CTV.ca readers share their struggles with food
Published Thursday, May 27, 2010 9:55PM EDT
The following is a collection of stories about the struggle with portion control and food addiction, sent in by CTV.ca readers. Send us an email with your own story and we may post it here.
I don't think I'm addicted to food, but I'm definitely obsessed about it. And, like Aaron, it's what I'm constantly thinking about. I've got a lot of weight to lose, and I've tried dieting, but it's like panic sets in when the comfort foods (pizza, chips, fries…) are out of sight and the "good stuff" is all I've got to look forward to. When you're constantly thinking about what your next meal will be, the obsession hits harder, and it doesn't go away until you've given in to it. Maybe that is addiction.
As far as saying it can't be an addiction if you're not craving your favourite foods first thing in the morning, well… I don't believe it. I have known alcoholics who manage to get through a day without drinking, but they can't make it through the nights. How is food any different? You might not want a cheeseburger and fries when you first wake up in the morning, but it doesn't mean you're not going to be craving it all day long. That craving is going to build and isn't going to go away until you have it. And then it starts all over the next day.
I've tried substitutions. Rice cakes and baked chips don't replace regular potato chips. A turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with veggie sticks on the side, doesn't replace a cheeseburger and fries when that craving has hit. They might be better for you, but eating them when you're wanting something else doesn't make the craving go away. It's a bigger problem. And I don't know what the answer is.
Yes, you can tell people that they have to change their lifestyle and eating habits, but we can't flip a switch on command to make us do it. When you're dealing with a life that feels chaotic, food is the one thing you can control. Albeit, badly! A quick side trip on the way home from work to the grocery store or a fast food place gives a sense of instant gratification. Right up until you eat what you know you shouldn't be eating and then the guilt sets in and you start chastising yourself for having no self control. Your mind knows you shouldn't be eating this way, but something else takes over and it's like you're watching it from a distance. Then the fog clears and you know you've done something bad. And then you feel worthless and like you've failed again. At least that's the way it is for me.
I would like to wake up in the morning and not think about food all day long. I'd like to look forward to salads and all the healthy foods I should be eating. Right now it's not happening. I see where I'm at, and I see where I need to be, but it feels overwhelming. Especially knowing how long it's going to take to reach the goal.
But on the bright side, I did manage two whole days of healthy eating this week. And maybe I'll manage to accomplish two more next week. It's a start.
I am a 42 year Day home provider. I can totally relate to the being a food addict. I have a very healthy family which consists of my husband, 8 year old daughter, 4 year old son and myself. When I wake up in the morning I think about what I am going to make for breakfast for myself and my children in my care. Then as I am cleaning up those dishes I am thinking about what we will eat for lunch and the same goes for dinner. When my family and I do our grocery shopping for the week, I already have these meals planned days in advance, but all day long it seems I am stressing about food.
When it comes to eating the food, I would much rather eat it until it is all gone than to let it go to waste or have to be reheated. If there is something that I really like in the pantry, I will think about it while laying in bed, until I get up and eat it gone!
I believe that there is such a thing as a food addict just as there is a alcoholic.
I have been addicted to food my entire life, if that is the current catch phrase explanation. I have learned to come to my own conclusions as I have watched the multi billion dollar hysteria hype that has been created in our society to "buy our way out of being overweight". Try this diet, pill, extract, formula of what foods you eat when; eat for your blood type, avoid carbs, avoid fats, do this exercise repeatedly and watch those pounds melt away; or simply sit on your couch and listen to this hypnosis tape and an amazing trnasformation will take place with very little effort. Just to name a very few of those rediculous, but well marketed ideas.
Have I bought into this mumbo jumbo quick fix? Absolutely! I have contributed thousands of my hard earned dollars to support the infamous diet industry. Has any of it worked? Absolutely Not! Well, some on a short term basis, but never permanently. Even the 5 Factor Diet and Exercise program by our own Canadian Harley Pasternak, was not a long term solution for me as it addressed healthy eating and exercise which is wonderfully basic, easy to follow and makes complete and total sense as it is based on science and fact. However, the why of how I got here in the first place and how I managed to become locked in this vicious cycle when I am an educated, intelligent woman is nowhere to be found. Everyone has a theory, but not every person fits into those pigeon holed places.
Food has been my friend since my earliest memory. Food was my friend when I didn't have any others. My childhood and early adulthood were traumatic in many ways and no matter how unbalanced the world around me was, food was my comfort, my safety, my escape. It is not about conditioning. I was not conditioned to love food. I love food because it has been the only constant in my life that I could trust completely, especially in trying times.
I am not sure I believe the "hard wiring of our brains" concept.
What I believe is this; that perhaps it is part predisposition based on family heritage (I am from a Ukraine family where food is celebrated and enjoyed); part family environment based on what type of foods are contained within a household; part genetics (I was always referred to "big boned"); part personal history with part protection from whatever is in our pasts that made us need to find a form of survival. When I was chubby I was a target for teasing, but those are only hurtful words, not inner core pain (one learns to grow a think skin, or perhaps a more appropriate description is a wall around themselves not letting anyone in close enough to cause anymore pain).
Am I an emotional cripple? Perhaps. I am a loving, giving, caring, overly generous person, but I am also aware I over compensate for knowing I am not capable of letting anyone inside that inner part of me I know I still need to protect. It is my safety net, and when I need to protect that small quiet vulnerable place inside I eat to surround it with a form of insulation and to protect it from further trauma by stress or the likes. You know people avoid eye contact when you are chubby; they do not direct pointed questions about your weight or anything else. All conversation is limited to superficial fluff. Do you a method in the madness? I do!
For years I have searched for a well respected, successful, live in program (max 10 - 12 days) to learn how to embrace that wounded soul inside that has created a requirement to eat to simply feel emotions. Happy and Safe are my favourites. However, anything I have located, the cost is astronomical and I envy those who are fortunate enough to experience the contentment and understanding that may come with the layers of protection created over the years finally being peeled away and the voice being allowed to be heard and validated.
The unfortunate part of the world we currently live in, is that if I were an alcoholic or drug addict there are interventions, programs and assistance available if one truly wants it and most of the related costs are covered in some way shape or form, which is truly wonderful. But societal perception is that an over-eating disorder is a lack of self control or will power with the disgusted belief that if those simpletons would get a grip on the eating "habits" the health system would not be overloaded with weight related illnesses. How sad is that. There could be nothing further from the truth. Perhaps one day, the world will see that damaged souls are not always the ones you can visually see an impairment in.
Those are my humble thoughts and observations. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
I know better. I am a smart, savvy, 41 year old woman. I read and watch the news from a myriad of sources and I am keenly aware of current health issues facing Canadians. In fact, I work for Health Canada.
Yet I am a full blown junkie. I eat compulsively. To deal with stress.
For entertainment. For reward. All the while intellectually KNOWING it is damaging my health, making me fat and feel sad, disappointed in myself, unable to achieve something so important as taking good care of my body.
My addiction started when I left home at 18. Without my Health-Nut Mother to constantly provide nutritious food and a running commentary of what was good and why it was good for us kids, I was left to try whatever I wanted without repercussions.
Growing up on a farm, junk food was all but banned in our home.
Occasionally we would have something processed like chocolate bar or a small bag of chips or sugared cereal at Christmas time. We did not have a McDonald's in my hometown. Fast food was available sparingly and mostly in the summer at little casse-croutes that were closed during the winter months. But even that fast food was provided from local growers and was made fresh. Not manufactured in a plant and re-fried on the grill.
I started with salt. I could not get enough. Things that were crunchy and salty. I went wild!! I lost my mind in bags and bags of chips, cheesies, pretzels anything salty crunchy and processed in a company from Montreal or Toronto.
In that first year away from home I gained 50 lbs. Actually I gained it in the first 6 months. Add in the fact that the physical chores I was responsible for on the farm were no longer my daily routine, I basically sat and ate crap non-stop.
Three years later I lost the 50lbs. And I kept it off for several years.
But once again, it started to creep up on me. When I was 25 I was in a very stressful relationship and I started eating more and my activity level was limited to my hand going to my mouth. This time, the aftermath was 65 lbs.
Well I could go on forever about the stop and start of this addiction. I equate it with being sober and using because I believe the cycle is very much the same. The last time I lost weight (via giving up junk food and adding in exercise) was the 18 months proceeding my pregnancy. I lost 100lbs this time.
After my son was born I had 15lbs of 'babyweight' to shed. And then the cycle started again. Stressed, exhausted beyond reason I started the compulsive binge eating yet again. This time I had a new drug of choice.
One that I developed while pregnant. Sugar. So now I was doubledicted.
Sugar in one hand, salt in the other. I have gained back 60lbs of that 100 that I lost. I am once again trying to clean out my system and kick the addiction. The only way this can be achieved is by not having the food in the first place. Like a drug addict cannot have just one hit, like an alcoholic cannot have just one drink. For me it will have to be all or nothing.
I may not be in immediate or imminent danger but day after day I am polluting my bodies with chemicals, adding layers of plaque to my arteries and training my tastebuds to expect 'pretend' flavors while they forget what real food tastes like.
So what is the answer? Labelling? Nutrition being taught in elementary schools? How are our anti-drug strategies working? Yeah, exactly. And drugs are illegal. Imagine what will be needed to combat an addiction where the source is attainable on every street corner, legal and marketed to us 24/7.
Wish me luck, this time.
Alexander Taylor writes:
I have a junk food addition I have been trying to beat for years.
I smoked for seven years and quit in 2001 without any problem. I recently quit coffee and have so far had minimal temptation over the past 5 months. Junk food however, has been a real problem.
Nearly every day, I stop for chips, often two 55g bags, to accompany me during the commute home every day. There may also be a pop, slushie (in the current heat especially), milk or juice. I might call it a "health conscious decision" to get a meat stick and white milk. My car accumulates the junk and by the end of the week it is time to clean out the cans, bottles, bags and crumbs. It costs me probably $25 a week. Of course when I get home for dinner, I may not be as hungry as I would otherwise be.
There is also the evening munching on chips or popcorn (the "health conscious" choice… with 1/4 cup of butter) after the kids are asleep.
Stress food? Definitely.
I weigh 225lbs at age 39, 5' 8", work a desk job, and although my cholesterol and blood sugars are good, I do have health issues related to this addiction, to which my doctor simply says, "well, you already know what you have to do." I have never taken drugs and only drink occasionally.
As a child, I would take whatever chance I could find to run around to the corner store and buy the holy grail.. pop-chip-candybar. It was a catchphrase. Say it repeatedly. I have always been conscious of what each component would cost, when there were price increases, when there was size increases and when new flavours were introduced.
I don't think junk food marketing isn't just introducing new flavours of chips or new varieties of chocolate bars. Price increases have in the past generally been done by offering "premium size" packs (say 100g) then phasing the normal package size into the premium price. I also think that the 55g bag was not too long ago a 65g bag at the same price. Of course I'll pay the same for less – it's chips!
All this said, I don't know how to break the habit and I'm afraid that it's going to be my premature undoing someday. And that would be very unfair to my wife and three kids.
Thank you for posting 'How Food Can Enslave: An Addicts Account'. When I read this online article today, I realized that I have to change my relationsip with food.
I am a busy businesswoman in her late 30's who lives alone and rarely has the time to prepare meals. That being said, I am a self-proclaimed foodie that loves well-prepared food and I will make time to attain my food fix of the moment.
I have driven hours, at the drop of a hat, from home, to satisfy my fix when I have cravings for dim sum, Vietnamese pho, foie gras, Indian cuisine, etc. Sometimes I watch the Food Network, see a dish that "I have to have" at that moment, and actually stress and obsess about how to get it in front of me.
When I am overcome by these feelings, I don't care about the gas expense to get to the food, the wasted time I spend thinking about/getting to the food and the cost to purchase the food. After I have consumed my fix of choice, I am already thinking about the next meal. I rarely leave anything left on my plate. I then talk about the food I eat, to others and on public forums, like Facebook. I wake up thinking about food and go to sleep thinking about what to have the next day.
I have decided to wage a war against food and take back the control. I am a petite Asian woman with a high metabloism but as I get older it is getting harder to keep the weight down. My family also has a history of diabetes and heart disease.
My weight fluctuates drastically, because I have yet to learn about eating and working out in moderation.
Thank you again for posting this article. It has made me realize just how unhealthy my relationship with food is.
Mary Lou DeRidder writes:
Have you read any of PHD Kathleen Desmaisons' work on this?
She wrote several books on addictive nutrition, including "Potatoes not Prozac" which deal with this very subject. She has culled the science of what actually happens in the brains of these mice, notably, C-57 mice (alcohol-loving mice) and DBA mice (alcohol avoiding mice). These mice also react to sugar respectively.
Many of us have joined her online community to deal with the issue of sugar sensitivity. Take a browse;
Thank you for this article.
Lesley Carter writes:
I have spent my entire life overweight and failed numerous times while "dieting". I would have to say that the research is 100 per cent accurate and the only way I know this is that a week ago I began a physician supervised program that is based on low fat, low carbohydrate and low sodium…..no added sugar for sure. I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms that I believe are on par with nicotine, drug or alcohol withdrawal. It is extremely powerful and I have to force myself not to give in to the cravings.
I am allowed all I want to eat so I'm not physically hungry……..but restricted by what I can eat. I never realized how addicted I was to sugar, fat, carbohydrates and salt.
I have lost weight, feel dramatically physically better but its hard……..that's for sure!!! It is a day by day and hour by hour struggle…….I am to do this for the first two weeks only so I am hoping that will break the addiction cycle and it will become easier.
Riz S. writes:
I've had food issues since I can remember. The addiction is a powerful one, and I can attest to it being very, very real.
I can think back to a time when I was addicted to food, and I was just a child. The first time I looked at numbers on a scale, I was 10, when I realized I was larger than any of my peers. It was a hard reality, and yet I couldn't make it stop. I just kept on eating.
I've always been a little overweight, but was never "obese" until my adulthood. I became the technical definition of Obese in BMI, though luckily I never weighed 300 or 400 lbs. I closed in on 200 lbs and at 5'4", I was reading "Obese" on anyone's charts. It was scary.
And yet I didn't care. Why didn't I care? Or, maybe I -did- care in a lot of ways, and yet I just kept on eating. I couldn't stop.
Eating led to depression and anxiety, depression and anxiety led to eating, it became a viscious circle. I have an anxiety disorder to begin with, and it was only fed by the food addictions.
I've never been one to "eat healthy". I grew up eating sugars and fats, and today just a vegetable lying on my tongue triggers my gag reflex. What a situation I've gotten myself into. It is easier to list the things I will eat, than list the things I will not eat, as the list is very manageable. I eat like a child because I am addicted to sugars, carbs, and fats.
In 1999 and 2000, I became an anorexic to "solve" my problems. Instead of eating everything? I ate nothing. One extreme, or the other. I hid the problem from everyone close to me, and no one knew. I lost a lot of weight, and everyone was proud of me.
However, around 2004 or so, I gained every last pound back and then some. As my weight rose and my willpower subsided and gave way to binge-eating, I became more and more depressed, which led to more and more eating. At one point I decided I would no longer look at a scale, as that fueled my depression. I would just eat, and forget the consequences.
By 2008, I was fed up with myself. I was disgusted. My now-husband had proposed to me, and I was about to walk down the aisle a fat bride. My image in a wedding dress made me wrench on the inside. I didn't want this. So I set out on a journey to lose weight, fast. Over a period of 6 months, I lost 55 lbs... not through exercise, but through willpower alone (cutting back on calories, cutting out the foods I shouldn't eat). It was not easy... and it was compounded by the fact I had once struggled with anorexia. With my all-or-none mentality, losing weight while still eating was a nightmare battle in my head 24/7...
But I did succeed. Temporarily... Throughout 2009 however, the "not easy" factor made itself prevalent and I relapsed and struggled, regaining about 25 lbs. I've since lost about 15 of those lbs and remain 10 to 15 lbs overweight today. Each time I lose 5 to 10 lbs, I gain it right back again, all because of the addiction to junk food.
The side effects of "coming off" the junk food are similar to that of withdrawing from drugs. I myself have never been on drugs, mind you, but I've definitely studied the symptoms of withdrawl. Things like headaches and irritability are the norm, migraines and raging anger at its worst! You feel out of control. You are driven to eat the next sugar food or salty snack. You -need- it. And when you finally get a taste, you need -more- of it. Just "some" is never enough. When I eat junk food, I don't eat just a little.. I eat enough for a whole family.
The urge to eat is overpowering. When I'm not eating, I'm thinking of the next time I can eat. It's constant. I wish I could explain it in terms a normal person could understand. There is not a moment of my day shorter than perhaps 2 to 3 minutes where I don't think about eating. It's awful, almost debilitating.
And every single time I relapse, I have to go through the withdrawl phase all over again.. and every time it seems a little less worth it, like I just shouldn't bother. I think that makes each relapse a little easier... and the whole thing just a bit more scary.
I can't stop. I don't know how to stop. I'm afraid one of these relapses is going to be the end of me, I'm just going to keep eating right back to 200 lbs and beyond. I'm terrified, and I'm out of control. Even though I maintain a 140-lbs average these days (which at 5'4" -barely- puts me in a healthy BMI, and even then I know my body weight percentage is far too high), and I do it through calorie-counting and will-power, I know it is just an "illusion" of control. I control my calories during the week, just so I can start Friday evening gorging myself on junk, and not stop until Monday morning.
It is a viscious cycle, and one I fear may take my life in the end from any number of health issues that will arise from my unhealthy habits.
What is worse, is that I simply cannot afford to go to counseling for my issues, and programs that deal with food addiction are hard to come by or outside of my geographic area. It almost seems like a stigma to call over-eating an "addiction". I need a recovery program. I need psychological help...
But I just can't get it. So I keep eating...
And I never know if this time around, it will be the time where my willpower shreds forever, and I just eat myself into an early grave. You see all the health articles and the warnings about this kind of lifestyle... I see it, I'm not blind. I understand it. I'm a pretty smart girl, definitely not ignorant. And yet I can't stop.
This -is- an addiction, to a dictionary-definition. And people suffering need support offered to them by the healthcare and mental health fields, by the government, by -someone-. Some way we can get real help for our issues, because this isn't just the problem of one or two people.
This is on its way to being -epidemic-. Are we going to wait until it's too late?
If anything becomes the downfall of modern society on a substance-scale, it won't be pot, it won't be drugs or alcohol, it will be food. I wish in some ways junk food (food of a certain percentage of sugars or fats or what have you) would be made illegal, so at least I would have that as a motivation to stop.
What's worse? People think it should be so easy to stop. People look down on food addicts and overweight people, and they shake fingers at us, as if we should know better.
Don't they understand? We do know better. We just can't stop.