I used to say before I started this journey that if you put me in a coma after 6pm, I’d be a rail. I remember hearing stories about Elizabeth Taylor actually being put into a coma as a means of weight loss. And maybe one of the Gabor sisters. I don’t know whether it was true, because let’s face it, desperation plus money often leads to some crazy scenarios. But I digress. I can say coma is one weight loss solution I’ve never tried.
Through all of the ups and downs over the years, I rarely had a problem with overeating during the day. I didn’t always eat the healthiest diet, but I was never one to indulge in a binge while the sun was up. In fact, as an adult, I would often skip breakfast and sometimes even lunch. Come sundown, I was ready for the Festival of Carbs. I would be so hungry and tired, I imagine my body was craving the exact thing that would produce immediate fuel, and carbs fit the bill. Coming home from work, tired, cranky, and ready to plop on the couch for a night of snacking, I reached for the easiest and fastest solution. I was a food vampire, stalking my prey in the form of multiple trips to the refrigerator.
Late at night, the house is quiet. The email train slows. No one needs anything from me. I’m a night owl, and there has always been something about the quiet. Some of that is probably the memory of getting to stay up late as a kid. It was a privilege. Late at night it was just me, myself, and ice cream, or cheese or popcorn, or leftovers from dinner.
I have many journal entries questioning this behavior, reciting over and over my sheer frustration and desperation around trying to understand this phenomenon. Why couldn’t I control my eating at night? Even now, when I’ve had a slip, almost every one of them has been after 9pm. I no longer dive deep into the stuff I used to have, and most of the time it’s still sugar and flour free, but it’s still a slip. The good news is it happens rarely. But the memory of those old habits is still lurking beneath the surface. This is an area that is not bulletproof. It’s definitely my weak spot. The evening is when I have to be much more vigilant around staying within the lines.
Inevitably, all binges lead to self-recrimination. The flogging of psyche happens almost immediately afterwards. I don’t ever remember thinking, “Gee, I’m so glad I did that.” When I was younger, the promise of food taking me to a place of comfort never came to fruition. And yet, I kept doing it. I built a wall between me and the world with my bowl of ice cream or the multiple popsicles and cookies I secretly consumed. It was my dirty little secret, my way of proving I had control. I’ll show them. Most times, the biggest trigger was anger. I was angry at the world for it not going my way. I was angry at the kids who called me fat. I was angry that I didn’t feel successful or attractive. Later on, it was anger over an opportunity missed, or my boss, or my boyfriend. This is something I’ve only recently recognized: Most of my binges were triggered by anger. And when I boiled it down even further, that anger was really fear.
I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid I couldn’t possibly achieve all that I dreamed about. I was afraid I wouldn’t get all of the things in life that others got. I was afraid I wasn’t in control of anything. And my solution was the thing that proved it to be true: The Binge. I WAS out of control. I wasn’t able to follow through. My anger at not being in control actually led to me being out of control around food. What I didn’t know was those cravings and that insatiable need to keep eating was also a chemical addiction. I wanted to escape the bad feelings, and the way I sought to do that was by chasing the food coma, chasing the dopamine flood in my brain. The aftermath was never one of good feelings in the end. The world stayed the same. And yet, those late night dances with the refrigerator continued for years to come.
In the quiet of night I was alone with my thoughts. In the darkness, the demons of a day gone bad came forward. I battled them in a way that in the moment seemed like the only solution toward escape. Why continue it? I never knew. It wasn’t until I really looked at the chemical side of the equation that I began to make sense of it all. Alcoholics keep drinking even when things are falling apart all around them. Addiction causes many to lose their families, their homes and their bank accounts. The rational mind looks at those situations in disbelief. Why would someone be so self-destructive? Why wouldn’t one change their behavior when the behavior was so clearly damaging them and everyone and everything they loved? Why couldn’t I stop the late night eating when it was so clearly not what I said I wanted in my life? The whys just kept coming all the way to 235 pounds.
Removing some of the cravings helped. Learning that my binges were in large part due to brain chemistry helped me to change some of those behaviors. But recovery isn’t a magic bullet. Recovery isn’t an overnight shift toward fixing all of it. The shadows remain, the skeletons of memory are still in there somewhere. The good news is there are solutions. Narrowing down the times when I’m most vulnerable has helped me to more gently shift my behavior in those moments. With practice, they have become less and less of an issue.
I personally don’t think of myself as a food addict. The term feels so wrong simply because we are all addicted to food. We need food to live. But I was addicted to very specific ingredients in food: Sugar and flour. For me, that is a powerful distinction. When I don’t eat those foods, I don’t fall so far down the rabbit hole. When I keep those foods off my list, there are fewer slips on my way to releasing the weight.
Most nights, I respect the black and white rules. And there are a few things that are consistently working to help me get there.
- Distraction. Distraction is the number one solution for me. If I spend too much time thinking about it with idle hands, I may slip. So I find other things to do besides just blobbing out in front of the tv. And if I do watch tv, I’m usually doing something else.
- Connection. I connect with my tribe, the A-Team. When I’m tempted to eat something, I remember that putting it out there does help to reinforce the positive stuff. It is a reminder that I am not alone in this. I made a vow to be public in my journey, so wherever my journey takes me, I have to tell the truth about it. My A-Team is a sanctuary where 24/7 I can post. I can put it out there. I can share what’s going on. I can be honest without feeling judged. I can bring the Dark & Twisty out into the light and release it, rendering it much less powerful.
- Hydration. It sounds trite to say “just drink water,” but drinking sparkling water has been a really solid tool for me. Sometimes I have a warm cup of herbal tea. Quite often hunger isn’t hunger, it’s thirst.
- Just Go To Bed. Sometimes just getting up off of the couch and going to bed is the solution. When I’m tired, I’m vulnerable to my body’s need to have more energy. So I make a deal with myself. I decide when I will head to bed, and then, whether I’m ready or not, I go.
- Forward Thinking. When I think about having ‘a little something,’ I play the scene out in my mind without heading to the refrigerator. I imagine how I will feel after I’ve eaten whatever food I’m thinking about. I remind myself of the zillion aftermaths. Food doesn’t fix anything. In fact the negative stuff comes back with a vengeance each and every time.
- The Visual. I have lots of pictures of the “Before” me. I troll through them sometimes, and look at progress photos. Do I really want to go back there? Late night eating is what made that “Before” me. Seeing that Me is a powerful reminder that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is truly the definition of insanity. If I want a different outcome, I have to stick with behavior that supports a different outcome.
- Acceptance. I accept that sometimes it sucks not being able to have those fantasy foods. The deeper I go into this journey the less I really have many of those fantasy foods. I recognize that this is one thing life gave me to reckon with. I’m susceptible to the effects of sugar and flour. And I probably always will be. Everyone has something. On the scale of crosses to bear, this ranks pretty low when I think about it.
Do all of these things work 100% of the time? No. But like anything, it’s about practice. And if I do slip, I no longer spend much time beating the crap out of myself (see above, definition of insanity). I reset. I move forward, knowing this journey is the sum of its parts, not that one transgression.