Obsession - Food & Addiction Part 3
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
Obsession is pretty rampant in our world, especially in the midst of this pandemic, so I think we have all had enough exposure to discern between being sensible and acting on an unhealthy obsession. I don't know which "side" you are on in that conversation, and I am not really wanting to have a discussion about that. Instead, I am hoping to piggyback onto that concept to help you understand a little bit about the food addict's obsessive mindset.
First, we must discern between healthy and unhealthy thinking in relation to food. For non-addicted people, food is a pleasant source of nutrition, enjoyed socially, used in moderation. They might really enjoy cooking, have tons of recipes, and enjoy feeding other people. They might even occasionally overeat, but for them it is not a daily compulsion. They have great difficulty understanding what would drive a person to obsessively pursue food beyond satiation, to the point that they gain 20, 50, 80, 100, or even 200 lbs. In fact, even an addict has trouble understanding this. For example, a good friend once asked me, "Why do you do it, Kathy?" I had no answer. This person should have understood, as they also struggled with addiction (to a chemical substance), but they didn't get how my struggle was also one of powerlessness and compulsion; it didn't equate in their mind to addiction.
For "normal" people, food has a time and a place, but for the addict, food is the central focus of their life. It beckons to them constantly, and they are always strategizing to gain some control over it. I think we can agree that it is clearly unhealthy to obsess about food this way. But it may still be hard for you to make the leap to accept that someone could be addicted to food. Let me challenge you a little more.
Have you ever asked an alcoholic, "Why do you drink?" They wouldn't have an answer, because they are compelled to do so. Even after staying away from alcohol for an extended period of time, one drink is often enough to end years of sobriety and take that person very quickly down a destructive path. A more pertinent question to ask them (when they are sober) might be, "Why DON'T you drink?" The answer might be, "Because I have no control over alcohol when I do." If you rewrite that question for a food addict, replacing alcohol with the word food (or carbs, sugar, etc), the similarities are easy to see. If someone asked why I don't eat sugar or carbs or several times a day like "normal" people, I would answer similarly, "Because once I start eating, I feel powerless to moderate, regulate, or stop eating. This is especially true if the meal is a high-carb meal, and is even more true when I am alone with that meal. The full signal becomes irrelevant. The compulsion overrides it!"
How is that even possible? Because most of us with an addiction to overeating have stretched our stomachs to compensate. We may not eat much in the presence of others, but when left alone to eat, we can put the food away. Let me tell you. Friend, you may know people who have had bariatric surgery, but have still gained the weight back. How is this possible? I mean, that would require them to eat past the point of pain! Unimaginable, right? Well, it is a reality for many of us. And not just those who are heavy. This obsession applies in other iterations of eating disorders. For a period of time, the addict may be able to control, even to the point of starvation measures, what and how much they eat, but eventually, like any addict might, they LOSE CONTROL.
Maybe you know someone who struggles with an eating disorder. My obsession with food has, in the past, taken me down the other path of withholding, bingeing, and then purging. I'm not proud of it, but I know that it seemed the only viable path at the time. I've had so many people ask in so many words, "Why don't you just eat normally?" But anyone who has dealt with an eating disorder of any kind will tell you they feel powerless over the food and their compulsion to abuse it, whether over or under eating. It is complicated.
I hope you are beginning to see how, for someone like me, a program which encourages a less frequent eating schedule might be appealing. Choosing this path has created a simple boundary for me, and as I have submitted to that boundary, the shrinking of my stomach has made it possible for me to reconnect with the hunger and full signals in my mind, and to be MINDFUL as I eat. The lack of eating the rest of the time is giving me space and time to deal with the ever-present "need" for food, and to learn healthy coping mechanisms to redirect that perceived need while my brain learns a new thing.
In my next post, I'll get into more of the ways that food addiction and obsession has manifested in my life, and I'll really focus in on the transforming of the mind and how God is using this program to teach me that He is enough. But for now, I'll close with a brief plug for ELAB.
At my counselor's advice, I searched for Amanda Rose's website and the ELAB (Eat Like A Bear) program. At 52 yrs old, I've finally found something which is giving me true freedom around the substance I have abused most of my life. The principles of this program discourage obsession, encourage creativity and individuality in forming new habits, and provide hope, especially to those tackling huge weight-loss goals. Even that sets it apart from anything else I have used. If you can relate to my experience, and can dare to hope again, please consider looking up the program. It doesn't cost anything, has great support groups, and is unbelievably effective.
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