This week on aSweatLife.com, in honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10 we’re talking about mental health to raise awareness of the issues we all face and lessen the stigma of discussing mental health openly. We believe #everythingisbetterwithfriends, and we encourage you to be open to discussing mental health with yours — and if you need to talk to someone right now, you can dial 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
While watching television one night in late December of 2008, I heard someone in a show say the words “compulsive overeater.” That struck a chord in me. My Google search began.
I quickly found a website for Overeaters Anonymous. The question on the homepage asked “Are you one of us?” I answered yes to just about all of the 15-20 questions there. I was dumbstruck. I thought I had a sweet tooth for the past 30 years, via gorging on sweets and other foods, but in fact, I had an eating disorder, a food addiction.
Shortly after that, I sat at my laptop and pecked out a letter to my husband of 10 years. I poured out my heart and revealed my secret. He read it and held me tight as I cried.
It was a huge catharsis for me. I cried off and on for days after writing it. At the time, I had no idea how emotional this topic was for me.
“Hi Honey, I need to share something with you, about me, which I have recently discovered about myself. It is not easy for me to admit that I have a problem, a weakness, which I can’t seem to control.
You and I have casually mentioned in the past that I have food issues. If I had to guess, you might think my food issue is about my counting calories and weighing food. When I went to see the chiropractor about my lower back/knee a few months ago, I gave him the readers digest version of my weight issues, how I have gained 10-12 pounds over the past couple of years, etc. You’d think someone who worked out four days a week like me would not be gaining weight, but I told him briefly that I have eating issues. The doctor said to me – you do know that you need to get some help with those issues, don’t you? I of course yes-yes’d him, but knew I wouldn’t follow through because well, I didn’t have a problem, I could handle it.
Well, I can’t handle it. I’m not sure what sparked my realization, but after doing some research, I have come to grips with a sad fact about myself. I am a compulsive overeater. It’s something that I’ve done for most of my life. I have a problem, and I need help. I can’t seem to help myself anymore, both literally and figuratively. I know when you think of someone who compulsively overeats, you picture someone who spends their day in the drive-thru line at fast food restaurants and weighs over 300 pounds. As my online research has indicated, that is not always the case.
I do eat because I’m hungry. As you may know, I don’t like feeling hungry. But there are many times that hunger has nothing to do with it. I eat because I love how the sweets, doughy, or sometimes salty, foods taste. I become out of control and have a single-minded purpose of eating more, even though I’m not hungry and may already be full. I can’t seem to stop myself.
Once I start eating junk, something in my brain switches on, and I go into an eating frenzy. Afterward, I feel disgusted with myself and vow to stop, but each day, each hour, each minute is a challenge. Some days I am successful at eating sensibly, and at the end of the night, I feel victorious. Other days, the “switch” flicks on, and I’m out of control. I try not to let you or the kids see me when I’m in the middle of a frenzy because it’s disgusting and embarrassing.
I overeat when I’m stressed; I overeat when I’m restless and don’t know what to do with myself. I overeat when there are a lot of deserts available to me, such as at a function or party. I’d rather eat sweets than talk to people sometimes. Okay, it’s more than occasionally. In cases like those, my main focus, even while I’m speaking with someone, is – when can I go back to the dessert table?
When I compulsively overeat, I tell myself – stop, you’ve had enough! I eat another one. And then it goes to – okay, this is the last one, and I eat another one. Then it’s – okay, THIS is the last one, and I eat another one. Then it’s – okay, this is REALLY the last one, and I eat another one. This usually goes on until I feel physically ill and/or physically uncomfortable. Sometimes I still don’t stop even though my body is clearing telling me I’ve had enough.
I do not eat to live; I live to eat. I think about food all the time. What am I going to eat and how long until I can eat it? There has to be a reason why I compulsively overeat and I need to find out what the reason (or reasons) is. I am eating to fill a void or emptiness in myself; I’m not sure. I do know that I have to figure out what it is, so I can control it instead of allowing it to control me.
I hope that admitting this to myself and to you, it will be a positive thing for me. I recently ordered a book by Overeaters Anonymous so that I can move in the right direction.
Perhaps I will eventually need to speak to a therapist.
So at this point, you probably have a couple of things going through your mind. The first is perhaps, geez, what kind of whacko am I married to? Hopefully, the second thought is – what can I do to help her? This is one with which I can assist you. Going forward, please stop bringing treats home for me. I appreciate your thoughtfulness. However, I hope you now understand that treats are often a problem for me. I’m confident that with your love and support, I can conquer this.
Thanks for reading this. I love you.”
These two events – learning I had an eating disorder and writing this letter were the springboards to my recovery.
I followed through on what I said in the letter. I went to Overeaters Anonymous meetings, read a lot of great books on recovery, went to therapy and I blogged anonymously about what I was going through.
Doing these things helped me to process and overcome my 30 years of disordered eating, leading to over ten and a half years of abstinence, sobriety, and a much happier life with my family.
I no longer spend hours thinking about what foods I’m going to go buy and binge on. I can keep sweets in the house for my family to eat, and know that everyone who wants some can have some; that I won’t inhale it then go out to get more because of my shame. I can go to events and look forward to speaking with people instead of spending my time vulturing around the food. I no longer feel disgusted with myself on a regular basis for bingeing and not being able to control myself. My life is much fuller and richer every day without having an addiction to food.