Stress Eating and Self-Loathing
Yesterday was a bad day. Work was crazy, it was raining when I got up and I spent all night tossing and turning. The first thing I did upon leaving the house was going to Tim Hortons to get my medium French Vanilla. I bought the drink knowing that an hour later I would feel nauseous and bloated and generally like crap. But I got it anyway. I showed up at work and the morning flew by. There were lots of crises and a lot of individuals who I felt unable to help in a way that was meaningful. Lunch rolls around and instead of grabbing something healthy, I pop through a drive through and get some junk. An hour later, my stomach is grumbling, I feel fatigued and have been to the bathroom twice so far. And yet, I knew that when I bought it and ate it sitting at my desk. The rest of the afternoon passes in a blur and I am on my way home. Husband has cooked me an amazing supper. Homemade stew with lots of fresh vegetables. It was delicious and for the first time of the day, I did not feel gross after. As the evening goes on, my mind starts racing over all the things that are stressing me out. The huge number of tasks I have to get done tomorrow feels overwhelming. Now, instead of going to my office and doing some writing, reading or other relaxation techniques I know are good for me, I grab a bag of candy. I snack on this candy until it is gone and binge watch three episodes of a show on Netflix before crawling into bed. Twenty minutes later I have to get up to go to the bathroom and grab some Tums before having another night tossing and turning with pains in my belly.
In the past, I would never have described myself as an addict. I rarely drink, I have never smoked and I have never even tried drugs. Like none. And yes, I am married to a recovered alcoholic and addict. And yes, I grew up in a rural community where Saturday nights consisted of drinking and smoking weed. However, none of that really appealed to me. I am a problematic control freak and the few times I have found myself intoxicated; I did not like it. I did not like the feeling of being out of control and have never really gravitated towards those substances. I struggle to understand the appeal to the people who do.
However, I will fully admit that I gravitate towards food and the problems that it creates for me. When you look at that first paragraph, I find myself describing someone who has a problem with a substance. I continue to use this substance, in this case unhealthy food, as a way to cope with my feelings. I continue to use it knowing that it is going to make me feel unwell after. And I continue to use it knowing that it will have negative impacts on my physical health, overall mood and sense of self. I continue to use it even when my thoughts and my body are telling me that I shouldn’t and that I will regret it later. Let alone the expense of eating out all the time. However, I continue to do so. Typical addictive behaviour. Continuing to use a substance even when it is causing a negative impact on your day-to-day life.
I have Irritable Bowel System. It is literally and figuratively shitty. When I eat well and cut out specific things, it is quite manageable. When I don’t, or am extremely stressed, I spend the majority of my time feeling significantly unwell. I bloat so much that at times my pants are uncomfortable and I look five months pregnant. And yet, going for that French Vanilla or eating that piece of cheesecake is my go-to response to stress, happiness or boredom. I eat knowing that not only will I be physically sick after, but I will feel emotionally sick as well. I will feel fat and gross as my body reacts to the bad food and I will feel sad and frustrated that none of my clothes fit. Yet, I keep eating bad food. I keep using food as both a tool to cope and a tool to distract from the things that are upsetting me in life.
So, What Can I Do?
Well, that is the hard part. Like any substance use problem, I know what I need to do; it is the doing it that’s the problem. I can decide I am going to eat healthy. I will spend a Sunday afternoon meal prepping and Husband will cook me breakfast as I go out the door. I will tell the girls that I work with to keep me in line. I will remind myself on the daily that I do not need that French Vanilla or that my belly not being bloated is a feeling that is nice. I will be able to do this for a few days, a few weeks and if feeling quite ambitious, even a month. Then, I will fall off the wagon as they say. I will run through a drive through on my way home and find myself then spending the next few days out of sync. One misstep and I am right back into my active addiction.
Now, in saying all of this, I am definitely in a better place that most people who struggle with addictions. The judgement and attitude towards food addiction is not even CLOSE to what addicts of other substances experience. I am not met with stigma or ridicule or judged every time I go somewhere for medical reasons. I am not assumed to be a thief or a bad person or untrustworthy. Instead of distain or judgement, I find myself met with empathy and compassion as “eating healthy is hard” or “that sucks that your IBS is acting up.” No one seems to consider that about 80% of it is self-inflicted. I am also fortunate that although my addiction does cause me health problems, I am not in dire or fatal risk because of my behaviours. And I am fortunate that I have other options. I have a whole literal buffet of harm reduction options in front of me when I feel myself craving that bad food or needing my next fix.
I will fully admit that my food addiction may not be as overpowering and life impacting as other people who use substances, but I will also admit that the way I treat myself in my addiction can be just as problematic. Like other addicts, I need to be kinder to myself. I need to realize that the first step is admitting I have a problem. The next step is to be understanding that slips are going to happen and that doesn’t mean you throw away all the progress you have made. And finally, it is important to remember that in order for me to begin to love myself, I need to start respecting myself as well. Respecting the promises that I make to myself and respecting my ability to follow through on the things that are good for me.
So, in saying all of that. I would admit that I have an addiction to food. Yet, I also would like, and would recommend to all who read this, that we need to consider how we speak and judge all addictions. It is just as easy to say, “staying sober is hard” and “that sucks that you are not feeling well” to someone who is addicted to Alcohol, Heroine or Meth as it is to someone who is addicted to food. Maybe we need to consider that all addicts, all people really, are deserving and worthy of being treated with respect and dignity regardless of their life choices… including how I treat myself.
“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. “– Ralph Waldo Emerson