In her early days as a drug and alcohol addiction counselor, Tennie McCarty had her own dark secret: She was a food addict who controlled her weight with laxatives. It took an intervention from a fellow counselor to open her eyes. Nearly 30 years later, she helps food addicts wrestle with their demons at her renowned Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap, Texas. In her new book, Shades of Hope: How to Treat Your Addiction to Food, she lays out a plan for battling a dependence she calls “the tiger.” In this excerpt, she offers a list of questions to ask yourself if you suspect you might be a food addict.
It is so easy to say, “Oh, but my problem isn’t that bad,” or “It’s just a phase,” and sometimes it is. But if your relationship with food is leading to less happiness in your life, perhaps it’s time you took a look at your habits around eating, restricting and even purging. As you read through the following questions, see where you identify. Where do you do some of these things? If these behaviors look a little different from yours, how? I ask that you try to be open and honest as your evaluate your relationship to food, answering yes or no to the following questions.
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1. Do you have rituals about eating? Circle all that apply:
- food lists
- calorie guides
- patterns about cutting or arranging or fixing food.
2. Do you obsess about food?
3. Do you hide when you eat or isolate from others in order to eat?
4. Do you have unreasonable fear about what the food will do to you?
5. Do you constantly worry about what you last ate, and how it might show up on the scale or in your dress size?
6. Have you altered your schedule to deal with your weight and/or food problems?
7. Do you use eating/not eating to deal with stress, to sleep, to deal with relationships, to handle feelings, and/or to forget pain?
8. Do you weigh yourself often?
9. Do you allow your feelings to be tied to your weight?
10. Do you use fasting, dieting, vomiting, compulsive exercise, laxatives, diuretics, stomach staples, diet clubs, body wraps, gastric bubbles, intestinal bypass, diet pills, acupuncture, hypnosis, liquid effects, drugs or alcohol, or restricting to control your food?
11. Do you have an increasing inability to control how you eat?
12. Do you have more frequent thoughts about food? More frequent loss of control with your diets and binges?
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Many of us have tried to disguise these behaviors as “normal,” brushing them off with the excuse that all men and women think about their weight or struggle with food, but to do so is to ignore reality: These are the classic symptoms of a food addict.
It doesn’t matter how you relate to food; whether through the binge-purge, overeating, or restrictive addiction cycle, you battle your disease all the same. Unfortunately, for all folks who struggle with food, they must also face the same set of challenges when they finally try to become healthy. For the alcoholic or the drug addict, he or she is able to lock up the tiger of addiction and throw away the key. But with food it’s different. You have to take that tiger out of the cage three times a day. You must train him, walk him around your kitchen, and be able to put him back in the cage without getting yourself mauled.
Reprinted from Shades of Hope: How to Treat Your Addiction to Food by Tennie McCarty. Copyright © 2012. Published by The Berkeley Publishing Group, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA).