Lately I’ve been thinking about my relationship to food as I find myself carrying a stubborn 20 extra pounds, having had no ‘luck’ reversing the trend these past several years (when I began taking anti-anxiety medication). Over the past 11 weeks however, I have shed 9 pounds – not a huge number in itself but nearly half-way to my goal. Yesss!
This modest loss has made a huge difference, in how my clothes fit, yes (I’ve had to take in some pants and dug out some clothes that were too tight) but most important, it has made a difference in how I feel about myself. I LOVE the feeling of having discipline over my urges, and the confidence from being back in charge of my food. I especially love the smile that lights up my face when I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the full-length window of our front door. It feels so darn good to have a waist again!
Being mostly self-motivated, I tend not to seek encouragement from external sources. I guess I never have. There are Facebook support groups for my type of ‘diet’ but they don’t do much for me. And thank goodness my motivation does come from within because, although my girlfriends have noticed the change, my husband hasn’t said a word about it – whether he has noticed or not, who knows. On the other hand, he never said a word about my weight gain either, which I appreciate.
I have worked hard in recent years to maintain positive thinking habits but my thoughts around the extra pounds were anything but. I stopped caring about restricting my evening snacks (my ultimate downfall). After all, what difference would a few bites – or a box of salty crackers! – really make since I was already overweight? This was a thinking pattern that did not resemble the person I had been for most of my life, and I missed her. I wanted to be like her again.
What put a final stop to the downward spiral for me was learning about the physiology of the brain in relation to food addiction. No question, I had developed an unhealthy relationship to food; I knew this because of the control it exerted over my life. I obsessed over food, paid way more attention to it than was necessary or healthy. Somewhere along the way I had crossed the line from food insecurity to food obsession. I had become a food addict, no two ways about it, not a severe one perhaps but an addict all the same. (“My name is Michèle and I am a food addict.”)
As I further analyzed my relationship to food, I recognized clues from my childhood. Beginning in my early formative years until my teens, there was often a lack of food or the threat of a lack of food in my family. I had food insecurity for good reason. In adulthood, as a borderline hypoglycemic and migrainer, with low blood sugar being a classic trigger, I learned not to skip meals while maintaining a stable level of electrolytes in the blood stream. This meant that I was forever thinking about where and when my next meal would be, habitually carrying nutritious snacks wherever I went. While this is a legitimate concern and practice, I’ve taken it to the point of obsession, and that is not a good thing.
When I learned that refined foods like flour and sugar can be hugely addictive, the brain creating cravings as severe as for crack cocaine or heroine, depending on the person’s susceptibility to addiction (mine is high), it all made sense. I felt powerless over my evening snacking where I used to enjoy a high level of self-control, reserving BBQ peanuts for special occasions only, for example.
Once I cut the culprit foods out of my diet, my body’s response to food in general calmed down. The extreme cravings gradually lowered to a manageable level. And the numbers on my weight scale began to decline.
I am not surprised that it took a psychological approach to change this bad habit; it’s how I quit smoking in my early twenties – I didn’t see myself as a permanent smoker, so I quit. And I don’t see myself as an overweight person, or ‘slightly obese’ as my cardiologist described me in his notes! So, I’m grabbing the tools I need and I’m quitting.
I still struggle with evening cravings but nowhere close to the same degree. And while I choose healthy things to munch on these days, I still don’t like my lack of control over that urge.
I am considering spreading my daily food allowance over 4 meals instead of 3, hoping this can help dissuade my evening fault. I see this as the final step to mastering a powereful weakness. Wish me luck…