Every time my eating spirals out of control into a case of the “F-its” (also known as “F-it…I’ve screwed up, so I’m gonna eat all the things and start again on Monday”) it is food addiction talking, somehow convincing me that I don’t care. This all-or-nothing thinking tells me: “Go ahead, eat that. It’s no big deal. You’ll start with a clean slate in a few days.”
But that gigantic lie? It is food addiction in disguise, and kept me in a desperate vortex where I managed to diet/binge my way to 400 pounds.
In the moment, I am only thinking about food and the momentary freedom from caring, from white knuckling, from HOLDING… IT… ALL…TOGETHER. But it is a secret hidden in plain site that I routinely give up on myself, and every single time, without fail, I will regret it – the shame and humiliation reiterating lifelong messages of unworthiness and failure.
And that? That is a really big deal.
Giving in only serves to maliciously chip away at my self-worth and confidence, and when I come to and try to figure out how to dispose of the evidence, where to get rid of the wrappers, where to shove the residual embarrassment, 100% of the time, I will wish I had made a different choice and wonder why I am so fragmented that with all I know, I still succumb to this brokenness. And even thru this process, the whole time, the addiction is in my ear whispering, “Stop overreacting, it’s just a buncha low-carb cookies. Don’t be such a baby.”
How do I know this big fat liar is really addiction in camouflage? What else could regularly make me defy what I want, believe, and hold true? What else could make me hide in shame? What else could make me turn my back on myself over and over? What else could convince me that what I know to be true is not, and gaslight me into believing this time will end differently? What else could make me 400 pounds and convince me I have no other options?
What else could it be? And if every time has ended in regret, what makes me think this time will be any different?
Though the insidious voice is still there trying to convince me I should give in, I now see this inner addict as simply a coward that thrives in darkness and feeds on shame.
I don’t know how to cure it once and for all. I have not found a magic spell that takes away the desire to consume cookies by the truckload and trust me…I have looked everywhere for a remedy.
But this I can state unequivocally: you do not have to cure food addiction to have a healthy body — you merely have to put it in remission, and there are tools to get you there, the first of which is the awareness that you are not irrevocably broken or destined to live life in obesity prison. I can say with absolute certainty that sticking with low carb and using replacement foods – along with the defenses examined in this post are as close to a “cure” as I believe we will get.
The other thing to know – you are not alone in your struggle. Fear and humiliation are adept at keeping us isolated, but that does not have to be the case. Self-hatred thrives in darkness, and we are only as sick and alone as our secrets. It is embarrassing to want so much, to take up so much space in the world, to need so much when the lessons we are given from a young age (especially if you are a woman), are to be as small as possible – to need less, to not be selfish, greedy, gluttonous, take more than your share. And so, when we find ourselves binging, hiding in a dark kitchen or in the pantry, ordering enough food for many people? It is humiliating on so many levels. But the truth…there are many of us that harbor the same, mortifying reality. You are not alone.
Keto has given me the superpower of being able to, finally, honor my appetite. It is the lessons I’ve learned from Dr. Tro (many of which I needed to hear countless times in order for them to sink in) that have given me permission to be hungry, to understand the things that drive me to eat. I am human and am no longer embarrassed by it (well, most of the time…I am, as they say, a work in progress and will still routinely hide Quest bar wrappers…the scars run deep).
With all this being said, I share with you the exact internal dialogue that ran through my brain while I was walking my dog early one morning:
Me: I’m not eating today until 6.
Brain: Okay, how about 3?
Me: No! Dinner at 6
Brain: Ok, so we will have a shorter eating window between 3 and 7?
Me: No, 6. I said 6!
Brain: Ok, how about some cream in your coffee. Training wheels. What is the harm with a tablespoon of cream at 2?
Me: Well, what would be the harm in that?
Brain: Ok, good. A few tablespoons of cream in your coffee will get you through. And really, what’s the big deal with a few slices of turkey, maybe some cucumbers this afternoon. It’s like nothing. Hardly any calories. What’s the harm with that?
So it goes…and no sooner do I squash this debate then another starts, one where the endgame is rarely as innocuous as some turkey and cucumbers.
Does this sound familiar to you? This is the internal dialogue I have with my “dark passenger” every single day (many, many times a day if I am being honest). Mind you, I am not physically hungry. At all. Like even a tiny bit. And yet this inner terrorist breaks me down with this incessant barrage. It’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole, and it is exhausting.
How can I possibly win against this constant drumbeat? And, what is wrong with me?
The answer: nothing. I am human and this is how I’ve learned over my lifetime to cope with an out-of-control appetite riding an ever-shifting glucose rollercoaster of cravings and hunger. It’s also how I’ve managed stress, boredom, uncomfortable emotions and depression my entire life. And now that I am no longer dealing with wild glycemic shifts – it is those food triggers I need to manage.
So now, when I catch myself bargaining, I actively say (sometimes out loud!): “We do not negotiate with terrorists!!” and I do my best to quiet my mind and not engage in the “conversation.”
My inner food addict is like a child that nags and nags until their parent breaks down and gives in – a little kid that doesn’t get their way and goes to another adult in the household to plead their case. Except our inner terrorist is not a child and no one is going to call child-protective services if we don’t feed it every 2 hours. I promise.
Start to identify the thoughts that precede the eating… the process, the planning, the machinations, the high that comes even before a single bite hits your tongue. Start to develop a sense of curious observation about yourself – with grace and without judgment, notice if you’re eating when you’re not hungry. And if so, just ask yourself, “Why am I eating?”
The non-judgment piece is CRITICALLY important to this process – it’s nearly impossible to circumvent decades of self-hatred and not devolve into a shame-spiral of self-loathing if you constantly answer the check-in question of “Why am I eating?” with a resounding: “Cause I’m a fat, disgusting, miserable failure.” It’s really hard to come back from that one.
These are muscles that can be built – on a foundation of radical self-acceptance and awareness – you are human and the cravings and appetite you have been battling your entire life are NORMAL.
Are you hungry? No. Why do you want to eat? Why are you eating? Without judgment or hostility, just check in with yourself. What are the facts? What is going on?
For me, often: habit, the clock, too many hyperpalatable highly processed foods (even the low carb ones!), anxiety, stress, discomfort of any sort, the sight of food, a way to “check out” rather than “check in.”
What if I practiced tolerance for my dark passenger? What if I just noticed it and rather than scold myself for it, took note of what kept it around longer and what was likely to make it go away? I have noticed that often just this awareness is enough to take the electrical charge out of the situation, to give me a fighting chance at making a better decision.
Our dark passengers will continually try new ways to get the rewards they so richly believe they deserve – always looking for an escape route by breaking down our defenses bit by bit. I’ve experienced it time and time again – eliminate carbs, then fat (in the form of cheese, cream and nuts) becomes the new reward system. Eliminate those, and something else quickly fills the void. Whack-a-mole on steroids. Except now, instead of hating myself because of it, I do my best to view it with curiosity, to put some space between my hand and my mouth.
“You’re not broken, Amy, you’re human. Are you hungry? No? Then why are you eating and what are you going to do about it? The choice is yours.”