Is there such a thing as “food addiction”?
Hi, my name is Mary and I’m a food addict!
To some people, this may seem crazy. What? How can you be addicted to food?
However, for some of us, this term “food addict” really hits home. We do not understand why we cannot stop eating; we hate our bodies and ourselves because we cannot stop. If this resonates with you, I invite you to read my story of experience, strength, and hope.
I am not sure if I was born a food addict, but I do have some early childhood memories of a strange relationship with food. In elementary school, I could not wait to get off the bus on Friday afternoons because Friday was grocery-shopping day. There were five kids, including myself, so any “goodies” that were brought into the house did not last long. A big treat for us was popcorn. When the big pot (before the microwave bag invention) was placed in front of us to share, I always felt like I had to eat it quickly so I could get my share. When I was about seven or eight, I remember a family friend taking us to McDonald's. She told us, kids, we could get anything we wanted. I lit up. The Big Mac was a fairly new item, and I had my eye on it. After I ate it, I remember feeling shameful that I ate the whole thing and wanted another one. That was the first time I was aware of feeling shameful about my eating. There were many other incidents like this, but too many to mention. As I got into my teens, I was obsessed with my body image. I was always on one diet or another, but when I was not on a diet, I was eating a lot of food. There were two different types of days in my life. One was when I woke up and swore I was not going to eat. The other type of day was when I would allow myself to eat anything I wanted (and I DID). Both days were miserable. I was either white knuckling trying not to eat anything or allowing myself to eat everything. The harder I tried to control what I ate, the harder it was to stop. Every time, I gave in to the food, the more I hated myself for my lack of self-control.
I tried dieting all week, and then from noon on Friday to midnight on Sunday, I would allow myself to eat anything I wanted. I would obsessively watch the clock all morning and as soon as the clock struck 12 I’d be off. I would go to the freezer where I “saved” goodies for my “weekend retreat” and then I would go to all my favorite places to get my “fix”. There were times I went to the drive-thru to get one of my creamy desserts and was told that the machine was broke. I was outraged. I thought “How dare they! Don’t they understand I only have until midnight to eat this thing?”
I was on a quest to control or fix this uncontrollable eating problem. I tried many crazy fixes, but one really reminds me of the insanity of the disease of food addiction. I call it my “Dixie Cup” diet. One night when flipping through a stack of magazines in a waiting room, I found an article that was entitled something like, “7 Ways to Get Your Body Back in Balance”. The article discussed why people crave food. It explained that when a person tries to starve the body and then overfeeds it repeatedly, the body is depleted of the vitamins and minerals it needs to stay in a healthy balance. Once out of balance, the body starts to crave food so it can naturally put itself back in balance. This made so much sense to me. I thought that was the answer. I abused my body for years, so of course, it is out of balance! The remedy was to take vitamin and mineral supplements to get the body back in balance. PERFECT! It made sense. I had this eating problem because my body was out of balance and these pills would be my solution. I ordered the recommended supplements. If you are hungry in the morning, get this. If you get hungry in the middle of the afternoon, get that. If you tend to want to snack in the evening, you need this supplement. I thought I needed them all, so I made my purchase. I labeled each one of my Dixie cups and filled them with 5-7 different supplements.
- BB (before breakfast)
- B (Breakfast)
- AB (after breakfast)
- BL (before lunch)
- L (Lunch)
- AL (after lunch)
- BD (before dinner)
- D (dinner)
- AD (after dinner)
I can’t tell you how excited I was to finally find the solution that would cure my eating problem. I believed that after taking these supplements throughout the day for about two weeks I would wake up one morning and be cured. I would not have to suffer from my lack of self-control any longer. BUT, as you can imagine, it did not work. I was devastated! I just wanted to give up, but I had a strong will and kept trying different ways to control my eating.
I remember driving in the car with my in-laws and one large bag of pretzels. That bag of pretzels had control over my mind. We were in the car for 4 ½ hours. I watched the clock and would allow myself to eat one pretzel every 10 minutes. My father-in-law was sitting next to me. He might as well been the Charlie Brown teacher because my focus was on those pretzels!
Addiction is a progressive disease. My addiction took me to the hospital. One night I sat and ate a food combination that was very thick. I kept eating it until my side started to hurt. It was late at night, so I just went to bed. I woke up the next day, and I was fine. But a week later, I decided to eat this food combination again. Just like the week before I ate so much that my side started to hurt again. I just went to bed thinking my side would not hurt when I woke up. The pain did not go away. In fact, it got so bad that I could not stand up straight, and I ended up in the emergency room. A CT scan showed that I had a swollen colon. I was in the hospital for 3 days and released after many tests including a colonoscopy. I left that hospital with so much hope, because I believed I had a fresh start. I did not have any “junk” in my body and I was going to go home and eat like a normal person. Unfortunately, food still had a grip on me and two days later I was eating addictively again. NOW I was scared. I knew I needed help and it was not going to be another diet or stronger willpower. So I started praying a lot. I had hit rock bottom and I was totally ready to surrender. God heard me crying out for help and I was able to get into a recovery program.
I am grateful to be able to say today that I have been free from addictive eating for over 16 years. Was it my will power? Was I able to find the magic diet or the right kind of vitamin supplement? It was power alright, but not mine! I have been able to be free from addictive eating only with God’s grace and mercy. I know I cannot do this without His help.
Because I have to eat to stay alive, I do have some boundaries around my food. There are some foods that are triggers for me and can set me up to binge. With my healthy boundaries in place, I can say with gratitude that I have neutrality around food. Food does not call my name. I look at food today as just fuel for my body. It doesn’t have to have bells and whistles.
I think sometimes people may feel sorry for me because I don’t eat certain foods, but I look at it as a FREEDOM. When I eat food that triggers me, I am miserable not only physical but also mentally. When I make food my god, it blocks me off from my walk with the Lord.
Today my food is healthy, colorful and fresh. So many people comment on how good it smells or how beautiful it looks. Today, I do not starve myself or put too much food in my body that I end up in the hospital. I eat just enough food that allows me to maintain a healthy normal body size for my height.
I do get asked a lot of questions:
“If you’ve been eating this way for 16 years, why can’t you just have a little bit of this or that once in a while?” “Why don’t you just eat in moderation?” “Will a little bit really matter?”
There is a saying in the world of recovery, “1 is too many and 1,000 is not enough.” It’s like I do not have an off button. I know if I eat certain foods that set up an uncontrollable craving for me, I will never be able to get enough.
I would have done anything to control my eating. I often thought about how I could get my jaw wired shut or if there was a surgery to fix me, but for me, no human fix would have relieved my addiction.
It felt like I was in a hole that didn’t have a bottom. When I cried out to God, he put a ladder in the deep hole and helped me climb out. I need His love and guidance in my life every day to sustain the beautiful gift He has given me.
Was this easy in the beginning? NO! I went through withdrawal physically and I mentally grieved my “goodies”. I prayed before each meal that the food would be enough to satisfy me. I also prayed after each meal, that I could make it to my next meal without overeating. One day at a time, with God’s help, I have been able to eat healthily and maintain a normal size body.
Even after all these years, I still start every morning on my knees asking God to help me be willing to take care of my body, the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. I spend quiet time sitting with God to see how he would have me spend my day and how I can be useful. Every night I end my day on my knees thanking God for another day of eating within the boundaries that keep me free from addictive eating and to continue to seek His will for my life.
I exercise regularly, not to lose weight or burn calories so I can eat more, but to stay energetic and keep my heart and bones healthy. I am 54 years old and feel healthier today than I did in my 20s when I was in the depths of my addiction.
If you relate to any of my story and feel hopeless, let me tell you that there is a solution. With God’s help, you do not have to punish yourself with food anymore. There is hope! Ask God to hold your hand and guide you to a life of freedom!
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