By Laura Ann
Trigger Warning: The following post deals with addiction, eating disorders, depression, self-mutilation, and otherwise emotional topics. Please take care when reading and do not compromise your mental health.
I am an addict. A full-fledged food addict. A compulsive overeater. A person with Binge Eating Disorder (BED). A little while ago, I wrote a post about fat acceptance, not judging health by body size, and all the trials of navigating fat life. I still 100% stand by that post. Not every fat person has BED, and not every person with BED is fat. But, I am both.
The definition of food addiction, compulsive overeating, and Binge Eating Disorder are all very similar, and are sometimes used interchangeably. It is my understanding that food addiction is present in a variety of eating disorders, including bulimia, anorexia, BED, and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). However, compulsive overeating and BED is not associated with frequent inappropriate compensatory behavior, such as purging, excessive exercise, etc. These are the symptoms of all three:
· Lack of control in regard to intake of food, especially junk food or high sugar foods
· Recurrent episodes of binge eating occurring at least once a week for three months
· Diets and weight loss programs that do not work permanently
· Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short time frame (any two-hour period)
· Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
· Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry
· Eating much more rapidly than normal
· Eating food that is burned, frozen or spoiled; from containers in the grocery store; or out of the garbage
· Feelings of depression, hopelessness, sadness or shamed about your eating or your weight
· Eating when you are upset or reward yourself with food when you do something good
· Eating sugar, flour, or wheat makes you more irritable
· Marked distress regarding binge eating
· Avoiding social interactions because you feel you do not look good enough or do not have the proper fitting clothes to wear
· Eating sensibly in front of others and then making up for it when alone
· Stealing other people’s food
· Interest in what food is served at social gatherings rather than looking forward to the warmth of being with the people attending
Coming to terms with my problems with food happened very suddenly. Even at the time that I wrote my Fat Acceptance blog post – I was still in denial. I don’t binge. I eat like everyone else; I’m just fat. I like yummy food….what’s so wrong with that? But my realization came in two parts. I was at the bariatric doctor and he asked my flat out if I ever binged; meaning did I eat in excess, in secret, to the point of getting sick. I panicked and said “no, of course not,” but in my head I kept thinking, yes yes yes, Every. Single. Day. He suggested going to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) regardless of my lie. So I went.
Being in OA was such a surreal experience. OA is a 12-step program, modeled exactly after Alcoholics Anonymous. All the quirky traits of 12-step meetings were there (“Hi Laura”, “thanks for sharing”, and the serenity prayer). Things that I thought only happened in movies were happening to me. I’m not sure why I thought it would be any different, but at the time, I felt like this program wasn’t for me. The group was welcoming and loving, but it made me feel like an addict. Which is a feeling I didn’t like. Certainly food cannot be as serious as alcoholism or narcotic addiction. Eating doesn’t destroy lives! I don’t need this. Everyone HAS to eat!
Unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that eating is destroying a life–MY life. And I’d be lying if I said that my distorted eating does not affect my relationships with my parents, family, partner, friends, and even people I work with. The second part of my realization came after the OA meeting and I tried to stop binge eating. And realized that I could not – at all. I began seeing all my addictive and destructive behavior. The extent that I seek out food is astounding.
I eat in my room late at night with the door closed. And I don’t have ONE tasty cake, or donut or slice of pizza or whatever I’m eating; I have four. Yes, FOUR. Maybe even five. I eat another meal in my car after I’ve already eaten with my family. Almost every time I go out with friends, I go to a fast food place after I drop them off at home. I eat a healthy breakfast at work; only to immediately go to McDonald’s on my break. I’ve eaten food that was expired, starting to go bad, off the floor, that was burned, and out of the garbage. I’ve stolen food from friend’s homes and stole the snack food from my job. I’ve taken my parent’s money to buy food. I’ve cried, panicked, lashed out, and become passive aggressive towards people who stood in the way of food and being able to eat it. This is not sane behavior. And I’m just starting to realize how out of hand it’s become.
I have a very addictive personality in general, as well as diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Throughout my life I’ve had different compulsions to cope with mental health troubles and the stress of day-to-day life. I’ve struggled with drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation, excessive hand washing, and checking behaviors. All of these behaviors I’ve been sober and abstinent from for about 4 years. And the way I stay away from those behaviors is by complete abstinence. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke pot every once and a while, I don’t cut once a year, and I don’t use checking behaviors “just when I really need them”. I just don’t do them. EVER. And while I’ve never had to be in a 12-step program for any of them, abstinence is the way I stay mentally healthy. That’s why I think OA will be a solution to my eating disorder, because they advocate abstinence from trigger foods and binging behaviors; and total avoidance works for me in other areas.
Abstinence is the sobriety of OA. Most abstinent members do not eat flour or sugar, as these are the most common trigger foods. OA does not recommend or endorse one particular diet or eating plan, and suggests it should be a personal decision made with a health care provider. However, once finding a plan, it is important to stick to it. This means there is no cheating or going off the plan once you lost a desired amount of weight. And while OA advocates taking it one day at a time, abstinence is optimally forever. This seems daunting and terrifying that once I’m successful in the program, I will never eat cake or fast food again. But I have to keep reminding myself that an alcoholic feels the same way; if they are successful, they will never consume alcohol again. Moderation is a tool used for people who are not addicts.
Eating became my drug of choice because it was the least taboo of all my vices. Food is legal and necessary for living. People are less likely to see it as a problem because there are no visible scars, distress, or illegal substances. It’s an easy addiction to “get away with”. Even my parents, who have been extremely involved with my mental health care, are skeptical if my eating habits are really that bad that I need a 12-step program. But that’s the problem, when I gave the rest of my addictions up, my eating intensified 10 fold. I substituted all those other things with food. And now it’s not-so-slowly killing me and taking over my life.
At the time that I wrote this post, I have not been able to stay abstinent. I’m still struggling with binging on a daily basis. I’m working hard on getting a sponsor and going through the 12 steps to start my road to recovery. I surround myself with supportive people and I have this gut feeling that things are gong to start looking better.
Hello my name is Laura, and I’m a food addict
Editors note: Since writing the article, Laura has found a sponsor and been abstinent for for 7 days!