They say addiction starts with a broken promise. You promise not to have a third drink and then you wake up the next morning with no memory of falling asleep in your own barf. You promise not to have a cigarette and then you’re bumming just one more from a friend. You promise not to overeat on Thanksgiving and then you go back for four pieces of cake and a piece of pie.
The fact that you have to make the promise shows that you have a problem. I’ve never had to promise not to take another drink because I don’t care much for alcohol. It makes my headache worse and I’ve never thought the buzz was worth all the calories. There’s a bottle of vodka that has been in my freezer since July and it will probably still be there next year. That’s how I know I’m not an alcoholic. However, I have often promised myself that I will only eat half the meal at a restaurant and then eaten the whole plate. I’ve promised I won’t drive to the grocery store for ice cream, and then ridden home with a half-pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I’ve promised I wouldn’t eaten a lot of things and then I’ve eaten them anyway.
Which is why I have to say, “Hello, my name is Jennette and I’m a food addict.”
Last year I reviewed a book about food addiction and mentioned that I did not consider myself a food addict. One or two people commented, “Really? Are you sure?” I used to weigh almost 400 pounds. It’s not out of the question to wonder if I had a deeper problem than licking the beaters too many times. But things had been going pretty well and I had been eating really well and exercising and I didn’t think I had much of a problem with food.
In the past year however, my life has spiraled out of control in interesting ways, which has made me want to eat. Food is my drug, Kroger is my dealer and I’ve definitely been using. I’m still not sure if “addict” is quite the right word. The term “compulsive eater” might be a better description. I’ve definitely felt compelled to eat. I’ve wanted to eat chocolate in a way that is more powerful than just a desire for something yummy. I’ve wanted to eat when I’m not hungry. I’ve wanted to eat when I know it will make me gain weight or cause me health problems, and I’ve done it anyway. I’ve wanted to eat in some primal way that goes beyond just the need for survival.
When I’ve resisted the urge, it’s been hard. Very hard. I’ve sat on my hands in restaurants. I’ve gone to take a nap because I know I won’t eat in my sleep. I’ve manically gnawed on celery in an attempt to fill me up so I won’t eat an entire batch of muffins. Many times the only reason I haven’t eaten seconds is because I know other people will notice. I’ve looked at the half-eaten meals on friends plates at dinners and realized they don’t have the same need to keep eating that I do. I’ve realized I’m a bit different.
I’ve been reading All In My Head, a book by Paula Kamen about her fight with chronic daily headache. When speaking about the disease of headache she quotes Susan Sontag who says, “Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about the physical terrain of a disease.” That can certainly be said of obesity. I think it’s true of addiction too. I don’t know why I am the way I am. Perhaps someday in the future they’ll be able to reprogram people’s brains so they don’t feel these destructive compulsions. All I know is that I have a screwed up relationship with food and I probably always will.
I know someone out there will now suggest I should go to Overeaters Anonymous. Thanks for your concern and for the suggestion. I’m glad there are programs out there for food addicts that have helped many people, but OA does not seem like a good fit for me at this time. As long as I avoid certain trigger foods or keep those foods in my trunk (like the bagels and honey that are freezing in the parking lot as I type), I seem to do ok. I only hit serious trouble when my life goes out of balance in other ways and in my sadness I reach for the Ho-Hos. But I can still recover from that by going to the gym and eating well for several days afterwards.
For now, it’s just enough for me that I can say, “Hello, my name is Jennette and I’m a compulsive eater.”