A journey in words...

Welcome to my journey in words! A story about health, exercise, weight loss, food addiction, humor, size discrimination, sarcasm, social commentary and all the rest that’s rattling around inside my head...

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Mentally Unhealthy Food Culture

I have spent the past ten months mostly depriving myself of food that my brain perceives as “bad”.  These are items I feel I do not deserve to eat because I have been (and still am) obese.  Things like desserts offered after dinner at my parent’s house or cakes, cookies, and doughnuts constantly on offer at work.  I’ve also avoided bringing certain types of foods into my home which count as dangerous in my mind because I know I have difficulty not seeking them out and consuming all the available supply of them if I can do so without being discovered.

I adore chocolate, but I have been having my husband hide it from me in our home and only bring me a single, controlled serving when I ask for one.  When I discover fast food leftovers that the guys leave in the fridge I’ve been guilty of angrily stuffing them down the garbage disposal and then yelling at my family for leaving pitfalls in my path.

There’s no delicate way to put this: that kind of behavior is seriously messed up.

All of this is evidence that I have a very disordered and mentally unhealthy relationship with food.  Its importance is completely out of proportion in my life.  I’ve come to realize that treating food like an addiction and an enemy isn’t a sustainable way to live a healthy and balanced lifetime at the weight that I desire.

I have a co-worker who usually keeps several small servings of chocolate in her desk.  She forgets about them for weeks, and then when she feels like it will eat a bite – perhaps a single Hershey’s kiss for example – and leave the rest for later.  I have told this co-worker on many occasions that I cannot do what she does because I’m a food addict and I’m helpless to do anything but obsess over and consume all available quantities of chocolate in my possession relentlessly until it’s all gone.

The problem with this is that I’ll never be anything other than a helpless food addict if I don’t start working to develop the same normal, natural relationship to foods (including treat items) that my co-worker has.  So as of this month I’ve started practicing some behavior modification.

For right now, I’ve added two baby steps to my daily routines:

The first is that I purchased a jar of chocolate hazelnut spread (something I’ve been known in the past to dig into with a spoon and eat and eat and eat until I’ve made myself sick) and put it in my desk at work.  For breakfast, I dip out a single tablespoon serving and enjoy it on my toast.  By having it at work I’m not tempted to pull out the jar when I’m home alone so I’m getting practice eating a sensible portion of it in a place where I feel safe.  I’m teaching my stomach (and more importantly my brain) that a single serving is satisfying, enjoyable, and enough.

The second thing is that I’ve begun to have dessert again while in social situations.  When I’m at a family dinner I obtain a sensibly sized portion of the treat I most want (like two or three bites of brownie for example) and slowly enjoy it.  Again, since I’m not alone I’m not in danger of my addiction behavior kicking in and can safely practice getting used to being satisfied with a very small serving of high calorie / high sugar / high fat treat.

At the same time, the only responsible party in either of these situations is me.  I am not foisting responsibility for what I eat onto any other person.

I cannot live the rest of my life saying, “NO – NEVER” to these foods and I cannot continue to hide behind the lie that it’s easier to have nothing than to enjoy a correctly sized, small portion.  Avoiding certain foods entirely out of fear is not moderate, mentally healthy eating behavior.  Complete and strict abstinence will result in continued obsession over what I cannot have, then anger, resentment, eventual breakdown, and finally binging.  Putting the responsibility onto someone else is simply unfair – not to mention an unsustainable practice since nobody can watch over another human being all the time.

Instead I need to re-teach myself to hold all foods in their proper place: enjoyable, but not that big a deal.  I need to learn that not having a huge portion or all available servings of a treat doesn’t make the small taste I did have any less valuable or enjoyable.

Someday I want to be in a place where I can be comfortable having any type of food in my house because it’s just food, it’s not a mistake or an addiction substance or a problem in any way.  I want to get to a place where my body and mind are used to what proper proportion looks and feels like, instead of an incorrect chemical process kicking in and driving me relentlessly to binge.  If I’m going to make a change that lasts for life, I have to practice.

Over and over again these past ten months I’ve had co-workers, family and friends sigh at me and say, “You’re so good” or, “you’re being so good!”  Or conversely as they pick up a plate of cake they say, “I’m being so bad!”  This is heartbreaking.  Food is not good or bad, it has no moral value whatsoever.  The fact that we say these things (and I have been the worst offender of all – even if mostly in my own mind) is evidence that our society has gone completely off the rails with regards to how we eat.  There is nothing good or bad in any way about food, nor do food choices ever define anyone’s worth or virtue.

The fact that it’s been so beaten into us to self-flagellate mentally and often verbally over something so simple as enjoying a piece of cake is another sad side effect of our cultural obsession with health and thinness as a defining factor in the value of a human being.  It has the exact opposite effect as what is intended: instead of guilting and shaming us all into acceptably thin bodies, it creates people such as me who relentlessly obsess over the “bad” food until we wind up eating an entire jar of chocolate hazelnut spread in one sitting and then have to spend years working off the stored energy and mentally retraining ourselves NOT to do so again.

I can’t speak for other countries, but I know that America’s food and fitness obsessed culture is a very, very mentally unhealthy place to be.

A single petit four of average size contains about 100 calories.  This is an appropriate size and calorie content for enjoying dessert.  Also, it's really pretty!


  1. I thought this was an especially good and interesting post.

    1. Thank you! I was definitely having a "light-bulb" moment when I wrote it.

  2. This! I have often been guilty of "The Binge". A few weeks ago I absent-mindedly consumed half a jar of cookie butter with a spoon in one sitting. It really is tough to re-train myself to "have just one" and teach myself portion control. But I do know it CAN be done. =) Thanks for another awesome post. <3

    1. Thank you for reading and responding, as always!

      I have a book recommendation for you. I'm about halfway done reading it myself and it contains not just a lot of good research on the topic, but also practical and specific teaching on how to overcome the problem. So far it's really good:

      "Overcoming Binge Eating" by Christopher G. Fairburn