Posted by: Kennedy | February 26, 2011

We’ve all got issues…

This post has been about two months in the making.

It’s pretty scary to press ‘publish’ on this one. I’ve felt a lot of anxiety about it. Gone back and forth on whether I’m going to actually put it out there. Fearing judgment. Rejection. All that fun stuff.

For years, feelings of shame, guilt and embarrassment have prevented me from talking about my issues with food. Not with my family, or my roommates, not even my naturopath. Only in the past 11 months writing this blog have I felt like I might have an appropriate outlet to tell this story.

Since I started blogging, I’ve ‘glossed over’ certain aspects of my life because they felt too private, too taboo. But after having several, separate conversations with a few trusted friends and reading posts by several amazing bloggers confronting their fears and sharing their realities, I’m inspired to do the same. I know I’m not alone, and maybe this will reach someone else going through the same thing.

So, here we go.

I was young when I started sneaking food. As a pre-teen, I spent my allowance on chocolate bars (which I bought no more than two at a time so the cashier wouldn’t think I was gross) and ate them alone in my room. Then I would hide the evidence.

In high school, the problem perpetuated. I would eat healthy food all day in front of my friends and family – unless they were eating ‘bad’ foods in which case it made it ‘okay’ for me to eat them too – then I would wait until I was by myself (usually late at night) and eat a bowl of ice cream. Then maybe some cheese and crackers. And then I’d see if there was a half-eaten bag of chips in the cupboard that I could polish off.

Each time I cleaned my plate or bowl, I would say to myself, “That’s it.” I knew I wasn’t hungry. I knew the food I was eating wasn’t healthy and would make me feel bad. But I couldn’t stop myself… a few minutes of internal dialogue later, my craving for more sugar or salt would always win out. During those days, I often went to bed feeling awful – overfull, unhealthy, and totally ashamed of myself.

Despite teaching dance three nights a week, going to my own weekly hour-long dance class, and playing soccer, I gained about 10 pounds in my last year of high school.

When I think back about that year now, I realize there were a lot of things going on in my life that were causing me to search for comfort in food. I was also in denial about my behaviour. I’d read stories about people who would eat an entire loaf of bread and jar of peanut butter in one sitting. Or about girls with bulimia who would eat huge amounts of food and make themselves sick. I’d justify my behaviour by thinking that what I was doing wasn’t that bad compared to others, so there was nothing wrong with it. But quantity doesn’t matter: disorder eating is disordered, period.

As I started university, I was a little anxious about how things would play out with roommates, school stress and late nights either studying or drinking. To my surprise, the habit seemed to go away. I was by no means the picture of perfect health – my roomies and I often took study breaks around 10 p.m. to get Belgium waffles from a campus food kiosk, and pizza was an after-bar staple. But my secret binge eating essentially stopped. While friends gained the infamous Freshman 15, I lost weight.

Over the next five years, I lived in ‘maintenance mode’ when it came to my eating habits. School, graduating, moving to a new city, being in relationships, ending relationships, starting at a new school, transitioning to work life – each phase had its benefits and drawbacks when it came to my eating lifestyle. I always had roommates who ‘kept me in check’ – but only when they were home. I was active and ate pretty well outside of my binges so I managed to stay at a fairly steady weight – losing and gaining the same few pounds in cycles.

I wasn’t ‘overweight’ but also wasn’t happy with my body. I always thought that if I could stop bingeing for good I would settle in at my seemingly unattainable ‘healthy weight.’

In fall 2008, I moved into my very own apartment for the first time. I was excited, but also anxious that left to my own devices, I would overeat constantly.

Happily, it didn’t seem to happen like that. I started making lots of after-work plans with friends and coworkers, partly out of fear of loneliness but also to ensure I was kept accountable for a little longer in the day. On weekends, I would venture out to explore my new neighbourhood or other parts of the city. I was doing more, hence, eating less.

It worked, to an extent. My problem was toughest to manage at night, after dinner. If I felt the slightest hunger pang, I would run to the cupboards. I very rarely purchased junk foods at the grocery store, but soon enough, I found myself overeating dry boxed cereal. I stopped buying crackers so I wouldn’t overeat cheese, but it didn’t matter – I’d eat slices on their own.

Then, something wonderful happened. I started running with Joanna and the Running Room or going to spin class in the evenings after work. On run clinic nights, I wouldn’t get home until 8 at the earliest, at which point I would start making dinner. Eating dinner late meant I didn’t want food before bed. I didn’t have as much time to zone out and start craving snacks. Sometimes, working out even seemed to reduce my appetite.

I also started cooking more – making tasty recipes with really healthy, filling, real foods. I was delighted to learn that dinner could actually sustain me for the entire night. It was like all of a sudden, I didn’t have to actively try not to overeat. It felt amazing.

Maybe it was the timing of my meals. Maybe it was the feelings of joy and fulfillment that running and cooking gave me. Maybe it was the fact I wasn’t sitting on the couch watching reruns of The Office. It was probably a combination of all of the above.

I finally started to feel like I was gaining control of the situation. I worked up the nerve to purchase a book I’d heard about called “The end of overeating” by Dr. David A. Kessler. That’s when I started to realize that my ‘condition’ was real and legitimate, and that it wasn’t all my fault.

Reading this book was what initially raised my consciousness around the North American food science industry, its impact in big chain restaurants and fast food companies, and as a result, its impact on us. In the book, Dr. Kessler explains how habitual eating of highly processed foods can actually alter our brain chemistry. It’s frightening. It’s also no coincidence when we get a sudden, specific craving for McDonald’s French fries.

After I read the book, I started feeling more comfortable talking about its concepts (aka my reality) with a few close friends. And when I opened up – to my shock – so did they. These were active, healthy, beautiful women whose bodies I envied, committing similar acts of self-abuse, acknowledging it was irrational behaviour but feeling unable to control it. They, too, hiding it from loved ones and feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

These were the moments when I knew the dreams I’d been having about switching careers had to become reality. All I wanted in those moments was to understand why we were doing this and figure out how to have a healthy relationship with food.

I know I’m not going to change overnight. My habits, formed gradually over years, aren’t going to just vanish because I’m now a nutrition student. It’s a daily struggle. But the more I learn, the more solutions there will be. And I can’t wait to share them. But for now, the answers appear to be pretty simple:

Find something you love to do, and do it.

Be gentle with yourself; forgive yourself and recognize you aren’t – and shouldn’t be – perfect.

Realize that you are not alone.

Thanks for listening, blog world. Peace out.

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Responses

  1. Aww great post!

    Not only did I used to “sneak food” when I was younger (I can remember eating 3-4 Aero bars when I was 10 years old!) I also had a pretty big problem with binge eating until about a year ago. I would eat and eat and eat until I was so full I felt sick, but I would still eat more. It was terrible. And the more I ate and the more full I felt the more I wanted to stuff into myself (I wrote about it here: http://girlwiththeredhair.com/2010/08/binge-eating/)

    I don’t binge eat very often anymore but it’s definitely still a work-in process.

    Thanks again for such an honest, open post 🙂

  2. Thank you Amber! You have no idea what that means to me. Thanks for sharing your story – it’s so much more common than we all realize.

  3. Dr. Kessler’s work is amazing. I’ve heard him speak on the layering and loading of fat, sugar, and salt into our food supply and wondered how our culture could have gone so terribly astray. I’ve also fought with my own disordered eating and work to establish a healthy home for my family.

    I really think being able to talk about these things is the most important step in ending the behaviors. I’ve never really acknowledged my own behavior to anyone but myself and I think I continue to struggle with it because of that. As a distance runner I don’t really have trouble with my weight, but that does not change the way I feel in my own skin or think of myself.

    Thank you for your personal and meaningful post.

    • Thanks Jonathan. I completely agree with you about the importance of talking about it. When it’s a secret, there’s no accountability, and for me, that was a problem. And you’re right – it’s not just about how you look, it’s about how you feel about yourself.

  4. I am so happy you shared this honest post – I can totally relate as I suffered from binge eating and would consider myself in the healing process.
    A huge part of binge eating disorder is shame and embaressment so sharing this with your readers is really brave and shows such strength.
    Thank you 🙂

    • Thank YOU Dani – I really appreciate your comment. BTW, I noticed on your blog you are taking holistic nutrition – at IHN perhaps?

  5. Hi Kennedy……i have had the same problem on and off for years, it has been a 30 year battle for me. I hope you don’t struggle as long as i have. It’s a very frustrating way to live. I would hide my late night eating from you kids, hoping you would not follow in my footsteps, but perhaps i was still a bad influence. I was just sharing my own struggle with this same issue a few days ago with the young woman working at curves. She is very slim and fit. And to my surprise, she struggles with the same issue of raiding the cupboard at night. you are so right, this is a very common problem, but because it is surrounded by alot of shame, people do not want to admit it. you are a brave woman!!!! I love you!

  6. This is an amazing post. Thanks for your honesty.
    I used to sneak food too. Entire boxes of cereal, bags of fruit snacks, whatever I thought no one would notice was missing.
    I would eat and eat until I couldn’t, and then feel horrible.
    I think more people deal with it than we think, its just scary to talk about.

  7. PS. I heard something on Dr. Oz the other day about this. When we eat too much sugar/fat, there is actually something in our brain that gets out of whack, the whatchmacallit thing that signals us when we are full. that thing doesn’t work right when we have too much sugar/fat in our diet. Perhaps this is an issue with binge eaters. We can keep eating and eating, and our bodies will not signal us that we are full. I’m sure you will learn about that at some point in your classes…….and will be able to explain it much better than i can 🙂

  8. Great post mon amie! I often struggle with eating way to much and making myself feel sick and absolutely disgusting. And I often wonder afterward “why did I just do that???”It’s like a cycle of abuse on my body — both mentally and physically — because I do it, get angry at myself and just go back and do it all over again.

    But despite my relapses from time to time I am getting much better at reading what my body actually needs and what type of foods will make me feel better in the long run.

    Keep up the great blogs!

    • Thank you friend! I know what you mean – I honestly think recognizing it as an issue and talking about it is a huge step toward overcoming it. Eating awesome, satisfying meals like our Indian food last night helps too 😉

  9. Hi Kennedy = what an amazing post this is. You truly are not alone in this life sitaution and you have given me lots of hope that it can be changed. I look forward to following your successes and your wonderfully written blogs.

    All the best!!
    Alison

    • Alison! Thanks for reading 🙂 Your comment made my day. Hope you’re well!


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