I have been reading a book by Tennie McCarty called “Shades of Hope: How To Treat Your Addiction To Food. This is, hands down, the most important book I’ve ever read (except for the Bible). As I go from page to page, it’s hard for me to not underline, circle or highlight just about every other line I read. Tears stream down my face as I relate to story after story in this book. And revelation after revelation hits me one after another. Reading this book has been very difficult for me in many ways because it has forced me to look my personal addiction in the face. I have been forced to dissect my psyche from the inside out. I have cried. I have denied. I have thrown the book across the room once or twice. But it all boils down to the fact that no one can heal me from my addiction except for me. This is not between me and my parents. It’s not between me and my childhood abuser. It’s not between me and my husband, or between me and any enablers in my life. It is between me and God alone, and God is the only one that can help me through it.

One of the things that happens when we are addicted to food is that we turn from one addiction to another. Many people begin obsessing over calories, carbohydrates, exercise, etc. But I am learning that THAT is not healthy either. We think that we HAVE to obsess over these things in order to break our addiction, but the ugly reality is that in doing so, we’re only trading one addiction for another.

I have heard people say that they’d rather be obsessed with calories than be heavy, but what about being healthy. Completely healthy – mind, body, and spirit? When we go from addiction to addiction, we are failing to face what got us there to begin with. Sure, bad nutrition, binge eating, and a sedentary lifestyle was what got many of us to our high BMI’s. But what was it that lead to THAT. We all have something in our lives – that demon rearing it’s ugly face over us. It’s time to face that demon, whatever it may be, head on.

For some, that demon may be an abusive childhood, or one where they never felt loved. For others, the demon might be feelings of inadequacy or loneliness. Still others may be dealing with trauma from the loss of a loved one or loss of a job. Whatever that demon is, so many of us chose to ignore it. We chose to not focus on it – we chose to stuff it down and just not deal with it. In the beginning, we covered it with food. After surgery, we chose other things. Where some WLS patients pick up other addictions such as alcohol, many turn to obsession over food. Not the same kind of obsession as before, mind you. Now, the obsession has turned into obsessing over controlling your food.

For me, this meant watching everything. Counting everything. Obsessing over EVERYTHING. Food was STILL on my mind morning, noon and night. What I was going to eat and when, how much of it I was going to eat. How many calories could I consume? How many HAVE I consumed? It was filling my every waking moment. And when I stopped losing weight, it got even worse. I will still doing everything right, but my weight had stalled out at 190. I didn’t care about the fact that I had lost over 100 lbs. I didn’t care about the fact that I could, physically, do things that I couldn’t do before. I cared about the fact that I was in maintenance and I wasn’t at 160 lbs yet. I didn’t see the benifits I had already seen.
From there, I went back and forth from one obsession to another. I was addicted to food. Plain and simple. When I wasn’t eating it, I was thinking about it. I fell back into old habits and addictions, allowing myself carbs, sugar, fast food, sodas, pretty much whatever I wanted. I gained 15 lbs. I thought that doing a training class with a good friend from high school would help. It didn’t. Rather, I found excuses and justifications to putting whatever I wanted to into my body. Cookies, cakes, chips, crackers, fries, pizza … all under the guise of, “I’m eating in moderation.”. Excuse my language here, but bullshit. It wasn’t about moderation. I would eat. Then as soon as my stomach was no longer full (about 30 minutes later) I would eat again. Then again. Then just put the CD on repeat. I had a reason to eat.

Then the obsession of counting everything returned. Then eating everything. It became an unhealthy cycle of binging and restricting. Ironically, with a vertical sleeve, you would think that you wouldn’t be able to eat everything in site. But I could. It just took some work.

After reading Tennie’s book, I realize, recognize, and understand that I am living with an eating disorder. It’s a form of anorexia that often affects people that have had weight loss surgery. Did you know that there are anorexics that do the whole binge-restrict cycle? I didn’t. Body dysmorphia sets in, we see ourselves as still fat (even though we’re not, and the “fat” we’re seeing is likely loose skin). So we decide to count everything. We research everything and decide to follow whatever the latest fad diet it because it might keep us from gaining an ounce or two, or help us lose that last five lbs. Or we go on a workout spree, pushing our bodies to the limits, sometimes beyond – and sometimes causing injury. Or we become food nazis, refusing to put certain things in our bodies and admonishing anyone who does.

So what IS the solution? Well, there are several. First, one of the biggest solutions, and one that 90% of WLS patients DON’T partake in, is pre- and post-surgery counseling and therapy with someone that has worked with eating disorders. Yes. I said EATING DISORDERS. Why? Because most of us were living with one and didn’t even know it. Compulsive eating IS an eating disorder. And, unless you have other issues that have prevented you from being able to lose weight in the past, if you got up to a BMI of 30 or higher YOU ARE A COMPULSIVE EATER. Nothing pains me more than to see people in denial, so I’ll fill you in on how you can tell if this was/is your issue:
If you ever: eat when you’re not hungry, eat beyond your full state, hide food, eat in secret, get emotional over food (i.e. angry or sad when you can’t have something you want), or can’t control yourself around certain types of food, then you are a compulsive eater/food addict. You can deny it all you want. You can reason, justify, or excuse it all you want. But it’s a fact and there’s no way to get around it. The first step is to admit you have a problem, only then can you begin to heal.

The second solution is one that many people have issue with. STOP DIETING AND COUNTING EVERYTHING. Seriously. The goal here is not to allow yourself to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. The goal is, rather, to eat a good healthy diet of nourishing foods (for us, that means lots of protein!!) and to move every day in a healthy way (taking a walk, doing a workout video, playing outside, living an active lifestyle rather than sitting in front of a TV or computer screen). And to … ready for it? … FORGET ABOUT YOUR WEIGHT. To say, “I’m 190 and proud!” and to take care of your body AS IT IS.

The final solution is one that many people aren’t willing to do either (that’s the problem … there are solutions, but you have to be willing to do them). And that is to keep a journal and write down your feelings. To allow yourself to feel your feelings. To acknowledge these feelings. You will not slay your demon unless you learn to do these things. Until you learn to face them head on, you will not heal.

I know this is one of those posts that is going to have people up in arms. In a way, I hope it does. I hope it sparks something in you. I hope it stirs up controversy and makes you think. Because I want each and every one of you to be healthy through and through – body, mind, and spirit.

Food obsession fed my addiction. I am learning to let go. Are you ready to let go with me?