a hope design

Hello, my name is Alana, and I’m a compulsive eater.

In Being Healthy on March 9, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Do you know how hard it is to say that? Major respect to AA members. They stand up in front of a room and say a similar phrase face-to-face. Opening oneself up to judgement is excruciating for a perfectionist.

Alcoholics follow the introduction with a statement about how long they’ve been sober. I can’t remember the last time I ate compulsively because I don’t always realize I’m doing it. Learning to identify the compulsion is a slow process. I know it has been a long time since I was completely out of control. Today, I eat for sustenance more often than I eat compulsively.

Most of my compulsive eating is emotional eating, a way to avoid feeling emotions that seem stronger than I can handle. Realizing this truth about myself didn’t happen overnight.

Do I have an eating disorder?

Disordered eating sounds a little better than eating disorder, don’t you think? Eating disorders include both restrictive eating habits and binging. Several years ago, I began to toy with the idea that I “might” have an eating disorder. Knowing the stigma associated with mental health issues, it was a difficult realization to entertain, and even harder one to admit.

For most of my adult life, my mantra has been, “I am NOT my [borderline personality, bipolar] mother.”

The two Alanas. Which is real?

The two Alanas. Which is real?

I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds in my 39 years. When the Doctor Oz book, YOU: on a Diet came out, it revolutionized both my kitchen and my ideas about food. The year following my reading that book, I lost more than 50 pounds and proceeded to keep it off for more than three years. I didn’t starve myself. I didn’t severely restrict my eating. I didn’t count calories. I didn’t exercise excessively. I walked. I played outside with my son, and I chose healthy foods MOST of the time. I chose foods based on the knowledge of what function they served inside my body. I chose foods out of a desire for ultimate health. I moved my body out of a desire to spend time having fun outdoors with my son.

I like to think of this scenario as food choice changes based on knowledge. Sometimes we make food choices because we don’t know any better. Sometimes education is all it takes for a person to make healthy food choices. When there are no emotional and psychological ties to foods, it’s just a matter of realizing the better choice and training one’s body to prefer the better choice. Change your pantry. Change your palate. Achieve a healthy weight.

I did that. Why am I fat again?

Cognitive Dissonance

The psychological term cognitive dissonance describes the state of believing one way and acting another. If a human being holds a belief but acts contrary to that belief, the state of mental anguish that results is called cognitive dissonance.

When my eating habits became contrary to my beliefs surrounding food, I was miserable. My analytic mind wanted answers. Why? Why do I eat these unhealthy foods when I know they make my body feel sick, slow, unhealthy? Why do I eat mindlessly past the point of comfort? Is this normal? Is this an “eating disorder”? Is something making me do that? I feel compelled to eat and keep eating. Is that what compulsive eating is?

“Good Lord, no, Alana. Don’t be so dramatic. You are just a fat, lazy slob who needs to go on a diet. You need to quit eating so much. Back away from the table. If you had willpower, you’d be thin. You are lazy and undisciplined. God, look at that gut. Disgusting.”

You ever get so used to your internal voice that you don’t realize what a mean son-of-a-bitch it is? Who is that talking, anyway? Is everyone’s internal dialogue so hateful? Could this be part of the problem?

In front of me was a congested tangle of thoughts, beliefs, experiences, information like a wad of yarn, useless and disfunctional. As I tried to unravel the mess, I began to question whether this was about food after all. Maybe the solution wasn’t another diet. Maybe the solution wouldn’t be quick and easy.

…to be continued…

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