Monday, May 10, 2010

Hi My Name is Erica and I’m a Recovering Food Addict.

This morning I went out on a walk because I had a bit on my mind and walks always provide me the perfect opportunity to reflect. I spend my 45 minute walk thinking about something that I experienced yesterday when I was working on my post about my mom’s eating disorder. A couple of paragraphs in I had to stop because it was starting to bring up some pretty strong emotions that I wasn’t prepared to work through at that moment. This flood of emotions started to trigger me to want to just shove crap in my mouth. Did I give into those desires to eat a bunch of crap.....Nope! Yay for me! One more trigging moment overcome out of the many I have in the past few years. Do I always overcome the moment and avoid the damaging behavior of my food addiction? No, but I have way more moments I do now then I did in the past.

See during my journey to better health I recognized pretty early that I had a huge problem with using food as my way of handling emotions. I used food to not only manage negative emotions, but also to manage the positive ones too. Much like an alcoholic or a drug addict uses alcohol or drugs to numb themselves from their realities, I used food to check out from life. The most challenging part of dealing with my addiction is that I can’t just give up my drug of choice like traditional addicts can. I have to eat to live, so food has to be part of my life. 

I can’t really pinpoint the exact moment when I stepped over from normal behavior eating to destructive eating behaviors, but I can see that it developed when I was fairly young. I can remember my food binging behavior really started to pick up when I started to earn a decent amount of allowance and my parents allowed me to use it to buy snack foods when ever we were out. This increase in binging behavior also coincided with the emotional turmoil that is part of adolescence. There were many nights I spent in the privacy of my bedroom over stuffing myself with massive amounts of crap as a teen.

When I went off to college this private binging behavior continued and my eating patterns and nutrition of my food changed pretty drastically. When I was growing up my parents did a pretty good job about providing fairly healthy meals for our main meals. I always ate breakfast, I took a packed lunch that was pretty balanced, and dinner was balanced and was always eaten as a family at the table. One thing that I feel was missing was that I was never really taught anything about nutrition. My parents did a good job of providing healthy meals, but they never explained why we were eating what we were. Once I was out on my own making my own food choices in college I went a bit crazy with food. I also became much less active because I no longer was participating in the physical activities I did when I was in High School. I started putting on weight at an alarming rate in college. I had started college out around 150lbs and graduated from college weighing in at about 220lbs.

Post college, things didn’t get much better for my eating habits. I continued to binge eat my way through my transition into the working world, through several jobs, through several moves around the country, and through some pretty unhealthy relationships. I really felt sometimes that food was my only friend, the only one who was there consistently for me through it all. Little did I know that my unhealthy relationship with food was really slowly killing me and robbing me of my ability to live the life I really wanted.    

I would love to tell you that once I realized all of this that I just woke up one day and just stopped using food as my emotional crutch.  I would love to tell you that once I got to a healthy weight that I was cured. Truth is that I wake up everyday knowing that I’m going to have to fight against this demon that lives inside me, the one that tries to convince me that food is my only friend. Don’t let that truth make you feel hopeless if you struggle with the same demon though. The whole reason I made the choice to write about my struggle with this is to show that it can be managed and there is hope of gaining some control over it. Each day I successfully manage it the easier it becomes for me to stay healthy.

Below are some of the strategies I use to keep my addiction under control.  Keep in mind that these are things that work for me, meaning if you try them they may or may not work for you. My suggestion for anyone that feels they are battling with a food addiction or other disordered eating issues is to seek medical assistance from a qualified health professional.  

Permission to Feel
This might seem like a strange permission to have to give to yourself, but for someone like me it is critical to my ability to manage this. For some unknown reason I learned to automatically shut off my emotions, both positive and negative ones, by burying them down inside. Food was my way of being able to take an emotion and to shove it away. I now tell myself when I feel an emotion coming on that it is ok to actually feel it and experience it. For example, I used to think that crying would make me a weak person, so I wouldn’t because I would distract myself from the urge by eating. Once I started to allow myself to cry when I felt it I started to see that it takes much more strength to allow myself to cry and to experience the feelings.
Staying in Touch With My Emotional State
Staying in the moment and taking the time to assess how I’m feeling has been extremely helpful in being prepared to deal with a trigger to destructive eating. Knowing my emotional state helps me recognize when I’m more susceptible to being triggered and knowing that helps me avoid situations that may be just too challenging for me to cope with at that time.
Make Taking Care of Myself a Priority
This means getting proper sleep, getting my workouts in, eating healthy & consistently, and managing my stress levels. I know when I start slipping with taking care of myself I’m just opening myself to vulnerability to slipping into destructive eating patterns.
Forgive, Assess, & Learn from Slips
Like I said in the very beginning of this post, there are times I still slip up and give into destructive eating. So, when this happens I make the choice to forgive myself because not doing so just means carrying guilt that will just fuel the continuation of the destructive behavior. Once I forgive, I assess what triggered the behavior, what I ate, how I felt, and other components of the event. I make it a goal for myself to learn what I can from each slip to help strengthen my ability to deal with future triggering moments.  Not going to lie, the forgive part of this is the hardest part but the most important.
When Triggered Reach Out
Reaching out to my support system during moments where I recognize I am feeling triggered is also very helpful. Just talking to someone about the emotions that I’m feeling about the event that triggers the desire to eat crap helps. I don’t even normally talk about the fact it is making me feel like eating crap, I just talk about the event. For example, let’s say something at work goes wrong, I will then talk to my partner about what is going wrong and how it is making me feel emotionally. Once I talk about it I no longer feel like I need to shove down the feelings so the urge to eat crap disappears.

Wow this turned out to be a pretty lengthy post! If you read this far I’m pretty impressed. My post on my mom will be coming but I have a feeling its going to take me some time to get through writing it. I'm going to take my time on it, but I promise it will get posted once I'm done.

Anyway, if you want more information about food addictions and binge eating disorder check out the following links:

Binge-eating disorder
Binge Eating Disorder - Frequently Asked Questions
Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous
Mental Health and Food Addiction

Oh and if you missed my ‘Don't Drink ___, Drink WAT-AAH!’ Giveaway post on Saturday check it out. You have until this Friday @ 11:59pm to enter.

Quote of the day: “You do anything long enough to escape the habit of living until the escape becomes the habit.” ~ David Ryan


  1. Having a eating disorder is hard, I know. I told myself for years that I was just ment to be over weight or my body required more food. I have eat until I made myself sick one time and that did it for me. I woke up and knew that I needed help.. This is a very good post you wrote today and it makes me stop and think..

  2. Thanks for stopping by my blog!! Congrats to you on your weight loss!!!! I have loved reading your post!!! You can write girl :)

  3. Excellent post and excellent strategies. I hope lots of people read this. I have struggled with similar issues as long as I can early as 5 years old. I really love how you summarized your coping strategies..thanks!

  4. Great post - excellent....thank you.

  5. Great post and great strategies! It is hard to be addicted to food because you can't just cut it out of your life like you can with other addictions.

  6. What a great post. This is going to be such an inspiration and encouragement for those that face the same obstacles you fought and overcame. Thanks for sharing.

  7. I know what you mean about shoving your face with food and eating your emotions. I used to do it all the time. I don't know if I just don't do it now or if I'm more aware, or if I just let myself feel what I'm feeling and not turn to food for comfort any more. Maybe it's me just viewing food as fuel now. I don't know what it is, but I no longer use food as my emotional crutch. I hope this habit sticks though. It's easy to eat my emotions. Far easier to eat than to actually deal with them. But I've found out that I can't hide from the world.

    I hope you keep recovering and I hope you keep having these moments where you win over the inner demon, where you conquer food's control. You should control the food, not the other way around. And I know, it's so hard to do. But you can do it :)

    I use my blog now to channel my emotions. I run. I workout. I cook. I write. Instead of using food, I use other methods as my outlet.

    I'm really glad you put "permission to feel" as the first step. You should be allowed to feel what you want. There should be no hiding, no denial of the feelings. Once you feel them, then you can access the situation. I think in the past, I would just eat and pretend that I didn't feel upset, depressed, disappointed, frustrated. I would just turn all negative emotions into food, which would just exacerbate and exaggerate the negative emotions. Taking time to put things and feelings into perspective, I realize they're not that bad and that I can, in fact, deal with my situation.

    It's a tough, rough road, but I know you will try hard every day to be victorious :)

  8. Very excellent post! thank you!! As a "recovering food addict", "permission to feel" is something I'm just really finally getting in touch with. When you remove the food that's been stuffing the feelings down, surely lots of tears are shed..but I'm learning it's's a good thing..a necessary thing.

  9. What you're saying is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing, but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand. I'm sure you'll reach so many people with what you've got to say.