I’m sincerely very appreciative of all of the FEmale food addicts who have extended their support to me over the years! Many of them are shining examples of the recovery I am working to achieve, with the help of God and support of other addicts, one day at a time.

So with all due respect for the many WOmen who read this humble blog of mine…Over the years I’ve found that many a meeting of Overeaters Anonymous provide something less than appropriate emotional support for us MEN who struggle with this addiciton. This problem isn’t limited to OA. Indeed at times it feels to me like the whole friggin’ weight loss culture in our society is stacked AGAINST men who struggle with food addiction. Except when pictured with a WOman, when was the last time that Weight Watchers magazine featured a MAN on it’s cover?

So to help bolster the chances for MEN to find an emotionally safe place to find recovery, over a decade ago I establshed ONE BITE FELLOWSHIP (www.OneBite.net) as a support network exclusively for MEN who seek help to stop the insanity of food addiction.

While i do respond to inquiries from FEmale food addicts, frankly most of my efforts are devoted to helping MEN who struggle with my addiction. Nothing against the WOmen who share my addiction, but for any number of reasons, female-to-female and male-to-male support seems to work best when it comes to food addiction recovery.

And just like WOmen in Alcoholics Anonymous (and other 12 Step fellowships) have a right to seek out meetings, retreats and other fellowship events JUST for WOmen (Yes, they refuse to admit MEN), ONE BITE FELLOWSHIP very much has a right to offer help to ONLY MEN who struggle with food addiction.

Not only are support groups often hostile to men who struggle with food addiction, but so are many so-called “eating disorder” treatment programs.  My own experience in one such anti-male treatment center is the focus of this journal entry.

While by no means it’s only focus, the text that follows includes a discussion of sexual matters,  sexual abuse and anti-male sexism. So please respect your own boundaries and do NOT read any further if you find such a discussion offensive!

The Day Soft, Plain Yogurt Became A Body Fluid
by Dave P. – Founder, One Bite Fellowship

Soft Plain Yogurt = Sexual Abuse Diagnostic Tool?  NOT!!!

During the fall of 1995 I was a patient for fifteen days in a hospital-based eating disorder unit in Saint Louis, Missouri. This particular facility claimed to offer a “12 Step-based” treatment regime for compulsive overeating, bulimia and anorexia. Once admitted to this facility what I found instead was that didn’t seem to have a clue about the 12 Step approach to dealing with eating disorders. And instead of focusing on food addiction issues, this treatment center offered little more than controversial, idiotic psychobabble about a whole host of outside issues that always lead to finding an excuse to bash men!

Thankfully this particular eating disorder treatment facility (which will remain anonymous in this discussion) went out of business several years ago. However the same company that owned the facility where I was patient still operates other eating disorder units around the country (although under a slightly different corporate name).

Despite their claims to the contrary, this hospital unit was not 12 Step-focused. In fact, during my stay, I was allowed to attend only ONE 12 Step meeting. Real 12 Step-based treatment units (regardless of the addiction they are treating) allow — or even require — their patients to attend a minimum of three to five 12 Step meetings per week. Attendance at just one 12 Step meeting in a fifteen day period is simply unheard of, despite the fact that no less than three Overeaters Anonymous meetings were available EACH day of the week in the Saint Louis metropolitan area, many within just five-to-ten miles of the facility! So “lack of availability” of OA meetings was not the problem.

The real issue behind allowing patients to attend OA meetings, IMHO, was that the treatment program simply did NOT place a high value on helping their patients work through the 12 Steps (i.e., 12 Steps of Overeaters Anonymous or those of any other fellowship). This is a critcal flaw in the approach used by this treatment facility since the 12 Steps are the very heart any legitimate “12 Step recovery process”.

Equally troubling is the fact that the first writing assignment given to patients is a type of Step 4 inventory – yet no real study or opportunity to work Steps 1, 2 and 3 was offered. Anyone who know how legitimate 12 Step recovery is structured will tell you that the Steps are to be worked in order (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.), especially within a professional treatment setting.

I’ve come to realize that the treatment facility in question exploits its relationship with Overeaters Anonymous for marketing purposes. Doing so is a sleazy way to “borrow some credibility” from the OA fellowship. Please note that from my first day in treatment the staff pressured me to “share” about the treatment program with our OA friends. All of us patients were repeatedly encouraged by the staff to share the facility’s promotional brochures with our OA friends. To share “outside literature” during an OA meeting with other members is a violation of that fellowship’s Traditions that prohibit it from endorsing (or opposing) any outside entity (including treatment centers).

So if this unit did not have a 12 Step-focused approach to treat eating disorders, just what did they offer their patients? Once I arrived at the hospital, I was exposed to numerous brochures which were used to promote the eating disorder unit and a separate program for “survivors of sexual abuse“.  Upon closer examination of two of these pamphlets, it appeared that BOTH programs contained virtually identical elements (from group therapy to consultation with a nutritionist). Indeed, when I asked a staff member my suspicion was confirmed: only one program actually existed, but that program was being marketed under two names each with its own unique name. To further blur the nature and scope of the two very different treatment programs, both were identified with the same corporate name and the same toll-free phone number was printed on both treatment program’s brochures.

One program was marketed to persons struggling with eating disorders, while the other treatment program was pitched to survivors of sexual abuse. Marketing one program as two distinct ones: is this honest? No.

Are “most” persons who struggle with eating disorders victims of childhood sexual abuse? No. Do all survivors of childhood sexual abuse struggle with eating disorders? Not according to any research that I’ve looked at.

It is probably safe to assume that a fairly high percentage of food addicts (when compared to the general population) have experienced some for of abuse, including sexual abuse. At least this appears to be the opinion of many researchers wh’s work I’ve studied since my bizarre eating disorder treatment experience. The research I’ve read indicates that that just over half of compulsive overeaters, bulimics and anorexics have suffered from childhood sexual abuse. But I’ve never seen any research suggest that anywhere close to “95 percent” (which is the statistic touted by at least one employee of the treatment center in question) of compulsive eaters have been victimized.

Legitimate 12 Step-focused treatment centers rarely probe deeply into issues like sexual abuse. This is because it is widely believed that long-term sobriety is needed before addicts can face such trauma without endangering their newly found recovery. Stopping an addiction (to food or any other substance) is more than enough of an “issue” for most of us addicts to deal with in early recovery!

What about the quality of care patients who, like myself, received who are NOT victims of sexual abuse (which is anywhere from five to 50 percent, depending on who’s statistics you believe)? Why waste our time looking for issues that don’t exist?

From day one of my treatment experience the primary focus was on uncovering repressed memories of sexual abuse. This despite the fact that I was told by the unit’s “admissions consultants” that their program was SOLELY FOCUSED on eating disorders. At best, their treatment program was “dually focused” on sexual abuse AND eating disorders.

Was I the only patient who felt that s/he had been lied to? No! During the fifteen days I was in treatment two of the three patients who signed themselves out (against medical advice) did so because they also felt that the facilities “admission consultants” had been blatantly dishonest with them about the nature of the treatment program. Interestingly, all three of the patients who left for the same reason I did were males.

If the treatment I received was not “12 Step-focused”, then just what was the “psychotherapeutic approach” utilized by this facility?

Let me begin to answer this important question by sharing about an interesting conversation I had with a friend who visited me while I was in treatment. She was a recent “alumnus” of this facility who had just moved to the city where I reside. While it was wonderful to have a visitor from home my first weekend in Saint Louis, I was hopeful that she could shed some light on why this particular treatment unit did some of the bizarre things it did. My friend provided me with some important insights — and what she told me was absolutely disgusting!

One of the first questions I asked my friend was “Why do they serve us so much gross food . . . like soft, plain Yogurt?” “Didn’t they tell you about that when you were first admitted?” she asked. “Nope,” I answered.

You see it made little sense to me that soft, plain yogurt was served since many delicious flavors of fat-free and sugar-free soft Yogurt were available. Plain Yogurt, at best, is pretty much taste-less. (Before I continue, please be aware that soft plain yogurt is smooth and creamy in texture and white in appearance.) “Well, that’s because the treatment center believes that most of their patients have REPRESSED MEMORIES of sexual abuse . . . and that certain foods bring up (to one’s consciousness) those memories!” my friend explained. “And,” she continued “soft, plain Yogurt is supposed to remind you of (male) SEMEN.”

Be assured that I did NOT want to believe what my friend’s explanation of the soft, plain Yogurt! So almost immediately after I concluded my visit with my friend, I asked a staff member if the treatment program “really believed” in this “plain Yogurt = male semen” equation. The staff member just smiled and said, “Well all I’ll admit is that some of the food you are served here is intended to bring up repressed memories of abuse.”

Oh great! I’m in a treatment center that has as one of its core beliefs the nonsense (which, as best, is highly controversial among mental health professionals) that certain foods can trigger repressed memories! This made me wonder if the treatment staff might have been actually “sicker” than we patients might have been?!?

As to other examples of what I call the “anti-male sexism” of the treatment program in question, it should be noted that none of the treatment center staff were men. I asked a nurse why they didn’t have any male therapists on staff, let alone any other male treatment providers (e.g., nurses, dieticians, unit technicians, etc.). I was told that “if we allowed men to work here, the female patients would be in constant danger of once again becoming victims of sexual abuse.” This employee’s highly inflammatory comments made me wonder if some male job applicants might have been discriminated against on the basis of their gender?!? Oh and I guess women are NEVER sexual abuse perpetrators, huh? Not quite.

I also experienced a great deal of anti-male sexism in group therapy. When I didn’t cry as expected during or following my sharing of a particular written assignment, my female therapist accused me in front of my fellow patients of being “too afraid to be emotionally vulnerable.” I was accused of allowing my “machismo” to get in the way of my “need to cry.” PLEASE! Good grief, even I joke that I had been known to “cry at supermarket grand openings”! Maybe I didn’t cry as the therapist expected me to because to do so would not have been an appropriate emotional response, given the nature of the information I had shared? Is it fair for a therapist to expect (let alone demand) that male clients emote just like females are expected to emote?.

Another issue had to do with the treatment of the husbands and boyfriends of the female patients who attended the “family therapy” sessions at this particular treatment facility. The therapists (again, these were always women) showed great hostility toward these men in front of the group! Whatever wrong they were accused of by their female counterpart, it just had to be so. I guess women are always right and men are always wrong? Hmmm.

Whenever sexual abuse was brought up by therapists, it was presented in such a way to infer that MEN were ALWAYS the perpetrators. Please understand I am not saying that men “never” violate women (or men) sexually. I simply wish to point out that BOTH women and men have the potential to be sexual abusers. Which begs me to ask, since when is the promotion of stereotypes, on the basis of gender, ever “therapeutically appropriate”?

I have never been a fan of the health insurance industry. But after experiencing “12 Step-focused eating disorder treatment”, which really was neither 12 Step-oriented nor eating disorder-focused, I can definitely understand why it is extremely hard to convince insurance companies to pay for this type of hospitalization!

During the intake process I was actually encouraged to embellish my symptoms (i.e., particularly depression and anxiety) in order to persuade my provider to pay for my treatment. It seems to me that being coerced to exaggerate symptoms clearly constitutes an attempt to incite a potential patient to lie, let alone commit insurance fraud. It is truly a shame for a treatment facility to engage in dishonest and even illegal behavior in order to for them to remain in business!

Do I have any good things to say about my “treatment experience?” Not much. But here’s t he short list.

— One therapist actually seemed to be less anti-male than the others were. I recall that she engaged in men-bashing at only HALF of the sessions she facilitated!
— I bonded well with many of the other patients. We all came to treatment looking for 12 Step solution for our food addiction and it is a shame that what we got was NOT what was promised to us.

I sincerely wish I could share many more positive things (let alone none of the negative things) that I’ve shared about my treatment experience in Saint Louis. After all, eating disorders kill over 300,000 American’s each year (that is an average of 34 deaths every hour of every day!) which is why I firmly believe in the very legitimate need for 12 Step-focused, hospital-based treatment and various forms of legitimate psychotherapy to treat eating disorders, including food addiction. It should be noted that authentic 12 Step-centered treatment has a well-established reputation of helping multitudes of alcoholics and many other types of addicts to experience long-term recovery.

I think it is particularly pathetic, at best, that one of the largest “chains” of eating disorder treatment units has deceived thousands of compulsive eaters into it’s sub-standard treatment programs. Interestingly I’ve heard of at least one other national chain of eating disorder treatment centers was forced to close all of its hospital-based units after it was charged with numorous charges of insurance fraud.

I believe our food-obsessed/thin-obsessed society urgently needs 12 Step-oriented mental health therapists and medical practitioners to come forward to fill the void for legitimate eating disorder treatment. While 12 Step fellowships offer a tremendous amount of experience, strength and hope, much more support is often needed to help the still-suffering addict break free from their addiction.

If you’re a MALE overeater, bulimic or anorexic who believes you need to be hospitalized to overcome your problem, rest assured that a few extremely ethical and male-friendly 12 Step-focused eating disorder units still exist! Some of the best treatment programs (like the one I experienced in 1986 at the former DePaul Rehabilitation Hospital in Milwaukee) were non-profit and have long ago closed due to the elimination of government funding that was previously available.

I’m always glad to hear from MALE food addicts who have experienced anti-male sexism in support groups, professional treatment programs, or in any other setting where they’ve sought help for their addiction. If you care to leave your e-mail address in your comment I’ll be glad to respond to you directly. I’m also careful to DELETE e-mail addresses from comments so as to protect the anonymity thos who wish to leave a comment on this website.