Mary Foushi: "Food was just a small part of it. But it was the part I needed to start with."

Welcome to another installment of "10 Words or Less." Today's participant counsels clients who are struggling with food severely enough that they choose to remove themselves from home, family, and work for a period to get help. She is an author and cofounder of ACORN Food Dependency Recovery Services, based in Sarasota, Fla., which has developed a unique mode of treatment that I call "itinerant rehab" to help thousands of self-identified food addicts to regain their footing.

Name Mary Foushi
Born when, where "Nov. 18, 1952, in Milford, Del."
Anything unusual about the circumstances "Of the five children born in my family, I was the smallest, yet I ended up being over 340 pounds."
Family circumstance "I am in a long-term relationship with my partner, Phil Werdell, and we're going to get married on March 1, 2014.
What has been the overarching condition of your life? "Obesity, and it still affects me today," despite that she's maintaining a 195-pound loss for more than 21 years.
Can you give me an example? "I was recently invited to lead the OA retreat, and one of the first things that came up in me was fear that they would think, 'She's not in recovery. Look how fat she is!'"

What did you want to be when you grew up "When I was in high school. I wanted to be a flight attendant, but knew I was too overweight."
Where do you live now? "The beautiful paradise of Sarasota, Fla. We've lived here 13 years. I moved down from Chicago."
What do you do for a living? "I am a cofounder and co-owner of ACORN Food Dependency Recovery Services. I am executive director, in charge of its vision and work."
What did you used to do? "I was an administrative assistant for many years. After I couldn't be a flight attendant, I went to secretarial school, which I thought was my only option, because I was an outstanding typist."
How many clients have you worked with? "I personally have worked with 2,500 to 3,000."
What's the usual format? "There are different events, but the primary intensive is our primary work. We usually work with a maximum of 12 participants. and events are held at a private home."
One of your top priorities for their stay "First of all, to get abstinent and detox from their addictive foods."
What is abstinence? "That can be different for different people. In the way we would look at it, identification of foods that cause physical craving, and then abstaining from those foods, and from volume, meaning large amounts of food, if that's an issue."
But I thought the prevailing wisdom is was "everything in moderation" "It certainly is the prevailing wisdom, and that works for a lot of people. But it doesn't work if you're addicted to a lot of foods."
Please define food addiction "A chemical dependency upon certain foods characterized by an abnormal reaction in body and mind."
Do you think food addiction explains all obesity? "No, I do not. I think some people are obese who are not food addicts, and there are some food addicts who are not obese."
Care to estimate how many Americans are food addicts? "I could only guess. Ten to fifteen percent. Or more."
What is an addictive food? "The commonly addicted foods that we see are overwhelmingly sugar and flour, because they're so highly refined, and salt, high fat, and caffeine."
That's not a complete list, right? "There can be other foods that people are addicted to. For example, we have worked with a handful of people who can't have any fruit in any way, because the sugar level creates a craving for them. Potatoes is another example."
What percentage has achieved abstinence while with you? "It's 99-plus percent. Of the thousands who've participated in primary intensives, probably 10 or fewer have not left with abstinence."
Some people would say: 'Come on. Who's going to believe that?" "Part of the strength of the intensive is that people are living together. We create a very safe environment."
Does it last after they leave? "We have done some followup work regarding that. It's about a third, a third, a third. About a third continue with abstinence for a year or longer. Another third usually have to do more extensive work, one or more intensives, some have to go into treatment. But it's kind of slippery, we call it: Some periods of relapse but progress continually being made. The other third are people who either relapse or we lose touch with them, or they just can't seem to sustain abstinence."
Someone outside your family whom you admire "The person that comes to me is Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous."
Something that has to change "The whole environment around food. We need a heightened awareness of the chemicals in our food that can create cravings and addiction in people. Especially as our children are growing up."
What do you mean by chemicals? "I am talking about sugar, salt, and fat, primarily sugar. Fifty years ago, our cereals were not laced with sugar. Now you can't hardly walk down the sugar aisle, I mean the cereal aisle — oops, that's a slip of the tongue, though it's pretty accurate — and find a cereal among the hundreds that doesn't have sugar."
Can anyone do what you've done around weight? "Absolutely. But they need a lot of support."
What kind of support? "To identify if they are food addicts, and to break denial around that. And then to get the support to detox, just like alcohol and drug addicts have to do. And then be in some sort of environment where they can maintain their abstinence."
195 or 21-plus. Which number impresses you more? "21-plus. Because I have lost 100 pounds five different times in my life, and gained it back. This is the first time I've been able to maintain long-term abstinence."
A primary factor in sustaining this change? "There needs to be treatment, or some sort of facility or support, available for people. I was in treatment twice, and spent three months in a halfway house for my food addiction."
A halfway house? But that's where really sick people go. "You're right, and I was very sick. I needed a complete change in my thinking and my attitudes, and food was just a small part of it. But it was the part I needed to start with."

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