Alumni Perspective: Recovering from Food Addiction

Alumni Perspective: Recovering from Food Addiction

I turned 70 three months ago. Now generally speaking, a woman would never divulge that she would be entering that decade. However, this is the first time in fifty years that I am free, sane, and liberated from the world of dieting, calorie counting, purging, bingeing extreme exercising and all else associated with society’s vision of how weight loss should come about. All of this changed a year ago, November 23, 2016 a year where I dropped the shackles of dieting and began to truly live.

I started my first serious diet in my mid twenties. For almost all of my entire life growing up I was the chubbiest in the class, the fattest among my group of friends and the one that was either pitied or taunted. It was in this realm that I sought comfort, predominately in bread, pasta, donuts and chocolate bars. Isolation and secret eating became my way of life.

In my twenties I wanted desperately to fix all of that and so I entered the false promises of the weight loss industry. Diet pills, fasting, Herbal Magic, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers (I have more shares in that than Oprah) and a myriad other plans that promised a quick fix. When all these failed and only more weight piled on I turned to the ultimate quick fix of all times, Weight Loss Surgery. For almost a year I rode a high of quick loss only to come to a screeching crash. You see, I gradually began to transfer my food addiction into alcohol. On came back the pounds and again began assuaging my pain with baguettes, bagels, bonbons, and booze. I was suddenly a fat, malnourished, diabetic, alcoholic with high cholesterol and blood pressure. It was at this point that I thought I was hopeless, helpless and at my age not worth saving. I was an ashamed failure, a mentally and physically sick woman.

By the Grace of God as I call it, I found a comment online about a woman who was entering Renascent for food addiction. I inquired about this and found out that this program was literally in my back yard. I made the phone call.

A year later, I no longer take eight metformin to control type 2 diabetes, my cholesterol and blood pressure is normal. The greatest reward though is that I no longer obsess about food or alcohol. My mad cravings are gone and I religiously follow the food plan given to me during my stay at Renascent. Diet is not a part of my vocabulary any longer. No carbs, no sugars, no alcohol is truly doable under any circumstance. Case in point, to celebrate my seventieth birthday I went for a week to the Grand Canyon to whitewater raft and hike. With advance notice and preparation I was able to stay on plan. Eating out is a breeze as is any social event. What a gift I’ve been given: Health, peace, and well being.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the visionary pioneer of food addiction, Dr. Vera Tarman and all the counsellors and staff at Renascent. I was also the fortunate and last client to be the beneficiary of a generous donation to the Food Addiction Program. I am truly, humbly grateful. Oh and as an extra bonus, I lost forty pounds and am in the normal BMI range. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Food Addiction and Recovery: Three Holiday Recipes

Food Addiction and Recovery: Three Holiday Recipes

Our Food Addiction Program’s Registered Dietitian, Mary Bamford, has put together these three recipes for colourful and delicious vegetable side dishes for a turkey dinner. They can be fully or partially prepared in advance to be used at home or to bring to a potluck.

Festive Beet and Cabbage Salad
For best flavour, make 6-8 hours in advance and refrigerate. Garnish when serving. Makes 8 servings

2 lbs beets (900 g)
1 cup red cabbage, shredded (250 ml)
1 cup carrots, shredded (grated) (250 ml)
4 green onions, thinly sliced (white and green parts)
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (or ½ -1 tsp dried dill) (30 ml)
2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled (150 ml)
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds (80 ml)

¼ cup red wine vinegar (60 ml)
1 tsp dried mustard (5 ml)
2 tbsp olive oil (30 ml)
2 tbsp water (30 ml)
To taste, freshly ground pepper and salt (optional)

1. Wash beets and cut away the tops and the tails. Wrap in foil and bake at 375 deg F (190 C) for about 60 minutes or until just tender. Unwrap, let cool and peel under running water. Cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) chunks and place in large glass or ceramic mixing bowl.
2. Add cabbage, carrots, green onions, and dill and stir gently to combine.
3. Place red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Add mustard and whisk to combine. Add oil, water, and honey and continue to whisk.
4. Pour dressing over beets and other vegetables and stir to combine.
5. When ready to serve, garnish each serving individually with feta cheese and toasted sunflower seeds.

Option to partially make-ahead 1-2 days in advance
1. Roast, cool, peel, and cut beets. Place in their own glass bowl, cover and refrigerate.
2. Shred and slice cabbage, carrots, and green onion and place in a second bowl. Add dill, cover, and refrigerate.
3. Prepare dressing.
4. 6 to 8 hours prior to serving, continue with step 4 above.

Recipe from Mary Bamford, 2010. Adapted from Dietitians of Canada Nutrition Month Campaign 2010. Updated for Renascent November 2017.


Make-Ahead Roasted Green Beans with Red Onion and Walnuts
Makes 8 servings

1 lb green beans, trimmed (450 g)
½ red onion, cut into ¼ inch thick wedges
½ tsp each freshly ground pepper and salt (2 ml each)
1 tbsp olive oil (15 ml)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (no sugar added) (15 ml)
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 tsp fresh thyme, minced (or ¼ tsp dry) (5 ml)

2 oz walnuts, toasted and chopped (60 g)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 450 degrees.
2. Prepare dressing. Combine vinegar, garlic, and thyme in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and spread beans and onion wedges. Sprinkle vegetables with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Using your hand, toss to coat.
4. Transfer to oven and roast for 10 minutes
5. Remove baking sheet from oven. Pour dressing mixture over beans, and using tongs, toss to coat. Redistribute beans and onions in even layer and return to oven.
6. Continue to roast until onions and beans are dark golden brown in spots and beans have started to shrivel, approximately 10 to 12 minutes.
7. Serve hot or allow to cool and refrigerate. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
8. Remove from refrigerator a half hour prior to serving. When ready to serve, garnish each serving individually with toasted walnut.

Mature winter beans from the supermarket are often tough and dull. Roasting them for 20 minutes with olive oil and salt transforms them into deeply caramelized, full-flavoured beans.

Recipe from Mary Bamford. Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. Updated for Renascent November 2017.


Make-Ahead Spiced Squash Casserole (pictured)
Makes 8 servings

3 – 4 lb winter squash, such as buttercup or butternut (1.3-1.8 kg)
½-1 cup water (125-250 ml)
½ tsp salt (2 ml)

Spice Mixture (can be doubled if you like a lot of spicy flavor)
1 tsp cinnamon (5 ml)
½ tsp ground ginger (3 ml)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg (2 ml)
1/8 tsp ground clove (1 ml)
2 Tbsp butter, melted (30 ml)

2 oz pecan halves, toasted (60 g)

1. Pierce the skin of your squash with a fork in multiple places. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. This makes it easier to cut the squash
2. Safely cut the squash in half and remove seeds. Cut in half again. Sprinkle with ½ tsp of salt.
3. Place squash in a microwave safe Pyrex dish, with the cut side down. The dish will likely hold approximately half of your squash. Add water to your Pyrex dish and cover. Microwave on high until squash is very tender and offers no resistance when poked with a paring knife, 15 to 25 minutes. Remove dish from microwave and set on a clean, dry surface. Remove flesh from squash and place in a large bowl. Repeat with the second half of your squash.
4. While your squash is cooking, toast pecan halves that will be used for a garnish. Store them in an airtight container.
5. When your squash is fully cooked, use a fork to mash the squash or egg beaters to whip the squash. Add melted butter and spices, seasoning to taste.
6. Spread squash mixture into a casserole dish that is both microwave and oven safe. Allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
7. Remove casserole from refrigerator when you are ready to reheat. If you are making turkey dinner, warm the casserole on low heat in the microwave during the final minutes of the turkey cooking. After you remove the turkey from the oven, finish heating the squash casserole at 350 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes while the turkey rests.
8. When ready to serve, garnish with toasted pecans.

Microwaving squash creates a smooth and creamy mash that is perfect for a side dish with holiday turkey.

Recipe from Mary Bamford. Cooking technique from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. Updated for Renascent November 2017
Food Addiction and Recovery: Ending the Food Fight

Food Addiction and Recovery: Ending the Food Fight


My problem with food started as far back as I can remember.

I learned to hide it when I got disapproving comments from family and others. I always wanted to be alone to eat and I would hide and hoard it. As I got older it only got worse. I used food for everything. When something bad happened, I would use it for comfort. When something good happened I’d use it to celebrate or as a reward. I would use it to alleviate boredom.

I got sicker and sicker. I began to binge every day in secret. It made me so ashamed of myself. I would have to be sure to have my binge foods already in the house for each night because I knew I was going to need them. Every day I would buy or bake lots of terribly unhealthy sugary/salty foods and every night I would gorge myself until I felt so sick that I could hardly move.

I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. I would even become angry that I couldn’t keep eating. Each night I would promise myself that tomorrow would be different, but each morning I’d wake up with the obsession still there just as strong as the day before and I’d have to do it all over again.

I lost and gained hundreds of pounds dieting and then giving in to the cravings and quitting. I was in chronic pain. I had to go up my stairs on my hands and knees many times. I didn’t want to go out. I had nothing to wear. My job became almost impossible. It was no way to live. I was desperate.

I decided to have Gastric Bypass Surgery but when I lost some weight ahead of time they said I didn’t need the surgery. That upset me and sent me back to the food. I quickly regained everything I’d just lost plus.

I went to a support group where I heard about a Pilot Program in Toronto for Food Addicts at Renascent. I called them the very next day. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I was accepted into the program and I went into the house on October 12th 2016 for 3 weeks.

It was an adjustment at first but I soon found myself really benefitting from their program of healthy, prepared meals, classes, meetings and counselling sessions. I learned for the first time in my life that I’m not a bad person but that I have a disease. I learned that I’m not like other people. I learned that when I eat my trigger foods, my mind and body undergo actual physical changes that are a chemically induced abnormality or illness. I learned that it is a progressive disease and that it only becomes worse without treatment. I learned that unless I abstain from these trigger foods I cannot recover.

I was helped by counsellors to make changes that have literally saved my life. I have been able to remain abstinent since leaving treatment by using all the tools that were given to me. I work this program every single day and it has become a way of life for me. I have a plan of eating that I follow each day. I have a sponsor who helps me and I have a support system of people in my life that have gone through the same experiences, and who are also in recovery. I now have freedom from the mental obsession and physical cravings that used to plague me relentlessly.

I’ve lost at least 100 lbs. and I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I’m active and I can do things I only dreamed of doing before. I believe in this program. It has worked for me. The key for me was willingness. I am so grateful that I have been helped to understand that recovery from eating compulsively is possible.

Learn more about Renascent’s Food Addiction Program. To speak with a food addiction expert, call 1-877-230-2918 or email

Perspective: Confessions of a Food Addict

by Ariane Zurcher

In my teens, through my 20s and halfway into my 30s, I used food the way a junkie uses heroin, only my “highs” didn’t last as long. As a teenager, I realized there was nothing like eating large quantities of food to quell my discomfort, boredom, pain, happiness, sadness or anger. I found I could cancel out my overeating by purging. Vomiting quickly became as much a compulsion as eating was. At a certain point, I had to do both, and though I didn’t think of it as one and the same, both provided the relief I sought from the pain I was in. Very quickly, I went from making a decision to eat to feeling it was no longer a choice but something I had to do. The pain felt so unbearable, the food and vomiting so wonderfully seductive and numbing, I began to feel I would die if I didn’t give in to my compulsions.

By the time I was 17, I knew I had a problem. I had tried, on numerous occasions, to cut back or stop, but I could not. At the age of 18, it was clear to me that I was an addict, but few agreed. Being addicted to food is not a popular or commonly-accepted idea. Being addicted to food is not considered, by many, to be a true or real addiction. Instead, people said, “Just go on a diet.” “Just stop eating when you’re full.” “You’re not an addict, you just like food.” “You can’t be addicted to food, you just have a problem with willpower and self-control.” “Why don’t you talk about it; maybe that will help you understand your real problems.” “Fast for a few days and cleanse your body.” “You need to get a hobby, take your mind off eating and food.”

So for years, I followed everyone’s advice. I went to psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioural therapists, group therapy, eating disorder specialists and body workers. I tried diets, fasting, cutting out particular food groups, visualization, aromatherapy, and read every book I could find dealing with weight loss, compulsive eating and dieting. I kept journals and wrote about my feelings. I weighed myself and measured all my body parts. I kept detailed records of weight gain and loss with the corresponding inches gained or lost. I viewed myself with a critical eye, carefully evaluating the “problem areas,” and resolved to work on those with trips to the gym and exercises targeting those troublesome parts of my body that didn’t measure up. And as I did all of this, I kept telling myself that there was obviously something fundamentally wrong with me, or else I would be able to eat like everyone else.

It never once occurred to me that my self-loathing and self-criticism did little except make me want to eat more and increased my anxiety and self-hatred, which in turn increased my compulsiveness. Over the years as I continued to try and failed at various “treatments,” I became more and more depressed, until eventually I felt the only real option left was suicide. And as I contemplated this, as I seriously began to consider this as a viable option, I was told to go to a group of people who were grappling with the same issues I was — food and compulsive overeating. It was there in those rooms filled with people who identified as addicts, just like me, that I felt, for the first time, I belonged among the human race. Finally I had found my people. Up until that point I felt like an interloper, a perpetual outsider, the one who couldn’t figure out how to live with the same kind of simplicity and ease everyone else seemed able to do.

This group of people taught me how to be in the world. They talked to me and supported me during those first months of sleepless nights and headaches. They taught me that my actions, the things I said and did, affected how I felt about myself. These other addicts helped me navigate life one day at a time, reminding me that I was not alone and that others had come before me. They held out their hands, offered me support and guidance and encouraged me. They taught me about honesty and taking “the next right action” and the importance of being present. I came to understand that my life was of value and that I had something to offer others. As I learned to behave in a kinder, more tolerant way toward others, I became kinder and more tolerant of myself. As I became more tolerant of myself, I felt more comfortable in my own skin and began to accept myself for exactly who I was. As I did this day by day, I found my compulsions lessen. I found I could concentrate on other things. I realized I had a great many interests and was able to begin pursuing them. I found I had the energy and the desire to help others who were like I once was.

Now, close to 20 years since those early, painful days when I first discovered I was not alone, my life has completely changed. That person I was all those years ago is not who I am now. But I still remain an addict. It is who and what I am. It is important for me to remember, because it is when I forget that I once again find myself mistaking painful emotions for hunger and dissatisfaction with my body. Suddenly, I become obsessed with how much I weigh, wondering how many calories are in any given food and where and what I can or cannot eat. It is so easy to go there and when I do, I lose out on my life. As an active addict, everything and everyone else takes a back seat to my addiction. Active addicts are not fun to be around. They have little to offer. But those of us who have come out the other side, who have learned how to be in this world without picking up our substance of choice, we have so much to offer and give. Some of the finest, most generous and trustworthy people I know are addicts with years of recovery under their belts.

I am an addict. I am a mom. I am a wife. I am a friend. I am a human being.

Reprinted from The Huffington Post with kind permission of the author. See more of Ariane’s work at Where Art & Life Meet and