When Rose felt down or stressed, or even happy and excited, she'd reach for food.

Snacks and meals were her outlet for every negative, and her celebration for every positive.

The married mother of two from Hackettstown always knew food wasn't the correct answer, and eventually, the health issues and guilt became too large to ignore.

Rose was diagnosed as prediabetic. She was seeing a strong correlation between her dependence on food and her mother's dependence on alcohol. And the reading on the scale was jumping by 10 pounds per year until she hit 260.

"At the time I was twice the size I am now," she said.

Rose is just one of countless New Jersey residents who identify as a food addict. They may be slaves to sweets or overindulging. Consuming just one plate of food at dinner, or a couple potato chips, seems downright impossible.

Around age 45, Rose entered Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA), which offered no meetings in New Jersey at the time. To get involved with the program, she had to travel out of state.

"I was willing to do that because I was desperate," she said.

Nearly 18 years later, Rose is maintaining weight loss of 130 pounds. She doesn't crave food. It's no longer her friend, she said; it's just fuel for the body.

And when she's having a hard time or a "food thought," instead of reaching for cookies, she'll reach for the program's literature, or the phone so she can chat with another food addict in recovery.

"I just feel free. I feel like the hold that the food had on me is gone," she said.

Today, FA meetings are held in Dover and Paramus.

It's been nearly 18 years of food "abstinence" for Marie, 58, of Brick. She avoids wheat, flour and sugar at all costs — a 180-degree turnaround from years ago.

"I would eat a pizza, a box of cookies. I could eat at least half a gallon of ice cream," Marie said.

During her low point, following a divorce, Marie shifted back and forth between starving herself and binge-eating. Eventually, going without food was not an option, and she was making herself sick with food.

Today, she's 35 to 40 pounds lighter, and managed to stick with her measured meal plan even through the loss of her daughter, who died of cancer at age 26 a few years ago.

"It's never a good idea to pick up a drink for an alcoholic. For a food addict, it would never be a good idea to pick up a bite," Marie said. "Because I have a program of recovery, I have a free life."

FA is based on the 12 steps and traditions of Alcoholic Anonymous. Marie is currently trying to set up a meeting in the Brick area. She's offering her phone number, 917-532-3230, to anyone who may be suffering from food addiction.

Eight years after entering the program, Adena from Jersey City still works with a sponsor and attends meetings on a regular basis.

She, too, couldn't find a balance between restricting food and overindulging. Adena got involved with FA at 23 years old.

Now down 30 pounds, she finally has that part of her life under control.

"It's freedom, which I just didn't even know before," Adena said. "I'm going to be happy with what I'm eating today."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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