A relationship with food

2009 October 12
tags: ,
by Stace

As I’ve said before, I’m not crazy about the phrase, “I need to change my relationship with food.” No surprise, since I generally dislike all pop-psych-inspired catchy lines. But that’s a different problem altogether.

The problem at the moment is how to stop eating too much and to learn to enjoy better choices when eating. So, an attempt to address the relationship with food situation is most definitely in order.

I am supposing that before I can begin to find a solution, I must answer the question, “What the hell does ‘changing my relationship with food’ even mean?”

I presume the phrase means finding out what causes one to overeat, to make the wrong food choices, to fail at diets, etc. I basically already know what makes me overeat, choose the wrong foods and fail at diets.

I eat when I’m bored, excited, sad, happy, mad, relaxed, frustrated, chilled, alone, in groups … you see the point. I eat. And I can eat a lot. I always have.

When I was 13 and had four teeth pulled because I was getting braces, I had to be put under for the extraction. I had to fast before the procedure, and when the assistant asked me how I was feeling before they put me under, I answered, “Hungry.” She laughed and said everyone says that, but that after they wake up, they aren’t hungry anymore. After my teeth had been pulled and I was gently woken up, the assistant asked how I felt. Through a mouthful of gauze and cotton, I croaked, “Hungry.”

When I’m not eating, I think about what I’m going to eat next. When I heard that men think about sex X times per minute every day (can’t remember how many times, but it was plenty, and I know you’ve all heard it at some point), I snorted and thought how ridiculous it was to be thinking of sex that much. However, if I really sat down and put numbers to the thoughts of food which flit through my head every day, I could probably approach the man/sex figures.

So why do I overeat and why, when I’m not overeating and am already full, am I thinking about my next meal? Unanswerable. There’s a massive amount of research on this subject, and the results are ridiculously complicated and often conflicting. There are plenty of theories, scientific and otherwise. These range from strictly physiological to strictly psychological to any conceivable combination of the two.

I don’t know if it’s all genes, body chemistry or childhood trauma (not that I have much of that) or habit. I think it’s likely a stew of many ingredients, a huge kitchen sink affair. Gads, a food metaphor. Figures.

What I think, after a lifetime of overeating, and reading about it, is this –

The more I eat, the more I will continue to eat. As my stomach stretches larger from bigger meals, the “you’re full” signals are delayed even longer from being sent to my brain. Eating until I am stuffed full only leads to larger and larger meals. Therefore, I must be relentless, while dieting in particular, that I stop eating before I feel really full.

The more rich foods I eat, the more satisfaction I receive. Happy chemicals are released in my brain as I eat fatty and sweet foods. I like being happy. So, if I feel happy from one bite of a Snickers bar, how much happier will I feel if I eat the whole thing, or better yet, eat the giant sized Snickers? Much happier, of course. The next time I eat, I will naturally choose those foods that give me the happy buzz I’m seeking.

Do I need a happy buzz because my life is miserable or because I was abused when I was a kid? This might be true for some people, but it’s not for me. In general, my life is not miserable, and I was not abused as a child (well, unless you count abuse by other children who taunted me about being fat, but I don’t count it). Most days, I consider myself an extremely lucky individual.

I do eat more, and worse, than usual when I’m being run too hard and not getting much sleep. But this only accounts for a small amount of excess in regards to the larger picture of everyday eating.

I have read in articles how you should stop using food to comfort yourself, or console yourself or alleviate boredom or celebrate a promotion, in other words to get that happy buzz. They recommend substituting things and say, “instead of eating a Ding Dong, take a long walk; avoid that double cheeseburger by treating yourself to a pedicure; and reward yourself with that CD you’ve been wanting rather than swilling down the Ben and Jerry’s.”

Are you kidding me? These are your damned solutions? If I got the same buzz from a long walk as I do from a Double Whopper with cheese, I wouldn’t be fat to begin with.

Case in point — I used to work with a gal who was very thin and fit. Naturally, I admired her for this. She worked out at the gym and on her farm at home, a lot. I marveled at her amazing self will. One day she was telling me about her grueling spinning class, and I just kind of shook my head and told her that I couldn’t do that, and that I didn’t know how she did it. She looked at me in more than a bit of befuddlement and said, “But I like it. I always have. It’s fun.”

Maybe I should be kicked for having missed the obvious for so many years. That gal actually enjoyed working out, sweating, hurting, expending all that physical effort! She liked it just as damned much as I liked eating a large meat lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut. It made her happy. Gave her the buzz.

I still liked that gal after that, but I no longer gave her credit for amazing self will. She was just doing what she liked and what made her happy. Same thing I was doing. With different results, sure, but the urges came from basically the same place.

I think that we all have some differences in what we enjoy, and even love, but that the desire to get those things is universal. In many instances, our very bodies conspire with that need on a molecular level to ensure it gets what it wants. I have cursed fate that one my great loves is food. Why couldn’t it have been motorcycle riding? Or hiking in nature? Or a love of wealth and power? What addict of anything which isn’t good for them cannot ask this question?

People who are fat are accused of having no willpower. They say this breezily, like it’s no big deal to have willpower over food. But they can only say it that way because they themselves have no real problems with food. My response to their breeziness would be, what in your life, that you desperately wanted and thought about most of your waking day, have you been able to deny yourself for long? Particularly when all it takes is a trip to a store and a few bucks to get it. If they were honest, most would answer “nothing.”

Alcoholics and drug addicts have addictions which are similar in nature, and hugely physiological. To overcome these addictions takes an incredible amount of willpower. I admire those who manage it.

As many have said before me, I cannot just stop eating (not that I’m sure it matters much). I know what foods I should and shouldn’t eat, after all. Rich, fatty food gives me a happy buzz while it lasts, and there’s no simple substitute for that. Exercise sure as hell isn’t it for me. I’ve never liked it and never will. And pedicures? Someone needs a big slap upside the head.

I don’t think I’ll ever find a substitute for the happy food buzz. I think I’m going to have to learn to live without it as much as possible. I think this will be about denial, and self will. How much do I want to be thinner and healthier? How much do I want to beat diabetes and its complications? How much can I deny myself to get something else that I want, but which gives me no feelings of happiness in the present? My friend got so overweight to go to myorthoselect.com to get a splint, although they were great splints I don’t want to be in a similar situation.

My relationship with food is that food makes me happy and therefore I eat it. I like feeling happy, even if it means that later I’ll be very sorry about it. It’s a compulsion. It can’t be changed or substituted (not for me, anyway). It has to be, therefore, controlled. By me alone.

I have to grit my teeth and learn to live without it as much as I possibly can. I have to face the fact of self denial, and I have to face it every day. When I’m dreaming of food on a long stretch of I-80, I have to try to stop myself, because even the dreams of food can give me the buzz, which fuels the compulsion and leads to more breakdowns in self will.

I’m thinking that for me, my weight may be the result of multiple causes, but the solution to my weight problem lies in willpower. And I most certainly do not say this breezily. I don’t know if I can do this. All I can do is try my damnedest. When the will slips, forgive myself, then bring it back in line as soon as I can. Take my time. Practice patience. Let it be a long, slow process if that what it takes.

And let every pill I put in my mouth be an inspiration to bend myself, for one more day, to the power of my personal will.

Let’s say, a year or two from now, I have managed to lose enough weight to satisfy me for a while. How do I keep that weight off? It always comes back, and then some. And since I’m sure I’m not going to learn to love eating nothing but unseasoned vegetables and tiny amounts of meat for the rest of my life, the battle will not be over by a long shot. I have some concrete answers for this problem, based on past experience. I’ll save those for another post.

In the meanwhile, I’m going to try to re-commit myself to this diet. It’s been four and a half months now, and I’ve been seriously feeling weak in regards to will. I may not be able to change my relationship with food, but I can sure as hell try to keep it from ruining my life. It’s had its way with me enough already.

11 Responses
  1. 2009 October 12

    A friend summed up her relationship with food thus: “I’ve never met a calorie I didn’t like”. Her comment, and your post, make me think that sometimes, food is like an old friend who really isn’t very good for you any more. Good luck with moving on!

    • 2009 October 15

      Yep, I think that fits. Or like an ex-spouse who was really great in bed, but is otherwise a complete bitch/asshole, and who you’ve still got to see a lot of because you went and had kids with them. It might be tempting to hop into the sack for a quick roll, but the consequences are hideous. Yeah, something like that.

  2. 2009 October 12

    Well, you know my story….I later came to realize that food had a numbing effect on me. That feeling of fullness could drown out every negative feeling I was having. So i went for that numbness, day in, day out.

    On the other side of my weight loss, I’ve come to realize that I was experiencing addiction. Because food doesn’t cause slurred words and you can safely drive after you eat, it’s not seen as an addiction. For some, it’s not. For me, it was.

    • 2009 October 15

      I think it’s interesting, the different needs that food can fulfill. You read my needs above, and yours are different, as are Hedon’s. Hedon is mostly a mindless eater, which I can’t think of another way to describe. She can get up in the middle of the night and eat half a cake, while still being mostly asleep. Then, another time she might forget to eat for a crazy long time. Interesting, huh?

      • 2009 October 15

        Cake calls to me. It whispers louder and louder until it wakes me up.

        How am I supposed to fight the power of cake when I’m mostly asleep? You know how groggy and brain-dead I am when I first wake up.

        • 2009 October 16

          Yes, I know you are just a plaything in the hands of the power of cake. And pie. Don’t forget the pie.

  3. 2009 October 12

    Hmm. I was talking to my youngest sister about this very subject earlier this afternoon. My question was …why do I crave fast food even though I’m sick of it (mostly). She kicked her fast food habit by taking flax seed oil and fish oil pills and she thinks I may have the same cravings for natural fats that she had, thus the flax and fish stuff should curb it. I dunno but I’ll try it.

    I don’t smoke …I don’t drink …but I can’t stay away from Diet Coke AND seem to find an excuse to eat at least one cheeseburger/with fries or 2 Jack in the Box tacos/with chocolate cake at least every other day …most of the times it’s every day.

    I ignore the good food at home just like my arms have been cut off and I can’t cook for myself – then make a trip through a drive thru. I love vegetables but am hardly getting any. So … I can identify with your situation. How do we control it?

    Well … I’m thinking about keeping track of all the vegetables and fruits that I should be eating, and if I do a good job, stuffing those nutritious things down my throat … there might not be much room for too many fast food “treats” or any high calorie, super fat filled home mess ups. And hopefully after days and days of eating enough vegetables and fruits, plus enough protein, I am hoping that my body will start craving and embracing this. Because I’m not going to starve if I can eat/graze on unlimited veggies with occasional bits of cheeseburger if I must have it… would love to get it down to once a week. My ultimate dream is to eat only what I fix at home, letting a salami and peppercheese sub be my new slumming when I crave fastfood.

    Thanks for sharing your story … it was very insightful. I wish you the best on this journey.

    • 2009 October 15

      Sounds like a good plan to me. It’s great that you love the veggies. Just hate cooking, maybe? Me, I don’t mind cooking — it’s the cleaning up afterward that I hate! :-)

      Best wishes to you, too. I think the main thing is that we haven’t given up. I’ve done that before, and I’m swearing to myself I won’t do it again.

  4. 2009 October 13
    Anonymous permalink

    I’m stocky, wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t. It’s a shape that fits well with my self-image. But, every now and then, when life gets disorganised or stressful, I get a little “absent-minded” about my fuel intake. I LOVE food too. I don’t necessarily think about it more than sex, but, its easier to buy for a moderate amount of money! So, from time to time I find the pounds creeping up from my happy ‘thickset’ to a ‘continue this way and you are not going to be able to touch your toes in 6 months time’ (I hasten to add this is an abstract concern as I have very little desire to touch my toes).

    My own solution is a little different in approach to yours. I quit the animal products and then wallow in food. I cook, I plan, I seek out recipes. My lips smack, my toes curl and I rub my belly! I spend the mornings of days off pottering in the kitchen with the pans, I try new vegan recipes, dine out healthily and completely indulge my need to ponder food 24/7. Imaginative, delicious food (no I don’t want eat freaking salad every meal) Chilis, burgers, curries, casseroles, etc. that make me feel nurtured and full.

    The pounds gradually settle back down to where the belt’s on the right hole. I guess I don’t want to deprive myself of a relationship with food that is very important too me and that helps me experience a good deal of pleasure and well-being. Oh, then I’ve also got the joy of tasting my first bacon in months, HEAVEN! :)

  5. 2009 October 13

    Sorry, the last comment was me. I forgot to fill the boxes in and I hate being ‘Anonymous’ – sounds like you’re being sneaky!

    • 2009 October 15

      Little desire to touch your toes, eh? LOL.

      Sounds like you have a great solution for yourself there. Giving up meat? And enjoying it? You must be a damned fine cook, because I simply can’t imagine such a thing. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that bacon is almost the best food ever. Just behind a well-charred rib steak, and possibly red beans and rice.

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