I used to think food was my enemy. When anyone would talk about enjoying a meal, I couldn’t relate. How could they refer to food in a positive manner? Food was bad, right? Food was the enemy that I battled day in and day out. It was responsible for my weight problem.
Even when I wasn’t fat, I thought I was fat. I would look in a mirror and see an overweight person. I felt ashamed, embarrassed and overwhelmed by my latest binge. Ironically, now when I view photos from certain periods of my past, I realize my weight was perfectly normal, and I didn’t look fat at all.
The condition is called body image dysmorphia. For me, as for many—especially girls and women—body image dysmorphia often results in one of several eating disorders, primarily anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or compulsive over-eating.
For most of my life, I’ve been a compulsive overeater. Always hungry, always thinking about food, I often indulged in binge eating, especially during stressful times. While I craved sugary or starchy foods, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop until I felt like I might explode. While I was binging, food provided comfort, but afterward I felt ashamed and worthless. It was a vicious cycle which had something to do with the addictive property of sucrose, but more with unaddressed emotional issues.
If I had an event coming up for which I wanted desperately to appear slim or to fit into a certain outfit, I would engage in a starvation diet, losing from two to five pounds, depending on how many days I gave myself to prepare. During this time of fasting, all I could think about was how hungry I was and how deprived I felt. My blood-sugar would plummet, my head would pound, and I felt like I might pass out.
I yo-yo dieted throughout young adulthood and middle age, trying to keep my weight where I thought it should be. I exercised faithfully, but my weight continued to creep higher and higher. Honestly, I thought it was hopeless. I couldn’t see my way out of a condition that controlled me all day, every day. For me, food, particularly sugar, was an addiction as powerful as alcohol for an alcoholic or cocaine for a drug addict. The problem with food addiction is that you can’t simply stop eating.
Finally, at the ripe old age of seventy, my eating is under control. I feel okay about my body image, and I have no urge to binge. So, how did I finally achieve a healthy relationship with food? First, I addressed the unresolved emotional issues from childhood through journaling. By consciously recognizing my binging triggers, I gave myself permission to feel and express anxiety, fear, anger, disappointment, frustration and regret. In childhood, I was not allowed to feel negative emotions. Authenticity was discouraged, even ridiculed, by the adults in my life. Not that my situation was unique. I grew up during a time when emotional repression was the norm.
For years, I heeded the messages about eating a low-fat, “lite” diet to be healthy and slim. Recognizing I was addicted to sugar, I tried more than once to purge it from my system, but I loved dessert. I’d stay on a sugar-free diet for six months or so, replacing sucrose with unhealthy substitutes so I could get my dessert-fix. Then, like an alcoholic, I’d fall off the wagon and end up binging on sweets, feeling terrible, and gaining weight. The uncontrollable binge eating would return, and again it seemed like food was my enemy.
Nothing changed until I started eating more fat. That’s right, more fat! Without mentioning a specific program, let me say that embracing fat has changed my life for the better. Fat fills me up, so I don’t feel hungry ten minutes after a meal. Because my cholesterol had always been high, I became concerned about raising it further. I wondered if I was doing more harm than good by increasing my fat intake. But eating more fat is what helped me finally give up sugar forever. The good news is I’ve lost sixteen pounds, and my cholesterol and blood glucose levels are the lowest they’ve ever been.
I limit simple carbohydrates like bread and cereal. But, honestly—and I can’t believe I’m saying this—I don’t miss them or sugar. I’ve found a recipe for delicious waffles made from almond flour that I eat twice a week. I allow myself pizza once a week and enjoy a glass of Prosecco every evening. I smother my waffles and pancakes with real butter and all-fruit jam. I snack on nuts or cheese or veggies with dip. I enjoy chocolate milkshakes made from frozen bananas, whole milk yogurt and cocoa sweetened with stevia. I eat real bacon and eggs once or twice a week, and best of all, I haven’t binged in ten months.
Food is no longer my enemy. Instead, I embrace it, enjoy it, and eat without shame. How liberating! Cindy L. Freeman is the author of two award-winning short stories and three published novels: Unrevealed, The Dark Room and I Want to Go Home. Website: www.cindylfreeman.com; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cindy.l.freeman.9. Her books are available through amazon.com or hightidepublications.com