Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Because I Can: A Breakthrough

Oh my goodness. I had a real breakthrough in my head today. It's been something I have been pondering, sort of had this idea/thought process rattling around in my mind for quite some time, but suddenly today, I KNEW. I knew why I go on binge-crazy shopping sprees. I FIGURED IT OUT, and I almost cried when the light bulb went on for me in the store today. I can't explain exactly *why* I suddenly "get it," since this is not really new information, but it all came together in my head and I have a new understanding of a problem I have struggled with NOT fully understanding all this time.

There's this thing that happens to me sometimes. I get this all-encompassing desire to buy a ton of bakery items, candy bars, pizzas, sodas, etc and eat them all immediately. It is a feeling that washes over me every so often. It's not just "I want candy," it is like I am *compelled* to load up my cart with crap. It's a frantic feeling and it has a sense of urgency to it. I feel desperate to buy 20 different kinds of junky stuff, take it home, and eat it all. And in the past, I have done this more times than I can count. It's a good part of why I became morbidly obese.

I've never really understood what the heck is really going on with me when I get like that. I feel a loss of control, I *have to have* Pizza Rolls and frozen lasagna and gourmet chocolates. If I do not buy them I get really emotional. But when I do buy them, half the time I get out to my car and I don't want ANY of it anymore, I feel like crying, like a big idiot spending all that money on pure junk, and then of course I go home and eat it all out of guilt and shame and self-flagellation, because, dammit, I paid for this stuff and I am going to eat it.

Today I was in the grocery store. I was buying kale and Clementines and almond milk, when I saw, on the shelf, Tim Tams. They are some kind of new cookie with fillings, I have never tried them before, and they looked very yummy! I picked up a box: 190 calories in TWO little cookies. I put it back. My brain-brat started chanting, "Buy them, buy them, buy them! I want them!" I was walking away, but my head was screaming to get them. I glanced to the side and saw Pizza Rolls. I looked ahead and saw Ben & Jerry's ice cream... new flavors. I was starting to feel absolutely desperate for a binge. I wanted to put ALL of those things in my cart RIGHT NOW. And suddenly I figured it out: this... all of this... is based on the fear I might NEVER get to have those foods, try those foods, enjoy them, EVER AGAIN. That I would, someday, not be able to *afford* that stuff and then I would not have a *choice*... I just would not be able to have them.

Okay I know you're going, huh? What's such an epiphany about THAT?

When I was a divorced mother of four small children, I strapped financially. When I say strapped, I mean desperate. My sole focus was on keeping a roof over my kids' heads, clothes on their backs and food in their mouths. And it was a struggle. Being poor is hard, I am sure some of you know firsthand. But being poor and seeing your kids go without, that's heartache. For years, I didn't have money for ANYTHING, really. My wages were crap, my daycare expenses insane. We went to the food bank twice a month and got loads of day-old baked goods which is pretty much what we lived on, along with some other basics they handed out. My kids had holes in their shoes. They wore hand me downs. I even had the heat turned off in the winter for non payment, and for 2 Christmases we relied on gifts from charities to have any presents for the kids. I went without a LOT of things, but I got through it, went back to school, and figured out how to make things better.

Back then, I was still obese and still a compulsive eater, but if I wanted a candy bar, I couldn't have it. I'd eat 6 stale donuts from the food bank instead. If I wanted a pizza, tough luck. I could melt cheese on day-old bread but that was as close as I was going to get. In fact, I got fat eating stuff that didn't even taste that good. But when I finally had money for food, oh did the floodgates open. I could make brownie batter! I could bake cookies! I could buy bags of chips and hot dogs and Cheetos! I went nuts, and I ate a lot of junk. And I got used to giving in to my compulsions to eat particular foods.

If I wanted a Big Mac, I'd just get in the car and go buy one.
If I wanted a Reese's Cup, I'd send a kid to 7-Eleven to get me one.
If I wanted a gourmet cheesecake, I'd go buy one and eat the whole thing myself if I wanted to.

I got used to catering to that monster inside who demands THIS FOOD RIGHT NOW.

Once I remarried and my finances stabilized, I could buy the foods I wanted without really worrying about it. Right now, if I want a pizza, I can pick up the phone and order one. If I am in the store and see a new flavor of cheese spread or chips or cookies, I can buy them. I am not so strapped for cash that I have to watch every cent. I can splurge a bit (I am not WELL OFF, by any means, and I use coupons and watch sales, but I can afford a $3 bag of cookies when I want them). If I want to try the new Haagen Dazs ice cream flavor, I CAN.

But someday, maybe I won't be able to anymore.

I live in subconscious fear that *something * will happen... divorce, death, sickness, *something*... that will plunge me back into poverty and I will no longer be able to afford the things I do now. I am really *scared* that next month, next year, someday... I will turn around and see an empty bank account or a financial disaster and I will no longer be able to buy those Tim Tams. Maybe if I do not buy them NOW I will NEVER get to buy them. I am afraid that someday I will walk in that store, see those cookies, have that overwhelming desire to buy them and eat them, but not have the money to do so. And that, my friends, makes me feel extremely anxious.

What if I want to binge and I CAN'T?? What if I want Cheetos and hot dogs and candy bars and a truffle pie, and all I can afford is old stale tortillas fried in Crisco and rolled in sugar? I have been there. I have binged on that. It is no fun.

I know. It sounds nuts. But it IS a breakthrough. I almost wept in the aisle when this hit me.

I go to Starbucks because I CAN. Someday, maybe I won't be able to.
I buy gourmet chocolate because I CAN. If I don't now, I may never get to.
I eat at restaurants because I CAN. If I wait, I may be too poor to ever eat out again.

If you have never experienced poverty, you might not get this.
If you have never had a serious drive/compulsion to eat a specific food, this might make no sense.
If you have never sat down to a dinner of fried bologna and dry stale cake, because that is all you had, this might seem silly.
If you have never had a 19 cent balance in your only bank account, you may not understand this.

It is the fear of LOSS OF CONTROL in the future, that drives me to try and CONTROL the present by buying and eating anything my heart desires. Because, for now, I CAN.

For the record, I did not buy the Tim Tams. I didn't buy any of that junk.

Now that I understand this, I will know what is happening to me when I am in the grocery store and that overwhelming urge hits me. I have already decided the new thought patterns I will nurture.

I am so blessed that I can afford good food NOW.
I cannot predict nor control the future, but I can afford food NOW.
I am so thankful that I can afford organic kale.
Isn't it wonderful that I can buy these Clementines?
I feel so happy that I can buy this pomegranate.
I am buying good quality chicken breast, spinach, acorn squash, and almond milk. Because I CAN.
I will buy healthy, delicious foods while I can. And I will let the future rest until I get there.


Andra said...

I know exactly how you feel. I don't know the financial struggles you've gone through but it's the loss of control, the fear of never having "it" again that helped keep me fat for so long. That is why I will never diet again, that is why nothing, no food, is ever off limits. Once I had my breakthrough, it allowed me to learn to make healthy choices. I can have cake or whatever if I choose to, if I want it. But now that I've changed my life, I often find that I don't want it. Thanks for a great post and congratulations on your breakthrough!

Karen said...

That's so funny that you wrote this, I realized just yesterday that's my problem. I understand completely. When husband and I were first starting out we ended up living with some friends of a friend. These peoplehad a roof to share, but no food. We barely had one meal a day for the two months we lived there. Then when we had saved enough money to get our own place again, we had rent money and bill money, but no money for food other than ramen noodles and cheese. Some things happened and we ended up back at that house with the people. Only that time I was pregnant and many other people were living there and they would eat the food we bought for me unless we were good at hiding it. We were only there for weeks that time and got out.
But I have this feeling like if I don't eat all I can or want that it won't be there. And no matter how many groceries I buy I always have this fear in my mind that we will run out before the next time I get to the grocery store, which of course is only a few days usually. I think my binges are because of the time in my life when there really wasn't any food and we went hungry. Now to undo the damage. Thanks for this post, like all of them it was great to read and helpful.

Enz said...

Thank you for sharing this with us and congratulations on this revelation...I think things are going to be a little easier for you from now on.


swayerm said...

Tim Tams are Australian... just be careful, we have like 15 different flavours of them over here!!
They are delicious though, and I know this doesn't help, but if you try them, let us know what you think. But don't eat two, just have one...
And bite opposite corners off and use it as a straw in your coffee. Yum.
But, I totally understand where you are coming from, I didn't have children to worry about, but being a working university student is almost below the poverty time here. I buy things just because I can afford them now, not neccessarily food stuffs, but other things that I will never use... And I am hoping it will go away soon, cos I really want to go on a holiday :(

Anonymous said...

Once again, a great post! I too have struggled financially and know that worry of not having enough money for tomorrow. I also share your compulsion to buy gourmet chocolates because I can (and because I feel that I deserve them). One thing that I have done which helps with the anxiety surrounding money (and now that I am a bit more comfortable financially) is that I set some money aside every single week and put it into a savings account just for me. I never touch the money but it is a great comfort knowing that it is there, should ill fortune return. Perhaps setting up a "rainy day fund" would give you a measure of peace and help in your weight loss journey.
Thanks again for all your generous insights,

Laura I. (G.G.) said...

I was thinking the EXACT same thing at the store tonight. I've never had kids, but that reflects a lot of how I t as a child. Fear is a good explanation for such rampant self-destructiveness.

Kyle Gershman said...

powerful powerful post...these revelations can be very empowering.

Right now, you can use your relative financial stability to afford to eat healthy because it is more expensive than crap. This is one of the reasons there is a correlation between poverty and obesity.

You've had struggles I've never had to comprehend and you are in many ways blessed because of it.

I'm sure you'll now say...I've got to get myself healthy with the money I do have to spend now, because certainly that would be out of reach if the fortunes ever reverse again.

Looks like you are getting your mind right!


KatDoesDiets said...

Wow, that's so awesome. It must be a great feeling to understand that. It's so hard when we're mindlessly doing junk wondering why the heck do I do this? Great post.

Run, Heat, Run said...

I was just having a conversation about this with my mom while I was home at Christmas. I have the same compulsion problem. When I'm at the grocery store, I HAVE to have that chocolate ice cream because ohmygoditlookssogoodrightnow. I get it home, eat a spoonful, and then it sits in my freezer for months getting freezer burn. Right now, I have two cartons of ice cream sitting in my freezer that are over two months old, simply because I saw them, HAD to have them, and then didn't want them. I'm right there with you.

There is a Weis store on the other side of town that allows you to order your groceries online and then have someone deliver them to your car. If I didn't love grocery shopping so much and believe that I actually DO have self-control, I might be half-tempted to take advantage of that!

Amazing breakthrough. :) Great read.

mk said...

This was really interesting for me to read. I've felt this way at times. Growing up, I was the child with the parent in your situation, and as SOON as I got to college and had money for food, I bought everything I ever wanted and couldn't have. For me, though, that meant healthy food. Until I ran out of scholarships and became a poor college student ... and I had the same problem as you face in the store. I would buy crap because I COULDN'T have it, and that made me want it. Now I'm in a stable marriage, not with a lot of money (my husband is still a student), but enough to buy healthy food. And I do. And it feels good knowing I have that choice.

Thanks for this post. You elucidated things I've thought only in patches before.

Autumnforest said...

Those are very natural feelings. When it comes down to, though, you did prove that when you were poor you found a way to get food. You will always find a way to get food. You'll do whatever you have to. So, put that old fear away. It's not accurate for a survivor like you.

Rebekah said...

Sometimes it is so weird how whatever your posting about coincides with what I am reading. Currently I am reading Dave Ramsey's total money makeover. he talks a lot about the little kid inside us yelling red faced I want it now.
I also grew up very poor, living off food hampers/food bank once my parents were divorced.

Food was my control for a long time. sounds the opposite but it was one thing in my life I always got to have control with. Now while I am paying down debt following these baby steps I am seeing the similarity in losing weight (although it screams it in the book too) and getting financially fit. It is weird btu cool hwo things like this go together.
Good on you for learning something new about yourself :) Still loving your posts! You should relocate to the east coast, it would be fun to have another workout buddy!

Greta from said...

Shit. I get this. It is especially interesting in light of my post earlier today.

I was a chubby kid....not really even that chubby....but, to my So CAL parents I was really quite unacceptable. My food was VERY closely controlled, even when I was just 5 year old. Being creative and resourceful...I soon found ways around this....but it always had to be done without my parents knowledge. What a horrible thing to put a kid God. ANYWAY....

Your post helps me better understand some things. Thanks.

I was on WIC for about 3 years when my ex was doing his PhD. It was not extreme poverty, but it was not fun, either...and I am still..10 years later...digging out from some of the debt that racked up back then. So...I also "get" what you are saying from that perspective as well. Interesting indeed.

Julie Lost and Found said...

Thank you so much for this post! I can totally relate to what you said. I am also glad to know I'm not alone in the group that has arguments with themself in the grocery store. :) I describe it as a switch in my brain that goes off turning me into someone else!

Good for you for not buying the cookies!

Liz said...

Thanks for this post. Awareness is such a key ingredient to controlling binges. Congrats on the revelation!!

Seren_Sighs said...

I bought clementines yesterday. I'd had them before but it had been a long time, so I bought a big box of them. You're right, they are amazing. They peel so easily! Not too sweet or juicy/messy and no seeds!

Anyways, I've never been poor, but I have felt restriction because of my own diet/anorexia issues. That's a huge reason why I started binging. That sense of restriction made me crazy. Saying I can't have something made me want it a million times more, even if I was the one that was saying it. It wasn't that I was hungry and a lot of times the food didn't even taste that good. But I wanted to eat whatever I want, and I want to feel normal. I want to be someone who can eat a donut if they crave without feeling guilty or gaining weight.

So now I don't count calories. I don't diet. I've gained a few pounds this winter but I don't binge anymore and I'm getting my eating under control, and I'm dealing with my emotional issues with food. I can turn down food if I'm not hungry and I'm not obsessed anymore. It's wonderful.

One thing that I think is great though is that, despite the fact that you are so afraid of a financial downfall, you don't restrict yourself anymore. I've heard of some people being so afraid of losing money again that they can't enjoy it when they have it. You can really let yourself enjoy it and now that you are finding balance you'll continue to get healthier!

Good luck! And thanks for your insightful writings.

Georgia said...

It's fantastic that you've identified the trigger for your behviour. I'm very impressed...and it's even cooler (as Swayerm mentioned) that it took a classic Aussie biscuit for you to see it (says the patriot within!). Well done!

Helen said...

A great post Lyn, and an amazing breakthrough. And yes, my inner patriot is shouting, yay for TimTams. As the other aussie girls said, they are pretty good. I can resist TimTams, but oh my goodness, if they start importing Mint Slices I will have to watch out.

Jer said...

This makes a ton of sense. I actually grew up very poor and eating foodbank food. It's not the healthiest food to begin with and you often end up with crap.

You look fantastic. I'm a new follower on the heels of SkinnyHollie. Congrats on your success so far! ♥

Alana Jo said...

This makes total sense to me. 100%.

Susan said...

LOL! I see someone else has already mentioned the fact that Tim-Tams are plentiful in Australia.

But IMO they're a bit tasteless and vastly over-rated.

Hanlie said...

Great insight, Lyn! It all boils down to fear, and I believe that fear is what keeps us trapped in our bodies and our habits.

I was in a similar position after my divorce (no kids, fortunately) and I would wander the aisles of the grocery store looking for the most filling food I could afford. I used to gaze longingly at the deli section and the hot food section, but I just didn't have the money for it, so I would promise myself that one day I would buy that stuff.

Lo and behold, 8-9 years later I can afford that food and every time I go to the store I am almost compelled to "treat" myself. It's a tough habit to break, but I have started to treat myself to more expensive fruits as a treat - like a pomegranate, or some cherries or berries or even asparagus(these are all luxury goods over here).

It seems to work for me.

Leslie said...

I get it. It's wonderful to get that crystal clear insight into our behaviors, and compulsions.

My mom would never ever buy any cookies or snack food I liked. Just wouldn't do it because she didn't like them and thought I didn't need them. To this day, I still feel independent and powerful when I can buy and eat whatever I want. That's the nutshell version of my buying and eating patterns - deeply ingrained. Awareness is the first step to changing anything. Yeah, I can buy it if I want. But I don't have to.

That's great progress, Lyn. I think it's come because you've not been stuffing down your feelings and inner truths for a long time - and when we stop doing that, our truth is able to emerge and inform our lives. Awesome!

screwdestiny said...

That totally makes sense. It's not good, obviously, but I get it.

And while I was reading it, I was thinking it almost sounds like the way our bodies keep any extra energy as fat, because we might not have that energy later. It's like your mind has latched on to that concept, only with regard to money. Very interesting. But yeah, I know what that's like. I'm young, and I don't have the means to have a good job, and there have been days where all I ate was one packet of oatmeal and a little bit of Jell-O. It sucks. I hope you'll never, ever have to be there again.

T said...

I had an epiphany too. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Exercise. You may have to actually work for it.

Vickie said...

please don't even think of answering this because it is private - but as I read - I wondered if you were putting $$$ quietly away for your 'what if' future. Because THAT is the real security.

Anonymous said...

Growing up with seven kids we never had much money for the fancy foods.

Interesting lately I have been doing that extreme couponing. And honestly I get a lot of junk. But you know that old adage that if you feed a kid cake they stop wanting cake.....I feel like that is what happened to me, that I suddenly had pringles, which I love and didn't eat them. In fact I have four cans on my shelf for months.....Sometimes because you can is what beings you freedom!

varunner said...

well said, Lyn. :-)

Anonymous said...

I have the same problem, except mine is based solely on my past. When I was little, we were poor- Food stamps, charity meals, etc. Now I eat whatever I want and live beyond my means, because I did without for all those years. I feel entitled to have what my mother wasn't able to provide.

Thank you for blogging about your life. You are a great inspiration.

maples317 said...

Thanks for blogging about this, Lyn. It really made me look back at my life and realize my problem is similar. One of my bigger obstacles to weight loss is my overwhelming desire to eat out all the time, instead of at home.

When I was a kid, we were dirt poor, like what you were experiencing. I remember times not having ANY food in the house. Or having to eat fried chicken nights on end because it was the cheapest thing my mom could make. I haven't eaten her fried chicken in YEARS now because of those bad memories. So going to McDonald's or a cheap buffet was a HUGE thing. It meant we had some money, even if it was only like $20.

Now my life is much more comfortable. Not rich by any means, but solidly middle-class. But two kids & daycare, two car payments, and a new house in the 'burbs have put a strain on our finances. We really need to be saving what little extra money we have, which makes eating at home and taking my lunch make the most sense. But it's really hard for me to commit to that, which is a big bone of contention between my wife and I. Thanks to you, it just got a lot easier.

As always, Lyn, thanks for your honesty and your courage to put such personal things out there so the rest of us can be inspired by it.


tessler said...

I totally get that. I wasn't a hoarder until I went through some bad financial times with my ex. Then I started hoarding things like shampoo and soap and basic items. I didn't really realize I was doing it until I'd left him and my mother asked me why I had six bottles of shampoo stashed in my bedroom (my son and I were living with her at the time). When I analyzed the behavior, I realized it was because I never knew when I would have the money to buy those basic items so when I had the money, I stocked up. Heavily. It has been 15 years and I still struggle with this hoarding behavior sometimes. KNOWING is half the battle, though! CONGRATULATIONS! :)

Erin said...

Thank you for your blog and wonderful thoughts.
You are helping me in this.

Deniz said...

Holy hell, Lyn! This post stopped me in my tracks - you've just switched on a huge lightbulb over my head.

I've just realised that what you've described has a LOT to do with when and where I started to put on pound after pound after pound (long story, probably best left untold), and why to this day I find myself buying 'stocks' of food for 'just in case'. Thankfully, now I tend to overstock veggies, lentils, etc. - not crisps and chocolate but even so...

It really is exactly the "subconscious fear that *something * will happen..." that you've described. Then eating that 'must have' bad stuff is all about the guilt at having spent money on it so not being 'allowed' to waste it.

You are one wise lady, Lyn, and I'm going to try to do as you suggest and not 'borrow troubles' from the future but celebrate the good things I can choose today.

As to TimTams - an Aussie friend gave me some and I did try one, but I didn't admit to her that I thought they were horrid. Sorry!

Tiff said...

Wow. I totally understand what you are saying. And I think you are doing the right thing in realizing that you ARE really priviledged because you aren't FORCED to eat unhealthy food anymore because you can't afford anything better. Now you have the priviledge to buy healthy food that poor people wish they could buy. And that is the truth!

JewliaGoulia said...


This is so great. I love those moments when you figure out what and why you do something.

It sounds like, right now, you are in a great place in your life. The right time to change yourself physically and mentally.

Keep going girl. Let go of the past and start making yourself a better, healthier future!



Tony the Pink Panda said...

Perhaps it's the associations you have with certain foods that are more of the issue. Why is it that when you binge, you binge on cookies, ice cream etc. - all the stuff that isn't good for you, when you could be binging on expensive produce instead? If it is all about money, wouldn't you want to be eating expensive food intead of cheap junk? I have pondered this quite a lot too; because I don't see myself grabbing fruit or a salad when I want to eat for emotional reasons, even though I know that I love fruit just as much as I love cookies.

Just something to think about. Good post :).

Jaime said...

I need to stop lurking and comment on this post. I too have done this exact same thing. The eating out , the buying of junk , in my mind everytime "might" be the last time I am able to do it .It might not even been food it might just be something useless in my house that still sits there and never gets used but I bought it anyways because I was finally able to afford it. Thanks so much for sharing with us !

Twix said...

I get this. I grew up poor and food scarce. Married someone who never had to live without and those I CAN buy eat and whatever I wanted floodgates opened. I know what you are getting at and it can be scary when you are in the store and just gotta have it because...

The CilleyGirl said...

I've got a similar reason: while we could have afforded anything we wanted, my stepfather refused on the grounds that I was a lazy, spoiled rotten, double-breasted wallet grabber (I was 8 when this all started). This would be anything at all; he only had to provide food, clothing and shelter and that was it and it didn't have to be fancy or the stuff that I wanted (and he told me this frequently -- and we're talking like, I can't participate in after school sports). So I promised myself that I wouldn't deny myself anything when I was a grownup. Now, at 39, I've slowly been learning that just knowing I could do it/buy it/whatever can be enough and that I don't actually have to take that next step. Mostly it's been with food (he'd cook stuff I hated or that I was allergic to and then make me eat it or I couldn't have anything at all), but also with things. Our brains can be horrible brats, can't they?

happyfunpants said...

I absolutely get what you mean...and by the looks of your comments, so do other people.

I want to let this thought marinate with me - and really come to the root of WHY I get it because I can. Is it my current money crunch that I feel I can't splurge on anything? Is it that I was never allowed these foods as a kid?

You've given me a lot to think about - and, as always, I thank you.

Winivere said...

I am surprised that you did not get this revelation sooner but happy to hear that you have finally realized this bit of wisdom for yourself. You are such an inspiration! Keep up the good work! XX

moonduster said...

I've been there as the single mom of small kids who struggled financially, and I know that it is part of why food became such an issue for me too. But we can get past these urges as I am proving and you are proving each day.

Anonymous said...

I have been going through your archives a bit. And OMG I remember this exact feeling. It was post-Thanksgiving in the grocery store after years of being a poor student, and 2 years of being very tight on finances. I was buying english muffins, buy one get one free and coveting the fancy cheeses in the display next to it. And it hit me, the years of denying myself fun foods because it cost too much. And the craziest part is that the brie was maybe $2 more than the muffins which I didn't *really* want. And then I said, wait, I don't have to choose, either, I can buy both of these. And I started crying in the middle of the aisle over the lost years. I gradually tripled my food budget because, yeah, I was just that stingy with myself before then. And lost 30 pounds, through treating myself to good vegetables (no iceberg) and fruits and small amounts of good treats.

This past weekend was lecturing my niece about how Haagen-Dazs is a $1 more at the grocery store and she should tell my sister with a 7-figure income that the family is worth it. I treated the niece to both a fancy ice cream tasting (3 gelatos, 2 sorbet, and a Haagen-Dazs) as well as a fancy-cheese tasting, both combined for less than the cost of a lunch out at Subway. We savored and enjoyed and tasted, and didn't inhale calories.

But, to come full circle, I see your point about not gorging on this stuff just because I *can*. I still gorge on stuff at parties, but if I gave myself permission to buy it whenever I wanted... I don't need that much.