Adapting Addiction Recovery Skills to Eating



The development of a healthy relationship with food is the foundation of recovery from an eating disorder, yet it takes months and years to build. Therefore recovery from an eating disorder begins the day you commit to change, even if change hasn’t happened yet. Unlike recovery from a substance or process addiction, where you are either sober or using, recovery from an eating disorder is based on your desire to change rather than your eating behavior.

In “Are You Addicted to Food?”, we looked at the similarities and differences between dysfunctional eating behaviors and substance and process addictions. Now let’s talk about how you can direct some of your recovery skills and strategies toward your eating.

Strategy 1: Identify Your Triggers

In your addiction recovery, you learned that you were powerless over your addiction. To help yourself avoid the substance or activity that you are unable to control, you learned to avoid triggering situations and people that historically led to using. You can implement this same strategy to begin your eating recovery.

Consider the eating behaviors you wish to eliminate, then think backward in time: How does the process start? What locations, events, people, or feelings lead up to your dysfunctional eating behaviors? What are the common threads?

Consider timing: What are the trends? Does it happen when you get home from work or school? Middle of the night? Weekends? After you put the kids to bed? When your wife is out of town?

Consider location: Does it happen at work? At home? At a restaurant? Any restaurant or a certain restaurant? When you are at the grocery store? What about when you’re on vacation or business trips?

Consider people: Does it happen when you eat with certain friend? After a phone call from your ex? When you are with your mother or dad?

Consider events: Does it happen when you get your grades? When you cash your paycheck? After a run-in with the law? A close call? Good news arrives? A doctor’s appointment?

Consider feelings: Does it happen when you are feeling down? Feeling like a failure? Feeling lonely, scared, or unloved? What about feeling sad, disappointed, ashamed or embarrassed?

It is typical to feel ashamed or anxious when you try to think about your eating, or to have difficulty remembering what happens immediately before and after your behaviors. This is because you are in an altered mental state when you are practicing your eating behaviors, and because you use them to modify your feelings and thoughts. Of course in the long term, these behaviors move you further from your goals of a happy, healthy life. But in the moment, they serve as a bridge to take you away from difficult situations, people, events, and feelings. They are behaviors that help you survive from one moment to the next. One important benefit of recovery is that you will learn where your deficits are in handling different types of stress as you investigate the triggers that lead to your behaviors.

In addition to contemplating your relationship with the potential triggers in your life, consider the strategy of self-compassion. Can you forgive yourself for being an imperfect eater? Can you look hopefully toward the future instead of hopelessly at your past? You must try to understand your behaviors and what leads to them in order to avoid them, but you also need faith that change is possible even when you haven’t seen it yet.

If you are feeling hopeless about your eating behaviors, or if you feel that you are unable to make needed changes in your current situation, please call Casa Palmera at 866-768-6719. We have intake counselors available 24-7 to assess your needs and recommend care.


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