Frank Bruni, the restaurant critic for the New York Times, published a story last week in his paper's magazine, a story I have heard a thousand times before in the rooms of Overeaters Anonymous. He was obsessed with food from a young age, always wanted more even past the point of being full, and he lied, screamed, and begged when he didn't get it. None of this is in any way surprising ... because he's a food addict. Just like alcohol, gambling and sex, food is the object of obsession for thousands, maybe millions, who are addicted to non-addictive substances. We use it to numb ourselves or to hide, we use it to reward and to punish, we use it for so many things that it becomes powerful in every way except the one for which it's intended: health.
Bruni remembers in detail the foods he loved and craved during childhood, just as I do. While he seems to have sugar issues, I myself wanted to live inside a block of cheese and spend the rest of my life eating my way out. He talks in detail about the way things escalate, which is true for most of us. The desperation to stop, to change, to be free, to be thin, makes us do nutty things like starve, vomit, do whatever we can to try to control our food, which makes the pendulum swing further back into our disease each time we stop. Like most food addicts, he tried fad diets, which of course didn't last. If we could control what we ate we probably wouldn't need those things in the first place, but we can't: we're powerless over food.
That's the major problem in his piece. He thinks this is a moral or mental failure on his part. He says things consistently like "I had more discipline and did better with other things," as if it was a failure of will that caused this. Believe me, after 25 years of an eating disorder I can tell you it's not about will. In the same way an alcoholic must reach out for help to be freed from constant drinking, we need to reach out to be freed from compulsive overeating, compulsive vomiting, compulsive restricting. This is a disease, plain and simple.
Bruni seems to have shed much of the shame associated with his food history, which is why he was able to write about it, but does not seem free from the obsession. His final paragraph tells us how he dealt with it after he stopped vomiting, by making food his life and career:
"I succeeded, I think, because so many other extreme or warped weight-management regimens -- including more Atkins and more fasting -- took the place of bulimia as I struggled for decades to figure out how to answer my appetite without being undone by it and as I traced an unlikely route to the most implausible of destinations: professional eating."
Is that really a happy ending? Letting an addiction dictate your life? Bruni's book Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater, from which this article is adapted, will be published next month and will shed more light on how he has coped. In the mean time, I would urge any of you reading this not to settle for a lifetime of isolated struggle, but to reach out and let others share their experience strength and hope with you.
You can email me here with any questions. Remember, I am not a spokesman for overeaters or Overeaters Anonymous, just someone with a past and a recovery that has given me freedom and happiness. For official literature and answers go here.