Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Punishing Myself With Food

Warning – this will probably be a long and somewhat convoluted post as I explore what I mean when I say “punishing myself with food.”

To give a little bit of background – when I was obese, I was also quite depressed.  I felt lots of shame about many aspects of my life:  not doing better in college, not having a glamorous job, not managing my finances, not having a special someone in my life. 

I especially felt a lot of shame about that last one.  Meals were meant to be eaten with someone and I had no one with whom to share my meals..  I “comforted” myself by choosing to eat whatever I wanted.  There were no boundaries.   Unfortunately, those food choices were often fat-laden simple starches.  Or fake food from restaurants.   But as I ‘comforted’ myself, I also punished myself.  I wolfed my food down – usually in front of the TV or later, in front of the computer screen.   I told myself it wasn’t worth the effort to prepare a nice meal and sit down at the table and enjoy my food.  I told myself I wasn’t worth the effort.

As life got harder and I grew more ashamed about myself, I started ‘rewarding’ myself with food.  It’s Friday – I deserve to order Chinese food.  I deserve to order pizza.  And I punished myself – I wolfed down what I ordered so quickly I didn’t taste it.  And I inhaled so much that I invariably didn’t feel well afterwards.

The pattern was: I can eat what I want, but no one can see me and above all else  - I must not enjoy it.

I repeated this pattern all the way up to almost 250 lbs and even the threat of Type II Diabetes didn’t make a difference.  

I had an even bigger reason to feel shame:  I was OBESE.  No longer plump.  No longer fat.  But OBESE.

I had screwed up college, my finances, my career and my health.   I wasn’t worthy of enjoying anything in life.  And to numb the pain of it, I ate.  And to ensure I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of enjoying life, I ate enough to stay obese.

I locked myself up in a prison of fat.   I used food to punish myself for not living up to expectations.  

The fat served two purposes:  it kept people from seeing my shame and it kept people from hurting me.   And a third insidious purpose was to perpetuate the cycle of feeling bad, numbing the feeling with food, feeling worse because I ate inappropriately.

Somewhere along the journey, I got some help.  I started chiseling away at the walls.  I lost a few lbs – enough to feel pretty from time to time.   And I met D.

I may have done the work in losing the weight, but I have to be honest – I don’t know that I would have done it if I hadn’t met D.  He was/is gentle and kind.  At the same time, he’s disciplined.   He understood I had a problem and didn’t know how to break through the blocks I had put up to prevent me from solving it.   And he helped me find a path that would work for me: take food choice out of the equation.   It worked and I lost weight.  And I’ve kept most of it off.  

The prison walls came down.  I felt stronger.  I let people in.  Life isn’t a bowl of cherries – but I no longer, for the most part, want to live it in a state of food-induced numbness.

But the demon still lurks.  The voice that says I’m not good enough is almost always whispering in my head.  I’m not good enough because I didn’t make my goal weight.  I’m not good enough because I’ve put on a few pounds.  I’m not good enough because I don’t look like I’m 18.  

And when life gets hard and I want to turn to food for ‘comfort’ I have to be VERY careful to not let that desire for comfort turn into a full-fledged flogging.  The whip?  Food.   The scary part is how quickly that switch can happen. 

Isn’t it ironic?   I beat myself up for not weighing 130 lbs by over-eating.   How whacked is that?

I understand it’s whacked.  I also understand I’ve been practicing this behavior most of my adult life.  It’s not one that’s going to be solved overnight.   Being cognizant of it and looking for replacement habits is truly the key.


  1. I think that realizations like this are what make this journey THAT much easier.

    Dealing with the how and why help us develop a manageable solution.

    Like you, I always had reasons to eat. Happiness, Sadness, Celebration, Pity WHATEVER there was always a really good reason to eat whatever I wanted!

    It's great that you're dealing with it but more importantly it's AMAZING that you're honest about how you got to that unhappy place in the first place!

  2. Maura, I love your blog and how honest you are. I look forward to reading them every day! You inspire me!

  3. I think punishing yourself with food is similar to what I refer to as self-sabotage. It took me a while to turn punishment around to reward. Instead of thinking, "I deserve this food," I try to think instead, "I deserve to be thin and healthy." I'm still working on it but your post gives me much to think about.

  4. I feel so sorry for you as I can relate. I do the exact same thing to myself. I punish myself for reasons unknown to me. I know that I'm a good person but I really hate myself. I eat until I'm so miserable that all I can do is go to sleep to feel better. Aside from that i exercise until I can hardly move and my feet are on fire from walking or running. I use laxatives and diet pills and then live with the satisfaction and fear that I'm destroying my body. Most of my life, I have not cared that I'm hursting myself. ALL I care about is being pretty and thin. I like you eat to make myself bigger when what I really want it to be thin. Not thin with bones hanging out but no fat tummy or fat face. I have suffered with this vicious cycle since 1999. I have been diagnosed with bing eating disorder, anorexia, and bulimic. I hate the way I look. I know that I need help now because I'm tired of going a week at a time with a bananna and a bag of pretzels or eating a half of gallon of icecream in addition to other fat food items. I can't afford therapy so I will either die or get better. Its so sad that I pay 145 a month for health insurance and mental health is not a covered benifit for my plan. If only you knew how humiliating it is lying in my bathroom floor giving myself an enema to get rid of the food that I scarfed down. If this isn't enough I do not feel like I'm good enough to go out of my house when I'm fat. I feel like i'm not worthy of being invloved in soceity and I isolate myself. On a positive note, eventually I get tired of being fat and start the starvation mode ALL OVER again.

  5. Michelle, I hope you see this.

    First of all, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. Since I made the post about punishing myself with food, I have gained about 30 lbs. And I'm also in an unhealthy place with my thinking.

    I urge you to go easy on yourself. Don't look at a final number as a goal. Make one small goal you know you can do - for one day - and do it. The goal might be just to make sure you drink 4 glasses of water. Or it might be to just do only 30 minutes of low-impact aerobics - or take a moderate walk outside. The main thing about your goal is that it should be something that honors YOU with gentle kindness.

    And when you meet your goal - honor yourself with a reward of some kind.

    Then repeat this tomorrow.

    Also, please look at Sandrelle's Blog - I have link to it on mine. And if you'd like to contact me personally, my email is maurastoolbox at gmail dot com.

    May you be safe
    May you be happy
    May you be healthy
    And may you be at ease

  6. Maura,
    Thank you for posting this. I have recently in my journey of dealing with overeating been thinking of the ways in which I punish myself using food. That's why I did a web search on the topic and how I found your post. I appreciate you sharing about your experience with punishing yourself with food. Your comments about "prison of fat" and not living up to expectations are realities I can very much relate to.
    Thanks for your venerability in writing about this.

  7. Maura,
    I do the same thing, and I just recently started trying to battle, too. I wish I could just take food variety out of the equation, but that makes it so much worse for me. When I feel restricted it usually leads to a huge binge where I wake up a week later covered in candy wrappers and my face glued to the sofa with half melted Ben and Jerry's!

    But I have realized that my feelings of worthlessness about my weight are only leading me to eat more. I do it when I'm happy because I'm so uncomfortable with happy feelings that I have to do something to push myself back into unhappy land, which just makes me want to eat more...and so on.

    Thank you for writing this. I'm so happy to know I'm not alone!

    1. @ Rivvy

      Thanks for the comment. This post is a few years old and since I wrote it, I've gained about 40 lbs. I recently decided to never battle my weight again - isn't that like battling yourself?

      I highly recommend you go over to Karen Anderson's After the Before and After and read her post Choose Your Easy". Karen's post is thought provoking - and helped me discover how to describe my weight management efforts: Kind Acceptance.

      Please be kind to yourself as you go on your journey to good health.

  8. There are places for therapy that only charge what you can afford. Look up non profit or family counseling and you will find help. Especially for the girl that insurance does not cover mental health.
    I lost the weight I needed to and went to Dr. Howard Flaks, he is in Beverly Hills....
    He is a miracle worker. Good luck.

    1. Thanks for the comment and information. This post is quite old and I"m not sure who will see the information - but your comment spurred me to re-read Punishing Myself with Food and I realized my thinking is still pretty much whacked. I have enough knowledge and depression management tools to work through this - and will do so. But I needed to realize I need to work on it and your comment helped me see that. Thanks.


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