These Ancient Eyes: Struggling with Addiction

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks. Not just with the addiction alluded to in the title of this blog, but with whether or not I should blog ABOUT it. However, as with many things I post, I believe my experiences might be of help to other people. So after another argument with myself over whether or not I wanted to reveal this personal struggle, I realized that if I didn’t, I’d just keep putting off blogging out of the fact that I both wanted and didn’t want to talk about this aspect of my life.

So what is this addiction I’m both hesitant and eager to talk about? Have I fallen in with a bad crowd? Taken up recreational drugs? Do I drink? Do I smoke? The answer to all of the above is a resounding “no.” I’m not addicted to painkillers or anything like that. No, the mood-altering substance that I’ve become dependent on is far more insidious than any of the aforementioned things.

What I’m addicted to is, in fact, something that no person or living thing on earth can live without. My addiction…is food.

I’m sure there are those out there who are thinking the obvious, especially if they’ve seen me in person before. Yes, I’m overweight. This is due to lifestyle as well as genetics, and I am fighting it. Currently I work out an average of twice a week, I try to eat healthy, for the most part, and I take my supplements every day. The obvious is, at it’s least insulting, a resounding “Duh.” However, there’s more going on under the surface that, while a part of me has been aware of, I haven’t consciously allowed myself to see until it was brought into stark realization by my fiancee last week.

Some of the symptoms of food addiction are:

  • Being obsessed and/or preoccupied with food. I personally experience this on a daily basis – somewhere in my mind there’s always the focus on (even if I’ve just eaten) what and when I’m going to eat next. It definitely qualifies as an obsession, be it at the background or the forefront of my mind, it’s always there. Even as I type this, I’m wondering what I will be having for dinner in a few hours – I believe the plan for the night is to make tacos. And there’s part of me that’s already anticipating the flavor of said food.
  • Having a lack of self-control when it comes to food. Again, this is exemplified in almost every moment of my life. If I want a specific food, and it’s available to me, I will eat it. I have stolen food. I’ve obsessively stared at other’s plates, hoping they wouldn’t finish their food so I could have it. I have run myself hundreds of dollars into debt buying fast food to satisfy cravings. If that doesn’t exemplify a lack of self-control, I don’t know what does.
  • Having a compulsion to eat that results in bingeing despite negative consequences. I hate when I gain weight. I still eat obsessively. People have gotten mad at me – for stealing food, for spending money, and still every time I have the opportunity, I will still go for food. I don’t like my physical body. I do not find it attractive in the slightest. Still, I eat.
  • Gaining a sense of pleasure and/or comfort from food and obsessively using food to gain that feeling. When I’m upset, I want food – at my worst, I crave chocolate. Now this might sound normal, except that those who know me well know that chocolate is not my “drug of choice.” I’ll go for a cheeseburger before I’ll go for chocolate – and my sweet of choice is in general things like white chocolate or  fruit-flavored things. I have a penchant for citrus flavored candies and I love all things lemon. But when I have cravings, nine times out of ten, what I’m craving is some sort of meat or dairy product, and when I’m upset the first thing my mind goes to is wanting fast food – usually McDonald’s double cheeseburgers.
  • Having a need to eat that results in a physical craving. This has been the hardest for me the last week or so since realizing my addiction and taking steps to fight it. The physical cravings are getting worse and worse. I’ve chewed through packs of gum, dosed on Rescue Remedy over and over to get through the worst of them, but still they persist. Even now, right now, I can almost taste a double cheeseburger with extra onions…

There are questions you need to ask yourself to confirm whether or not you are addicted to food. Have you tried, but failed, to control your eating? Do you find yourself hiding food, and/or secretly bingeing? Do you regularly feel guilty after eating? Do you eat because of emotions rather than to satiate hunger?  My answers to all of these questions are “yes,” to varying degrees. I’ll go into more detail to make it clear how much this addiction can impact a person’s life.

I’ve tried diets before – the cravings for “real food” always got so bad within a few days that I couldn’t continue. Diets aren’t for me, I decided. So I decided to eat normally and control my portion sizes. I always felt hungry still, after eating, and I actually felt SAD looking at a plate with perfectly reasonably sized portions on it. “It isn’t enough food,” was the overwhelming thought. I tried tricking myself, telling myself that what I have on my plate is all the food there is, and that there’s no chance for me to get seconds. This resulted in me finishing my food and then watching other people who are still eating, hoping they’ll have food left that I can have. I am always reaching for and never quite reaching the “enough” point. Even in situations like an all-you-can-eat buffet, I would be frustrated. The feeling of being full, of having had “enough” food, only lasts for a couple of hours, and that first burst of hunger pangs after getting home from the buffet always sets off an anger cascade in my mind. “I should’ve eaten more! There wasn’t enough food!” is the overwhelming thought process. And I find myself hunting down food again. Something I’ve had multiple discussions with my fiancee about is this “not enough” mentality and how it ultimately hurts me. Yet I still haven’t been able to shake it – most of the time I can avoid saying it aloud, but I can’t seem to stop thinking it. No matter how much or what I eat, there’s never “enough.”

People who are addicted to food are liars. That’s right – liars. I hate being thought of as such, and this is one of the reasons that I’m finding this blog so incredibly hard to write. But I am a liar – when it comes to food. I would go out of my way to go out alone to run errands, with the hope of being able to sneak a fast food stop in there. I would tell myself that if I didn’t grab a couple of burgers before going into the grocery store, I’d risk going off-list in my shopping because I was hungry. I’d lie about why I’d been gone so long when I came home, blaming non-existent traffic or accidents for my tardiness that could better be explained by the fact that the line at McDonalds or Burger King was insanely long and I sat in it anyway. I’d lie about how much money I’d spent, or where it went when I didn’t have the funds available to do something at a later date that people thought I would have. And I would even lie to myself, saying that I was so hungry, I didn’t have a choice – I had to get fast food, or I’d get a headache or some other excuse that I readily and eagerly believed if it meant I would get the food I was craving. And the more I did it, the more often I would find opportunities to do it again. And to make matters worse, I was so good at lying to myself that I believed every word of it.

Thankfully I never reached the point of addiction where bingeing would give way to purging. I ate to that point a couple of times but thanks to a slightly pathological fear of throwing up, I never allowed myself to actually take that step. Ironically the fear is because the last time I had a stomach bug after eating something I liked, it was years before I could again enjoy that thing – and I wouldn’t let that happen because it would mean that I would lose all the things I craved for an undetermined amount of time, so I never reached that point. However, what I have been doing is detrimental to myself on a physical and emotional level, because like with any addiction, the more you feed it, the more you need it.

It’s been over a week since I’ve had any kind of fast food, and I’m telling you right now – years long addictions do not go away easily. They don’t even get better in a week – in fact, the cravings are worse right now than they’ve been yet – probably because I’m actively thinking and talking about them. The problem with this addiction, versus any other addiction people might have, has been spoken of in the metaphorical form of a tiger. With most addictions, when you’re ready to beat them, you put the tiger in the cage and then do your best to keep it there. With food, however, you still NEED it. You’re forced to put the tiger in the cage – and yet take it out for a walk three times a day. It isn’t just fast food I’m addicted to, though it’s what I crave the most – it’s just plain eating. Eating anything. As I mentioned earlier, the thought of the tacos tonight is making my mouth water. Chewing gum or gnawing on a bone after eating a steak or pork chop works. As a result, I’m having to police myself VERY carefully in every aspect of anything having to do with food.

In the mean time, the headaches I was getting in the last week finally seem to be going away, however I’m experiencing some serious mood swings at the moment. I’ve bounced back and forth between angry, happy, and frightened (about something inconsequential) within the last five hours, and now I’m having a simultaneous burst of manic-like energy while my brain is trying to convince me that I need to take a nap. This is resulting in an on-edge, hackles-up, tense feeling. It’s taking everything I can do not to get up and pace the living room like a caged animal. I’ve caught myself grinding my teeth, biting my tongue, and fidgeting in other ways. I shift in my seat, make random quiet noises, and have had to stop myself from making up some excuse for needing to go out so I could sneak in a fast food run in the process and just maybe take the edge off of this for a few hours. If it was smoking I was giving up, this would be called “nic-fitting,” however with food there isn’t any specific name for it.

The feelings I’m addicted to are a result of the chemicals that eating releases in the brain – they’re truly what I’m addicted to. I can distract myself with other things for short periods of time, get that seratonin high that I’m craving off of performing well in a WoW dungeon, or focusing completely on artwork or writing to the point of being proud of what I’m turning out…but it doesn’t last. And here’s another lie I’m telling myself – I just caught it. No, the highs don’t last – but NEITHER does the high from food! Or else I would never find myself caught in the “never enough” loop again. But because the things I’m using to distract myself, much like the use of nicotine gum for smokers, are a stop-gap measure and my body knows they are not what I really want, what I’m actually craving, my subconscious is telling me that they aren’t good enough. That the good feeling isn’t enough. Just like the “wrong” food is never enough, or even the right food in too small of a quantity is never enough.

It’s insanely hard to admit you’re addicted to something. It’s harder to fight the addiction – especially when it’s a lifelong one. I’m taking the first steps in recognizing that what I have is an addiction to food and going out of my way to fight it, but this road isn’t easy. However, with writing this blog and admitting to the world as a whole that I have a problem, I’m taking another important step – realizing that I am not alone in this fight. I’m writing this because perhaps knowing that someone else is going through this will help others, but I also know that getting it out there will help me as well.

I’ve been on the wagon for over a week now. Here’s to taking steps toward freedom, one day at a time.