym). “I weighed more than 200 pounds [90 kilograms], but even worse – I was in a self-destructive cycle of obsession with food and anger with myself that made my life completely miserable.”
The first step that ultimately empowered Abigail to gain control over her eating habits and her life in general was the decision not to fight alone. Joining a local group of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, she found a close-knit circle of companions with whom to confide and seek the moral support that is so vital for success. Her new comrades were suffering themselves from eating disorders of all kinds imaginable – from bulimia and anorexia to various degrees of obesity.
What sets Food Addicts apart from other programs is its distinct “bottom-up,” non-hierarchical organization, modeled after the more widely known Alcoholics Anonymous in the US. It is fundamentally an intimate community of addicts who meet weekly to share their personal experience and offer their guidance to each other, with more seasoned members naturally taking the lead in helping newcomers into the program. A global network of fellows provides an endless directory of friends to which any addict can call for support in moments of crisis.
Having experienced eating disorders since her teenage years, Miriam (a pseudonym) realizes in retrospect that joining FA marked a “paradigm shift” in her life, from which overcoming her addiction came naturally. “For me it was a last stop. I couldn’t separate my weight from my dealings with other people. The change came when I realized I wasn’t the center of the universe, and being part of the FA community shifted my focus to the needs of others.”
Having both made aliya separately from North America over a year ago, Miriam and Abigail’s paths crossed as they decided to open an FA group in Jerusalem. They “just needed to continue the weekly meetings” that had lifted them both in their home countries from an unmanageable life controlled by their addiction to food. In doing so, they also opened the door for the first time to anyone in Jerusalem who is in profound need of such a program. Theirs is in fact the first FA circle to be held in Israel.
“Most people who come have mixed histories, and a variety of disorders,” says Miriam. “But they are really all just different manifestations of the same disorder. What binds us all together is an obsession with food that has taken over our lives.” What newcomers find in the program, aside from a supportive community of people fighting the same battle, is a new approach to eating disorders that emphasizes the personal and spiritual dimension of recovery.
With the realization that the disorders themselves are very often a mere symptom of much deeper emotional distress for which food is then used as psychological compensation, the Food Addicts community aims for a change in lifestyle and personality – to “learn better ways of coping, to work on ourselves as people and win freedom from food obsession.” By encouraging the mental and spiritual growth of its members, inextricably linked to the effects of the physical addiction itself, the program strives to help them gradually regain control of their lives.
The “12-step program” that can be found online on the FA website stresses the need for addicts to find a spiritual (not necessarily religious) center or “higher power” in their lives, to live with humility and focus on a service to others.
“Allowing myself to be honest and vulnerable in the meetings brings integrity to my life in general,” says Abigail. “Going through this personal process was an incredible journey, but it never really ends. It’s really a way of life and it’s important for addicts to understand that.”
Hand-in-hand with the personal and emotional process, the FA community provides a framework for members to learn about a healthy diet and lifestyle, with seasoned members sponsoring newcomers on a one-on-one basis and continuously working to carefully adjust their food plans – as recommended by their own doctors or other professionals, of course. Members are encouraged to keep personal journals to document their eating habits, as well as their thoughts and feelings through the challenging change.
Perhaps one of the most significant elements in the FA culture is its anonymity. “What happens at the meeting stays at the meeting,” Miriam stresses. While at the meetings themselves the solidarity and intimate connection among members are a powerful source of strength and support, their anonymity renders the meetings a totally safe and stress-free environment for each addict to share his or her hardships and seek honest counsel.
Miriam and Abigail encourage prospective members to visit the FA website and answer a 20-question questionnaire that may give them an indication of whether they might be suffering from eating disorders.
If so, the door to the weekly FA meeting on Wednesday evenings at the Yakar Synagogue is open to all. “Come see if you relate. If you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, you may discover the FA meetings to be the first step for real and lasting change.”
It seems the Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous community has changed the lives of two impressive young women, who now find their most profound source of strength in “paying it forward” and helping others overcome their eating disorders as well.
“I have nothing but deep gratitude for the program,” Abigail smiles. “It was a free gift. All I had to do was take it.”
Jerusalem at large is now invited to do the same. • For more information: