I’m a food addict. More precisely, I was addicted to sugar and refined white flour in any variety—sweet, fried, savoury, smooth. I didn’t care if, for example, cookies are freshly baked, piping hot or stale and tasting like cardboard. If I could eat them, I did.
Food was my friend, my saviour, my confidante. I ate when I was happy, sad, lonely, angry or bored. My eating had no connection whatsoever to being hungry or full. I don’t think that I have ever really experienced what being ‘full’ was. I was so disconnected from physical sensations that I no longer noticed them. My constant craving for food and overindulgence in it were also a way to ignore my emotions, ‘stuff the food, stuff the feelings’ was all too true in my case.
Did genetics cause my addiction?
I was born at a time when parents wanted to prove that they could afford to feed their family, and feed them well—so I was a chubby baby. But as a child I was surprisingly skinny. I see photographs of myself back then and I’m shocked because I thought I have always been obese! My body dysmorphia [the belief that one’s body must be changed or hidden] began early and persists to this day. In a self-fulfilling prophecy the skinny child became the fat adult.
Was it because my mother’s mother lived through the Great Depression and World War II that food hoarding became routine? Was the desperation for food genetically passed from grandmother to mother to daughter? Or did I get it from my dad, because my father was raised in a residential boys’ home where meals were so meagre and brief that he learned to gulp food without pausing to chew?
Does it matter?
Past events might have formed me but as an adult, I realised that I am now responsible for whatever I put into my mouth.
My life as an addict
I treasure my intellect and usually approach life rationally. But no matter how many times I tried to deconstruct my food addiction and think my way out of it, I failed. I truly believe sugar and white flour are addicting, and when I ingest them I am in a crazed state of manic highs and crashing lows. In the midst of my addiction I am no longer a rational person, let alone a decent friend, a hard-working employee, a loving family member. I care more about my next mouthful than I ever cared about you.
Have you heard of someone break a tooth eating frozen food straight from the freezer, because you can’t wait to thaw it? Or do you know someone who has stolen a child’s holiday candy, then lied and told him he must have eaten it already? Is it rational to expect to find the answers to life problems in a refrigerator? No. It is not.
Changing my relationship with food
Therefore, to address my food addiction, I had to get clean first. Working with a therapist, or making list after list of food-related resolutions, proved worthless. Until I cut sugar and white flour from my life and flushed them from my system, I couldn’t begin to establish a new relationship with food.
I won’t lie—my first month was difficult. I ate so many vegetables that I thought I would turn green. I drank herbal tea non-stop and tripled the number of times I ran to the bathroom. I was sure I’d drop dead from malnutrition—but I didn’t.
I joined a support group of other like-minded food junkies. Doing this alone is a recipe for disaster. And, knowing that sugar is an additive in many pre-packaged foods, I started reading nutrition labels. Unless sugar [and her cousins sucrose, glucose, honey, etc.] were listed fifth or lower in the ingredients, I didn’t buy or eat it.
Feelings, which were previously stuffed down with the excess food, became overwhelming. I had to learn to feel my feelings, to truly experience sadness, loneliness, anger. Activities other than eating had to be mastered. Compulsive eating was no longer my go-to coping mechanism; so I had to find other coping skills.
The big changes happen
Over time, amazing things have happened. With sugar and white flour out of my system, the cravings have lessened. Like the volume of music on radio, I can dial down the cravings, so that food calls to me in a much quieter voice, making it far easier to resist. I no longer have afternoon energy crashes; because I eat complex carbohydrates instead of refined white flour, my blood sugar stays level without the spikes and slumps.
I am down 75 pounds and have remained that way for a dozen years. When winter comes, I am astonished that last year’s outfits still fit. Clothes wear out or become dated; I no longer own separate fat clothes and thin clothes.
My physician was stunned by the drop in my blood sugar and cholesterol levels. I was stunned at how much easier it became to exercise, take the stairs or even remain awake after a meal.
I am a food addict, and I always will be. I can manage my addiction, but never cure it. The chubby baby still lives inside me, and always will. But I can learn to love her, rather than be embarrassed by her and to soothe her without using food. Though still glorious, food is now only food, and I can get out of the food and back into life.
This was first published in the March 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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