Does Someone You Love Eat Compulsively?
It’s not easy to live with someone who is eating compulsively. As one long-time member says, “When I’m eating, I’m a liar, a cheat, and a thief.” Almost all of us have stolen food from roommates or eaten food a family member spent hours preparing for a special occasion. We might eat so much at family gatherings that we pass out, or refuse to attend at all because we are ashamed of our weight gain or loss, or just can’t fit into our clothes.
We create emotional wreckage all around us. The compulsive eater in your life may be easily upset, deeply depressed, angry all the time, or suffer unpredictable mood swings. We spend money on expensive diet programs that don’t work and on clothes we convince ourselves we’ll fit into one day. We say hurtful things in order to drive you away so that we can be alone to binge eat or to purge. We stop caring about anything but our next fix. We abandon our principles and become almost unrecognizable.
Our eating behavior is incredibly frustrating to the people around us because it just doesn’t make sense. You may find yourself shouting “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just eat like a normal person?”
Far worse than any anger or frustration is the fear and heartbreak of watching someone you love in so much pain. Here is your spouse, your parent, your child, your brother or sister, your lifelong best friend, and you can’t stop them from killing themselves by overeating or starving. You might blame yourself or wonder if their eating behavior is your fault.
It’s Not Your Fault
The truth is, our behavior around food doesn’t make sense to us, either. We can’t understand why we always go back to our old, destructive way of eating, so we can’t explain it. We don’t realize that we have an addiction to certain types of food that is as powerful and destructive as addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Deep down, we know that our compulsive eating isn’t anyone else’s fault, but we can’t stop on our own. And no matter how much you care, how hard you try, or how many doctors you take us to or therapists you pay for, you can’t stop us.
It’s not because you’re a bad parent or a bad spouse or a bad friend or a bad therapist. It’s because addiction is stronger than any single human being. Anyone who tries to fight this disease alone inevitably loses.
Despite all you can do, the problem just gets worse. The compulsive eater’s behavior becomes more erratic and more destructive. You may reach such a point of despair that you believe the only thing you can do to protect your own mental and physical health is end the relationship.
Don’t Give Up Hope
Recovery is possible. Even if you’re sure nothing can help and that you and the compulsive eater in your life have tried everything, take a few minutes to read our stories. If what we say about our experience sounds familiar to you, GreySheeters Anonymous may be the solution your loved one needs.
Our own eating and recovery experience qualifies us to help our fellows the way no medical degree can. We know what it’s like to suffer from this disease, and we know that there is a solution that worked for us when we thought we were hopeless. We are eager to welcome your loved one at meetings. Qualified sponsors are prepared to explain the program and the food plan and to provide guidance and support.
What to Do Next
You may want to print a copy of “A Solution for Compulsive Eaters” to read yourself and give to your loved one. The questions there can help them decide whether they want to find out more.
It’s best not to go overboard and bombard your loved one with information. We addicts are contrary and defiant people. We might resist something that could save our lives just because someone else is trying to convince us to do it.
No one can make another person abstinent. All addicts need to “hit a bottom” before we can recover. We have to reach a point where continuing our compulsive eating behavior becomes more painful than giving it up.
Some of us reach that point relatively early in life, before doing irreparable damage to our bodies. Others never reach it at all, and die from this disease. Most of us fall somewhere in between, and have to try many things before we are willing to consider weighing and measuring our food and giving up sugar and carbs entirely.
Even if your loved one is not ready to come to a meeting or talk to a potential sponsor yet, you will be planting a seed. The next time someone mentions GreySheeters Anonymous to them, they may be willing to do more than think about it.
Don’t Wait to Get Help for Yourself
Although GreySheeters Anonymous does not (yet) have a companion program for people who are affected by someone else’s compulsive eating behavior, there are still places to find support. You don’t have to wait for the compulsive eater to recover before you start your own recovery journey.
The Twelve Traditions (rightly!) prevent GSA from endorsing any specific program or treatment for friends and family members, but we always support both our members and their loved ones in seeking any additional help they need.
If the compulsive eater in your life finds recovery, your relationship is almost certain to improve, but it will take time. Newly-abstinent GSA members need at least 90 days just to develop new habits and get to grips with the logistics of weighing and measuring without exception.
Compulsive eaters are much nicer to be around when not in the grip of cravings. You will be relieved of their suffering because they are. In just a few months, they may experience an amazing transformation before your eyes.
It usually takes longer for them to acknowledge the harm they have done to you while eating and to make amends for it. They need to be grounded in abstinence before they can undertake a “fearless and searching moral inventory” without eating compulsively to avoid the feelings it brings up.
If Someone You Love Has Just Started GreySheet
If you’ve been living with a struggling compulsive eater and they come home one day and say “I’m doing a program called GreySheet and I’m going to be weighing and measuring my food,” you may think this is just another crazy diet. We don’t blame you for being skeptical, but hang in there and give the program a chance to work.
For about the first week, many of us go through an uncomfortable withdrawal period. Your loved one may seem extra moody or complain about headaches or feel queasy. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant but not dangerous. As long as the compulsive eater remains abstinent, the withdrawal symptoms will pass, and so will the worst cravings for food. In their place will be increased well-being and energy.
Your loved one’s sponsor will encourage them to move any non-abstinent food out of sight and keep their own food in a separate cupboard to reduce temptation. If you and the rest of the family eat a lot of sugar or starch, it will help if you can prepare it yourselves.
Your loved one will be spending a lot of time buying groceries, learning to prepare fresh food abstinently, packing meals, attending meetings, and making phone calls. It may seem like they don’t have time for you. You may hear them say “Abstinence is the most important thing in my life,” and feel hurt. Aren’t you important?
You are very important, but remember: to a person who is eating compulsively, nothing matters but the food. Only by putting abstinence first can we develop the ability to have healthy relationships with others. When we are going to meetings, making phone calls, and doing Twelve Step work, what we are really doing is learning how to live, how to love, and how to be of service to others.
As our disease progressed and compulsive eating behavior dominated our lives, we stopped maturing. Many of us have the emotional development of young children, or at best, of teenagers. We have a lot of growing up to do before we can behave like responsible adults.
Better Than “Normal”
For a compulsive eater who has reached the point of needing GreySheeters Anonymous, there is no going “back to normal.” For many of us, there never was a “normal” when it came to eating. Our destructive behavior around food was normal—for us. Even if we were not overweight or underweight as children, we can’t remember a time when we didn’t have an unhealthy desire for or fear of food. Even those whose problems didn’t manifest until adolescence have long passed the point of no return.
There is no cure for addiction, only treatment. For carbohydrate-sensitive compulsive eaters, the treatment is to weigh and measure three meals a day from the GreySheet food plan and work the GSA program of recovery.
The good news is that although it requires a bit more forethought and preparation, abstinent GreySheeters are able to participate much more fully in the lives of their families and friends than they could before. We might not choose to attend events focused around eating non-abstinent food, but we can engage in many activities our eating once prevented.
GreySheeters have lived and traveled all over the world, from Machu Picchu to Saigon. GreySheeters have hiked the Grand Canyon and ridden camels in the Sahara Desert. We no longer struggle to fit into restaurant booths, airline seats, or amusement park rides. As long as we have our food, our cups, and our scales, we can go anywhere.