A few weeks ago, at the end of a particularly awful day, I snuck into the kitchen after everyone else was in bed. I ate four pieces of cheese toast while I watched an episode of Nashville and reminisced about the days when I slept all night and peed alone. (If you have a toddler at home, you understand this sort of nostalgia.)
Less than a week later, I stood in the kitchen and watched my toddler cry because Mommy ate the last Subway cookie while he was napping. As I rummaged through the pantry for graham crackers, animal crackers or anything remotely resembling a cookie, I felt like the world’s worst mother.
Once the cookie crisis was averted, I finally looked up at my husband, who’d remained fairly quiet throughout the whole exchange. I saw genuine concern mixed with pity in his eyes.
Slowly and awkwardly, I took the critical first step to recovery: I admitted the truth that we both already knew.
“I have a problem, and I need some serious help.”
I made an appointment for the following week with a therapist who specializes in food addiction and eating disorders. She asked me some painful questions that confirmed a diagnosis of Compulsive Eating Disorder (also known as Binge Eating Disorder) and suggested that addiction, not willpower, might also be a big part of my problem.
It’s funny because I never thought of myself as a binge eater. I’ve always been more of a grazer, which as it turns out, can actually lead to binge-eating, too. (When you keep going back for more “little bites” over and over, you can end up consuming a LOT more food than you realize in a relatively short period of time. If you’ve ever opened a pack of Oreos that disappeared the next day, this will make sense to you.)
Pizza has always been a trigger food for me, though. In polite company, I used to scarf down two pieces and practically sit on my hands to avoid going back for more. At home, it was a different story. I could easily put away most of a medium thin crust pizza. (With tomato and bacon on top, of course.) Plus one of those chocolate cakes with the gooey stuff inside.
So we stopped ordering pizza.
We stopped keeping any kind of sugary foods, white breads and super starchy carbs in the house, period.
Except for mini chocolate chips. They are the only remotely unhealthy thing that we keep around, mostly because I like to use them for things like “apple nachos” and protein pancakes. And 3-ingredient peanut butter cups.
I was working late one night when I started thinking about those peanut butter cups. I literally couldn’t get my mind off of the taste of semi-sweet chocolate and creamy peanut butter layered in a little silicone baking cup.
I walked to the kitchen and started looking for the quart size bag full of chocolate chips but couldn’t find it. I literally turned the pantry upside down looking for it.
Where the heck did I put the chocolate chips?
Did my husband hide them from me? Maybe he SHOULD hide them from me. We need a safe just for chocolate chips. Only the Hubs will have a key.
What is wrong with me that I’m so desperate for some freakin’ chocolate chips?
This is the behavior of an addict.
It makes so much sense when you actually think about it. When we eat something high in sugar, fat or salt, a chemical reaction happens in our brain that releases a rush of “feel good” hormones. It’s literally like getting high on food. (If you’ve ever experienced a sugar crash, you also know that this dopamine buzz is short-lived. That’s why we keep coming back for more.)
I never thought of food as an addiction, but my therapist pointed me to some pretty shocking research on the subject. One study showed that when subjects consumed foods that spiked their blood sugar, the addiction center of the brain lit up like the sky on the Fourth of July. Much like what happens when someone uses cocaine or heroin. In fact, another study suggests that sugar is actually eight times MORE addictive than cocaine.
We wonder why diets don’t work.
We think it’s just our lack of willpower.
We spend thousands of dollars trying to buy our way to a thinner, better life.
Here’s the big, bold, scary truth of the matter: It’s not about our willpower. Another diet won’t “fix” us either. We can lose the weight, sure. But if we fail to address the deeper issues that drive our addiction, we’ll gain it back. (And then some.)
We need treatment.
We need support.
We need voices willing to bring the dark, ugly, scary monsters of addiction and eating disorder into the light of day where the shadows of shame can no longer control us.
I’m willing to be one of those voices as I walk down the long, painful road to recovery. With the support of family, friends and a long-term treatment plan, I’m committed to wellness, not just weight loss.
To be honest? This kind of vulnerability scares the heck out of me. We’ve all got issues, but because of my weight, I wear my weakness on the outside.
People who’ve never struggled with compulsive eating don’t exactly ooze empathy. I know what it’s like to be judged by people who think you’re lazy. Or that you just can’t get your crap together.
What if I’m bombarded by well-meaning emails and messages offering me everyone’s latest greatest weight loss product/program/pill? (FYI. The answer is probably no thanks.)
Will I get funny looks the next time I eat a piece of cake at a baby shower?
Will my sterling reputation be permanently tarnished because of my weakness in this area?
What if people actually think less of me because I’ve admitted my addiction?
If so, I’ve decided I can live with it. I’d rather be known for being honest than for being perfect. If hearing my story gives just ONE person the courage to reach out for help, it will be worth it.
If my story resonates with you, I’d love to hear from you in the comments, through email or on social media. You can also check out the resources section of my site for recommended reading, treatment options and other info that might be helpful if you or someone you love is struggling with food addiction or an eating disorder.
Most importantly, know that you don’t have to fight this battle alone!
Join me on the road to recovery.
It won’t be easy, but we’ll get there.