(No pun intended.)
I was talking to my friend last night about our mutual struggles with food. About how, in many ways, we use food like addicts use anything. We are also both former smokers, so we are familiar with dependency. The frustrating thing about food, is that you just can’t quit when you realize you have an unhealthy relationship with it. There’s no cold turkey with food. We were discussing that because we both have our own emotional dependency on food; a dependency that is thwarting any potential weight loss.
Update from 2021: Eventually I got treated with a binge eating disorder so I’m leaving this as some proof of that problem but it’s VERY hard for me to read now.
To me, it’s worse at night. I get anxious or stressed and the only relief I get is from eating. I’ll make a pot of mac-n-cheese, or eat a bowl of cereal, or a PB&J. Sometimes I do all three. I’ll do it in secret where no one can see me. I’ll sneak out for a quick drive-thru run. All things that push me above my caloric intake needs enough to have me consistently gaining weight even though I’m in boot camp. So, I’m in great shape and am strong, but I’m the same weight as I was the day I came home from the hospital after having Wes.
But – regardless of the shape I’m in, or the number on the scale, I have an unhealthy relationship with food. It is where I turn when I get stressed or upset or depressed. And that is the most important issue for me personally. It keeps me gaining, which means that heavier weights are around the corner. Unless I nip this in the bud.
I think I probably replaced smoking with food. I can see my history of food dependency and have watched it escalate since I quit smoking. And if I’m don’t figure out how to really deal with this, it will keep escalating. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I have ever done, now I’m wondering if I just replaced that dependency with something else.
But, like any addictive behaviour, it’s not that easy to just stop. I’m starting small, I’m trying to conquer my late-night eating habits. If I binge or do any bad eating during the day, that’s irrelevant, I’m choosing now to focus on not eating past 6:30pm. Last night was hard, because I really wanted that fix, but I did okay. I still had that late-night piece of string cheese (WHAT?) but at least it’s not 1000 calories of random food combinations.
Late-night eating isn’t my only issue, but the more I treat this like I treated my smoking, the more I realize that this is not as easy as just “dieting” for me. I have to completely change my dependency on food, learn how to do fill the needs that food fills, in other ways. And theoretically, not do it with something else unhealthy, as it seems I did when I quit smoking. Since I can’t just quit food cold turkey, like I did with smoking, I have to change my relationship with it.
I’ve spent my fair share of time in AA or NA meetings in support of friends and family. Those experiences on top of my own battle with smoking, have taught me that these battles last a lifetime. I’m slowly, but surely, realizing that this is not about just losing weight. Or even getting healthy. It’s about those things, but it’s first about my unhealthy, dependent relationship on food. The last several years, it’s how I deal with stress and anxiety. This is now a habitual behavior that I am not longer in control of. I see that now. You can’t work out as hard as I have for four months – and still be gaining wait because you’re having 4th and 5th meals between the hours of 8pm and 10pm every night – without recognizing that there’s a problem. It’s not about cutting fat grams, or eating primal, it’s just about food and my emotional dependency on the act of eating. Especially at night.
So…I recognize this battle before me for what it is. I see that some things I can not change – but others I can. I can not change the need I have to use food to quell my nerves or ease my sadness, but I can recognize that eating doesn’t actually solve those problems. I can try to quit visiting that well, time and time again. Realize that the nourishment I seek is not there. Right now I’m focusing on trying, one day at a time, to stop eating past 6:30pm. (We eat dinner around 5 or 5:30pm.) These hours, after the children go to bed, are when my weaknesses really show their face. My emotions are heightened and my need to ease my mind is the deepest.
There are other times during the day where I succumb to the allure of eating. If I’m stressed out at work about something I’ll go straight to the vending machine: hungry or not. If my post-work life is anxious, we’ll eat out somewhere that allows me to binge. The emotional pull of eating – not even food, just eating – follows me all day. But for now? I’ll work consistently on the evening binges and hope that the emotional healing I do as I try to find ways to cope that don’t involve my kitchen, follows me through all hours of the day.
The thing is, like last night, when you quit any addictive behavior, you don’t feel better at first. I feel like I slept horribly because those late night meals that I use to ease my angst were not there, so the stress just snowballed in my mind throughout the night. The initial days of quitting any addictive behavior are always the hardest. This is why I chose to quit smoking years ago, the day before E went to spend a week with his Dad. So I could avoid taking out my stress on him. I’m feeling that same stress now, that fear that I’ll never be happy or at peace again. That without those late-night meals, I will just turn into a fiery ball of stress and nerves and never know peace again.
I felt the same way when I quit smoking. Which is why so many fail at quitting. The despair of living without an emotional crutch you’ve used for so long, it can make you give up. So, I’ll relish in this funk and remember that – as it did when I quit smoking – it will pass. The gray skies left behind from giving up that unhealthy remedy – they’ll clear up eventually. And hopefully I can emerge with a better grasp on my own emotional well-being and get to know myself as someone who doesn’t run to the pantry every time she feels anxious or sad.
One day at a time.