Diet culture is everywhere. We’re constantly bombarded with messages about losing weight, eating “clean,” and achieving the “perfect” body. The latest diet fads on magazine covers at the grocery checkout hound us. TV commercials about food plans, diets, food delivery services, and restaurants remain pervasive. But diets can be more harmful than helpful for people who struggle with food-related issues.
That’s because food-related recovery is much more than weight loss. It’s about healing the underlying emotional and psychological issues driving our relationship with food. Recovery is a three-legged stool involving emotional, spiritual, and physical healing. Diets focus exclusively on the physical aspect of recovery. I’ve learned from personal experience that leaning on any of the three legs of recovery while ignoring the others leads to failure. Focusing on all three elements of recovery while participating in a 12-step fellowship gives us the tools and support we need to succeed in both weight loss and living in freedom from an unhealthy relationship with food.
When we’re in the grips of an eating disorder or disordered eating, food becomes a way to cope with difficult emotions. We may use food to numb our pain, punish ourselves, or control our bodies. Diets can exacerbate these issues. They can make us feel more deprived and ashamed, leading to more disordered eating. We may begin to feel hopeless and despair that there is no route to recovery. Yet, as one of my fellows told me recently, where there is breath, there is hope.
Food-related recovery is about learning to have a healthy relationship with food and those around us. It’s about learning to eat for nourishment, not punishment or control. It’s about learning to listen to our bodies and to trust our intuition. It’s about surrendering to God. Recovery is not easy. It takes time, effort, and the support of our fellows. But it is possible, and it is worth it. Best of all, we don’t have to do it alone. In the company of our 12-step fellows, we can be loved, encouraged, and guided through the Twelve Steps.
In fact, there is a lot that food-related recovery can offer you that diets alone cannot, including:
- Freedom from obsessing about food. When we’re in recovery, we aren’t constantly thinking about what we can eat next, what binge foods are available, and how we can hide our binging from others. We are not focused on how many “free” foods we can pack into our eating plan. In fact, we aren’t focused on food at all.
- Freedom from a rigid food plan. Food-related recovery programs suggest we consult a doctor or nutritionist to develop a food plan that fits our needs and lifestyle. No one plan works for everyone, as anyone who has failed at commercial diet plans can attest.
- Freedom from obsession, also known as serenity. We can relax and be who God calls us to be. In a state of serenity, we can focus on loving and serving others instead of ourselves.
- Freedom from obsessing about our body, clothes, appearance, etc. Instead, we focus on others and how we can best help them.
- Freedom that comes from good mental health. We are less likely to be depressed or anxious when we are not dependent on food satisfying us and instead are focusing on God and others.
- Freedom that comes from a balanced life. Recovery is not just about food—it’s about creating a more balanced life that includes all aspects of our well-being. We start making healthier choices in all areas of our lives as a result and not just with food.
If you’re struggling with food-related issues, know you’re not alone. There is help available. Join a Catholic in Recovery group for food-related recovery to find healing, hope, and freedom.
Celeste is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Louisiana’s Cajun Country. She is a lifelong Catholic and committed to spreading the Gospel through small group formation programs. She is a recovering food addict (embracing the slogan, “If you can’t stop at one, have none!”), an avid knitter, and a lover of God.