Thursday, February 20, 2014

Coming into the light: I'm a binge-eater. How about you?

So last night, I was lamenting to Kevin that I had eaten an entire (huge) bowl of popcorn earlier in the day. Yes, it was air-popped, I told him … but still, I certainly hadn’t needed the entire bowl.

“So next time, don’t eat the whole bowl,” he responded. “Just eat a little bit.”

Oh, OK, Kev! Thanks! Why didn’t I think of that?


Last year, I lost 65 pounds. Since November, I’ve been working on maintaining my new weight. According to the scale, all is well. But this process is difficult.

Food and I have a relationship fraught with unease. I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life, dating back to fifth grade, when I weighed in at 140 pounds (my current “small” weight, oddly enough) and my pediatrician encouraged me to stop eating Hostess Suzi’Qs and get more exercise (what!?). As much as I wanted to be smaller, I wasn’t willing to do the work, and with few exceptions (growth spurts, mostly), I remained heavier than most.

I tended to carry my weight pretty well, so few people guessed I was as heavy as I was, but when I showed up at Weight Watchers last March, I tipped the scales at 206.4 pounds on a 5’4” frame. I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and I was facing the prospect of my third joint replacement. (My family has small bones, and mine – and my joints, surely – were struggling to carry all that poundage.)

So I put my nose to the grindstone and lost the weight; I’m competitive, so losing it really wasn’t hard. The goal was to see the number decrease every week, and if you give me a goal, I’ll reach it; I ate healthy food, exercised, and relied on the support of my Weight Watchers group and leader and my family, and the weight fell off. I’m not kidding; it was really that easy. I was ready. I was 50 years old and was happy to be 50, but I wasn’t willing to be 50, matronly and invisible. So I made a change, and for a while, I was on top of the world.

But now … now is just really hard.

You’d think it wouldn’t be. I’ve gone from a size 16-18 to an 8-10; I’ve never been this fit, at least not since I can remember. I run at least 21 miles a week. I have leg muscles. I lift weights. I feel great.  I’ve changed the way I look at many foods; healthy foods fuel me and allow me to do what I want and need to do.


Food also calls to me from the pantry. The Oreos call most often, followed by the Jif peanut butter. I’m not the only person who lives in my house, so all our food is not “clean”; my husband and stepson shouldn’t have to get rid of their treats simply because the foods are problematic for me. And truly, they weren’t a problem while I was losing the weight. But now, at my goal, as a “Lifetime” Weight Watchers member, I have to fight the urge to stand in the pantry and stuff cookies in my mouth.

What the heck?

If there’s one thing I believe about weight loss and weight control, it’s that we have to change our behaviors around food; to do that, we have to understand why we eat the way we do. Like many people, I eat for comfort, and I eat out of boredom. When I’m happy, I want to eat; when I’m sad, I want to eat more. And I want sugar, and I want carbs; I want soft, sweet deliciousness.

I could get overly philosophical about this; I lost my mom when I was 4, so maybe I’m trying to fill a hole. Maybe I’m eating to ease pain and regret from a failed first marriage and its aftermath, or maybe I’m trying to avoid dealing with the fact even though I’m quite a ways into midlife, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

But, whatever. Just whatever. We all have pain; we all have regrets and problems and gaping emotional holes. I don’t believe in crutches; we live what we live, we experience what we experience, and it’s up to us to learn and move on.

My underlying issue is this: For whatever reason, I feel a degree of shame around eating; I see “bad” food and become that fifth-grade girl who wants to eat it, but knows she shouldn’t because she wants to be cute and tiny like her friends. So I have to fight the demon-on-my-shoulder thought process that tells me, “If no one sees you eat it, or if you eat it really, really fast, it doesn’t count.” 

Ergo, I’m hiding in the pantry eating cookies, or I’m shoveling popcorn in my mouth at warp speed. Fortunately, I’ve never been anorexic or bulimic, but I get why some people are; I binge, but I don’t purge; I just allow my food issues to make me feel guilty and awful for a while.

“This chick needs therapy,” you’re saying. Truly, I love therapy, and I think we all need to take advantage of opportunities to work out the kinks. But I’ve been there, done that, and I know what I need to do. So I’m writing about it, because that helps me. I’m also learning to help others lose weight in the form of training to be a Weight Watchers leader; although I’m not “cured,” no one is, and I’m pretty good at finding the compassion for others that I wish I could show myself. Helping people who are trying to lose weight also helps me eat less and view good, “clean” foods more positively.

My personality is obsessive but not addictive; I’ve never dealt with alcohol or drug dependency. But like people who are addicted to those substances, I subscribe to a “one day at a time” philosophy. I can’t tell you I won’t eat an Oreo today, but I can tell you I’ll run at least 3.5 miles, do at least three sets of weights, drink a gallon of water, and try my darnedest to eat foods that are good for me. Unlike many people, I can’t eat just one cookie or one piece of pizza; I wish I could, but it’s not in my makeup.  So I use the tools I’ve been given in the last year to work around my cravings.

“I’m a work in progress” is a overused phrase, but it resonates with me. What also resonates is this: the need to love myself as much as I love so many other people, as cheesy as that sounds. It’s hard, but I’ll get there. In the meantime, if you find me in the pantry every now and again, pull me out, into the light. That’s what I’m trying to do here … maybe bring someone else into the light, and tell her it’s OK to struggle this way. If that’s you, I’d love to hear how you’ve made positive changes.


  1. Love this. And as you know, I completely identify with everything here. it's such a struggle.

  2. Monica, thanks for giving me the incentive yesterday to write about this!