Lately I’ve been frustrated with my overeating.
I knew that when I started on my journey of abstaining from alcohol my cravings for food would naturally be stronger.
I’d long ago made the connection between overeating and binge drinking:
Eating too much, drinking too much and binging on social media or other forms of entertainment are all means of distraction and escape.
They are the way we zone out and run from the anxiety and depression that plague us either all the time or from time to time.
The problem with any and all of them is that they only work in the moment, and when you’ve snapped back into reality again, you’re often left with a heaping amount of shame and regret.
Thus, the vicious cycle continues.
Not too long ago, I wrote the following entry in my journal:
I have to give my food addiction the same treatment I give my alcohol addiction. I would never say to myself, “I’ll just binge this one time on alcohol,” yet, that’s what I do to my body every time I overeat. I have to take my problem with food more seriously than I do right now. How can I ever expect to lose weight if I continuously self-sabotage?
How I Became an Over-Eater
When and why I became an over-eater is a complicated story. Supposedly as an infant I ate everything. There was a period of time that I stayed at my grandmother’s house because my mother was having a long and complicated surgery. My grandmother was a full-blooded Italian and her love language was FOOD–and lots of it! (Check out my post on her fried potatoes below.) So I gained a bunch of weight. I was a chunky-munk infant. But I had an incredibly high metabolism and eventually became a picky eater. I thinned out pretty quickly.
All through my younger years, I cannot remember ever once thinking I was overly hungry, or longed for food, or needed to eat. I do remember that my brother was slightly bigger than I was, which in the 80s, might as well have been obese. You just didn’t see a lot of overweight people back then.
If today you looked at pictures of my brother from that time, you would think he was skinny! That’s how much bigger we are now than we were then. But my parents fussed a lot about my brother’s weight, sadly because he was being picked on at school. (Here’s a PSA to all you parents: Don’t raise your kids to be little turds. Kids are going to be punks from time to time, but at least have a conversation with them about trying not to be.)
I don’t know if I was aware of my brother’s issues with food and if somehow they subconsciously sank into my head, but either way, I simply didn’t have an issue with food until the age of fourteen. That was when I discovered that I could make myself feel a whole lot better about my situation by eating a bag of salt and vinegar Lay’s Potato Chips and watching Party of Five. My parents had divorced a couple of years before, my dad had moved to another town, and my brother was in rehab somewhere. My mother was spending more and more time away from home, and there were a series of incidences that left me feeling both confused and ashamed.
Those chips were like a salty medicine to my soul. I soon added other food- and alcohol-related items: Chinese (it wasn’t good if it didn’t come from the Bill Will Motel buffet with a note from Mom that said, ‘See you soon,’ which really meant, ‘See you in, like, a week‘); Checkers (their seasoned fries …no words); Zima or the occasional boxed wine; and a boatload of Real World episodes (joke was on me–nothing real about them).
The more I distracted myself with food and alcohol, the worse I felt about myself. And the more I would escape into the distraction again.
A normal person might make the connection. I eventually did, but it took me years of therapy-related work and finally living a somewhat “normal” life and not the life of a young girl just trying to survive.
Your brain is incredibly protective of you, you see, and when you’re trying to survive, it won’t think about conscious things that will change you, even if the change is for the better. It’s trying to keep you alive from one day to the next without your fight-or-flight system going into overdrive.
I made it all through college and up to my late twenties living this escape-driven life. Even though I’d gotten married, had children and was somewhat happy, I was still trying to sort through issues from my past. Now I had the added stress of navigating new family life and all that blending families and wants and desires brings. Escaping with food, wine and now, social media, was the only way I could make it through.
I was lucky back then because my metabolism was still sky high. I’d danced and sang my way through my early hears of college for hours a day. I could ram my car into a Taco Bell and not gain a pound.
But slowly, after the birth of my fourth child at 30, the weight began to creep. After my full hysterectomy at 34, it crept even faster. Unfortunately, my eating and drinking did not go down. I was consistently fueling my body with way more calories than I was burning.
Not only that, I was eating all the wrong foods. The American diet is straight-up garbage, but we don’t see it because most of us are just so thankful to have food. We recognize how privileged we are to be able to go to a grocery store and purchase what we want. But what we don’t see is how thankful food companies are that we have the money to purchase those wants. They rely on us coming back again and again and are smart enough to know how to chemically make that happen.
I tried all kinds of diets to lose weight in my late 30s. Weight Watchers, Keto, Intermittent Fasting, Calorie Counting. My husband did P90 and I followed all kinds of Beach Body people online. The problem was, my willpower gave out time and time again. I couldn’t figure out why! I was a strong gal; I’d been through all kinds of junk in my life and had come out on top! Why couldn’t I fix this?
In that same journal entry, I wrote:
I am becoming anxious around food, specifically carbs and sugar. Just thinking about eating a bowl of cereal this morning made me think I was having a panic attack!
Subconsciously, my body was fighting my desire to change. It was protecting me, though I didn’t know it at the time.
I’m a believer, so I prayed. I picked up a book The 40-Day Sugar Fast, by Wendy Speake, and read through it. I learned about the chemicals being put into processed food, even things that should be harmless, like salt and sugar. Individually no food will kill you (well, if it’s not poisonous), and one drink can possibly add to your health. But how many of us are able to not over-indulge on sugar and salty foods? How many of us are able to drink just one glass of alcohol?
Here are some other things I’ve learned about dealing with addiction:
1. Willpower is a farce.
You cannot out power the protection your body is giving you. It will want the “good” stuff time and time again, even at your body’s expense. So how have I learned to overcome my cravings? I give in to them. But instead of binging, I portion out exactly what I need, and I make sure to include something good for me that will fill me up, such as a fibrous apple, a nice fat chicken breast or piece of stringed cheese, or even just a large glass of water.
2. Sometimes the problem isn’t us–it’s our past.
Before we can fix our physical problems, we need to ask ourselves what the root issue of our over eating or binge drinking is. What unresolved problem are you attempting to escape from by sitting on the couch with a tub of Blue Belle Ice Cream? When I’ve asked other people this question, I’ve heard all kinds of answers. One friend said that she never believed she was physically attractive, and this was her way of punishing herself for it. My mom told me that she never got to be a kid, so the minute she divorced my dad she wanted to fit in all the “fun” she’d missed out on.
For me, it was the realization that when I drank too much or ate too much, for just that small period of time I wasn’t dwelling on what hadn’t worked out in my life. I wasn’t replaying awful things that had been done to me, or terrible things I’d said and done to others. I wasn’t worried about the future.
Whether it’s an unrealized career dream, a failed marriage or an unmet expectation, we have to dig down deep and get to the weed, pull it out and kill it for good.
3. We must get good at denying self (the right way).
One thing I’ve learned to tell myself is no. This sounds like one of those woo woo magic wand type of solutions, but I promise it works! You would think that a person that doesn’t want to deny themselves anything probably wasn’t given enough rules as a child. That’s actually not true. Many of us who have trouble denying self were raised in extremely strict households where there was at least one dominating figure. We learned really quick to people-please, a TERRIBLE form of denying self. So to make up for our frustration at the wrong self-denial, we indulged in other ways and it destroyed us.
This is how I tell myself no: Pretend I have fixed myself one cup of Blue Belle mint chocolate chip ice cream. I eat it and really, really, REALLY enjoy it. In that moment, all I want to do is fix myself more. But I’ve done two things that will help me not to make that decision (just a heads up, sometimes I fail–we all do!). One, I’ve portioned out the amount I wanted and I’ve CLEANED UP (very important). Two, I look at the empty bowl and ask myself the following question, Do I want now happy or future happy? 9 outta 10, I’m picking the future happy. That’s when I audibly say, “Then, your answer, Toni, is no.”
I have way over-simplified the complicated world of addiction, but I hope this helps. As a disclaimer, I want to remind you that I am not a licensed therapist or counselor, just a woman working through her own life.