I don’t think I fit the stereoypical vision of a food addict. What does a food addict look like, anyway? Does she look like a fairly well-groomed corporate business woman with a Bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Sciences? Does she have maybe 30 pounds to lose, but doesn’t know where to begin? Is she a mother, wife, grandmother? Is she somebody’s teacher? Or is the typical food addict a guy who goes to the gym every day and works out? You probably can’t even tell on the outside when you look at a food addict that they have a problem. A person doesn’t have to be morbidly obese to qualify as a food addict. A person doesn’t have to “be” anything to be a food addict. I’m going to tell you a little story about the dark side of having food addiction.
A few years ago, I realized I was unhealthy. In fact, I was so unhealthy, I figured I wouldn’t live a very good life if I didn’t make some drastic changes. I had chronic pain and fatigue, constant swelling in my ankles (so much in fact, that people sometimes asked me if I had heart problems). I was about 30 pounds overweight, and would get so out of breath when I walked that I couldn’t even make it up a flight of steps without being winded. I constantly worried about having to walk in public with my co workers. I nearly ruined our beach vacation one year because I couldn’t even drag myself out of bed in the morning, or walk the boardwalk or walk in the sand on the beach. It was so embarassing. I was only 44 when I realized that something really had to change in my life. So, I signed up for a weight loss program at a local fitness studio. I was so afraid to work out I almost didn’t go. I was afraid I was going to die – literally. But I worked out, and I worked out some more until I realized I wasn’t going to die. I realized that I actually loved it. I changed some of my eating habits, but there was one thing I just couldn’t give up. And I didn’t know at the time that I was suffering from a major food addiction.
I remember so clearly submitting my food log to the girls at the studio, slightly disappointed that I hadn’t lost much weight – again. After all, I was following the meal plan and exercising like crazy. One morning, my trainer said to me, “The only thing I can really see that doesn’t really work here is your snack. You eat chow mein noodles every day. These have trans fats in them. Why don’t you try some low fat pretzels instead?” I could feel the shame and anger welling up within me and I told her I was not giving up my chow mein noodles. I followed the plan and ate right. How could little chow mein noodles be the cause of my problem?! Truth be told, I ate those noodles a lot more than I documented in my food log, and I also ate a much larger serving than I documented. In fact, I was so crazy for them that I would decline any meeting at work that fell within the two o’clock hour because that is when I would go to the cafeteria to get my noodle fix. I would take a styrofoam cup from the cafeteria and fill it to overflowing with the delicious little morsels, weigh the cup (because it came from the salad bar) and retreat to my office to enjoy my ritualistic snack. I also bought 4 bags of chow mein noodles at the grocery store every week to supply my morning (before work) and evening snacking needs. Sometimes I would eat half a bag for lunch. Hard to believe that something so seemingly harmless could have had such a devastating effect on my health.
One day, I decided that perhaps the chow mein noodles really were causing a problem. I realized that when there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be able to have chow mein noodles, I would develop the symptoms of a panic attack, and I realized that I had a food addiction. It was really hard to give up those noodles. I started taking my lunch to work just so I could avoid the cafeteria, and I stopped buying bags of chow mein at the store. I even switched the grocery store where I shopped so I could avoid seeing them on the shelf. After a couple of weeks, the cravings went away. I started feeling much better. And guess what? My energy levels came back, my ankles quit swelling, and I lost several more pounds. Hard to imagine that all my health issues were caused by an unhealthy food habit.
Next time someone talks about a food addiction, it would be a good idea to take it seriously. This was really similar to a drug addiction. I battled with smoking for years, and I can tell you that giving up my daily snack was just as difficult, if not more so, than giving up cigarettes. I don’t think I fit the stereotype of a food addict, and I bet a lot of the food addicts you might know wouldn’t either. I do know that if I hadn’t changed my diet when I did, my health would have continued to decline to the point where I may not have been able to get it back. It’s been a couple years since I gave up eating chow mein noodles, and I am now very aware of everything that I put into my body. I realize that there is still a very good potential for me to develop some other type of food addiction. I avoid getting into a rut with snacking and when I feel an emotional food craving, I generally ignore it until it passes. I can tell the difference between an emotional craving and a nutritional craving, but it has taken me a long time to learn that skill. If you feel like you have some type of food addiction, ask for help. It’s really hard to beat it on your own, and so much better when you know you have someone in your corner. This is part of the reason I went into health coaching. I know that it is possible to make a difference! Don’t suffer in silence!