Stress and Food Addiction

Prior to starting Medifast a year ago I knew I was a stress eater. Hell, I’ve known that for YEARS. It started when I was a kid, when I would eat as a way to shovel down my emotions, and with the weird hope that maybe if I got fat bad things would stop happening to me.

Unfortunately, bad things did not stop happening to me–I continued to be a victim of sexual abuse, until the time I left for college.

By that point, though, the damage had been done. I was 18 and having to shop at Lane Bryant (I honestly don’t remember what size I was or what I weighed at that point). I had no self confidence. I was so damaged mentally and emotionally and food was still my way of coping.

It wasn’t until my late 20s that I went to therapy and uncovered the whole eating to make myself invisible thing. It had been an unconscious decision on my part, but as a child my little girl’s brain did whatever it could to protect myself. Even with knowing that much, though (and knowing that I’m a stress eater), I still had no clue that I had a food addiction. I was a couple months in to Medifast when THAT realization hit me.

At the time, I thought, oh, hey, this is great. I’ve identified the problem (which is always the biggest and hardest step for me), and since I can’t eat any of the stuff I’m addicted to I should be able to get over it–kind of like how an alcoholic or smoker gets over THEIR addiction.

It makes sense, to an extent. Through Medifast I basically detoxed, and my trigger foods weren’t allowed in the house. Were they still around me? Absolutely. But I found that the things I USED to be addicted to were no longer tempting me. The donuts in the break room? Meh. The brownies brought in by a coworker? No thanks. Not even remotely tempted. The fresh fruit in the kitchen? Ok, that always looked good, but I wasn’t willing to throw myself out of ketosis for it, so I abstained.

And I was good for a while. Great, even.

But then almonds happened. See, on Medifast almonds are an approved snack (10 almonds, to be exact). And I was always so freaking hungry that I always had to add extra protein to my lean and green AND have an approved snack of some sort. And even then I was still constantly starving and fatigued. It took a while after starting my last job, but eventually I caved and had some of the almonds from the nut dispenser in the break room. It started with just ten. I literally counted them out and stuck with ten for weeks. But I’ve always liked nuts. So ten turned into eleven and turned into twelve and turned into twenty with some pecans thrown in…

And I started getting sick to my stomach.

So I would stop eating the almonds for a while, and feel better, and then think, “Hey, I wonder if I can have them once a week or so?” So I would try them once a week and be fine. Since I was fine once a week, I pushed it to twice a week. Then three then four then five times a week. That’s me–always pushing. As a kid I would push like that, to the point where I would literally make myself sick to the point of throwing up.

And so it began, a sick cycle of binging and purging on almonds. I would cry about it–bawl, even–to Phillip, asking, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so screwed up?”

Phillip’s answer: “Babe, you just like nuts. It doesn’t mean you’re messed uoup. But you do need to watch it.”

So I would stop again and blame it on being so freaking hungry, and that really was a huge part of it–I had a breaking point one day back in like February or March where I’d stayed away from them for like a month, and one day I was starving to the point of feeling like I was going to pass out and I thought to myself, “Fuck it, I don’t care if they’re going to make me sick, I’m so hungry I have to do something.” So I ate some almonds, and I realized that I had to do something because being hungry all the time was causing me to make poor, harmful decisions.

At any rate, fast forward a little bit, to more present times. I’d been in maintenance for a while and doing pretty good at handling the whole food addiction thing. I wasn’t overeating, I wasn’t binging, I wasn’t really craving anything. I was doing pretty good, even if the Medifast counselors thought I wasn’t because I’d gained back a few pounds (nevermind the fact that I’d gained back almost 15 before even going into maintenance, when I was still eating THEIR food). The important thing to me was that I was handling things well and I felt better than I had in a long, long time. I had a couple of stressful things happen that triggered the “forage for food” response, but I managed to control the impulse and not go there. Again, I was really proud of myself for that.

And then it all started to unravel. Just before I lost my job, the HEB I usually shop at added a bulk foods aisle. For those of you not familiar with HEB’s bulk foods aisle, this is an aisle with bins where you can get stuff like organic granola, flaxseed, nuts, dried fruit, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, etc. Since I’ve been eating Paleo, I would go down the aisle to get pecans and walnuts. Well, one day I decided to try a small amount of the honey toasted pecans. And then the butter toffee pecans.

At first I was okay with just a serving (a quarter cup). It was more sugar than I was used to having, so that was really more than enough. When I lost my job, though, it was like something inside of me just snapped, and all I could think about was finding a job and butter toffee pecans.

So to compensate I obsessed with finding a job, watching everything I put into my mouth like a hawk, counting every single calorie and working out like a fiend. For two weeks. And in those two weeks I gained like four or five pounds.

I snapped again.

If I was going to gain that much weight doing everything right while having the counselors at Medifast look at me as if they didn’t believe me when I said I wasn’t overeating, I wasn’t going off the rails and I was documenting everything, why not just go ahead and go off the rails.

At that point, what did it freaking matter?

So for the past two weeks I’ve barely counted my calories and haven’t worked out, with the exception of doing some very physical work in 105 degree heat out at the ranch this weekend (oh, and hooking up our 16 foot trailer by myself on Thursday, in 100+ degree heat and high humidity). I finally came clean and admitted to Phillip that I’d been overeating these fucking butter toffee pecans, and it felt great to get it off my chest. I mean, there was a point last week where I realized that I was kinda sorta purposefully pushing to see just how much I could eat until I made myself sick.

That isn’t healthy.

But now I’m in that self-loathing stage of things, where I feel like I’m a failure and a horrible human being because WHY CAN’T I JUST NOT DO IT. But like I told Phillip, the issue with me is that I’m learning that I always find something else. I don’t do it on purpose. Prior to Medifast I’d developed an addiction to fruit–to fruit, of all things. Now I’m finding that it’s crunchy stuff for me. If it’s crunchy, there’s a good chance I’m going to love it and that I’m going to have a hard time stopping.

Part of the problem is that I have the thought in my head: what good is it going to do? I’ve lost a lot of weight twice now, and both times I’ve gotten to a certain point and then promptly gained weight back, even when I was counting calories, eating healthy and exercising. Hell, I eat healthier now than I ever have in my life, but it still isn’t working. Add to that the fact that weighing in at the Medifast center every week is stressing me out, and you have a perfect storm going on inside of me.

I’m stressed out, and logically I know that I can’t maintain these levels of stress much longer before I just totally break down. I feel like shit–constantly exhausted, I’m struggling with depression, and I’m starting to feel hopeless. I feel angry with the world right now, like absolutely nothing is in my control right now and like I’m just a puppet having her strings pulled.

I know there are certain things I can control:

  • What I put into my mouth
  • How much and in what ways I move my body
  • Putting forth an excellent resume and cover letter
  • Doing really well in interviews
  • What I put into my grocery basket

I also know there are certain things I cannot control:

  • Whether or not I’m a good “fit” with a company
  • Whether or not I’m the perfect candidate for a role
  • How many marketing jobs are posted on a daily basis
  • My weight

I realize that last one seems a bit odd–you would think that if I’m controlling what I put into my mouth and how much I move my body that I could control my weight. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past six months, though, it’s that I CAN’T control my weight. And I’m struggling with that big time. I can control my health, yes, but I can’t seem to control my weight. I know these things about my body for a fact:

  • I have an intolerance to gluten, dairy and grains, and they make me sick to my stomach
  • Almonds make me sick to my stomach (but walnuts, pecans and macadamia nuts don’t)
  • My body is very, very sensitive and retains water very easily
  • I am one of those people who really can gain weight *just like that*, even when doing all the “right” things
  • I have a food addiction that is easier to control when I’m not exhausted, working out on a regular basis, and not living at an extremely high stress level
  • My body does not respond well to stress

I also know that the number on the scale isn’t as important as my overall health. I also know, though, that a part of me is mentally and emotionally tied to that number. Every time it climbs up, I feel disappointed in myself, like I’m a failure.

And that’s really it, I think. I’d already gained some of the weight back before losing my job, and losing my job has just exacerbated the situation. So I feel like a failure, and like some of the things I’ve worked so hard for are just blowing away in the breeze. The weird thing, too, is that I knew that my last job was not my end game. I didn’t expect to retire there. I knew it was a stepping stone. The problem is that I didn’t get to leave on MY terms and when I was ready. It wasn’t a decision I made for myself–instead, it was a decision that some guy made for me, like so many other decisions in my life that ultimately were not good for me.

Yes, that was an epiphany just then.

And just like when I was a kid and a teen and a young adult and males made decisions for me and about me and did things that ultimately hurt me, I turned to food. As a kid, food was something I thought I controlled, and control was something I desperately needed.

*head desk*

Why didn’t I realize this sooner? Ugh.

So to amend the things I CAN control:

I CAN CONTROL HOW I RESPOND TO THE SHIT LIFE THROWS AT ME

Yes, losing my job sucked (big time). Yes, it is stressing me out (big time). Yes, it was unfair. Yes, it was shitty. Yes, I never want to see my old boss’ face again. Yes, I’m mad about the entire situation. And yes, it was something that was done TO ME.

But I can control how I react to it. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to be stressed out. It’s even okay to be mad. If there’s one thing I learned from therapy, it’s that I HAVE to honor my emotions, because shit really hits the fan when I stuff them down (which in turn causes me to stuff food down). When this first happened, and everyone asked me how I was doing, I told them I was “fine, I’ll be okay, I’m a survivor and I land on my feet. I’ll bounce back, just you wait and see.” And I know I have people out there who believe that about me, who believe in me, and who also realize that what happened to me was simply shitty. Somewhere, somehow, over the past few weeks I’ve lost that “I’ll bounce back” mentality. Okay, to be fair, I know how–looking for a job is demoralizing. It’s great when you get emails and calls back, when you get interviews, etc. It makes you feel great and like somebody realizes how awesome and talented you are. But I’ve been a finalist candidate for like three different jobs now, and in every single one of them I haven’t gotten the job. Some of those I’ve actually been okay with, but one of them stung (I REALLY wanted that job).

It’s easy to sit here and cry and feel sorry for myself–believe me, I’ve been doing that for the past hour or so while writing this blog–and y’know, it’s okay to even be upset about being passed over. It’s easy for me to slide down into a dark place where I tell myself I’m not good enough, that I suck at life, nobody likes me, blah blah blah. But those things simply are not true. I have people pulling for me and rooting for me (including one hiring manager who couldn’t offer me the job because I wasn’t quite experienced enough). I am smart, talented, a good marketer, and I AM good enough. So much of finding a job is about “fit,” and I know better than anyone that accepting a job just because you NEED a job can be a sure recipe for disaster.

There. I feel better now.

And now that I got all that off my chest and had my little epiphany, I’m going to look for more jobs to apply to, then put on some real clothes (as opposed to workout shorts and a tank top..although the tank top might have to stay with this sunburn) and go get the oil changed in the truck.