“I had been big all my life, but I was very athletic,” Smith recalls. “I spent numerous hours in the gym and climbed mountains, but I couldn’t stop eating.”

Nearly 33 percent of Americans are overweight while 34 percent are considered obese, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. At her weight and height—5 feet 7 inches—Smith fit the criteria for obesity. She had unsuccessfully tried to lose weight several times by using various programs and diets.

Then, in 1994, Smith joined Gold’s Gym and began a 12-step journey to kick the food habit. She’d been introduced to a food addiction program by her twin sister. The program led her to lose 208 pounds.

The 12-step plan Smith used mirrors the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Its clients follow the procedures below:

1.    Admit you are powerless over food and that your life has become unmanageable.
2.    Trust that a Power greater than yourself could restore you to sanity.
3.    Decide to turn your will and life over to the care of that higher power (which AA recognizes him as God)
4.    Search and take moral inventory of yourself.
5.    Confess your wrongs to God, yourself and others.
6.    Admit that you are completely ready for God to remove these character flaws.
7.    Humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings.
8.    Make a list of all the people you’ve hurt and be willing to make amends to them.
9.    Do whatever it takes to repair the relationship, except when it involves injuring them or others.
10. Continue to examine yourself and remember when you were wrong, and admit it immediately.
11. Through prayer and meditation seek improvement in your conscious contact with God, praying only for knowledge of His will for you and the power to carry that out.
12. Be open to spiritual renewal.

“I used food to deal with any emotion I ever had because that’s all I’ve done my whole life. If something bothered me or stressed me out, I ate,” Smith says. She recalls eating entire boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and pizza in large quantities.

Smith’s lifestyle had all the signs of addiction. Smith didn’t see it, however, until she got serious about losing weight and started using the 12 steps. “I had no idea that I had a food addiction,” Smith says. “I just thought I was fat.”

Experts say enslavement to food can be tricky to navigate. Food is necessary to survive. When food is unavailable, the body craves sustenance until eating becomes the most important thing. All addicts experience this craving. While it’s normal and vital to eat every day and there’s nothing abnormal about anticipating the pleasure of a good meal, there are characteristics that separate a normal eater from a food junkie.

For example, food addiction is harmful to people and can lead to obesity, malnutrition and other problems. People who are hooked on food eat until it becomes life threatening.

This addiction also causes people to overeat the wrong type of foods too often. Everyone binges from time to time, but for food fiends, this happens every day. For them, eating is a primary way to handle stress, and if they’re unable to do so, they become more anxious.

For Smith, the 12-step system worked. She was able to escape her food fixation. She religiously followed the program, exercised and ate a proper diet.

Today, Smith weighs 165 pounds.

What’s her secret? She avoids sugar and flour and weighs her meals in order to avoid overeating.

But that’s not the only thing that’s changed in Smith’s life. Her asthma, sleep, allergy and upper respiratory problems have all decreased.

“Brenda’s body transformation has increased her energy and self-confidence,” says Amy Farmer, Smith’s trainer at Gold’s Gym. “Her bouts with depression have ended, and she smiles when she looks at herself in a mirror. She has become the person she has always wanted to be.”

This past summer, Smith’s dramatic metamorphosis qualified her as a nominee for Gold’s Gym’s Most Inspirational Member Award. She took second place.

Now that’s what we call losing to win.