Hey friends! I recently shared an IGTV video about my experience in a 12-step program for food addiction recovery (part 2).
This blog post is a bit lengthy, but elaborates on that video. I trust it’ll find its way to those who have been asking for it or who are considering joining a 12-step program.
(See What to Expect from a 12-Step Program for Food Addiction Recovery for part 1 – more on the basic structure and tools of such a program.)
How I found the 12-step program I was in
I found the program through a dear friend. She briefly mentioned it to me when I was pregnant in early 2019, but I didn’t think twice about it then.
After my baby came, and I kept breaking daily commitments to myself to eat better, I reached out to ask her for help.
She told me to attend a meeting, so I did.
Everyone at the meeting was so nice and welcomed me. Most of the attendees appeared to be in their right-sized bodies, however, many of them shared major weight loss numbers.
I mostly identified with the word “unmanageable” they used to describe their lives before finding the program.
I didn’t have to say anything other than stand and introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Amanda. I’m a food addict.” And then someone provided a welcome pamphlet and a list of potential sponsors to officially get started.
I liked what I saw and heard in that meeting. But I called my friend first to discuss it. She kept saying, “We’ve gotta find you a good sponsor.” And in the meantime, she offered to temporarily sponsor me.
A few weeks passed, I hadn’t found a new sponsor. I prayed about it and kept feeling the prompting to ask my friend to sponsor me.
When I told her I felt she was supposed to be my sponsor, she said she had been praying, too, and felt the same way. So we moved forward.
My experience in the program
My experience overall was positive. Here are several reasons why:
Committing to the program
- I knew going in, that the program had strict boundaries and rules, but I was desperate to change and willing to do whatever was necessary.
- I took responsibility for the habits that led me to the program. They were my doing and no one else’s.
- My faith wasn’t what it is now, but I trusted that if I followed the rules and did my best, I would eventually understand their purpose.
- While the program required a lot of my time, I didn’t let it become my religion.
- If the program interfered with family commitments, my family always came first. I also did my best to plan ahead and communicate with my family about the commitments I was making to the program each week.
- Addicts tend to struggle with keeping commitments—to themselves and others. So even though I was still deciding if I really was an “addict,” I understood and respected what the program was trying to accomplish with requiring that I make and keep commitments.
- I recognized early on that this whole experience was like “training wheels.” The Lord brought me to the program to teach me, not to make me dependent on the program. (Btw, I am bursting to share what I’ve learned!)
- Some people like the external accountability of the program as a long-term lifestyle (I’ve met people who have been in the program for 10+ years). They also enjoy the community and service opportunities that the program provides—to become a sponsor and give back to others what was given to them. Pretty cool.
- One of my favorite parts about the program is the meetings. There’s something so freeing about having a safe place to hear people talk about the very things you’ve struggled with, who have found a solution and are doing the work to change and overcome. I don’t know of any other food programs, plans or “diets” that provide this level of honesty within the community.
- Many of the women in the meetings I attended were 20-30 years older than I am. Every one of them had said they wished they had found it sooner. They wished they hadn’t waited so long to seek help for change and that maybe their relationships with family, friends and others would have been better. That always stuck with me.
- Some people are quickly turned off by the tradition of introducing yourself as an “addict” in the meetings. Even though I believe God doesn’t label us, this never bothered me. I was willing to call myself a food addict and admit that I had a problem to obtain that inner peace I was so desperately seeking. And I can say now it was 1000% worth it and I no longer consider myself an addict.
Working with a sponsor
- I was very blessed to have my friend sponsor me in the beginning. She is a huge part of why I even tried this program in the first place and why I had such a good experience with it when others sometimes don’t.
- My friend/sponsor was understanding when I needed to miss a meeting to take care of my newborn (I’ve heard that some sponsors use a letter-of-the-law approach in this kind of situation rather than spirit-of-the-law, which could have been a deal-breaker for me).
- Your sponsor can make or break your experience. If, like me, you’ve struggled with perfectionism (aka, an “all or nothing” mindset), anticipate that you may want to quit at times because of your sponsor and instead make a plan to find a new sponsor if needed. People get new sponsors all the time.
- My friend/sponsor was very understanding when a few weeks into the program I started snacking on dried mangos and nuts (snacking isn’t allowed). I was terrified to tell her because I thought she would “break me” and “shame me” with starting over. But she didn’t break me and it made me want to do better. (Another example of why your sponsor has such an impact on your program experience.)
- I didn’t expect my sponsor or my fellows to give me any special attention for my weight loss or progress in the program so it never felt like a popularity contest to me.
- I confided in my friend/sponsor a lot during our calls. With my second sponsor I wasn’t as vulnerable because I hadn’t known her as long. I think it’s natural to start building a relationship of trust with your sponsor, but remember they are a sponsor, not a licensed therapist. Always ask yourself if your relationship is strong enough to bear the weight of the stories you share with them. They will be imperfect and they may disappoint you.
- Having a sponsor provides a huge opportunity to practice submissiveness. No one likes being told what to do. I believe it’s because we fought for our agency in the pre-existence, but also because it takes true humility to submit our will to God’s every day. Maybe working with a sponsor is just a tangible way to practice submitting for a season (nothing more, nothing less).
A special note on “breaks”
- A “break” in the program means you’ve veered from the food plan in some way and your sponsor makes you “start over” at day 1. (Read more about the purpose of “breaks” and the 90-day milestone in this blog post)
- Some sponsors are very strict and will break you for mixing two kinds of vegetables at lunch (i.e. 3 oz broccoli + 3 oz zucchini, rather than just 6 oz broccoli) or for switching your fruit last-minute (say you committed in your food plan the night before to have a pear at lunch, but then the day of you decided to have an apple instead).
- The program is designed to help people who struggle with honesty. Addiction happens when we begin to deny that we have a problem or that our bad habits are “really that bad.” So while I personally wouldn’t sponsor people that way, I also think experiences like this can really show you how resilient you are. Simply put, practicing the willingness to admit that you didn’t do what you said you would do, can be one of the most character-transforming parts of the program experience.
Why I left the program
- When I first joined the program I was constantly asking if anyone could put me in touch with someone who had successfully left the program. But no one ever spoke of it. I found that a little odd, but didn’t stew over it. Everyone was nice, they would just tell me to focus on today and not think about how long I was “going to have to do this.”
- As shared in my IGTV video, I left after my first and second sponsors let me go because the timing felt right (like a baby bird leaving the nest) and because my trust in the Lord had grown so quickly.
- My spiritual growth accelerated when I left the program because I became completely reliant on the Lord and I was focused on keeping myself in condition to receive further guidance from the Holy Ghost. I knew these boundaries and improved habits with my food were helping me do that. If I had thrown away my new habits the second I left the program, I think my spiritual progress would have been frustrated.
- My goal has always been to elevate my thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. I kept my focus there, and the food slipped into the background of my life, on autopilot, exactly where I want it to be.
My opinion since leaving the program
- Disordered eating, eating disorders, overeating, compulsive eating, weight gain—these are all just symptoms to the problem happening on the inside. I believe that problem for most of us is feeling disconnected.
- We feel disconnected from our:
- Values (maybe we’re not clear on what we value most)
- Strengths (our culture tugs at us to focus on our weaknesses and what we don’t have enough of)
- Purpose and potential
- Savior, Jesus Christ, who sealed our worth with His blood
- Heavenly Father, who knows us better than we know ourselves and is patiently waiting for us to accept His help and instruction
- Pride is the number one reason we don’t progress. Pride isn’t just being puffed up, it’s also shrinking. Only when we are divinely centered can we see ourselves with absolute truth and separate our infinite worth from our human shortcomings and behaviors. (Listen to or read the best talk of all time on pride.)
- Whether or not you decide to try a program like this is a decision that should be made between you, your family, and the Lord. I don’t know your heart, your strengths and your weaknesses like He does. I like to believe anyone can have a good experience in these programs like I did, and many do, but my situation was unique to me. I would just counsel you to go in with an open mind, seek the Lord’s guidance anytime you hit a bump in the road, and trust that He will tell you if you should stay, or if it’s time to leave, and what to do next. Don’t rely solely on the opinions of others to make these decisions for you.
- Addict or not, I don’t believe people have to stay in these programs forever. Maybe there’s some truth in “the harder the crime, the longer the time.” If someone’s bad habits with food and the negative self-beliefs that drove them to such extreme behaviors consumed much of their life, it’s only natural to think it would take some time to unlearn those thoughts and behaviors. But here’s what I’ve noticed with time and distance: the program provides accountability, support and tools to develop self-trust, but little education about our food industry or how to grow spiritually beyond the boundaries of the program. I believe this is something I can teach.
May I sponsor you?
I love sharing what I’ve learned on this journey, and if you couldn’t already tell, the answer is YES. I want to sponsor you and anyone who is interested in taking this approach to change through food.
But I’m seeking the Lord’s guidance right now on whether that direction is His will for me.
I know for the immediate future it is not. (Partially because I need some time to write my own curriculum.)
If you have even the slightest interest in working with me at some point in the future, please let me know by commenting below, emailing me and/or subscribing to my email list.
I may reach out with more questions that would allow me to build something specifically for you, but I’ll keep you updated on my plans either way.
Hope this blog post was worthwhile! Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. ?