It had been a gnarly week full of dysfunctional family melodrama, and I was weary from battle. So when a friend invited me to her beachside town, I jumped at the opportunity to get some R&R.
Little did I know that beyond the sun & fun I was anticipating, there would be an added bonus upon my arrival: home-made chocolate nut clusters, a large plastic bag of them to be exact, at my beck-and-call. Need I say more?
I fantasized about them at the beach, dreamt about them during my sleep, and reached for them at frequent intervals in-between.
Compulsive eating goes hand-in-hand with chronic pain: It numbs the pain itself, softens the depression stemming from that pain, and provides low-impact entertainment when it’s hard to get around. That’s why, following a hit-and-run car crash in 1997, I’d put on 45 pounds.
Truth be told, I’d struggled with food my whole life — having done the gamut of eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, exercise bulimia, compulsive overeating) and having tried numerous solutions (nutrition consultation, food elimination, dieting, and calorie-counting).
I knew the core problem lay not in my food behavior per se, but rather in my emotional relationship to food. I’d considered joining a spiritual program for overcoming food addictions — but just thinking about people sitting around and talking about food made me want to run home and inhale my refrigerator.
For some reason, however, my blatant inability to control myself at my friend’s house sent me flying into the arms of the program.
The first week was the hardest. I committed to eating healthy portions of food and not eating between meals. That’s when I became aware that I had a habit of mindlessly reaching for food. All. Day. Long.
While mentally composing the next paragraph for an article, I’d suddenly find myself standing in front of an open refrigerator, my hand reaching for a piece of cheese. While talking with a friend on the phone, I’d notice that my head was positioned in front of the lower cabinet, looking for a frying pan. Heading for the bathroom to brush my teeth before bed, I’d become aware that I was actually in the kitchen, cruising for a yummy snack.
Each time, I was shocked to catch myself in action — as if I suddenly woke up and noticed I’d been sleep-walking. Oy, it dawned on me, I have a problem.
I began going to meetings regularly and calling people in the program instead of reaching for food. It was exhausting: Rather than shoving something in my mouth and getting on with the day, I had to actually stop and feel — the pain, the anger, the desperation, all of it.
I’ve lost 12 pounds since starting program this past summer. More importantly, however, I’ve joined a community of people with the courage to heal; I’ve embraced my feelings on a whole new level; and I’ve found new outlets for my frustration — like composing a song on piano, writing a letter to God, or taking a meditation break.
It’s still not easy, but the self-discovery is worth it.