It's hard to pinpoint when you become a food addict. It's not like heroin or crack cocaine, you can't look back at that first hit and think about how it was all downhill from there. You don't even remember your first hit. Chances are it was something like strained peas or carrots. You burped up 2/3s of it.
You also can't regret eating in the same way you can regret doing dope or snorting blow or that first sip of Jack Daniels. Food is not only necessary for continued life but it literally defines who we are. Virtually every molecule in our bodies started out as food or drink. It is the stuff of life in a true and immediate way.
So where do you start unraveling the mystery of why and how you are an addict? There are particular incidents that certainly stand out. Innumerable times when you made the wrong choice, opting for butter crunch cookies over an overripe banana or a bag of reese's peanutbutter cups over a bag of salad. Of course it didn't taste like the wrong choice. Our bodies are programmed to want calories, to love the fat and sugar that's killing us and reject the lightly carbed fiber that could offer salvation as bitter or sour or boring. You knew it was the wrong choice but you made it anyway. Everyone has innumerable mistakes like this when it comes to food, but for the addict they are pervasive.
There are also the shameful big moments. The time you ate an entire large sausage pizza by yourself in essentially one sitting (for those with the misfortune to live outside New York City, our large pizzas are to your large pizzas as the Hummer H2 is to a Volkswagon bug. Seriously, there's a pizza place near my house where two slices have the same surface area and approximate weight as the average doormat. Our pizzas start where yours end.) Or the time you broke a chair, or your pants button popped off, or you saw yourself in a mirror and flinched (never a good sign.)
There's all this stuff there, but no easy beginning, no path you can easily trace. I look back at how I got the way I am and there's certainly a lot to analyze. I come from a fat family, and had a chubby childhood. Many of my favorite memories from that childhood revolve around food. My father used to walk me home from school every day, and when he was in a good mood it meant a trip to Mrs. Fields for a chocolate chip cookie or, if things had gone really well, a brownie (sometimes even peanut butter!) As a family our favorite together activity was downhill skiing. I loved it for the excitement and adventure, and my parents because standing in line for and riding the ski lift meant alone time with their son where he would actually talk to them. I have lots of great memories of time on the slopes, but for every one of those memories there are also matching remembrances of meals. Chili in the lodge at the top of the mountain, drizzled in cheddar cheese and followed by a big cookie, or Lobster dinners in town after a long day. Vacations are times when people eat whatever they want, which is normally fine except when those vacations are the best of times. Then you end up with that deadliest of things, the association of food with love and happiness.
I was a chubby kid but I didn't get fat until my dad died. There were a ton of things that changed at that point in my life, of course, but one of the most important was that I started being responsible for my own food. My father worked at the University across the street from where we lived and he would always come home for dinner. He made healthy meals and didn't leave a lot of room for discussion about what we would eat on a given day. By contrast my mother worked at a University far downtown and unlike my dad who was early to rise early to bed she was the opposite. After he died she frequently wouldn't come home until 8-9 o'clock, far after the dinner hour. We fell into patterns where I would be waiting at home for dinner only to have her call several times and end up saying "Just order something." I lived on Pizza and Chinese Food. I don't remember thinking it directly at the time but I'm pretty sure I tried to make up for my mom not being there with food. Have to stay home alone until 10:00? That sucks, but not so much with a big bowl of General Tso's Chicken and some chocolate mud cake. There was also the element of my father's control not being there. He was very strict and one of the problems with external motivation is that when it collapses there isn't a lot of internal motivation to take its place. I also think I remembered those trips to Mrs. Fields and tried to compensate for his absence by being permissive with myself around food. If he showed his love for me with a brownie then why shouldn't I show my love for myself with 10? Self-soothing, self-nurturing whatever you want to call it.
Like any other addiction food addiction feeds itself (Ha-HA.) When you eat too much you gain weight. When you gain weight you lose the ability to do certain things that thinner people can do, like participate in sports, go to parties, or talk to girls. That leaves plenty of time in the day to do the one thing you know you like and you're good at, which is eat. You gain more weight and eliminate more activities. I used to be an active person, I rode my bike and participated in Judo and would swim and ski and all that stuff. The fatter I got the less opportunity there was for that stuff, the less people I would meet and exercise I would get. A vicious cycle. When you don't want to go outside and you live in a city of easily available delivery food you are setting yourself up for, if not disaster, then at least constant temptation.
Probing why I started eating like I did is not quite as important as figuring out where I am now. I am fat (subcategory very.) I have gained weight over the last 5 months or so. I am getting back to the point where walking fast puts a strain on my legs and my sleep is severely disruptive. I don't want to go that route, but I don't want to diet either. The problem with dieting is that it's constant effort. You are warding off hunger and desire with willpower and it's a battle that's almost impossible to win because the desire never goes away and you must remain ever-vigilant. Losing weight is a psychological reinforcer, but then comes that week or three where you don't lose weight and you look at the shit you're eating and the shit you want to eat and it all comes crashing down. You take another step back and then another and pretty soon the whole idea of dieting seems silly and ridiculous. You settle down with a coconut cream pie or a box of waffles and you get your pleasure where you can.
On the other hand staying fat doesn't work either. I've lost a lot in my life to being fat. For one thing I want to ski again, something I couldn't say for a very long time because it was extremely painful to think about an activity so closely related to my father (another reason I quit athletics. He was a coach on all my teams.) For another I am finding myself drawn to an image-driven business and my image right now is for shit. It's probably interfered greatly with potential relationships with women, although there are other elements at play there and there are some real advantages to not being in relationships (Some of us like being able to unapologetically spend 4 hours playing Sonic Spinball with an 80's soundtrack blaring in the background. It is infinitely preferable to being asked about our feelings or watching ballet, which is the theatrical equivalent of window treatments; we know women appreciate both and have absolutely no clue as to why or how this is possible.) It impedes my thinking and writing by interfering with my sleep and alertness level. Most importantly it is going to kill me.
What's the solution then? Well there's that stomach stapling crap, but there's no evidence that actually increases the lifespan of those who get it. I don't particularly want to die at 35, even at a svelte 160. There's a more drastic diet like going to some camp or fat farm. I did that once and it worked but it was unsustainable outside its environment. What I really need to do is change the way I look at and feel about food. I need to view food as something to sustain the body and perhaps offer incidental pleasure, rather than a source of great pleasure and/or a way to show self-approval and self-love. I need to start exercising again and make it a major part of my lifestyle.
I'm giving this method a try. Trying to unravel the psychological reasons behind the addiction is a start. Stating them out loud (or writing them) is another part of the puzzle. I am buying a treadmill and I intend to wear that fucker out. I am also starting to use alcohol, for two reasons. A) It is supposed to be good for the heart, and I need that. B) It is a way of teaching myself moderation. I don't like feeling drunk, so the punishment for using alcohol excessively is immediate and strong. I have already suffered the consequences with coconut rum, which tastes great and which I tend to drink a little bit too much of when I imbibe it. Because the cost is not worth the benefit of the taste I've stopped drinking the rum naturally and switched to beer and wine, which are easier to measure and less delicious. I'm hoping that I can transfer that sort of thinking to food, realizing that eating a cannoli is just like drinking too much rum, simply not worth it. It's a way to associate moderation and oral intake.
I've also tried to convince myself to think about food more rationally. For example there is a restaurant near me that makes salads I really enjoy, much more so than any I can buy at the grocery store. For awhile I have been ordering from there to get the salads, and neutralizing the good effect of them by getting entrees and deserts along with them. How dumb is that? Today I ordered a sandwich and three of the salads, which I stuck in the fridge. There's absolutely no reason for me not to combine those salads with other meals and get the best of both the nutritional and taste worlds. So far this method seems to be working. I've stopped gaining weight and started to lose a little.
Of course this leads us to the last and perhaps most devastating aspect of food addiction, which is rationalization. It's pretty hard, in my opinion, to rationalize Cocaine or other drugs but spectacularly easy to rationalize food. A man's got to eat, right? Not all your calories have to come from "good" foods. In our society we are constantly bombarded by images and advertisements about food. Food is represented in most of our celebrations and happy occasions. It's ubiquitous. I'll indulge today and diet tomorrow. It is very easy to commit your future self to ascetic food choices when your current self is dining on enchiladas. Perhaps my current plan is just another form of rationalization. It could be that the best way to go would be to suck it up head back to weight watchers and try the willpower thing again. I have the feeling that's not the case. I think that the only way I'm going to lick this thing is to work on it from a thought process perspective. To develop a mindset that says "The food will be there, eat only when you're hungry (Another gift from mom was absolute rage at the thought of food going bad. She would get so mad that it was easier just to eat excessively than to let the portion I didn't want go to waste. This also made ordering in an easy solution because then there wasn't as much extra. It led me to become a secret eater and a host of other things. My mother was an absolutely terrible parent. I don't need to get into that right now.)" One of my major problems is with moderation. If I buy a bag of cheetoes I will eat it within a few hours, easily. That's not so with a six pack of beer, because I'd get drunk and miserable, so I'm hoping that training myself to be moderate with that (Buy the six pack, drink it over the course of 3-4 days, get another) will translate to food. Somehow this seems like it just might work. I've tried almost everything else.
Success is the culmination of a series of failures. I am well aware of that so I am not beating myself up over the mistakes I've made. In some ways being fat for so long has given me a unique perspective on life and society. It certainly helped me avoid the pressures of fitting in as a kid. Nobody wants the fat guy in their clique anyway. I will lick this problem or die trying, literally. There's no real middle ground. I've now begun another battle in the war for my future and this time I'm going all psych-ops on myself. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't. In some ways trying is a victory in and of itself.