College professor, ‘Optimistic Food Addict,’ helps others struggling with weight

November 20, 2016
Dr. Christina Fisanick-Greer, shown in her California University office, holds her most recent book, which deals with her life as a binge eater and her recovery. - Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Dr. Christina Fisanick-Greer reached her breaking point in 2013.

Greer, an English professor at California University of Pennsylvania, recalls sitting in her living room at 3 a.m. watching “The Notebook,” and crying as she ate her fourth bowl of buttercream icing.

She wasn’t crying about the movie.

“I was so sad and depressed because I felt I could not stop eating. I felt like this food had so much control over me,” said Fisanick-Greer.

At 39 years old, Fisanick-Greer was 28 years into her struggle with food addiction.

She would consume a large bucket of chocolate-covered almonds during the hourlong ride from Cal U. to her home in Wheeling, W.Va. She ate five grilled-cheese sandwiches at a time. She hid in the kitchen after a birthday party and ate more than a half-sheet of leftover cake. She downed a container of Pringles potato chips and a bag of caramels for a snack.

Over the years, Fisanick-Greer tried starvation diets, binging and purging, diet pills, cellophane wraps.

Fisanick-Greer, who grew up in a dilapidated mobile home in rural West Virginia and dropped out of high school after she became pregnant at age 17, overcame many obstacles, including the deaths of two of her children, to earn a doctorate in writing. How, she wondered, could she “be defeated by a grilled-cheese sandwich?”

So Fisanick-Greer cleaned up her kitchen that night “like it was a crime scene,” and called the National Eating Disorders Association, a support group for individuals and families affected by food disorders.

A counselor advised her to take an online test for binge eating, and Fisanick-Greer’s score indicated, as she always suspected but denied, that she had a binge-eating disorder.

She contacted a therapist and entered recovery.

Now 42, Fisanick-Greer shares the story of her battle with food addiction through her popular recovery website, The Optimistic Food Addict (optimisticfoodaddict.com); a Facebook page (she has nearly 9,000 followers); and books designed to help others battling food addiction, including “The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering From Binge Eating Disorder,” which was released in September.

She also runs a six-week online boot camp geared toward helping food addicts organize their lives, including their finances and households, and speaks to groups and organizations about her food addiction.

More than 30 million people will face an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to NEDA.

While Fisanick-Greer knows food addicts suffer health problems – high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol – and her history of periodically gaining and losing 100 pounds is not healthy – she is more worried about her mental health.

“I can’t deal with being controlled by a bag of chips. It’s ridiculous. But people don’t realize what an internal struggle it is,” she said.

“I think of all the things I could have done, all the decisions I could have made if I didn’t have this eating disorder. It’s drained so much of my life away. But I can’t worry about that. My goal now is to rid myself of that compulsive thinking about food.”

Fisanick-Greer threw away her scale during her recovery, and instead focuses on healthy eating (she eliminated processed foods from her diet and limits carbohydrates) and exercise. She swims laps every day, meditates, writes, and meets with a food-addiction therapist.

Recently, she climbed 1,000 feet to reach the top of Seneca Rocks in West Virginia with her son and husband.

Fisanick-Greer, whose weight once soared to 359 pounds, is happy to help others overcome the illness that has consumed her life. It is one of the ways she copes with her food addiction.

“I try to serve others. I try to meet with or talk to other food addicts whenever they need to talk, and I recommend books, materials and food-addiction centers that might help them,” said Fisanick-Greer. “I want people to know that they are not alone. The cornerstone of me making peace with me is helping as many people I can in this journey I’m on.”

Karen Mansfield is an award-winning journalist and mom of five who has been a staff writer for the Observer-Reporter since 1988. She enjoys reading, the Pittsburgh Steelers, a good glass of wine and nice people.

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