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Posts Tagged ‘compulsive eating’

It’s not about the food!

In Being Healthy on March 10, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Coming to the conclusion that I am a compulsive eater did not happen in a “Eureka!” moment. The idea drifted around in my mind, floating to the surface here and there over the years.

I kept asking why.

There are many aspects to eating disorders, and most don't have anything to do with food.

Most eating disorders have little to do with food.

Why am I ashamed of eating in front of people? Why do I eat foods when I am stressed that I normally would not – and then feel extreme guilt? Why do I feel like I need to hide my food? Why do I sometimes feel like there is never enough to satisfy me, no matter how much I eat? Why do I feel desperate to get the particular food I crave? Why do I wish there were a magic food that I could eat all day long and never feel full? Isn’t feeling full the purpose of eating? What is the purpose of my eating if I hate feeling full?

Why do I not really care about food when I’m happy, rested and relaxed? Why do I forget about food when I’m captivated by something I’m doing?

Is this normal? Is this serious? Is this even about food? Am I crazy?

I read lots of “Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive/Binge Eating” lists. Here’s an example:

Signs of binge eating disorder

Ask yourself the following questions. The more “yes” answers, the more likely it is that you have binge eating disorder.

  • Do you feel out of control when you’re eating?
  • Do you think about food all the time?
  • Do you eat in secret?
  • Do you eat until you feel sick?
  • Do you eat to escape from worries, relieve stress, or to comfort yourself?
  • Do you feel disgusted or ashamed after eating?
  • Do you feel powerless to stop eating, even though you want to?

I can remember eating in secret as a kid. I remember the shame I felt about eating. At age eight, I learned that eating is bad. It happened during a well-intended teaching moment by a person who loved me very much. The talk was meant to help me, but the lesson that my kid-brain took from the words has been a battle and a burden for me for 31 years.

I built up the courage to buy a book. I wasn’t ready to admit to having a problem, but I would read about it.

In 2012, I read Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth. I hid the book because I was embarrassed to be seen reading about eating disorders, but I couldn’t put it down. Every page resonated with me. Have you ever had one of those, “Wow! Someone out there is just like me,” moments? It was as if I felt that realization with every paragraph.

I began to understand that compulsive eating has little to do with food. It’s about feelings.

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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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