My Recovery from Food Addiction and Disordered Eating
Dr Bunmi Aboaba switched a drinking problem with a food addiction
She developed her own system to recover and now she's 14 years sober and has a healthy relationship with food
We have therapists who specialise in disordered eating – find them here
Thank goodness sharing our stories is a key part of the healing process nowadays. Be it a good story or a challenging story, both in equal measure are inspiring.
For the first time in history, we are recognising shame as the perpetrator instead of feeling shame around our stories and hiding.
We share our story so we may be a reminder to another soul that: "It's going to be ok. We really can change." And that, no matter how horrendous something may be…“There is another side, another outcome that will be the polar opposite of where one might be now.”
I wouldn't be here writing this to you now If I had not somewhat been down that road, and now it is my job and my honour to be in true service and guidance to others on the journey out of the dark space of food addiction and into a life of food serenity and freedom.
So, in light of the importance of sharing our stories here's a little of mine
I had spent over 20 years struggling, see-sawing, self-sabotaging, and playing Russian roulette with my own health. In 2008 I plummeted into burnout. That was the day the everything went dark for me.
Until then, I thought I could handle anything, face obstacles head-on, beat them, overcome them, hurdle them, or pole vault over them. I was successful in my profession, and I was a good mum, a good wife, a good friend, a good daughter, and a good human being.
So, nothing prepared me for the chink in my armour. You see, I had an alcohol addiction. However hard I tried, I always folded. Mentally, physically, and emotionally I was exhausted, and my life was falling apart around me.
Getting the help I needed to recover was a blessing. However, what took me by surprise and crept into my life was my growing love of junk food. Sugary foods, processed foods, high-fat foods, sweets, chocolates… You name it, I craved it. I couldn't believe it. Where alcohol had been my best friend, junk food had well and truly replaced it.
In hindsight, I can see it was certain foods that made me feel good, sedated and happy, albeit for only a short time, just like alcohol used to.
And, equally interesting, was that old memories were resurfacing of me as a child. Memories of gorging on jam, butter and digestive biscuit sandwiches, packets of raw jelly, spoonfuls of raw Horlicks, and then hiding the empty packets, denying I had eaten so much, and generally feeling ashamed.
The turning point
My epiphany came one morning as I was rolling out of bed. I felt ill after a binge the night before and I recognised the same signs and symptoms of addiction. The self-sabotage I was experiencing was nearly as ferocious as with alcohol.
I even behaved exactly the same way around certain foods as I did with alcohol. I was obsessive, compulsive, furtive and secretive. I had morning carb hangovers. I was being sick or making myself sick. I was eating when I wasn’t hungry. I was experiencing night sweats, and the feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing, mood swings, and depression created a perpetuating cycle.
I would swear off the goodies for a period whilst focusing on getting fit and healthy, but then I would relapse.
This was the true start of my own journey of discovery and recovery. I needed to find out what worked for me and what didn’t.
My journey towards recovery
I acknowledged that I was an overthinker and could easily sabotage my goals by complicating them. I realised I needed to keep everything simple. I was aware that I needed to stay away from foods that compelled me to keep eating in order to stay well.
Keeping a food diary was incredibly insightful, as was journalling about the emotions that came up for me around food. Ultimately, I realised the only person that could crucify me was me.
I was always very hard on myself. I didn’t feel good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, and there was always that gaping chasm in my heart. Whatever I did, however successful or loved I was, I never felt worthy or deserving.
So, I did the work on ME. I affirmed daily that I was enough. Every morning I looked myself in the eye and said I forgive you, and I am proud of you.
Traditionally I was a people-pleaser – as are many addicts – choosing to put others needs before my own. I began to turn negatives into positives. This wasn’t easy, but the day flowed and my mood was boosted when I did. I installed a daily routine including meditation, prayer, breath work, journalling, and attending peer support groups. Radical self-care turned my life 180 degrees and keeps me well to this day.
The importance of the mind-body connection cannot be undervalued. I have strengthened this powerful connection through my self-care practice, working with crystals, and undertaking chakra healing and reiki. Through these methods, I have transformed my relationship with myself and my relationship with food.
My absolute passion is for helping others who, like my old self, don’t understand what they are suffering from. These people have likely spent years being called weak-willed, lazy and greedy. They have probably tried every diet and health and fitness programme in an attempt to lose weight. They want to feel good, be well, and swear never to binge again – only to become dumbfounded at the never-ending vicious circle of trying everything to overcome addictive eating only to fail.
I no longer try to use food or alcohol to fill that hole in my soul. I am at peace with the world around me, and whatever life throws at me, I don’t need to eat or drink to escape or survive it. And I want to help other people feel the same.
Dr Bunmi Aboaba is a food addiction coach and the author of Craving Freedom