Monday, January 14, 2013

Stop Acting Like Eating Is Your Full Time Job

One of the things I had to learn, or un-learn, rather, as I was losing weight and recovering from binge eating disorder was that food, and eating, was not my full-time job. For a long time, I acted like it was. Food and eating was on my brain not just 8 hours a day, but pretty much all my waking hours. I remember well how that felt: waking up and my first thoughts being "what can I have for breakfast? Is there any leftover pizza left?" I'd get up and get all the kids to school and then spend the morning... not cleaning, decorating, socializing or doing other stay-at-home-mom things... but eating. Baking, not for the kids, but for me. Sure I'd make enough for them most of the time. But I'd spend hours poring over cookbooks, food magazines and recipe websites trying to find just the thing that would hit the spot. I'd go to the store and buy ingredients and come home and bake, eat, bake. I'd make runs to McDonalds and the donut shop, take a really long time grocery shopping and picking out binge foods as well as dinner supplies, and stand staring at the bakery and deli cases whenever I shopped. When I was not eating, I was thinking about eating. I spent a lot of time waiting for my overfull stomach to empty just enough that I could comfortably put more food in there.

I am not proud of that time in my life. But I am no longer ashamed of it, either. I realize it was a disease... a disorder of the mind and body that led to a food obsession and compulsive eating. It was, I believe, caused by emotional overload... by post traumatic stress disorder, perhaps. Triggered by such events as the loss of an unborn child, a very difficult divorce, the traumatic death of my mother in my arms, poverty, and the birth of a critically ill daughter who barely clung to life for weeks, I ate. I ate to cope. I obsessed about food because it was easier than feeling the worry, the pain, the reliving of those excruciating moments. It was a distraction. It was my drug. I was a mother; I could not go out drinking or getting high because I was all my children had. So I ate, because it is a safer, more acceptable way to numb, to cope. No one loses their children because they binged on pizza. So I binged. I binged and obsessed and ate like it was my full time job.

I had to unlearn it, even when I stopped the binge eating. Lingering in the space where the binge used to be was a milder, yet persistent, obsession with food. It lingers still, when I am not paying attention. I have to work to squelch it. When I am not looking, I can sometimes start to food obsess again when I am stressed out. It is easier for the mind to attend to thoughts of cheese and crackers than it is to deal with feelings of sadness or worry. But I am watchful. I catch myself, sometimes, and refocus. I say to myself, "No, this is not about a donut. This is about xyz." And then I work to figure out what, if anything, I can do about the xyz situation. And if there is nothing I can do, I just feel that, and try to be okay with it. And pray.

The food obsession can transfer to a diet program, sometimes. You can just as easily start to spend hours obsessing about every carb and calorie, thinking constantly about what you'll be eating next or how many calories you burned on the Stairmaster. You can let food, eating, diet, and weight become your full time job, too. And though I've seen some folks recommend this... treating "health" and "weight loss" as a full time job... I can't recommend it. I don't think it takes that much, in most cases. Part time, maybe, while you figure out the logistics and spend time exercising and preparing food. But what I mean is, if food is taking up your brain nearly every waking minute, that's not healthy. that's obsession.

Instead, it is good to free our minds to our *real* jobs, whether that be employment, motherhood, homemaking, or whatever else *you* have decided your life will be about. Fitness and eating is a part of that, but on the whole, I have found I am happier and a better mother and person when my full time job is actually being the mother I always wanted to be, the dog trainer I have longed to become, the writer I am so proud of, and the compassionate friend I have always wished I had for myself. The dieting, the eating, all of that is a part. Just a part, and not a full time job.


Karen said...

Amazing post, Lyn. I had never thought about it that way but yes, I too had eating and food as a full time job, even when I had a full time job. I still want to run there, to food, to comfort myself, companion myself, or to numb myself. Like you, its the one vice that we can indulge and not have to worry about going to jail. A daily battle for me but one I am ready to fight now. Thank you for inspiring me and helping look at my own relationship with food in a new way.

Gwen said...

Excellent insights, Lyn! Thank you for giving me food for thought! (pun I guess intended. LOL)

Darcy Winters said...

I started feeling that way the last time I did Weight Watchers. It became all about the points and the kicker is --- I didn't lose the weight because I was so obsessed with doing it perfectly. When THAT didn't happen - I would throw in the towel for the day and try the next day...only to fail again. It's easier to just find a routine that works and then quit thinking about it.

Lori said...

Great analogy. I know when I first started really dropping the weight, I was not obessing about every meal. My meals were planned. I couldn't figure out where all this extra time was coming from at first. I finally realized I wasn't thinking about food, grocery shopping, meal planning, the next dessert I was going to make, etc. It was quite freeing to have that realization and the time to spend in a more productive manner.

Traveling Light said...

You know, I didn't have the food obsession you describe in the first paragraph of this post. At least not until I dieted. (Of course, I didn't binge until I dieted, either.)

It was that obsession r/t weighing and counting and, well, obsessing, that I so often rebelled against--and wrote frequent posts about during the diet process. I just knew that food obsession was food obsession whether in the realm of losing weight or gaining it.

As a compulsive over-eater, it was way too easy for me to lapse into obsession, while thinking that you're doing a GOOD thing.

This post was a great warning.


Jennifer said...

This could be one of my favorite posts from you. So real and I can definitely relate. I regained ALL my weight plus some and I am working to get it off. What you just posted is some of the realizations I have just come to terms with recently. Thanks for making me feel not alone.


Anonymous said...

What an amazing post. I have an *actual* full-time job, but your post made me realize that eating is my real full-time job, because it's always "on" in the background. Thinking about when it is lunch, and whether I should have chocolate in the afternoon, etc, etc. I can't wait to quit eating!!!;-)

Sara™ said...

This is SO true, you described me to a "T" It took really looking hard at my eating habits and getting on a eating makeover plan like Medifast to recognize what an obsession I have with food. Great insight!

Anonymous said...

This has to be about the truest, most profound thing I've read in a long, long time about the horribleness of food obsession. You described me to a "t" - the former me, I hope. Only I didn't have half the traumas you did. I just ate because I was obsessed. Buying binge foods along with regular groceries. Looking for that perfect thing that would "do it" for me. Eventually nothing did, a very frustrating situation, although even that didn't prevent me from obsessing.

Really great writing, sweetie. Keep it up.


MargieAnne said...

I am so aware that diet and losing weight can be an obsession. It's so easy to put off social possibilities because they mess with the eating plan. It's too easy to give up on exercise or whatever your achilies heel is, because you cannot do it perfectly.

One year I decided there would be fewer distractions and I would Work at losing weight, treat it like a job. It didn't quite work out that way but I did become somewhat obsessive. Food and what I ate became my no 1 job and it didn't work for weight loss.

Learning to Live and keeping some balance is so important. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts.


Desert Singer said...

ditto. Amazing post. Yep... food is the running constant... work is stressful, have some chocolate. People are mean... have some sugar. So overwhelmed that to even begin to think about how to take the pressure off requires the mouth to be moving...

always constant, always there. Thanks Lyn.

Samantha said...

Your post resonates with me because I never thought about being obsessed with food. I always thought that I was overweight because I just stopped exercising. While I may not have had the cooking problem, mine was "Which restaurant for (lunch, dinner, brunch, drinks, happy hour, to see the game, etc". I was obsessed with going out and what new dish I wanted to try. I remember looking at the menu at local pub. I saw something crazy outrageous and I said, "Wow, that's an insane amount of calories. But I'm fat already, so why not?!" My friends laughed and I ate and it was fabulous. And I would continue to go to a different place for lunch, dinner, drinks, whatever.

I look back now and I can't believe I was the person who bragged in grad school that I never cooked and didn't even have a cabinet in the kitchen. I used to brag that I let my roommate run the kitchen while I handled all of the cleaning because I thought it made me amazing to have a lifestyle that let me go out and enjoy food at every opportunity. But reading your blog seriously just made me realized I was obsessed with the lifestyle of "going out" rather than taking care of myself.

I'm nervous though. I'm just starting Medifast and I've realized that I will sit and think to myself, "I'm hungry...when is my next meal? What will I have?" It wasn't until I read your post that I realized obsessing over food and it's place in my schedule is just as bad on a diet as it was when I was the girl known for choosing the best restaurants all across town.

Thank you for sharing your insights.

Tina said...

Wow great post. It's hard to imagine not obsessing about food which I feel will come for me. I do worry about trading one obsession for the other which happens so often with people who lose a large amount of weight or give up alcohol or cigarettes. Anything addictive really. All I want is peace and the freedom to be who I want to be!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post! Isn't it funny how we influence each other on Blogland...? You must have been reading Diane @ "Fit to the Finish" Blog because she wrote a very similar post in November 2012. Her blog is very inspiring, don't you think?

Lyn said...


I hadn't read that post on Fit to the Finish but went over and looked for it just now. I am not surprised that those of us who've struggled with disordered eating and food obsession have similar experiences with it. I think that's why so many relate to these topics, and why they do inspire. Hopefully we can all get to a place that I described long ago... one that resonates with many... a place of LIFE in the forefront, and food/diet in the background:

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I do know that people dieting start to obsess at calories and food, per the famous experiment, regardless of whether you obsessed abt food before. It seems to go away after calorie restriction though. Dieting also results in a temporary obsession with overhauling my normal food plans, where day by day or week by week I replace my junky habits with new ones. It took years ultimately, to find a good repertory of salads, soups, cooked veg, and later of high protein foods. Now it's ingrained, and I don't need to spend a lot of time looking for new recipes. I still read food blogs, cookbooks, and learn new recipes, with a filter of looking for recipes that provide a high flavor to calorie ratio and do so at a low preparation cost. But as often I will decide to learn how to make a food I've bought or tried in a restaurant. Between looking at several recipes, learning tips, trying ingredients cooking implements heat and cooking time, the recipe might be tried 3-6 times before being judged as acceptable or overly complicated. That process might take a week or a month or six months. Which I think makes cooking a craft less than an obsession.

Anonymous said...

Great post Lyn....@Darcy: PERFECT!!!! Find what works for YOU and then quit thinking about it:) and spot on to the last anonymous comment: Now it's ingrained....THIS is the goal ladies!! You HAVE to think and obsess a little in the beginning until you have your sea legs to deal with situations and to RE-TRAIN yourself. You owe this to yourself so that the 'goal' is reached. NOT a weight goal, that will come automatically by LIVING what works for YOU. Find IT, LIVE it and LOVE it:)