If I have an issue with something, I usually use this website to explore strategies for making things better. But this week I don’t feel like exploring solutions, and I don’t feel like hiding my raw nerves behind a second person commiserate article.
I don’t feel like doing that this week. And I don’t feel like hiding my raw nerves behind a second person commiserate post.
I feel like offering a very raw first hand account of why I developed a disordered relationship with food and where I am now.
While I’ve added a few light hearted jokes (it wouldn’t feel like mine if I didn’t), this article is pretty heavy. If that’s not your vibe, wait for next week’s installment where I talk about a far less insidious obsession.
If you read Commiserate: Trying to Lose Weight or, you know, the title of this article, you know that food is something I struggle with.
During high-stress periods of my life, it’s the first thing I lose control over. And I’m in the middle of a metaphorical hurricane.
The fear of failure makes it hard to focus on accomplishing my goals, the mistakes I’ve made building my business make me second guess every new decision, I’m about to very publicly jump into another phase of life when I feel ashamed to show my face, I’ve built my life on a foundation of severe isolation, and untreated anxiety haunts everything I do.
Of course, there are a ton of amazing things too, but no matter what I do, fear and anxiety have a way of pushing their way to the front of my mind.
Sometimes it’s hard to breathe.
But I’m a fixer. And I’m ready to put in the work to find solutions.
But I’m impatient. And when the solutions I try don’t work the fast enough, I become obsessed with finding a magic bullet to work on my timeline.
Good food and good sleep are the foundation of everything. Sleep is pretty easy to master with consistency. But food, food is messy.
It’s tangled with emotion, and sociability, and conflicting opinions, and a sense of morality.
It’s easy to derail.
Here’s why I always derail:
I’ve never liked my thighs.
In elementary school, some little asshole laughed as he told me they jiggle, and I’ve never forgotten it.
Unfortunately, shame has a way of making you eat.
It’s a beautiful comfort.
I would get home from school, a place where I somehow felt stupid and worthless without evidence, and binge on anything I could find. My family didn’t usually buy junk food, but there was almost always a box of digestive cookies in the cupboard. For company.
I would eat 6 at a time and forget about feeling sad for as long as the pleasure of sugar and butter offered a distraction.
Food became the only reliable source of dopamine in a world that made me miserable.
By 6th grade I was a size 14. And I was always conscious of my relative size compared to everyone else in the room.
If I was the biggest, which I often was, I would silently punish myself for my lack of willpower while learning to plaster an unfitting smile on my face and making jokes to avoid becoming one.
If there was one person bigger than me, I could breathe a little. I wasn’t the worst.
Further punishment came from the outside. A worried mother fumbling through questions about whether I ‘really needed those calories’, a lineup of people reminding me my sister was ‘the pretty one’, and a sister who got through her own insecurities by reminding me of my faults every chance she got.
Thank God for hash browns in these trying times.
The Warning Signs
By high school my weight had traveled up and down a couple of times, always the perfect inverse of my happiness.
In the first year of high school it was up.
9th grade was lonely. My old friends joined the school band, made new friends, and I was almost always alone. I joined strings, but I never really felt like it was my place. I talked more to my teachers than anyone my age.
But hey, with nothing to distract from work, I had perfect grades. Silver linings!
In 10th I made new friends, but the pressure of trying to get people to like me caused its own problems. I also convinced myself that eating was the only thing stopping me from getting romantic attention like the other girls.
So I pretty much stopped.
An apple is lunch, right?
I dropped 30lbs in a little over a month and for the first time in my life I got the kind of attention I wanted.
Looking back, it was probably the confidence that came with looking better, but nonetheless, the attention was addictive and I wasn’t going to risk losing it.
Instead of craving food, I craved the pain of an empty stomach. And when that pain stopped me from sleeping, I reminded myself that I should feel proud for what I accomplished.
Thankfully, my immune system crashed and I got sick for an entire year. Although extremely unpleasant, it was the only thing that could have so effectively disrupted the dangerous thought patterns that were starting to solidify.
There’s nothing like being physically unable to eat to remind you how awesome eating is!
The Binging Relapse
Around the time I got better, it was time to go off to university.
Now I’m an introvert. And although I don’t thrive in complete isolation, I am much, MUCH worse when constantly exposed to people. Of course, lucky me didn’t just get one roommate, I got three.
Living in residence was a waking nightmare.
Food became my only comfort once again, specifically: cheesecake. I ate a slice of oreo cheesecake almost every day. It was delicious.
Instead of the usual freshman 15, I quickly gained the freshman 30…maybe more.
And jesus, the quantity of chicken fingers and fries I ate during that time is simply unforgivable. No one should eat that quantity of saturated fat if they want to live.
This was emotionally the darkest time in my life, I stopped functioning, but I won’t bore you with the details.
A Temporary Reprieve
Things changed once I was out of residence and in my own space where I had complete control.
Almost everything I ate was homemade, school kept me occupied enough to stop thinking about food all day, and I walked just about everywhere I went.
Even though I was still miserable for about 55% of my university experience, I finally got that monkey off my back.
If you’re interested in the strategy I used to get my food problems under control for about 5 years, the answers are in 5 Ways to Eat Healthier.
The Current Obsession
Near the tail end of university, I met the love of my life. As stressed as I am about getting married and everything else going on in my life right now, I am ridiculously excited to officially call him my husband.
10/10, would re-experience everything about our relationship again in a heartbeat. He’s supportive, and amazing, and I could gush all day given the opportunity.
The only downside was the shock to the system that came with moving to a new city where he got a job.
The first year, throwing myself into registering for school, looking for a job, and not wanting to be in the common space in a house full of randoms kept the old issues from resurfacing. At least the food-related ones.
But when school ended and I still had the same crappy job, I started to panic. Panic = giving into anything that tastes good and most stuff that doesn’t.
When I started an office job, I was more miserable than ever. Between sitting all day and eating the boredom, I was quickly up to my top weight again. I also developed severe anxiety that made me want to break down every time I had to leave the house.
All the fun you can have!
So I quit.
Now I work for myself, and I keep waiting for the bubble to burst. I keep thinking someone ream me out for being unqualified, despite having a degree, post-grad certificate, and countless hours of independent research related to my field.
The stress and isolation feeds the obsession. I continuously oscillate between justifying eating garbage and restricting to almost nothing.
When I restrict, I feed my food obsession by consuming food related media. Sometimes I’ll watch 10 videos in a row about a certain type of eating.
I could tell you all about keto, why being in ketosis doesn’t matter, the argument against sugar, the argument against fat, high-carb low-fat vegan, high-fat low-carb vagan, and most other options you could imagine.
Most recently, I started binge-watching videos of bulimics binging. There is something so satisfying watching other people gorge when you tell yourself you can’t eat. Thankfully, I caught that one early. No more.
So yeah, I don’t have any wisdom to impart right now. I think it’s about time to get some counselling on the root of the issues before I decide on the next great solution to all of my problems.
My only hope with this article is that someone reads it and feels a little less alone with whatever demons they’re struggling with.
Wish me luck!
And feel free to message me or make comments below.