It's time we discuss food as an ADDICTION (and tips on how I manage)
Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance or engages in an activity that can be pleasurable but the continuation of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary responsibilities and concerns, such as work, relationships, or health.
If you read the above definition and your substance of choice is food, and your activity is overeating... and if the combination interferes in your life or has affected your (physical or mental) health ... Then my darling, you likely have an addiction.
Now I'm not referring to the person who indulges every "once in a while," and easily has constraint and discipline. I'm talking to the person who constantly struggles with overeating to the point where it becomes a serious mental battle. You know who you are, and I'm speaking to you.
It wasn't until I addressed my negative relationship with food that I was able to understand that I, in fact, have an addiction, and struggle with it every day. The hardest part is, my "drug of choice" is necessary for survival. My "drug of choice" is easily accessible, legal, and cheap. My "drug of choice" is a silent killer and has likely taken more lives than any other substance out there.
The hardest part is: We as a society don't acknowledge it enough. We view someone who's overweight and think they are weak-willed, but don't take the time to understand the mental struggle they face every.single.day. I'm here to tell you today that I get you. I understand you. And you are not alone.
In fact, having coached over 400 women on their health journey over the years, I can tell you, we all struggle. Because it's not widely discussed, many don't know they suffer from this condition. There aren't many centres for us, there's no playbook, and there's no easy way out. The worst part is, ironically, we MUST consume our substance of choice multiple times per day in order to live.
I'm using my platform this week to not only address this, but share with you tips on how I've managed my addiction over the last 10 years. But before you read on, I encourage you to join in on the dialogue. Comment on your struggles, let women know you are seeking recovery or are well on your way. Find a way to exchange information with one another; because like every other addiction, support helps.
Oh, and if the above does not resonate with you, then consider yourself very lucky. I still encourage you to read on, because if you know someone struggling, you can understand where they are coming from.
Step 1: Acknowledgement
I now say, I struggle with food addiction and I'm a recovering addict with confidence. It's no longer something I hide behind or am ashamed of. The moment I acknowledged it, I was able to face it head-on and figure out ways to manage and overcome.
If you suffer from over-eating/binge-eating/emotional-eating, and it has literally consumed your being resulting in poor health... you likely have a food addiction. Say it out loud - let's acknowledge and remove the stigma.
Wikipedia lists the symptoms of food addiction as, among other things: withdrawing from activities (due to the shame of fluctuating weight); feelings of guilt; feeling as if you have lost of control; depression and erratic moods. This, for me, sounds dead on to how I've felt for the majority of my life - all as a result of overeating.
Like other substances, we addicts turn to food for a sense of short-term pleasure. We consume it in unhealthy amounts as a way of self soothing, knowing that it's causing harm, but we're not able to turn away. The saddest part - society conditions us this way. The theory behind "grab a tub of ice cream and you'll feel better," is something we've seen from an early age. We refer to junk food as "comfort food," implying poor food choices will bring us peace or alleviation from pain. Nowadays, we even positively acknowledge "BBW", potentially supporting unhealthy behaviour. Don't get me wrong, I think big women are beautiful and I would never EVER shame... but why aren't we focusing on the mental and physical health of these women? There is a chance your favourite BBW could be suffering from a food addiction; and by celebrating, you're encouraging destructive behaviour.
[Note: If you are curvy and living your healthiest life behind closed doors... then more power to you! But as a former BBW, I really wish my unhealthy behaviour wasn't praised. If being "thick" wasn't cool, I might have addressed the issues I struggled with much sooner.]
So the first step is admitting that you have a serious problem with food and acknowledging that it's okay and you are not alone. Once we get out of our own heads, remove the stigma, and "normalize" our feelings, we'll be able to get into solution mode.
Step 2: identify your triggers
Step 1 was acknowledgement and acceptance and Step 2 for me was really identifying how I'm letting this addiction take over my life. This involved (in a practical way) walking through my behaviours that were detrimental to my success. I'll give you some examples.
In the past, while bored, I would regularly sit down and eat an entire box of Oreo cookies. While consuming, I would feel so unbelievably low about myself, yet I would still continue to the very.last.cookie.
Or, I would walk into McDonalds after having a healthy week and feel like it was okay to "reward myself" with disgusting amounts of poor food. Knowing fully well that this would have a negative effect on the successful week I've just had
Or, I would receive bad news and immediately want to run to the closest bakery and self-sooth with heaps of pastries. I'd know it wouldn't help, but I'd look to it for some form of comfort
I knew these behaviours would cause harm, and I knew I would feel like utter shit afterwards, yet I would still do it. I would consume copious amounts of food knowing I was severely overweight and that it was taking days off my life, but I simply could not control myself and stop.
Once I started addressing these habits, the addiction became so much clearer and I could identify triggers. My triggers were boredom, loneliness, sadness, and feeling like I needed to reward myself. And once I could clearly articulate my triggers (which will differ for some), I was able to figure out ways to deal with them.
Step 3: create a plan of action
At this step, we know we have a serious problem that needs to be addressed. And we know the triggers that ignite this problem. Now, it's time to create a plan of action and begin a road to recovery.
I'll continue to use myself as an example. Once I was able to clearly articulate what my triggers were, I was able to figure out my own personal plan of action. With each of my triggers identified, I could find ways to cope and manage when the time came.
Trigger 1: Boredom
I found hobbies! Multiple, not just one. As humans, we are conditioned to work, sleep, and tend to others. And it's so hard to determine what we like to do for ourselves during our spare time! Even though it was years ago, I remember thinking: I don't have any hobbies! I was racking my brain with ways to fill my spare time. The reason I would turn to food was because I had nothing else to do! While having this realization, my little cousin was playing with a box! A cardboard box. And I thought to myself, that was once me. I once found joy in the simplest things and was seldom bored- let's get back to that! I didn't grab a cardboard box to play with, haha, but I enrolled in two beginner sport leagues - volleyball and squash. As a kid I really enjoyed playing sports, and while I was never really good, I liked it! So enrolling in the sports allowed me to have some fun, make new friends, and took up some spare time. I also starting singing again and joined a choir, another childhood passion of mine. And lastly, I got really involved in extracurriculars and volunteering my time to serve others. Signing up for all of these things never really left time to be bored.
But that was back when I had youth and energy! LOL. If boredom is your trigger, and you can't possibly see yourself committing your time to anything more, get back to your childhood self. Back to a time when you can't remember being bored because you "had so much to do" and found joy in the simplest things. Go for a walk and enjoy nature, start a DIY project, begin to write or read, take an online course that will engage you, garden, meditate, get a pet, start a puzzle, play a game on your phone... just do something with your idle time.
Trigger 2: Loneliness
The majority of my overweight life I was single. The alpha female in me would never admit I was lonely, but I was. And when you're single it feels as though every close friend is in a relationship. So filling up my idle time really helped with this. Joining sports teams, a choir, and extracurricular activities allowed me to meet so many new people and it never really left time for loneliness. And when I did (and still do) feel lonely, I date myself. I take myself to the movies, go to a gallery, or go for a nice (healthy) dinner. Being okay alone is a process in itself, but turning to food could no longer be the solution.
Trigger 3: Sadness
Using food as a crutch when sad is probably the most relatable trigger. When I realized that my therapy of choice was a box of pizza, I knew I had to change. Because I have a lot of pride, it's hard for me to naturally just open up and tell people how I'm "feeling". So I started with writing, well, journaling. Writing for me became a source of release.
But at some points, when I realized the sadness was coming, and I wanted to turn to my vices, I would swallow that pride and just call a friend... or my mom (who never turns down the opportunity to chat). It took a certain level of vulnerability, but it helped. Whenever I feel like I don't have anyone to turn to, I remember I do. Friends will call me for help all the time and I give my support without question or thought- I knew they would do the same. And they did.
Trigger 4: Reward
This one was fairly easy to conquer once I was able to address it. Everyone with a food addiction has that feeling where they want to reward themselves with FOOD when they've done well. I just found other "prizes". At the time, I would treat myself to a new top, outfit, or a mani/pedi. Nowadays I reward myself with a massage, or a weekend getaway. I've focused on finding rewards that truly bring me joy and have no negative effects to my health.
Whatever your triggers are, here are some tips that can help you:
Tip 1: Get the poor food choices out of your house. The majority of my audience are adults, and we are in control of what we purchase. Would you advise an alcoholic to have a liquor cabinet? Probably not. So do yourself a favour and get the food out of reach. Because no amount of self-control will help if you have a trigger and then easy access to your vice.
Tip 2: Acknowledge it's a trigger. When one would come up (and I would find myself heading to Burger King to self-sooth) a simple conversation with myself would help me turn back around. "Tameika, you are sad, not weak, and you are better than this." The mental support I would give myself increased once I realized what was happening and no longer ignored it.
Tip 3: A common trigger I didn't acknowledge is stress. While it's never affected me in a huge way, it hits many hard. When I do experience stress, I meditate. It brings me a sense of calm and stillness. If you're unfamiliar with meditation I will warn you, it's very hard at first. But it's changed my life and the lives of many others. So download a meditation app and give it a try.
Tip 4: Get a Trigger Sister (or brother). Sometimes finding the mental strength to support yourself is hard. If you know someone on a similar journey, create a bond where you can discuss these triggers. You need a safe space where you can be honest, vulnerable, and come up with a solution... together. Over 1 in 3 Americans are obese, so I'm sure there's someone you know that you can approach and tackle this journey with. Which segues nicely to Step 4....
Step 4: Get Support
Support is something I only wish I had on my journey. Sadly, my pride wouldn't allow for it. I'm such an independent go-getter that I want to do everything on my own. It's only with age and maturity have I realized that this approach is dead wrong. You need support. In some ways, I got support indirectly by filling up my time with friends and finding workout partners. But I never once confided in someone about my demons with the hope we could support each other through it.
So analyze your current network. You likely know a person who is struggling with obesity. That person very likely struggles with food addiction. Invite them out for a coffee. Get vulnerable. Get honest. Ask point blank if they feel the same way you do. Maybe mention this article and just begin the dialogue. I guarantee you, no one wants to be obese, so the chances of them being receptive to your approach is high. Just start the conversation. Get away from the surface, and dig deep. Work through your triggers together, and create a plan of action.
If for some reason, you don't have anyone you feel you can turn to, go find a group. They do exist, they are just (sadly) not well publicized or popular. But google "food addiction support groups" in your area and go. It's the first step to finally taking control of this, and your life.
I lost 90lbs, 10 years ago. I addressed this addiction head on, and have been able to get to a place where I'm able to help others address their demons. I've never gained the weight back, and I believe a big part of that is because of my acknowledgement of the above. It's the brutally honest conversation I've had with myself over the years. I've looked in the mirror and have addressed the stigma for what it is, and I constantly work on it. Every.Single.Day.
I have a food addiction
Developing a healthy relationship with food has been hard. I hate to break it to you, but after 10 years of extreme weight loss, I still don't have it fully under control. But, my mental game is stronger than ever before. Because I continue to work on it, recognizing it's a life-long journey ahead.
I'm imagine this piece will resonate with some, offend a few, and others may not understand. But however you receive it, I'm just happy to start the conversation. It's not discussed enough in this industry and it needs to be.
Lets start the conversation
This piece is entirely dedicated to the 400+ clients I've had over the years. You keep me committed to this journey, you've helped me to understand that this process is 80% mental, and you allow me to pursue my purpose by helping you tackle these demons. You've also helped me to further validate the above and realize I am not alone - we are not alone. I love you.
*For more information on Food Addictions, visit the food addiction anonymous website here.