Dirty Secrets From Eating Clean: Food Addiction, Part II

To read the whole series in order, start here: 

Dirty Secrets From Eating Clean: Food Addiction, Part I

Let me be clear: I was already a food addict. A different kind of food addict, but an addict nonetheless. I’ve been a food addict since I was at least 10 years old.

I can remember back to my Friday night binges on baskets of garlic rolls at Mario’s or Dominic’s, eating between three and six rolls before digging into an adult-sized baked ziti entree; my anticipation of pizza night on Saturdays with Dad, and how we’d have to buy at least two boxes from Pizza Hut because I could knock back five slices on my own–and follow them up with a huge chunk of Tollhouse cookie dough without stopping to consider hunger; my ability to eat both servings of boxed Stouffer’s french bread pizza and still want finish off the tortellini I’d cooked for me and my sister; my insistence that my favorite food–above even chocolate and candy–was bread, and my inability to stop wanting after two and then three pieces of toast for breakfast…

Greasy garlic rolls

I like these more than chocolate.

After the soy-free summer, my tastes changed somewhat. When I cut out processed foods, sugar, and soda, I cleansed my palate of the hyper-sweetened and -salted foods that had “nourished” my childhood. Instead, I became dependent on my breakfast cereal and peanut butter sandwiches, living for my second and third helpings of spaghetti. (And once I reintroduced soy, I reintroduced chocolate–unable to concentrate after lunch in school if I didn’t buy a pack of peanut M&Ms–not because the stimulants in the chocolate helped me focus but because the cravings became more important than anything my teachers had to offer.)

A large part of my anorexia–the part about which I was conscious and in which I was aware of my engagement–was my attempt to control my addiction to volume. The irony here is that “anorexia” literally means “without appetite.” Rarely, I think, is that actually the case with this disease. In my own experience, once I start eating, especially breads, sweets, and even fruits, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Even when I’m full. And anorexia, a rejection of that fullness, was the only way (I thought) that I could control myself.

“There is a very simple, inevitable thing that happens to a person who is dieting: When you are not eating enough, your thinking process changes. You begin to be obsessed with food. They’ve done study after study on this, and still we believe that if we cut back fat, sugar, calorie intake, we’ll drop weight just like that and everything will be the same, only thinner. Nothing is the same. You want to talk about food all the time. You want to discuss tastes: What does that taste like? […] Salty? Sweet? Are you full? You want to taste something all the time. You chew gum, you eat roll after roll of sugar-free Certs, you crunch Tic-Tacs (just one and a half calories each!) You want things to taste intense. All normal approach to food is lost in your frantic search for an explosion of guilt-free flavor in your mouth, an attempt to make your mouth, if not your body, feel full, to fool your mind into satiety. You pour salt or pepper on things. You eat bowls of sugar-coated cereal (no fat). You put honey and raisins on your rice.”

-Marya Hornbacher, Wasted, a Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

When I started my intensely restrictive “eat clean diet,” I thought that I was finally free. I convinced myself that I was no longer hungry, that I was sated by my 100-300 calorie meals. But in the time between meals, I thought about food. I ached for it. And not the dry turkey breast and 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli, I ached for sweet and starchy. I used stevia (a “natural” sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant and 200-300x sweeter than sugar) on nearly everything, faking out my tastebuds in order to trick my lizard brain into thinking it was satisfied by egg white pancakes. I ached for my morning oatmeal. I substituted stevia-based whey protein powder for real food in as many meals as I could justify to myself. I spent my entire day in anticipation of my stevia-sweetened casein-and-peanut-butter pudding every night.

Low Calorie, Low Fat Powdered Peanut Butter PB2

And then I discovered low-calorie, low-fat powdered peanut butter, and all bets were off…

And worse, I watched the Food Network obsessively. I subscribed to allrecipes.com and read their daily baking email. I scoured the internet for decadent recipes, reading blogs like Cookie Madness and The Picky Palate so I could live vicariously through someone else’s Pretzel Caramel Shortbread Bars and Brownie Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookies. I baked, constantly, so that I could at least have the smell of warm cookies saturating the air, enveloping me like an old friend.

Even as a vegan, I was still addicted to sugar and grains. It was all I ate, all I craved.  Moreover, my vegan diet was just an animal-free facsimile of the bodybuilder’s regime: I inflicted upon myself the same rigid routine, eating small meals every 2-3 hours, aching with longing for the next helping. I sweetened my green juice with Stevia, and I couldn’t get through a morning unless I followed my green juice with low-sodium sprouted grain bread. Rice cakes were my midmorning salvation. My sugar addiction found a new home in extra servings of fruit,* wads and wads of bubble gum, packets of stevia poured onto anything that should taste sweet but didn’t. I still looked forward to my after-dinner peanut or almond butter (now with vegan chocolate chips added) with an intensity that defied explanation or avoidance (and I was usually so depressed about finishing my snack that I would open a box of cereal and eat that–dry–and then go to bed feeling painfully full but unsatisfied).

And through it all, the only thing I could think about was the food I couldn’t eat, wasn’t eating, wanted to eat.

– K.

*3 apples a day plus the pear in my green juice, entire 2 lb. bags of grapes in one sitting, etc.

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8 thoughts on “Dirty Secrets From Eating Clean: Food Addiction, Part II

  1. This post put words to exactly how I’ve been feeling for a year and a half. Everyone thinks I didn’t eat much because I don’t want to eat. But I do WANT TO EAT. All the time. But I have tricked myself into feeling bad about this desire, powerful when I suppress it. I used to pop a piece of gum into my mouth immediately after lunch, to avoid buying those delicious school cookies and make myself feel like I’d had enough. Once I finish one meal, I immediately begin thinking about the next. It’s scary but (somewhat) comforting to know that other people have the same reactions to hunger and food.

    • It feels crazy, doesn’t it? I swear, I think that if I could absorb calories from television, I would never have been classified as an anorexic given the amount of Food Network I watched so I could eat vicariously.

      The good news is, you don’t have to always feel like this. There are ways to find freedom–whether they be changing your diet (which I’m going to do a post on very soon) or finding a fellowship like OA or ED Anonymous or even just spending time doing something distracting that forces you outside of your own head like community service…but it’s not easy. Just know that you’re not alone–and it’s totally normal. Especially because we’re constantly bombarded by messages about food, vending machines, snack bars, candy-in-checkout-lines, commercials, billboards, etc. etc…

  2. First, I want to commend you on the blog and the personal disclosure. You write so well, and the subject matter is so relevant. I read Wasted, the book you referenced, and was completely blown away by it. I do not live with Anorexia, but an eating disorder nonetheless. Overeating is just as much a disorder. I find it very interesting to see the similarities that exist between the two. In both cases food and hunger consume the afflicted. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading sister!!!

    • Thank you Ana! I completely agree–food addiction takes so many different forms…even the most seemingly opposite disorders are just manifestations of the same thing. (It’s kind of like the old high-school-history-class example of real-world socialism and fascism being essentially the same thing…) It’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone, and that the struggles you face can be fought and overcome, no matter where you fall on the spectrum. That’s why I love things like the HAES (health at every size) movement. It’s all about finding balance and peace in your own life and body…which isn’t easy, but it can be done! And thank you for reading! I hope you’re doing well 🙂

  3. what…is green juice? also I would like to purchase powdered peanut butter if it is delicious. I also like that you pointed out the feeling of always wanting more- i couldn’t understand people who didn’t WANT to eat, I obsess over it, I couldn’t NOT eat if I tried. and for some reason my brain is wired as if I was a feral cat and should eat as much as possible because it might be gone at any minute

    • Haha, “green juice” is the holy grail of raw vegans…essentially, you just buy a metric sh*t ton of vegetables and throw them in the juicer. My daily green juice was: kale, swiss chard, 1/2 a pear, 3 celery stalks, broccoli, parsley, ginger, and sprouts. It was…well, grassy. I usually added hemp powder and tons of stevia.

      And it’s good to want to eat. It’s only a problem when it starts to make your life unmanageable. I think there are a lot of different factors…going to do a post on it in a few days. I may have to steal your feral cat simile though… 😀

    • P.S. I think only very sad people eat powdered peanut butter. (And that’s a chicken-and-egg situation: are they sad and therefore don’t want to feel the joy of eating full-fat peanut butter, or are they sad BECAUSE they’re not eating full-fat peanut butter?)

  4. Pingback: Top Good Reads Weekly Breakdown: Oct 7 – Oct 13 | LaVack Fitness

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