April 24, 2008

Quote of the day

Posted in junk food is everywhere at 11:45 pm by foodaddict

“…I can’t possibly throw away all of the brownies in the world….”

—WifeMomChocoholic, at Nearly a Normal Eater

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Stomach vs. brain

Posted in binge triggers tagged , at 11:33 pm by foodaddict

I was completely out of touch with my body’s hunger cues today. I stayed home today, working on a grad school project. A frustrating, anxiety-inducing project (which I did eventually finish), but at each little hurdle, each pitfall, my head was screaming to me, “Eat something! Eat something!”

And I gave in — every time I heard that voice. Definitely not eating out of hunger.

Something about being alone with myself, without distraction, triggers my addiction. I know there has to be a better way to manage anxiety (namely, exercise), but when I’m working toward a deadline, the temptation is just to focus on that project to the exclusion of all else. This is a learned behavior that is just not working for me any more. I need to somehow get out of my own head, and force myself to run around the block or go to the gym.

Good news is, I was able to stop around 9pm. I’m allowing myself 3 pieces of chocolate and tea at night (that was one tidbit I agreed with from Jane Brody’s NY Times article last year — allowing yourself a few hundred calories from foods that you do like). Somehow, that combination does manage to signal to me to me that snack time is over for the day.

April 21, 2008

Managing expectations, keeping up appearances

Posted in managing food addiction tagged , , at 1:42 am by foodaddict

If this new ‘thin mindset’ is going to work for me, I’m going to have to manage my own expectations about food, and manage other people’s expectations on how I’m supposed to be eating.

Today, for example, I had to work on a Sunday, and we customarily get a free lunch in exchange. I *really* wanted to show up early, around 12pm, and claim my free lunch then, but…I wasn’t hungry. And the thin me is not supposed to eat when I’m not hungry. So lunchtime ended up being around 4pm. I knew I was going to be meeting some friends for dinner in the early evening, so I didn’t want to overindulge in advance. I asked if I could order a dessert to take home…and they were out of dessert. Strike 1. Minor panic. What the fuck was I supposed to do now? So I ordered a small appetizer.

The food came, and I picked at it. I knew right away that I wasn’t going to eat the whole thing. I offered the rest to one of my co-workers, who gladly started munching. I was expecting that I would get some comments from my co-workers, because the food we get for lunch is always from a fabulous restaurant, and it’s always delicious. Sure enough, one of them pipes up, “That’s all you’re eating for your meal?” But, I was prepared, and I replied nonchalantly, “Yeah, I’m meeting some friends for dinner soon, so I didn’t want to eat too much now.”

So maybe I do have enough confidence to pull this off…I just have to stay strong. As long as I can come up with a convincing response to their queries, I can do this. What seems to be working for me is to not eat a lot during the day, and then at night, I can eat like a normal person. I know it’s going to be tough when I start getting into more social situations during the week at work….so far I haven’t had to go to lunch with any co-workers, I just eat my small snacks during the day and, let’s face it, starve myself until 8pm. I would freak out if I had to go to lunch with people. Seriously, I would either have to start pushing food into my napkin like a 5-year-old, or I probably would gain back all the weight that I’ve lost over the past weeks.

Oh, and to briefly touch on ‘managing my own expectations’ with respect to food — two days ago, I actually felt sad at the thought of all the food that I’m not ‘allowed’ to eat. I was literally nostalgic over cookies and ice cream. I was a little surprised at that. They are not going to be a part of my life any more, and I miss them in a visceral way. I’m not sure what I can find to replace them. Endless cans of diet soda, I suppose.

April 16, 2008

Worry + Hopelessness + Tiredness = Binge

Posted in binge triggers tagged , , , at 10:57 am by foodaddict

Even though I don’t think I would make a very good 12-stepper, since I have a problem with the idea of God, I do like their idea of “HALT” — i.e., don’t let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. Most of my binges do happen when I’m in one of those states — like last night.

Came home late, had dinner even though I wasn’t very hungry, and then started foraging for dessert. Fortunately, the only available drug in the house was gummy bears. Mass quantities of corn syrup, however, are never a good thing to ingest at midnight. So, I was already tired and worrying because of an exam coming up the following day, and then on top of that I gave myself a sugar high.

These binges seem to spring from several states of mind:

  1. Feeling powerless and hopeless (“I’m never going to be able to study enough and prepare for my exam tomorrow, so I’m going to give up, stay up too late, binge and watch YouTube”)
  2. Trying to subvert my bodily rhythms (“Even though I’m exhausted, I’m going to force myself to stay up and worry that I should be studying, because society tells me I have to be perfect and drive myself really hard, because we’re all supposed to be super-successful”)
  3. Bizarre mealtimes (breakfast at 12pm, lunch at 4pm, dinner at 9pm — all consumed alone, of course)

There is something really irrational about #2. When I get too tired, I just can’t think clearly, and I can’t make a proper decision. Am I going to stay up and study, or am I going to go to bed so at least I’ll be well-rested tomorrow, if not well-prepared? Here is where I fail. I cannot make that decision, so I do neither of those. I stay up and not study, so when the exam day comes, I am neither well-rested nor well-prepared. This, I have been doing my entire life.

Moreover, I am guessing that “super-successful” people don’t think like this. They are more focused, so they’re either (1) staying up late because they’re actually working, or (2) staying up late because they’re socializing with people, or (3) going to bed because they know how to take care of themselves.

The only bright spot today is this: whereas in the past, I would have headed straight for the donut cart this morning, in my new frame of mind, today I am going to wait until my body tells me I’m hungry before I eat something. Small victories!

April 14, 2008

The vending machine man

Posted in junk food is everywhere tagged , at 7:20 am by foodaddict

I developed a secret sympathy for the vending machine man at my old job. Once every few weeks, he’d arrive to refill our vending machine with sugary and salty goodness. He was overweight.

One day, I was watching him in the break room and I was overcome with a wave of compassion. I pictured him making his rounds, delivering his snacks to office after office, hour after hour, day after day, living amidst the crates of Fritos, Hershey bars and snack cakes, sneaking a package here and there for himself. Who wouldn’t, if they were alone most of the day with several dozen cubic meters of comfort food?

He feels the vague unease that comes from one too many Entenmann’s chocolate-covered donuts. Washes down a package of mixed nuts and a bag of Doritos with a liter of diet soda. He polishes off another Mrs. Field’s cookie, telling himself, “Just one more…until I make it to 5:00”. Wipes cookie crumbs off his mouth while he sits in traffic.

“He feels the vague unease that comes from one too many Entenmann’s chocolate-covered donuts.”

Entenmann's chocolate-covered donuts

Like alcoholics working in bars, how many junk food delivery men have a problem with food? We’ll probably never know, but Mr. Vending Machine Man, my heart goes out to you.

April 9, 2008

Food addict mindset vs. skinny person mindset

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:04 pm by foodaddict

I got to thinking, how do skinny people deal with food? It surrounds them, just like it surrounds me, but they don’t eat everything in sight. The few skinny people I have had the chance to closely observe have a very tightly controlled intake of food. My crazy hypothesis is this: they view their natural state as being hungry, and they only eat (i.e. self-medicate) when the hunger pain is too much for them to bear. Whereas an eater like me, I believe my natural state to be satiety, and I eat whenever our my satiety level drops below, say, 90%, or whenever I have another problem or ailment (headache, cold, misery, tiredness, heartache, broken leg, job loss). I eat because it makes me feel better (for 5 minutes, at least), whereas the skinny person has learned to derive satisfaction from being skinny and from the “success” of limiting their food intake every day.

I find this significant because “sensible diet plans” emphasize eating regularly. When you’re trying to get to a “healthy weight”, the “authorities” advise you to eat a sensible breakfast, a sensible lunch, a sensible dinner and a sensible snack. I believe (mostly without evidence) that this is not how a thin person thinks. They don’t plan their lives around food. They live in their natural state of not-eating, and only when food is forced upon them, or when they’re absolutely starving, do they eat. This is how a skinny person (astonishingly, to an eater like me) can “forget to eat”. Moreover, for someone like with an obvious tendency toward binge eating, forcing myself to put food in front of my face six times a day is not necessarily the best idea. Once I start eating, it’s hard to stop.

I am reminded of back when I went through an anorexic phase. I have a very skinny cousin who has always been skinny. Everyone in my family gave me a hard time when I lost weight, but my skinny cousin never got any flack for being thin. Why? Because she had developed socially acceptable ways of not eating. When people watched her, she ate “normally”. But I’m almost positive that in private, she reverted to her natural state of not eating. I, as an inexperienced anorexic, hadn’t figured out how to be skinny in private and be normal in public.

What I’m getting at is that both food addiction and skinniness are habits developed over time. I honestly believe that (1) most thin people are vain, (2) they control their intake of food very tightly because they want to stay skinny, (3) their weight and appearance are the most important aspects of their lives and (4) they have successfully developed habits to maintain it over the course of 10, 20, 30, 40 years. Me, on the other hand? I’ve had 20 years of practice at self-medicating using food. Obviously, it’s going to be an uphill battle to change that habit.

As you’ve probably guessed, my crazy plan is transform myself into the skinny way of thinking. Let my natural state be not-full, and only eat when my body says, “You’re really hungry right now, and you need to eat something!”. As opposed to my natural state being full, and when my stomach contents drop below a very high threshold, or when my head screams, “Your life sucks!”, then automatically reach for a donut.

April 6, 2008

Snowballs and stomach knots

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:31 am by foodaddict

Eating badly definitely has a snowball effect for me. One slip (tonight, chocolate and nuts) just leaves me wanting more and more, with no end in sight. Fortunately, sleepiness is taking right now and I’ve stopped.

Why, why do I eat when I’m not hungry? Tonight, generalized anxiety about grad school work. I’ve done zero studying for the past three days. Now it’s 11:00 on a Saturday night and Sunday is staring me in the face — that’s the only day where I can count on spending a few solid hours at the library. Major knot in the stomach. Why?

  • I have no estimate of how long different projects will take me, and yet I have a limited amount of time to finish them. How long is it going to take me through 3 chapters of a textbook? I have no fucking idea. How long will it take me to finish this project? No clue. Hence, the amount of work seems limitless. I haven’t quantified it. It is an amorphous cloud hanging over me. It’s a seemingly insurmountable pile. And, not surprisingly, I have no confidence that I’ll get through it.

In summary, my mind is telling me that I have an infinite amount of work to squeeze into a very finite amount of time — 8 hours, to be exact. JESUS CHRIST, it’s no wonder I’m anxious and eating!

April 4, 2008

Unclocked, untabled

Posted in causes of food addiction tagged , , at 6:47 am by foodaddict

Moderate relapse today. Got home from work late, was ravenous, set to emptying the refrigerator, etc. etc. As binges go, not a big one. But it started me thinking about the idea of a daily rhythm — and how fucked up mine can get (such as: late dinner => binge => staying up half the night watching YouTube => early-morning cement-head => Dunkin’ Donuts muffin(s)=> and so on).

I’m reminded of random conversations I had on two separate occasions with two different German co-workers. In the first, someone in the office was celebrating a birthday, and I asked her if she was going to have any cake. “No,” she replied, “I don’t eat between meals.” For some reason, that stuck in my mind. She was quite firm about it. She doesn’t eat between meals. That’s it. No question. No argument. Never. Ever. Eat. Between. Meals. Period.

Then a few years after that, for some reason I was snacking in the communal office lunchroom at an odd time. My German co-worker commented that she just didn’t understand Americans’ obsessions with snacking. I came up with some bullshit explanation about how we all commute two hours each way to our jobs, and we don’t have time to eat regular meals at home (which, at the time, was not completely untrue for me).

What do those German women have inside them that I don’t? They have these incredibly strong (cultural?) habits about mealtimes, and they find American attitudes about food absurd. I’m not going to pass any judgments here, because there are a lot of complex reasons why Americans eat “on the go”, but I want to explore more about my own lack of touch with my own cultural roots, which I’m sure at some time in the past included regular mealtimes.

I remember growing up, my mother used to make dinner at night, and it was usually something incredibly boring like chicken and rice and peas. Today, it’s more like, “I’m going to eat this salad from the take-out salad bar, and it’s a ginormous salad, and I’m completely stuffed to the gills, but something’s not quite right, and I’m still craving food…”

It’s odd, because food is everywhere, and yet it’s nowhere. I can eat any time, any place, and yet I don’t have a regular place where I sit down for mealtimes. This is such a huge and important topic in my mind, I won’t be able to cover it all tonight, but suffice it to say, the sit-down meal at home, where you see everything on your plate and you know how much you ate, and you have portions, and you have people watching you, is rare for me. Eating is now mostly a solitary activity that happens at odd times.

April 2, 2008

Themes

Posted in causes of food addiction tagged at 4:36 am by foodaddict

I want to touch on several themes in this blog.

  • Misunderstanding of, and disconnection from, one’s own bodily cues
  • Lack of an external outlet for feelings of anxiety, powerlessness and hopelessness
  • Loosening of family ties and the loss of ethnic traditions and daily rituals
  • The rise of junk food engineering, and the omnipresence of food
  • Food addiction versus drug and alcohol addiction, and their representation in popular media

April 1, 2008

Let the gut-spilling begin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 3:11 pm by foodaddict

So why start a food addiction blog? Aren’t there 245,032 other food addiction blogs out there? There certainly are thousands of diet sites, many “how to overcome your food addiction” sites, and any number of sites written by participants in Overeaters Anonymous. But, in my very cursory search, there are few that look at food addiction as a chronic disease. In my mind, it’s not something to be overcome — it’s something to be lived with, and something to be worked around in creative ways. It has been with me for decades, and it will be with me for the rest of my life, like a heart valve defect, or asthma, or faulty vision. In particular, the phrase “overcome your food addiction” tickles me. Sorry, but my food addiction is way too far down on the brainstem to be “overcome”. You might as well say “Overcome breathing” or “Overcome your heartbeat”.

With this blog, I want to look at where my food addiction came from, why it plagues me every day, what causes particularly nasty flare-ups, and how I can fool my brain into forgetting about it, all the while being a scientifically-minded atheist.

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