‘It was definitely news to both of us that you could be addicted to food’

FOOD addiction can be tricky to recognise and treat – unlike drink and drugs, you can’t come off it completely and unlike the drink or drug addict, the overeater does not come stumbling through the door.

John was gobsmacked when his wife Mary was diagnosed as a food addict.

“It was definitely news to both of us that you could be addicted to food. I still find the whole notion strange, the idea that someone travels to Cork three times a week to go to an hour-long meeting (Overeaters Anonymous) to stop them overeating. But I suppose it doesn’t impinge on the addict’s family in the way an alcoholic or a drug addict would, so in that respect, it’s not your typical type of addiction.”

The same rules apply, however, regardless of the kind of addiction.

“There were times when I didn’t know where I stood from hour to hour, not to mention day to day. There were a lot of arguments. She would go on a diet and tell me not to let her eat certain foods. We’d go out for a meal and she’d order one of those foods, and I’d say ‘Maybe don’t eat that,’ and she would get annoyed and we’d fight. The amount of trouble caused by partners trying to control the addict can lead to complete friction in an relationship.”

Conscious that his interference was making matters worse, John made the decision not to try and manage his wife’s behaviour. It was the right decision and in line with the advice they later received when Mary signed up for a residential treatment programme at Tabor Lodge Addiction and Housing Services Ltd.

John’s experience of living with an alcoholic father may have subconsciously equipped him to make this decision. “I would have known from my experience that it was not up to me to try and control it.”

John believes Mary’s addiction stems from growing up in a troubled household where her mother and father were at each others’ throats. “As a young child, she assumed the role of peacemaker, and looking at photographs, she was probably overeating from the age of four or five. Comfort eating became a defence mechanism for her and a way of coping with stress.

“If you don’t develop the lifeskills to cope when very young, it is hard to acquire them later in life.”

Mary’s decision to seek treatment came at a time when she was hoping to get pregnant. John believes a remark by a counsellor that she didn’t think Mary was serious about addressing her addiction prompted her to sign up for the 35-day residential programme.

It turned her life around and the co-dependent programme has helped John. They also celebrated the joy of having a little boy.

“It taught me not to react if she is having a bad day. If one person is having a bad day, you don’t have to. There is no point in taking it personally, let them off. Separateness is very important in recovery,” John said.

Nowadays Mary is a long way from the weight she once was. She attends regular OA meetings.

John wishes society was more open about addiction.

“I firmly believe too much of it is kept in the closet. If it was spoken about and identified earlier, it could be treated earlier.

“By the time we reach adulthood, so much of our behaviour is programmed, it’s hard to re-set it. I know several people from aftercare who ended up in the water or dying from drink.

“It would be much better for everyone if we were open about addictions. It would allow for early intervention.”


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