Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Thoughts on Food Addiction

Though I’ve never been a classically small person (which I’m generally OK with), I put on about 70 lbs between the ages of 16 and 18, due mostly, looking back on it, to getting on and then off the pill. Add in some depression (also partly caused by the pill) and a bad relationship, and I ballooned. It was an issue of never-ceasing hunger, the feeling that no matter how much I ate, I was still unsatisfied, still looking for something more and better.

I’d been an overeater before that, but all those triggers at once turned me into a raving lunatic, and that’s the period when my binge eating really took off. At 16, I had a car, and made my own money, so I could run into a convienence store and feed my cravings at all hours. The binges were definitely triggered by high stress, and the overeating was largely pill-based.

What I did to slough off all that excess pill and depression weight quickly so I could move around in my own skin again was to get on the Atkins diet. I lost 40lbs in four months (and kept that off because I’d merely gotten back to my set point anyway) and got up the self-confidence to go ahead and go bike riding several days a week and up my exercise routine in a “fun” way – not thinking of them as workouts, but just days where I’d go out to have fun.

By the time I hit college, I was down a total of 60lbs, and after the first couple months of college, I lost another 10lb and was at my fighting weight of about 175lbs or so. That meant going to the gym 3-6 days a week for 30-60 minutes. By that time, I’d modified my diet so I was eating wheat bread, lots of fruits and veggies, meats of all sorts, and as summer rolled around and I started bike riding a lot, I had no trouble going out for ice cream and pizza once a week.

What I remember most about my time in Alaska is how happy I was, and I know a lot of that had to do with my diet, and all that bike riding. Add that to the fact that I had a boat load of money and not a care in the world, and yea… I was damn happy.

The trouble is that I’ve been raised with bad habits, and during times of high stress, I still haven’t found another way to deal with that stress besides eating. I’ve gotten better in that I don’t binge eat so much anymore (my project for the year), but I’ll still turn to shit food when the going is tough, as I did in South Africa. As I’ve done the last couple of months (though every time I do it, it’s to a lesser and lesser degree. This is a positive sign!).

But I’ve gotten stressed and lazy, and I can’t afford new clothes, so I’ve gotta cut back for a bit to get things under control. When my world is out of control, my eating goes there too, and I have to cut it quick before it becomes an issue again.

I’m cutting my drinking down to a couple beers or some whiskey one night a week, which always helps, and I’m back to reasonable low-carb (brown rice and sweet potatoes are OK), no sugar. I’m on day two of this, and today was the office “bagel break” which turned out to be a heaping tray of danishes.

I hate this place.

The cravings are always the worst the first few days after I’m trying to break my white bread and sugar addiction. I wanted to dive into the whole platter of danishes and spend the rest of the day eating.

The problem with me and sugary sweets available on demand is that I can never eat just one, or half of one. I’d love to be one of those people who could just cut down portions instead of eliminating nearly an entire food group and all sugar, but I’m just not. I have to go cold turkey. There are certain foods I’ll binge on, and I have to avoid those at all costs, or I’m going to be dropping money I don’t have on new, bigger, clothes I can’t afford.

I think I’m beginning to move into the watching-my-weight-for-economic-reasons place. Which, actually, is pretty damn cool. I’m not hating myself. I don’t feel I’m unlovable just as I am, I just realize that if I don’t get a handle on myself again, I’m going to have to buy new clothes.

And this morning on the bus, I noticed that the world was looking a little clearer than usual, a little brighter. I recognized the feeling, because it was what I had in Alaska when I was really taking care of myself. Ah, sweet happiness, a clear head.

I always feel better when I cut out processed food. It really sucks, goddammit, because damn, it’s so good to eat that food. So, so, good. But then there’s this feeling, this great high I get when my body’s running a little cleaner, and damn, I don’t want to eat those danishes if they take this away…

The sad thing is that knowing, intellectually, that the crap food won’t make me feel any better, in fact, will make me feel worse, doesn’t help with the actual physical craving for a thing. It’s like I have a gaping black hole inside of me waiting to be filled.

And it’s going to take a week before those cravings subside. And it’s a bitch of a week.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned as I've gotten older is that everything is changeable. Getting back into a rut doesn't mean you're doomed to stay there. Many states are temporary. You get back up and start going again, you get to the place you want to be.

Falling isn't dying. It's not over until you're dead.

5 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

wow! great post! thank you! 

Posted by artemisia

Anonymous said...

Coming down off sugar and high glycemic carbs can be hard, cravings, headaches, irritability....but you're right, eventually your head clears, your moods stabilize and the world is a brighter place.
I changed my diet drastically a few months ago, gave up the crap for brown rice and red skinned potatos(an excellent choice like yams), I eat more chicken breasts and egg whites than I can carry, still blow it on a few tasty beer now and then but what I found was when the food cravings stopped being rewarding or comforting and became what its supposed to be, simply fuel for my body.....
As far as the sugary treats go, If i can totally stay away from them I dont miss a thing, but give me just one and my body kicks into the sugar cravings all to avoid the sugar crash........and i'm in the car in the middle of the night heading to 7-11 for chocolate bars.......damn those 24hr. a day stores. 

Posted by katagirl

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder about the chemistry of the 'back off the wagon' part of eating crap--it's like the alchoholic who only needs one drink to be drunk, because her body is primed for it, expecting it. I wonder if processed sugar is like that--it only takes one hit to get right back to the place where one's body expects it, etc... 

Posted by jpjeffrey

Anonymous said...

Really great post, your story does sound very similar to mine with regard to the pill and binge eating in stressful times. I'm on a similar diet t you having been told by a nurse i may have polycystic ovary syndrome, relatively low carb with lots of whole grains, no processed foods. Day three is always a killer with the cravings. Keep it up, as you already know, it really is worth it for the clear head and energy.


Posted by Naiades

Anonymous said...

Man that all sounds familiar. Right now I'm in dietary limbo because I'm pregnant, which means that the baby pretty much dictates what I want to eat, which means I can't really do Atkins (meat just looks gross to me right now). And despite what I expected, pregnancy has turned me against sugar, maybe because I can smell/taste so much more strongly. Ice cream, chocolate, etc. just make me go "meh." They're too much for me to deal with. Which has never happened in my entire life. It's kind of put to rest a lot of addiction fears I had (you know "I'll never be able to eat well the rest of my life!") Clearly there's a big hormonal and chemical element to it all--it really isn't about me being a weak and horrible person. Just about me having my body chemistry out of whack.

Not that I'm recommending pregnancy to anyone, ha. But I do hope I can carry what I've learned from it to post-pregnancy, and eat as healthy then (or more so) as I do now.


Posted by emjaybee