While having a conversation with a friend last week the topic turned to my relationship with food. She mentioned that she didn't necessarily think it was true but she could see how people might view my love for food as an obsession. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram then you know that most of my posts are centered around food (and my trip to Hawaii), and most conversations I have are centered around food, and just about every activity I plan is also centered around food.
That's when I decided to let her know the truth -- I have a food addiction.
I went through a fat phase between the ages of 10 and 12 and I know that's not incredibly uncommon. It seemed to naturally work itself out when I was in middle school but I still found myself occasionally sneaking food. If I was in my bedroom reading a book sometimes I would daydreaming about cheese, chocolate chips, or marshmallows (usually cheese though) and I would sneak into the kitchen and grab a handful to bring back to my bedroom. Sometimes I would do this 4 or 5 times in an afternoon, hoping that my parents wouldn't catch me.
The first time I really thought I might have an unhealthy relationship with food wasn't until I was 17 though. It was a Saturday afternoon and my parents were upstairs on their computers and I was laying on the living room couch reading a book. I started to feel snacky so I got up and grabbed a handful of Cheez-Its, which of course led to 2-3 more handfuls because who can eat just one handful of Cheez-Its. After I ate the crackers I was still thinking about food so I got up and made myself a cheese quesadilla. Soon after that I realized it was lunch time so I made a box of Kraft mac n cheese. I proceeded to eat the entire box in one sitting simply because mac n cheese (at least the kind from a box) is never as good left over. Throughout the afternoon I kept finding myself going back in the kitchen and getting more food to snack on, feeling progressively more guilty with each trip.
With the exception of that first trip to the kitchen for Cheez-Its, none of my eating was fueled by a feeling of hunger. While laying there reading my book I just couldn't stop thinking about food. Eventually I called my best friend and confessed to her that I thought I might have a problem. I told her about everything I'd eaten over the last few hours and she was shocked, but I presented it to her in a light-hearted joking manner so I'm sure we just laughed it off.
That afternoon ten years ago marked the beginning of my struggle with food. No, I wasn't an all out food addict immediately. Just like most addictions, mine was built over time and there were periods in my life where I was able to manage it better than others and convince myself that I didn't really have a problem.
It got really bad my senior year of college. I moved off campus and had a pretty easy schedule so I would often find myself sitting alone in my apartment while my friends were in class. How did I fill the boredom? By watching Home Improvement reruns and eating. I would start off with good intentions -- This hot pocket is only X number of Weight Watchers points so I'll have that for lunch. I'd finish the hot pocket and still have 45 minutes to kill before I needed to head back to campus so I'd end up eating more food to fill the time.
After I graduated from college my inability to avoid mindless eating when I was bored or alone was exacerbated by the job that I had. As I would eat I would think to myself -- I'm not even hungry. Why am I eating this? I need to stop. I should go exercise instead. This is just making me gain more weight. I didn't stop though. I just kept eating.
Eventually I admitted to myself I might have a real problem, not just one I could joke about on the phone with friends but something that I needed to address. I googled "food addiction" and found out it's actually something people struggle with. There are even Overeaters Anonymous groups out there and the following list of questions is from www.oa.org
Once I saw that I answered yes to 12 out of the 15 questions above (8, 9 and 12 didn't apply to me) I immediately did a search to find a meeting in my area and went the following Saturday.
I was nervous going into this meeting. Even though I knew I had a problem that was making me miserable I was still afraid to admit it to others. I was also afraid I was going to be the only person there who wasn't really fat and people wouldn't believe that I actually had a problem. Yes, at this point I was overweight for my height (I was about 165 pounds and I'm 5'7") but at a size 14 I still didn't think I was fat. Looking back at pictures of myself I'm not sure that I really agree with my thoughts from back then, but that's really neither here nor there.
Once I arrived at the meeting I was happy to see there were people of all shapes and sizes in this meeting, from a 50ish year old woman who was skinny on the outside but had been attending these meetings and battling her addiction for close to 20 years, a 30ish year old man who was obese and had been struggling to work the program for about five years, and lots of people in between. I didn't say much (if anything) at that meeting since I can be incredibly shy and to this day I struggle with making small talk, but it was really eye-opening being there hearing other people speak and share thoughts similar to those I was having.
I'm not really sure why but I never went back to another meeting. I took some reading materials home with me and read them over and over. I felt so much better knowing I wasn't alone with my struggles and that this was something I could eventually overcome or get a handle on if I really tried. I wish I could say that meeting was what pushed me to finally make a change in my life and to try and get healthier but that would be a lie. I continued to struggle with my eating and my weight and continued to become more and more unhappy as a result.
About nine months after I went to the OA meeting my contract ended with the company I was working for and I ended up moving back in with my parents. I was an overweight, single college graduate living at home with my parents, working part-time in retail and not using my degree in the slightest. Apparently this was the perfect formula for me to get motivated and really address my problems. My birthday was just a few weeks away so I asked my parents for the first three months of gym membership dues for my birthday present.
I continued to be obsessed with food and found myself daydreaming about food, but I managed to turn that obsession in the other direction. I started following a diet and exercise plan based on what the contestants on The Biggest Loser do, which looking back now I think was incredibly unhealthy. Nonetheless, I started counting calories and tracking my exercise and I started losing weight. I lost about 25 pounds in under three months time and for the first time in a long time I wasn't unhappy with the way that my body looked.
Shortly after I lost the weight I met my husband Ross. He's a competitive road cyclist, has a master's degree in exercise science, and is a personal trainer at 24 Hour Fitness. While he does enjoy eating, for the most part he views food as fuel for his body. I wholeheartedly believe that if he hadn't come into my life I would have eventually gone back to my old ways and my old habits. I'm confident that his encouragement, support, and the life we've build together are the foundation for why I've been able to keep the weight off for more than four years.
I still struggle though, every day. I have to consciously make an effort to not overeat at each and every meal. Some days are better than others and unfortunately I don't really have any triggers that I can avoid -- everything is a trigger for me. If I'm happy I want to celebrate and eat. If I'm sad I want to comfort myself and eat. If I'm bored I want to eat to entertain myself.
I spend hours upon hours each week thinking about food -- looking at pictures of food online, reading cookbooks and food magazine for fun, searching for recipes I'll never get around to making, creating new recipes to share on the blog, thinking about what I'm going to have for dinner, browsing other food blogs, thinking about what I had to eat the day before and how good it was, thinking about how I wish I could just go to Whole Foods for lunch and go crazy with their hot food bar instead of eating the single serving of healthy lentil soup I brought to work with me...
Like I said, I don't really have triggers that I can avoid and I can't just give up food all together. Now I do my best to channel my obsession in a positive way. I really do have a desire to be healthy and lucky for me I'm not a picky eater so I love healthy food. When I'm going through a phase where I'm struggling a lot with controlling what I eat and/or how much I eat, I make an effort to focus on the healthy behavior I want to be exhibiting.
Something that usually works for me (though not always) is reading a new book about healthy eating or nutrition to try and get myself back on track. Sometimes the unhealthy phases I go through just last a few days, sometimes they last a few weeks. Luckily I have pretty good self-control when I'm at the grocery store so I make a point of only buying healthy foods. This helps so that when I find myself at home and and realizing I ate 3,000 calories that day, at least I know they were healthy calories and not just a bunch of shit.
In case any of you are curious about what books I've read in the past to help me get back on track I've made a little list for you.
- The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone
- The Starch Solution byJohn McDougal
- The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart by Neal Barnard
- Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman
- 80/10/10 by Doug Graham
Of course, because of the choices I've made in my life these books all advocate a mostly (if not completely) plant-based diet. Since I don't eat meat or dairy it doesn't really make sense for me to read a book about nutrition that includes those foods. We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for you though so where's the harm in reading a book that tries to get you to eat more of them?
Reading books like these helps me to re-focus on eating healthy foods (in moderate amounts!) and then I spend the next couple of weeks cooking some of the recipes from the book and doing my best to live out the principles of their teachings. I know this approach may not work for everyone, but since I shared my story with you I also wanted to share what works for me. :)
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