12-Step Program for Binge Eaters Worked for Only a Short Time

By December 10, 2012

You are awesome for caring enough to answer our questions. I am a 1st year graduate student who had suffered from disordered eating for four years. During that time, I saw doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists, and counselors but I still continued to binge and feel horrible about myself. I just couldn’t seem to stop cold turkey. Until last summer when I joined food addicts in recovery anonymous which is a 12 step program with weighing and measuring of food and abstaining from all flour and sugar. I did not binge for nearly 90 days and I felt great about myself. But, when I messed up, it was hard to get back up so I just gave up. Others around me seemed to be doing fine but I would fall off. So, now I am spending lots of money with a counselor and nutritionist and doctor and the 12 step program was free. Should I try again or try this new way even though I binge often and but see progress mentally? I’m so tired. – anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Let’s first talk about why the 12-step program you joined was only helpful in the short term. From your description, one aspect of it was highly structured—weighing and measuring foods, with complete abstinence from refined sugar and flour. Most people find it very difficult to maintain such rigidity beyond the few months you experienced. So although you might have felt like you were making progress initially, you really weren’t making permanent lifestyle changes that are sustainable.

It is the same reason why people don’t stay on diets very long. Although people are sometimes instructed to weigh and measure food for learning purposes, it doesn’t need be done on a daily basis and can definitely promote food obsessions. In addition, total abstinence from certain foods ultimately leads to feelings of deprivation, followed by cravings and binges.

Regarding specifically eliminating all sugars and flour, it’s important to note that much of the carbohydrate content of all foods is ultimately digested to sugar, and the body doesn’t know the source—rice versus bread, for example. I much prefer approaches that incorporate flexibility and a non-diet mentality. We have a lot of articles posted in the nutrition section of this site to help you learn more, but you might especially be interested in “The Truth about Carbs.”

I would suggest that you not give up on this new start with a counselor and nutritionist, especially since you state that you are experiencing progress mentally. It will take time to change your thinking, uncover the triggers for your binges, and find healthier ways to cope with your emotions. But I also think it’s important for you to speak openly and honestly with your health care professionals, so they understand some of your ambivalence and frustration. You might want to peruse our “Books” section to see if there are any resources that will help provide further insight and encouragement (or ask your counselor for suggestions). I would suggest Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop.

I know you are weary of this struggle and treatment can be costly, but your well being is so important. Hang in there and give this a chance. You really CAN get better, but it will take some hard work, time, persistence and patience.


Ann Capper, RD, CDN