Food addiction. It’s real. And I am deep in the trenches of recovery. It takes work. It requires admitting to yourself what your weaknesses are and where you have fallen short in taking care of yourself. Last week we identified the behaviors of a food addict. Then we identified a theme in our life that has led us to food addiction. Mine was control.
(Click here to read last week’s post.)
My new theme instead of control is balance: finding balance in my food behaviors; turning my negative obsession with food into positives. Instead of obsessing about unhealthy food, I am focusing on healthy food preparation and making healthy food plans. I’m learning to enjoy occasional treats without overdoing it.
As much as my year with Extreme Weight Loss was invaluable to me, the confines of following the food plan did not help me learn balance. It is a strict regime, designed to achieve results. It was so helpful in regaining my physical health, but did not allow for me to find any emotional balance. During the year, I still did not feel in control of my life. My life was not my own. I was eating and exercising to get results for myself, but also for others.
I knew when I signed up to do the show that it was not going to be a normal scenario for losing weight. JD Roth, the creator of Extreme Weight Loss and The Biggest Loser, spoke to the cast and told us up front, “This is not a year of dressing on the side, this is a year of no dressing.” And it was. In the beginning of filming, I was allowed vinaigrette dressing, but at some point during boot camp, Heidi told me to just use balsamic vinegar as my dressing. So, I did. To me, this was just symbolic of the type of restriction I was learning.
Making those sacrifices never seemed like too much to me. I never ate less than 1500 calories a day during my time on the show. But, I did work out up to 4 hours a day. I also ate very clean six days a week. No treats, no sweets, minimal sodium, and restricted options for what I could have. I did fine with the food plan. I felt fulfilled. But, looking back, I was not learning how to lead a balanced life. My entire existence revolved around working out and losing weight.
After six days of eating so clean, we then had reward day on Sundays. (800 extra calories for women, 1000 extra calories for men) Did I stick to that? Most Sundays I did. I didn’t want to blow the hard work I did all week by splurging on Sunday. But, restricting for six days, then having a reward day still leant itself to feeding the food addiction behavior. It played right into restriction and binging. It didn’t teach me to find balance.
I would spend the entire week thinking about Sunday. I would ponder my reward all week. What would I have this week? As I ate my countless salads and grilled chicken, I would dream about Sunday’s pizza. Or pasta? Or a burger and fries? Maybe a scone for breakfast? Or French toast? Could I squeeze in a donut? Or do I want bacon? I managed to hold it together Monday through Saturday. I managed to stick to the food plan laid out for me, because it’s what I was supposed to do. I had the accountability of my weekly weigh-ins keeping me in check, but the idea of splurging on Sunday was always in the back of my mind. The fact that I could work my cravings out on Sunday kept me in line all week.
Drew Carey sums it up wonderfully in this quote, “Eating crappy food is not a reward, it’s punishment”. It’s so true. I have looked at food as a way of rewarding myself, finding comfort in it, when really eating the junk, the donuts, the late night cereal or ice cream (I obviously am a sugar addict) was really a way of further punishing the body that I felt was betraying me. I never dreamed I would someday weight 315 pounds. I got there one reward meal at a time, one calorie, one pound at a time. And I hated myself for it. It’s time to learn a new way to deal with food.
How we do recover from food addiction? What can we do to gain a healthy relationship with food?
1- Listen To Your Body. Learn to appreciate your body’s cues. Learn to eat when you’re hungry. Crazy concept, huh? So many of us eat for comfort, for social reasons, because we’re bored. Re-learning to listen to our bodies is huge. Learn to appreciate that we can treat our bodies well.
2- Add One Healthy Behavior At A Time. Then, build on those. Start with something small. Pack your lunch instead of eating out. Stop drinking sodas and switch to water. Chris taught us to keep our promises to ourselves and this helped me immensely. Once I realized I could keep one, small healthy behavior, I could add to it. One commitment at time begins to add up to progress.
3- Don’t Allow Shame To Keep You From Asking For Help. Reach out to those around you as you commit to tackling your food addiction. Let others know that you’re ready to move forward. So many of us feel a great deal of shame attached to our food behaviors. We don’t want anyone to know what we eat or how much we weigh.
So many people, women in particular, want to present themselves as if they have it all figured out. We don’t want to be vulnerable. I know I certainly didn’t. At my weight, I wasn’t hiding anything from anyone. Weighing 315 pounds certainly allowed people to see that I didn’t have it all figured out. But, I didn’t want anyone to know how much it bothered me. I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was struggling. I was terrified of asking for help or admitting that I needed help.
I had to weigh in when Chris surprised me. I panicked. The number on the scale represented all of my shame. That 315 on the scale was the glaring light that shined onto my unhealthy relationship with food. But, once it was out there, I felt so free. It was such a relief to not hide anymore, to know that I could move forward with the support of those around me. Please don’t let shame keep you alone. Don’t let shame keep you from reaching out for help and support. Let’s not let food addiction be our dirty little secret. Let’s rally around those struggling. Let’s hold each other up and encourage each other as we all try to do better.
4- Set Non-Scale Goals And Celebrate Your Achievements. Finding ways to appreciate my health now that the thrill of seeing the number on the scale go down is vital. Chris set weight-based goals for me. It was my fuel to keep me in check. I now set goals for myself. Not scale-based, but instead physically challenging. Running a half marathon…running a 5k every day… teaching a 5am CrossFit class, etc. I do not have to let the scale rule my life. I am aware of it. I know the number on the scale. I have to. I can’t deceive myself to think that the number has no value in my life, but I also have to find a place that is comfortable and maintainable for me.
Celebrate your victories. No matter how big or small. Breaking the unhealthy food behaviors comes one small step at a time. Did a co-worker bring donuts and you only had one, rather than grazing all day and ultimately consuming 3 or 4? That is something to be celebrated! Have you gone all week without a binge? Kudos to you! Have you kept your commitment to no soda? It’s a win.
Losing 165 pounds changed my life. It forced me to deal with the body I had been punishing. It forced me to have tough conversations with Scott about my weight that I had not wanted to have. It allowed me to finally confront the one thing I felt like I was getting wrong in my life. But, losing the weight didn’t “fix” me. It fixed the physical issue, but it didn’t fix the emotional ones. It’s the emotional side that has led me to where I am now: Soul searching to find the answers I need for long-term success.
What part does my faith play in this? My body, my emotions and my spirit are all intertwined and make me who I am. I felt for many years that I was betraying God, failing Him because I was obese. The Bible says that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. God gave us this body to house His spirit within us, and I was not treating mine in a way that glorified God. It bothered me. I beat myself up. I prayed for God to help me find a way to fix myself. I never prayed for God to just magically take my weight away, or to make it easy on me. I prayed for wisdom, for guidance, to help me see clearly on what I needed to do, to guide my steps to help me free myself from the addictive behaviors I saw in my life.
When I did begin to lose weight, I relied on God to help me through the tough days. Galatians lays out the “Fruit of the Spirit”, the results of controlling our fleshly bodies. One of those is “self control”. I would remind myself, and still do, “God gave me self control. I have self control.” When I feel like my eating is not in control, when I find myself wanting food that I know I shouldn’t have, I just say to myself, “God gave me self control.” It helps me to remind myself that I am in control of my body, what I eat, and how I treat my body.
There are several other scriptures that have been constants in my journey. Hebrews 12:11- “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Working out is hard. It’s not pleasant. Denying myself food when I want it can be tough, but it’s worth it. Knowing that God’s word promises me that when I discipline myself, that I will have a harvest of peace, I am all in. I need peace in my life. So many days, when I was overweight, I had no peace. I beat myself up. I had a terrible inner dialogue. I had no peace, I tormented myself with negative thoughts. Having discipline in my life has completely changed my thought life. Are there times I still struggle with negative thinking? Yes. But, it’s much less often, and I have learned to shut it down much more quickly.
My go-to verse is Philippians 4:13- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. All things. If my “thing” is clean eating, then I can do it. If my “thing” is working out, then I can do it. If my “thing” is battling cravings, then I can do it.
Do I have it all figured out? Certainly not. But, I am learning. I am growing every day, gaining knowledge, learning how to navigate a healthy life. Learning how to tame my food addiction. Just as with alcoholism or any other addiction, admitting we need help is a start. For me, acknowledging it, and facing it has changed the way I see myself. It gives me an insight on my behaviors, why I ended up at 315 pounds, and it keeps me on a quest to never be there again.
I love a quote Kelly Cassidy, a food disorders therapist, gave me from the video “Hungry for Change” One recovering food addict asks herself not, “What am I eating?”, but, “What’s eating me?” Don’t let mindless, emotional eating do untold damage to our bodies and our mental health. Let’s be conscientious in our eating. Let’s treat our bodies well. Let’s respect our bodies. Let’s honor God with our bodies. Let’s not abuse food and treat our bodies with contempt. God gave us one body. Learn to listen to the cues it’s giving you and live by those, not by emotional eating.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Georgeanna, and I am a food addict.