I have an addiction problem. My drug of choice may come as a surprise to some, but probably not to others. It is…food.
Food addiction is a real, clinical, factual addiction. It has all of the same triggers and deep rooted emotional causes as heroin, cocaine, and other drug addictions and alcoholism. It is just not very widely diagnosed as such because we are dealing with, well FOOD – something every person on this planet ingests, even children - not drugs or alcohol where abuse can be much more obvious and they are not consumed by every person on the planet.
Many people feel that saying you can be addicted to food is preposterous. “That is like saying you are addicted to water, or air!” Yes, it may sound ridiculous, and it may just sound like an excuse for why I am morbidly obese. And it is easy for people who do not have a problem with food or addictive behavior to say, “Just eat less and take some exercise. That is all you need to do.” Well, that may be all YOU need to do, but that does not work for me. It is like telling a heroin addict to just stop doing heroin. Um, yeah; that doesn’t really work for most people. Some people may say, “It can’t be an addiction. You can’t overdose and die from food!” Wanna bet? What do you think morbid or super morbid obesity is? It is a case of constant overdosing. No, we don’t die immediately like you might with drugs; it is a slightly slower process. However, massive strokes and heart attacks can occur following binge eating. And they can occur at anytime for anyone that is obese.
I have been paying particular attention to my eating patterns over the last several weeks, trying understand just what the heck is wrong with me; why can’t I just STOP EATING?? I made mental notes and talked about them with my therapist this weekend. She agrees with my “armchair diagnosis”; I have all the patterns of someone with addictive and somewhat obsessive behavior. I also have many of the emotional earmarks from childhood and early adulthood that can lead to this type of behavior later in life.
I want to make it perfectly clear from the outset that I had a very happy and healthy childhood. I was never physically or sexually abused in any way. I loved my parents very much and they loved me; I didn’t even have any sibling rivalry to deal with as my sister has been my best friend literally from birth – she even physically saved my life on at least one occasion. So what exactly were my problems then? I will say that I lived in a very restricted home. My mom was very over-protective to the point of being smothering, while my father was the one who would finally step in and make her back off. My mom and I did have major issues over my eating habits. I was a very picky eater; I hated vegetables or anything resembling them, and I didn’t like to try anything new. I vividly remember sitting at the dinner table, in the dark, until bedtime because there was uneaten or untried food still left on my plate. This was usually a weekly occurrence. My therapist identified that type of controlling behavior as a cornerstone to building an eating disorder. (I was very disturbed to hear her say that, as I had once used that same controlling method on one of my nieces when she refused to eat fish sticks one night. I even copied my mother’s behavior in going so far as to serve them to her for breakfast the following morning, so of course she then went to school that day without breakfast. Alisha – I am so sorry.) I also remember a particular episode involving peas. I had been given vitamins in pill form from an early age, so I had no trouble swallowing things whole. I hated peas with a vengeance, and one night had the brilliant idea of just swallowing them down with a glass of milk. It was the perfect solution! I didn’t have to taste them, and mom would be satisfied that I ate them. When she discovered what I was doing, she insisted that I “chew them up!” I tried faking her out by putting them in the center of my mouth and making chewing motions; this didn’t work because she could hear my teeth clacking together. I pleaded with her, asking her what difference did it make whether they were whole or chewed? But, once again, it was a control issue, and so I sat in the dark until bedtime again with a plate of cold peas. One time even my dear father got in on the act. Sweet potatoes are my nemesis; ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you that I cannot even be in the house when they are being cooked. You could put a million dollars in front of me and tell me all I had to do to earn it was eat one forkful of sweet potato, and I would not be able to do it. Now on the other hand, pumpkin pie is one my most treasured treats (I think some of you may know where I am going with this). In trying to get me to eat some sweet potato pie, my father told me it was pumpkin pie. (insert sound of chirping crickets here) As a child, my father was a saint in my eyes and could never do any wrong; however, to this day I have never forgiven him for that.
So, you may be reading this and be thinking, “Big deal. So your mom made you eat vegetables that you didn’t like, and your dad pulled the oldest trick in the book. You poor baby. People live in other countries without food and you are whining about being made to eat.” I understand your reasoning, but you are missing the real point. Food was being used in these circumstances as a way to control my behavior. As a result, family meals for me became very trying and stressful. I felt I was always walking a fine line between making my mother very angry at me, which resulted in my father being very angry with my mother. I was always afraid of what might be on my plate that I wouldn’t like, and how I was going to deal with the situation.
The only time I really felt any freedom from the stress of eating as a family is when we went out to a restaurant for dinner. There I was usually free to choose my own food, and if there was anything I didn’t like I was free to leave it on my plate as my mother would never risk a confrontation in public. I would get some accusing glares from her which threatened severe discipline once we got home, but it was still worth it to me.
Hmmm…even as I write these things, I feel I understand myself a little better. I will write more in my next entry, as this one is getting pretty long.