In talking about #ScaleFreeSummer, I brought up my belief that successful weight loss is all about a mind, body, and soul connection where you must work diligently to undo all the habits and beliefs that allowed you to gain weight. Central to that – at least, for me – is my emotional eating problem.
I accepted, a long time ago, that I’d never be cured of my condition. I’d always know what it feels like to eat certain foods and certain kinds of foods in excess. I’d always know the feeling I’d get from the binge. I’ll never forget the fact that the feelings I got from binge eating made me feel better about myself and the things around me. I’d put myself in situations that left me feeling trapped, and I was self-medicating through food.
I had to come to terms with that, and it is a painful thing to have to accept. When, for years, you look at yourself, unsure of what happened or what’s happening… that first day that you look in the mirror with the knowledge that you did this? It does two things to you: it makes you want to cry, and it makes you want to fight. And, while I think it’s okay to cry, I think it’s more important to want to fight: fight for yourself, fight for your livelihood, fight for your family. In all meanings of the phrases.
I could’ve chose to cry about how my emotional eating problem affected me, and I could’ve chosen to wallow in it. I could’ve chosen to feel paralyzed by the pain, and how “blind” I was to what is “so obvious.” I could’ve even chosen to call myself a failure, an idiot, any of that. All of that.
I didn’t, though – not because I felt “empowered” by the information and was raring to go, but because I’d developed a curiosity about my condition and what it was doing to me, for me, and inside me. I inundated myself with information about emotional eating, habits, and anything that contributed to my habit. By sheer virtue of being nosy, I had bypassed the self-loathing that I probably should’ve felt, and started down a healthier path.
Even today, I know that I’ll never forget those feelings, but I’m armed with information, now. I place a high value on consent through informed judgment, meaning that I make as many choices as possible mindfully, ensuring that I have thought about the benefits and consequences before I leap. Not because I can’t trust myself in this way, but because I have to learn how to trust myself in new ways. I have to develop trust – something that’s a lifelong process – and I have to give myself reasons to trust my decision-making ability. I have to give myself reasons to believe in recovery.
Because you never forget what it’s like to binge, or benefit from binge eating, you never stop being on guard in some way. For a long time, I couldn’t look at an Oreo or a Verona cookie without becoming angry at it for what it did to me, but I came to terms with it – there are people in this world who can eat those cookies and not attach a bunch of baggage to them. The problem that I needed to focus on was with my relationship with food, and that was all that I could control.
None of this changes the fact that those cookies are trash, and the way they are engineered – high sugar, little nutritional value, excessive amounts of everything, little to no protein – made it easy for me to binge on them. I had to also accept that there’s so stuff that I just can’t eat, and food literally crafted to be irresistible – bound to be stuffed to the brim with sugar, fat, and salt, three things that adversely affect recovering food addicts – had to fall squarely on that list. So, I embraced clean eating and gave up processed foods completely.
I had to really re-think my philosophies on eating. Why was I snacking? How much was I snacking? What was I snacking on? Why did I choose this quantity of food to snack on? And, if I was snacking in excess, am I snacking, when I should really be having a meal? I had to accept that a lot of my food choices were based on marketing, and not my actual thoughts and feelings. I had to learn to listen more to my body and mind – was I uncomfortable with the amount of food on my plate? Did I get too much? Why am I eating it all, if I have too much on my plate? Why did I get this giant stack of cookies, instead of the one or two that’d actually whet my appetite? The same reason that people fill the entire toothbrush with toothpaste instead of using the singular dab they really need – companies encouraged me to overconsume their products, so that I’d go and buy more of that product sooner.
I also had to learn that, yes, one can binge on high quality foods, as well. If I go to [insert high quality bakery] and get a fresh chocolate chip cookie with cask-aged bourbon chocolate chip chunks, organic fine pastry flour blended with almond flour, fresh hand-churned butter from local New York State cows, raw demerara sugar and I don’t eat it mindfully… I’m still screwed. I had to learn that high quality isn’t a green light to go HAM. High quality is something I should strive for because low quality is, essentially, dangerous for me. But there will never be a green light to binge. On anything. Ever.
The food isn’t always the problem. Sometimes, it’s the motivations that I take into eating that are the problem, and I needed to accept that. That acceptance proved to be more powerful than I ever could’ve imagined. It empowered me – yes, now we talk empowerment – to take control. It empowered me to find the healthy spot between mindfulness and obsessiveness, and to be diligent in my self-awareness without developing another disorder along the way. It gave me the thing I needed to understand that, though it wouldn’t be easy, it would be possible to overcome. That’s why, a little over five years from the start, I can say that I’ve not only kept off every single pound of fat I’ve lost, but I’m even building my body anew and going on completely different adventures with what I’ve learned along the way.
Recovery is hard work. It is stressful, it is daunting, and you wind up going it alone most times because people don’t understand how to support you. But nothing – nothing – beats the feeling of being able to look yourself in the mirror, say “Yeah, but I’m okay,” and mean it. Even to this day, when I look in a full-size mirror, I smile. Not because I look good, but because I’m a fighter. No cookie or goldfish can take that away from me. Ever.
Do you have an emotional eating addiction? Are you supporting someone through one? Did you overcome your binge eating problem? Share in the comments below, and inspire someone. And, if you’re bold, meet me on the #ScaleFreeSummer hashtag and share your story with me there too!