Recently, a friend inquired the ultimate question: Does anyone ever get over food addiction? Even when I'm eating "right" it feels like yet another addiction or obsession... just a healthy one.
This, my dear Sparklers, is no easy question to answer.
When I reflect on this question, I feel my skin tingle in a way that is not exactly uncomfortable, but isn’t super nice, either. I get an immediate physical feeling of UGH. As I shared in my response to my friend, I think about this a LOT.
The short answer: It is complicated.
The long answer: While I don’t have an official yes or no (I mean, we are all unique snowflakes, right?), there are a few things that I have learned in my lifelong battle with food addiction and disordered eating. I know that I am less compulsive with food that does not trigger the delivery of chemical reactions in my brain that numb my feelings. Oreos and Cheetos are addictive because of the chemical response in the brain. Broccoli just doesn’t have the same impact on all those immediate “feel good” vibes.
When I eat real, whole foods that don’t require ingredient lists, such as plants, meat or eggs, I get full (eventually). I feel satisfied. If I am eating these whole foods while feeling sad/angry/lonely/etc., I don’t experience a dampening of those feelings. Instead, I find that I have to sit with these negative feelings, whether I eat or not. Historically, these are the feelings that I would try to numb with candy/chips/bread/cheese. When I am feeling crappy, eating broccoli just doesn't disconnect me from those sad feeling the way that doughnuts would, you know?
For me, I can be honest about my very real compulsion to numb with food when I can recognize that eating certain things becomes a form of self-harm. In my case, biologically, there are foods that make me really, truly ill on a physical level. We’re talking extensive digestive distress and pain, sores all over my body, aching joints, and nightmare moods. It is when I eat these foods without concern or pause (because I just don’t want to feel what I am feeling) that I can see this as my real issue. For me, I have had countless experiences where I snap out of my zombie binge to find myself sick from food, knowing that the overwhelming fullness is nothing compared to the side effects that will come over the following days. When I was in the throes of a binge it would take me days to recover, assuming I didn’t continue the binge for days. If I did, it would take weeks to bounce back and feel like myself again.
For me, the harm I was inflicting on myself was substantial, which makes my food addiction in those phases feel more significant.
This is not to say that this compulsion cannot transfer to healthy habits. I have experience with this, too. For some, this could become dramatically worse than the initial issue of eating to numb. I have experience in different aspects of disordered eating and in my process of finding my food freedom I have had to develop awareness of what I am feeling and why. As I explore healthier food habits I have also worked really hard to understand my drive to ignore all the feelings associated with being a normal human. In this slow learning process of changing my habits along with respecting and acknowledging my thoughts and feelings, I have made significant progress.
Living in fear of food, in general, totally sucks. The shame, guilt, and self-hatred that comes with disordered eating and food addiction can be debilitating. Whether you cope with life by eating obscene amounts of Sour Patch Kids and Cool Ranch Doritos or obsess about living off baby carrots and baked chicken alone (I have personal experience in both of these scenarios), feeling fear connected to food is really hard for some people to understand. For most addictions, the prescribed recommendation is to abstain from that which you are addicted. The complicated truth is that food is a requirement, so there is no abstaining. Yes, you can avoid Sour Patch Kids and Doritos at all cost, but does that mean that you turn to restriction instead? It might.
I read a lot about finding freedom with food and being able to assess what is worth eating and what isn't (how does it make me feel, how does it impact my health, does it trigger mindless eating, etc.), and while I have made huge improvements and progress, I can honestly say that it is still hard work for me (and some days, more of a battle than I would like). While everyone is different, finding a happy medium of not feeling totally obsessed with food (any kind of food – “healthy” or "non-healthy” or some other category) is no small task for many.
One thing I know for sure is that when my food addiction roars its ugly head, my sparkle dims significantly. I have no patience for anything that dulls my sparkle these days, so I work hard to feel my feelings, make healthy choices, and live my life fully.
Untapping your sparkle, making healthier choices, and feeling your feelings does not have to be isolating. Let’s sparkle together.