Weight: Symptom or Problem?

Written by Lisette Cifaldi, MSW, LMSW at

My recovery from food addiction didn’t begin with a desire to end the madness with food. It started with a desire to lose weight. I wasn’t looking for mental, spiritual, and emotional healing. My weight was my only problem, or so I thought. I was 60-pounds overweight, silently seething all the time and looking for a way I could continue eating without gaining weight. I just wanted to fit into that illusive smaller size. Other than that, my life was just peachy.

Does that sound eerily familiar? Most people battling food addiction seem on a never-ending deployment when it comes to their war with food. The reason for this? They believe weight is the enemy, not realizing that addiction is their real nemesis.

When helping others recover from food addiction, having them shift their attention from weight-loss to addiction management is no easy task. The question tattooed across their brain is, “How am I going to lose weight if I’m not trying to lose weight?” That’s the funny thing about beating food addiction; it requires that you stop thinking about the weight. What?!

When it comes to food addiction, weight is a symptom of a more pervasive problem. Food addiction recovery requires the struggling individual to explore dysfunctions and challenges within many systems; physical, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological and environmental. As each system is investigated problems can be addressed, healing can begin, and the addiction slowly atrophies. Here’s a metaphor that helps explain this process better:

Let’s say you find a nice sunny spot in your backyard and decide to plant a summer garden. You work all weekend raking, weeding, and preparing the garden for planting. When you wake Monday morning you discover a nasty, itchy rash on your right forearm. You surmise quickly that you have come in contact with poison ivy, thus the rash. You treat the rash with Calamine Lotion and within a few days it’s gone. The following weekend you are back in the garden, clearing more debris. Monday rolls around again and the rash is back except it’s further up your arm now and really uncomfortable. This time you choose to see a doctor about the rash and she gives you a steroid ointment to clear it up which works wonderfully. Saturday is upon you again and you diligently tend to your garden. This time when you wake on Monday the rash is on both arms, nastier than ever.

The rash is your weight. You can keep treating the rash but until you get into the garden, find the poison ivy vine that runs throughout the garden, and pull it from all the many roots, you are going to keep getting the rash. The vine is your addiction. The physical, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological and environmental systems need to be uprooted and examined. When the roots are pulled, the vine withers. When the systems of dysfunction are examined the addiction deteriorates and the symptom of excess weight starts to retreat.

The interesting thing about this profound paradigm shift in weight-loss is that the happiness you feel as you pull the vine, or examine the systems of self, is greater than any happiness resulting from previous weight-loss success you might have experienced. I didn’t wake up 60-pounds overweight one morning. The excess weight was a worsening symptom of a more insidious problem. It wasn’t until I understood how the disease of addiction was growing within my entire life and began fixing, adjusting and facing my issues that the 60-excess pounds started to disappear. Now I can tell you from a place of honesty and not denial, my life really is peachy.


Lisette Cifaldi, MSW, LMSW is a food addiction specialist offering food addiction recovery coaching, education and advocacy. She is also a nationally known corporate and community motivational speaker. You can learn more about Lisette at or contact her at

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