To my disappointment, but not to my surprise, I stepped on the scale at my doctor’s office last week and discovered I’ve gained nearly 15 lbs this year. In the first few weeks after my dad’s death eating was an afterthought, and for the first time since my son was born, I had to wear a belt to hold my pants up instead as a useless accessory. After the haze wore off and the reality of my loss came crashing down, I turned back to my old friend food for comfort, and food knowingly obliged. Too sad to be bothered with cooking, I head to Budacki’s Drive-In for a veggie dog or pop in a pizza and stare at the TV while I soothe myself with its salty, cheesy goodness. I know it’s not good, but I have no motivation to stop.
My relationship with food took a turn for the unusual in high school. I can’t say for sure what triggered it, but I often found myself hoarding junk food and binging on it. While I was eating I was dizzy with joy, then immediately afterward I hated myself. In health class we learned all about anorexia and bulimia, but I didn’t have those, so I figured I was OK. A pig, maybe, but OK. What I’ve come to realize as I’ve gotten older and really looked into my struggle with food and guilt is that I’ve spent all this time unwittingly battling an eating disorder – compulsive overeating.
Blame our culture’s disdain for cellulite, blame the fact that most Americans are overweight anyway – but for whatever reason, there just isn’t as much awareness around food addition, nor is there as much support. I don’t mean to offend anyone with my hypothesis, but I can only assume that it’s not nearly as tragic for most people to picture someone eating an entire box of Oreos and then hating herself for it as it is to see an image of an 80 lb adult woman struggling with anorexia or bulimia – so it’s not widely regarded as a serious problem. Like me, many compulsive overeaters go completely unnoticed because the addiction itself may or may not take it’s toll on one’s physical appearance. In non-PC terms, I’m not fat nor am I thin, so most people don’t know I have a problem with food.
Anyway, I took the first step of facing my problem some years ago. When I turned 30 I was determined to take control of my life – I worked out, I ate sensibly… then things got crazy at work and I found myself opting to watch Deadliest Warrior with a bowl of Cheetos in my lap instead of running. I had a million excuses, but the truth is, I’m always thinking about eating. Food is like a hug from my mom – it’s all I want when things are good, it’s all I want when things are bad. When I would diet, I would think about how great it would be when I was skinny and I could eat crap again. When I work out, the motivation is so that I can eat more calories. I divide my day according to when I get to eat, and I spend the non-eating hours thinking about what I will eat as soon as it’s a socially acceptable time to eat again. While I eat my morning oatmeal I’m thinking about how good my lunch will be. I watch the clock until 11am when I know it’s time to eat my apple. As soon as lunch is over just after noon I tell myself “2 o’clock – tea and a granola bar.” Then comes dinner, then comes ice cream before bed.
Some of you might be reading this and thinking, “Apple? Granola? So you’re addicted to healthy food. I weep for you.” That’s what I eat at work, and in front of people. What people don’t see are the crazed candy bar binges, the times when I stand by the stove cooking dinner and shoveling jellybeans into my mouth. Up until a few weeks ago I almost always had an emergency donut in my desk drawer. The days when I work from home and eat two lunches, prefaced and chased with whatever candy I can scavenge from my 5-year-old. But what’s worse than the food itself, which varies from pretty healthy to downright disgusting, is the way I feel about it. Guilty and helpless. Food should never victimize you. Which is why I’m writing this post…
Last week I was asked to participate in a 28 Day Healthy Eating Challenge sponsored by Whole Foods. My first instinct was to delete the email. I don’t believe in diets (they’ve never been a long term solution for me) and I hate the idea of obsessing about my weight. It’s never been about a number on a scale or the size of my clothes for me, but rather, a lack of control over myself when it comes to things I know are bad for me. But when I took a look at the plan, which includes eating a Plant-Strong diet for 28 days, weekly check-ins and various classes on healthy cooking and eating, I figured it as worth a shot. I also decided that posting occasionally about the program will keep me motivated.
As a vegetarian, and a former vegan, I’m a step ahead for the first two weeks of the program. Week one involves cutting dairy, week two is going meatless. Cool. Done. Week three? Cooking without oil and avoiding added oils in the food I buy. Oh blerg. By week four I’m not eating processed sugar, no peanuts for whatever reason… Let’s just take this one step at a time, shall we? After all, I am the girl who brought Pizza Cupcakes into this world.
So on Tuesday my friend Stacie and I are headed to the kick off dinner at Whole Foods followed by a screening of Forks Over Knives. On Thursday I head back to the store to re-learn how to grocery shop, and next week there’s a check-in and a class on using greens. I probably won’t post super often about this because I’ll be busy with SugarSlam and posting new recipes for hideous, delicious junk food – but I’ll throw something up here once in a while for anyone who is curious.
Most of my observations and complaining will be done on Twitter, so follow me there if you want to see how I’m doing. And be sure to leave comments if you’re taking the challenge too. I definitely want to hear how it’s going for you.
In closing: Less talk, more tacos.
*The artwork in this post is by the strange and wonderful Betty Turbo.
you badass little pixie you. as a person with a complicated relationship with food, i commend you for putting this out there. seriously. you rock. and also, good luck!
natalie. thank you so much for writing this. i’m not sure why it means so much to know that someone else is going through the same thing you are but wow… it really does help. and thanks for your honesty. i sometimes feel like the most disgusting person in the world the way i eat!!! hahahhaa nope… you and i are probably even!!! xoxoox
I feel the same way, Natalie. I was raised in a family where when you have breakfast, you are asked what you want for dinner. When you are eating lunch, you are looking at menus for places you want to go to for dinner. (In my family, though.. mostly everyone is at a healthy/normal weight and no real health problems. Except me and my hips.)
But I completely understand it! At work / in public, I am all about my organic veggie bakes and greek yogurt. On the commute home, Donut Plant is calling my name and I am polishing off sometimes 5 tres leches!
I am on my way to becoming a healthier me, though. Food has controlled my life and I have to realize I can enjoy food without eating to the point of needing a nap from scarfing it all down. I’m starting to cook at home more often and walking everywhere. The only thing I am not looking forward to is a slim wallet from all the Whole Foods trips.
Good luck Natalie!!!!!
I want to say Natalie, you are a strong woman for posting this! As someone who struggles with weight, it’s going to be great to hear about your progress!! Good luck!!
Amen sister. I was faced, literally, by myself in photos last weekend that I’d indeed put on every bit of the 20 lbs I’d lost last year :/ You can do this, sounds like a great plan for you! Looking forward to hearing how it goes 🙂
Natalie, you are such an amazing strong person. My family plans vacations around food. I understand. I’m so thankful to have you as a friend.
I do the same things. I’ve always had issues with food. Working on making a permanent change. It’s hard, but worth it. If I “eat clean” my migraines go away, my insomnia goes away, the awful mood swings get better.
I sound like a real peach, I’m sure! You can kick it in the ass. I hope the diet doesn’t make you poop funny.
Hi my name is Erin and I just ate a sleve of frozen Thin Mints! No really, right before reading this post I licked the last big of chocolate yummyness off my fingers. I hide my binge eating from every one. Keeping stashes cookies tucked with the mixing bowls or on top of the fridge is a nasty habit. But if no one knows its in the house then when it goes missing all at once no one will ask me uncomfortable questions.
I wish we had a whole foods around here. Good luck and thanks for being open about this.
Gulp! My jaw is on the floor, eyes burning from not blinking as I read your post! I’m glad you wrote on this subject Natalie…
As I’m reading I’m also realizing I’m going threw some similar scenario’s myself. Actually I’ve been going threw it for years. Its a vicious cycle for me really = / It’s kind of refreshing knowing I’m not alone.
Good Luck Hun!!
Miss Ronda ((tight squeeze))
Thank you for writing this. I can totally relate. I’ve struggled with food issues my whole life and I often feel guilty after eating whether it’s healthy or junk food. Although admittedly worse when it’s junk. I’m no sooner done with one meal and I’m planning the next in my mind. After a nearly 10 year, on and off dependency on diet pills, I’ve found that being unable to control my eating habits on my own is incredibly defeating. I constantly try and fail no matter how many times I tell my self “this is it”. I look forward to hearing about your progress. You’re awesome <3
wow, natalie, i’m feeling so relieved that you posted this.. i never would have guessed.. in fact, i have always been envious of your awesome ability to bake amazing things at warp speed without being 400 pounds!! i’ve been battling bulimia for 8 years (ick, i hate writing that) and it’s something i’m still struggling with. it’s always shocking to hear someone else’s battles with an eating disorder, when they seem to be near perfect to the outside world, but i admire your bravery. someday maybe i’ll get the gonads to admit my issues to the world, but for now, i’m just trying to be healthy. best of luck to you, you are an amazing lady!!
thank you for posting this. i had no idea you were going thru this at all. i wish you all the luck in the world for getting back on track and with this challenge. 🙂 i know you can do it!!! 😀
-big hugs and lots o’ love-
I’m really looking forward to this tomorrow….Maybe I shouldn’t bring the candy that Nancy T. sent from England for you. I’m surprised I haven’t eaten it already 🙂 xo
Thank you for posting this. I’ve struggled with this same issue for as long as I can remember, and whenever I think I have a handle on it, something happens and I’m right back where I started. In my first three months of grad school, I gained over twenty pounds. It boggles the mind. I’m still in the process of relearning eating five months after I dared step on the scale again. I also count down the minutes until I can eat and keep a schedule, and I congratulate myself every single time I pass a bakery or coffeeshop or ice cream parlor and don’t stop. Because every single time is a new struggle. It’s exhausting.
I saw you mention on Twitter that you didn’t want to post this, and I’m so glad you did! Compulsive eating is a serious problem, and like you said in your post it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. You’re brave and amazing.
I understand the compulsive overeating. When I kicked my meth habit in high school and ditched all of my partying friends I replaced my addiction with food. I gained 75lbs in one year. I still struggle with my weight, but the super fast, panicked, shoveling in my face with desperation has stopped.
Good luck with this! I look forward to your updates. Your’s will probably be less whiny than mine would be (I’d die in those first two week; no dairy = no cheese = a very unhappy Justin).
“Less talk, more tacos” STILL needs to be on a t-shirt. Let’s get SEIBEI on that.
Wow. I needed this. I’m 6ft.tall, so I can gain or lose 15lbs in 2 weeks like it’s no big deal, when it’s really destroying my heart. I love healthy food. I love deadly food. I want to try every single new restaurant that opens in Greenville. I plan where I want to go for dinner on my nights off as soon as my new schedule gets posted every week. Being a vegetarian married to a sweet little “meat-n-cheese-only” eating man means we eat mexican food and pizza waaaaaay more than we should. I NEED A NEW HOBBY.
Thank you so much for your honesty and your courage. I just shared this post with my husband; we’ve both struggled with compulsive overeating our entire adult lives. The constant thinking about food and meals, hiding snacks in the freezer, hoovering everything in sight when I get home.. yeah. Am there, doing that. It’s so hard to be healthy when not only do you have to fight the world around you to eat well, you have to fight yourself, too. So thank you for posting; it helps to read that others are going through this, too.
Awesome-way to go Natalie! Good luck!!
Ah yes, the secret eating. My mum used to hide boxes of chocolates in the dining room cabinets and eat them at night, my M-I-L used to hide packets of chocolate biscuits in the wardrobe in the spare room that she gorged on when she thought no-one was around and I can eat an entire, marzipan-laden stollen in one go in secret while insisting my kids eat fruit and veg sticks for snacks and only have dessert at weekends. I think it’s a more common problem than any of us think and very brave of you to be so honest about it. Good luck!
As a male its something that’s not often discussed or accepted that these obsessions exist, men are tough and when a guy eats a whole pizza or packs on weight it’s just viewed as being masculine, if you express guilt over lack of control or concern over body image than you are somehow viewed as less of a man. I’ve dealt with compulsive eating and body dysmorphia my entire life. My weight and eating habits have yo-yoed up and down as far back as I can remember (and not by small increments but by 50-100lbs over relatively short periods of time) in the last 10 years alone (I’m 38) I’ve gone from 250 to 140 to 180 to 130 back to 180 bouncing between periods of compulsive eating and periods of near anorexic behavior. The biggest stumbling block and most upsetting factor regardless of which way the pendulum is currently swinging is the immediate and constant guilt over what I have or haven’t eaten. A perfect example was yesterday at lunch I had 2 slices of vegan pizza and while not the worst food choice in the world I still felt immediate guilt over what I had eaten and that it wasn’t something healthier (not just a mild guilt like “man, I should have had some fruit instead” but a gut wrench self loathing) now to make matters worse an hour later when the guilty feelings started to quiet I found myself standing at the fridge eating leftover birthday cake (also vegan but that don’t make it healthy) and starting the guilt cycle all over again. Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough, just keep your chin up and get that PMA and realize that someday we WILL have control over this.
We all have our personal battles – some of us just hide them well, sometimes so well that we are hiding them from ourselves. It is hard to talk about for anyone who has had their own battle and for some of us it’s a lifetime war — but we can definitely band together to kick some ass, even if it’s our own 🙂 (In a good way, of course!) I’m behind you (or next to, or in front of, whatever you prefer) all the way. <3
I’ve always looked at you with envy, like wow, that girl can be cute and skinny AND bake. I thought there was something wrong with me that I can’t bake anything without eating it…a lot of it. And now I learned once again that you can’t assume things like that about people you don’t really know.
Good luck with the new eating thing – I gave up sugar for a time a few months back. The first few days were like what I imagine heroin withdrawals are like, but after that, not so bad.
Holy shit on a shingle, Natalie. I feel like you’ve just said exactly how I’ve felt for most of my life. I am hands down a compulsive overeater. I could & probably will write my own blog post about my struggle with secret shame eating. Just today I had 2 maybe 3 honkin’ pieces of BTSC. Ugh. What a tubbo.
I know you will channel your inner Stallone & go over the top with the 28 day challenge. You’re just awesome like that. Looking forward to reading about it.
Just wanted to let you know how good it felt to read your post.
I often look up to you as a role model, a fellow tattooed chick who managed to make a name for yourself.
It feels great to see that even a badass likes you struggles with compulsive eating too.
Thanks for the positive example you set out there for girls who aren’t cookie cutters.
thank you for posting this.
i’ve struggled with compulsive over eating and being obsessed with food, behavior very similar to yours. i wish there was more support and recognition out there for this eating disorder.
wow you hit it on the nose will submit to digg
Okay so my boss told me (my boss! how cool!) I should check out your site, and while I am drooling over the rootbeer cupcakes, I found this post and just wanted to say this… ME TOO! I just started the 28 day elimination diet (the whole living cookbook diet), not so much because I want to diagnose my food allergies, but because I had a somewhat similar experience as you… totally gained too much wait, my dad died (in February… damn I miss him!).,.. everything is out of whack! I think in all of the emotional not wanting to eat, I then wanted to eat all of the food. Anyway… I’m on day three and was totally lamenting the fact that I even started this thing, I started reading Bake and Destroy, and then found this, and well, maybe I won’t quit this thing tomorrow… Thank you for posting!
I’m so sorry for your loss. I can tell you first-hand that focusing on your health and well-being is a really great way to start to heal. Losing someone you love isn’t something you get over, but it’s something you can get through. Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to stay on track and I promise you’ll be glad you did. Good luck!