Before she discovered Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA), Kelly* couldn't stop eating.
"A regular person can eat five or 10 chips with Ro-Tel dip. I couldn't shovel it into my mouth fast enough," says Kelly, a Memphian who attends FAA meetings every week. "I would eat until the whole thing was gone. All I could think about was food and where I was going to get it."
The now-slim Kelly lost 60 pounds in 1998 when she discovered that a diet free of sugar, flour, and wheat curbed her cravings. That same diet serves as the food plan for FAA, a 12-step program that Kelly joined in 2000.
Last weekend, nearly 100 food addicts, some from as far away as Ireland, attended the annual FAA World Convention at the University of Memphis.
On opening night, about 70 food addicts, mostly middle-aged women, are gathered in a classroom. They're talking among themselves when the music to Elvis Presley's "Blue Suede Shoes" blares over the loudspeaker. A group of 12 ladies storm in, holding colorful inflatable guitars and saxophones. Once they reach the front of the room, they sing a parody of the Elvis classic, shaking their hips to the beat: "You can do as you please, but don't give into your disease" replaces "You can do anything, but lay off my blue suede shoes."
After the performance, a man named Aaron, one of the few men in the room, talks about sticking with the FAA program.
"It wasn't just one or two donuts," recounts Aaron. "It was more, more, more until I went into a food coma."
Much like the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program, FAA preaches 12 steps and turning oneself over to a higher power. But they also use a diet plan that eliminates all sugar, flour, wheat, high-fat, and high-carb foods, because those foods are considered "addictive."
"When we get on a plan of sound nutrition, the cravings go away," says Judy, another Memphian. "Before I came to this program, I didn't know that feeling. I always had food thoughts in my head. I didn't know what full was."
With a reputation for barbecue and fried foods, Memphis may seem as good a place for an FAA meeting as Milwaukee is for an AA gathering. But Kelly says temptation is the same everywhere. "Everywhere you go, there's always a donut or a pizza or a cookie," says Kelly.
Local FAA members meet three times a week in Memphis at St. Louis Catholic Church and Shady Grove Presbyterian Church.
*Those interviewed requested their last names be withheld.