Distilled Wisdom From Anne Lamott

Anne Lamott, who writes both fiction and nonfiction, has accrued what Steve O’Keefe characterizes as “quite a following among the addiction recovery audience.” Her sense of humor can readily be described as dark. Case in point:

Someone who’d spent $30,000 at a diet hospital told me the secret: Eat less, exercise more. Oh, and here’s $5,000 worth of cutting edge advice: drink more water.


[M]ost people overuse things like food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, work, and porn to avoid what they don’t want to feel — and mostly what we don’t want to feel is fear. If I were God, overconsumption would work better, without such bad consequences.

Lamott’s recent book, Almost Everything: Notes on Hope, includes a discussion of food in which, says reviewer Rachel Nania, “the author, who struggled with eating disorders into her 30s, takes an anti-diet stance on a topic that’s guided by societal norms, rather than nutrition and nourishment.” Lamott also used to drink, and faced the terror that if she stopped, she would never be able to write again. She writes,

[…] my disease wanted me dead, but would settle for getting me drunk… There’s an image I’ve heard people in recovery use — that getting all of one’s addictions under control is a little like putting an octopus to bed.

Presently, Anne Lamott has more than 30 years sobriety, and 38 pages of quotations at Goodreads.com. In various contexts, she speaks of shoveling food into an emptiness that can only be filled with love; identifies cheese as “addictive and irresistible;” notes that many female relatives including herself deal with “massive” eating disorders; uses the term “black-belt co-dependency” — and affirms the futility of trying to reason with an addict.

She shares the experience of trying to kill the pain:

I don’t smoke or drink anymore. I’m too worried to gamble, too guilty to shoplift, and I’ve always hated clothes shopping. So what choices did that leave? I could go on a strict new diet or conversely, I could stuff myself to the rafters with fat, sugar and carcinogens. Ding! Ding! We have a winner.

But, and there is always a but, because all truth is paradox:

[W]hatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you. [B]eing sober delivered almost everything drinking promised.

This aphorism is quoted by Anne Lamott, although it was said by George Carlin, and probably originated with AA literature: “You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town.” If the circus is the fact that you are an addict in recovery, then the circus indeed never leaves town.

If the circus is the availability of the addictor, and the likelihood of your succumbing to the addiction, that is a different matter entirely. For those with unhealthy eating patterns, the ongoing circus is a problem. A person with cocaine dependency can relocate to or create an environment where there is no cocaine. A person with psychological food dependence/addiction cannot put herself into an environment where there is no food, because death will soon follow.

In discussions of the validity of food addiction, this point comes up again and again. We can’t “cold turkey” our way out of this addiction, or be food-abstinent. We have to deal with it, one way or another.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “About Almost Everything,” PenguinRandomHouse.com
Source: “Need hope? Anne Lamott ditches despair, redirects focus in new book,” WTop.com, 11/07/19
Source: “Anne Lamott Quotes,” Goodreads.com
Image by AZQuotes.com

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources