by Malerie Bleich, LMHC
Living in the world of food and eating addiction is a secret, lonely, isolated place, even in the midst of a world teeming with possibilities. There is little, if any, awareness of interconnectedness by the person consumed with self-obsession. When stuck in the ever-intensifying cycle of myopic focus on the body, its size and shape, attempts to control the body’s reaction to compulsive/impulsive eating through starving, purging, dieting, exercising, restricting (many use alcohol and smoking to curb appetite), and/or eating (covertly buying foods for binging in secret), every day is consumed with how, when and where to eat or not eat and what one looks like.
The food addicted unconsciously seek to maintain an emotional and physical stasis. In fact, food addicts create a complete mental and spiritual stupor, while stubbornly supporting an often deadly denial of the actual mental and physical chaos that is their existence. Depression is rampant with food addicts. It is continually subjugated to the numbness of overeating or the exhilaration of undereating. There is not much room for experiencing the joyful love for life, others and self. Like a diamond covered in coal, food addiction buries the glowing truth that dwells in the hearts of all.
In general, many of us identify not with our own luminescence, but with what we see as our own and others’ faults. We, in general, do not move through this precious human life believing and declaring that we are, for example, Love or a Buddha in the making or a Light of Compassion. Yet, this is so. As addicts, of any sort, not until one emerges from the bondage of the illness can they experience inspiring glimpses of this effulgent reality. Only then can there be great progress moving forward in the process of Self-realization. It is the hardest inner journey and yet a simple one to enact.
How can food addicts awaken? Anyone knows that until an addict is ready and willing to get well and to change, no one can convince them. Thoughts are just like a cloud in the sky, a wisp. Yet those thoughts that do not look inward are like an immovable mountain.
This culture promotes health and balance, good nutrition, dieting and extreme exercise as the answer to conquering the diet rollercoaster. Very little is exposed about the acute and chronic suffering of those enslaved by compulsive eating, purging and food addiction. Society shuns those who seem out of control, especially with their eating. Gluttony is, after all, one of the seven deadly sins. Fat is deemed disgusting and so is that person imprisoned by a fat body. Society’s obsession with outer appearances has made a hell realm for those who do not and cannot fit the illusion perpetuated. It is the exposure of this very suffering that can pierce the veil of societal ignorance that keeps this serious and deadly disease from being fully exposed, understood and treated effectively.
The more an addict sees his or her experience reflected in the media, drama, language of medical professionals, the more likely they will be to see through their denial and acknowledge the depth and breadth of their suffering as a result of addiction, not weakness. Once this is realized, then the work can begin. Most medical personnel are advocating just diet and exercise with no mention, or knowledge, of food addiction. It is like telling an alcoholic to just “stop drinking” or a heroin addict to just “stop shooting up.” Food addicts will still have to eat and manage the intake of their beloved substance… food.
In realizing the daunting power of addiction, one needs to grasp the importance of an equal and opposing paradigm to the addiction, inclusive of new and accurate beliefs and mindfulness, and clearly define the method and actions to be implemented to experience ongoing relief from food and eating addiction. Working with professionals in the field of eating disorders and receiving support from those experiencing freedom from their addictive lifestyle is an essential component for awakening… and staying awake.
The inner path is unparalleled to any outer accomplishment. When we realize and fully surrender to the accurate perception of our vast inner truth — our radiance, eternal nature of love and potential to be the example of that truth — we are compelled to learn how to be that truth. This diamond nature need not remain elusive because of food and eating addiction.
Getting well is achievable! Living vibrantly can be a reality. Thousands of recovering food addicts can attest to the vast renewal of their mental and physical health, relationships and spiritual development. However, most are accomplishing their freedom through private and anonymous milieus. Many more alcoholics and drug addicts expose their own plight and recovery in the open. Television and film tell their stories. Therapists and talk show hosts send substance abusers through treatment. The food and eating addicted? Relegated to torturous and humiliating exercise routines and diet plans.
There are many recovering doctors who can recognize a substance abuser yet are still unaware of the face of the food addict. They are mostly focused on weight, when weight is just one of the many symptoms, of which not everyone manifests. The medical community needs to come into the 21st century more enthusiastically! They need to ask the right questions and recognize the symptoms. People need to talk about this disease so compassion and understanding can replace shame, fear and loathing.
If you believe you are struggling with this pernicious addiction, you can put it into remission. You can thrive and develop personal confidence in your ability to live the life you came here to live… to be the person you came here to be. If this is what you want… prepare to apply equal effort to changing as you do to your disease!
Malerie Bleich, LMHC, is a psychotherapist with over 30 years expertise in the field of eating disorders and addictions. She is the founder of Clear Light Retreats, LLC. CLR offers addicts a week long residential intensive (meditation, counseling and coaching, food plans, gentle exercise, education and discussion) for maintaining relief from food and eating addiction. Follow up groups, individual sessions and renewal weekends are also designed to reinforce determination and commitment to the life long process of conscious living.