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.