Epilogue: A Happy Ending, One Day at a Time

food-addicts

Toronto Star 11/25/2014

 

In the spring of 2013, the struggle with food was back. Did I really think it had gone away?

The impact was startling. I looked at the tablespoon of almond butter and felt a surge of warmth and excitement. After the third tablespoon, I groaned and put the jar away. I knew I was in trouble. I had been here before and I could feel the dread beneath the exhilaration.

 

The next day I picked up the nut butter jar and morosely stared at it. Then, despite my misgivings, I ate three more heaping tablespoons. But I hardly noticed the taste or the size of my servings. The old chorus had already started: Why not savour just one more spoonful? Just one more to really taste the delicious sweetness of the nuts, the succulent smoothness of the texture? I managed to confine myself that day to only those three mouthfuls, but I wanted more.

 

The next day I barely restrained myself, eating five towering tablespoons. I knew even this would not suffice. It was as if an old hunger had resurrected itself, a hunger that seemed bottomless, impossible to satisfy.

 

I was in a vortex of addiction that Dr. Gabor Maté has described as the “realm of the hungry ghosts.” This had nothing to do with taste anymore; I was trying to get a feeling of satisfaction again that was becoming more elusive the more I tried to get it. By the end of the month, I was sometimes shovelling more than ten mammoth tablespoons into my mouth each night. I knew I had to stop, but each night I gave in.

 

The scale became a terror. I promised myself I would stop once I gained five pounds. Then it was ten pounds. The scale kept climbing as my binges continued. By the time the scale indicated that I had gained fifteen extra pounds, I knew I needed a new strategy. I planned to cut back my nut butter splurges to only once a week, just on Saturdays. That plan lasted three days. I couldn’t possibly hold out until the weekend.

 

So I went back to devising how to eat only a few tablespoons a day. I asked my partner to monitor me, parceling out the tablespoons so I could not cheat. That didn’t last for even one day; I simply could not bring myself to ask her. I scanned my options — what rule could I devise that might actually work?

 

To stop eating this highly triggering food that had trapped me in this insane web of obsession and denial, craving and despair, did not seem possible. The thoughts in my head kept leaping from How could a food do this? to I can’t give this up, this is just too good to give up. I want that buzz, just one more time.

 

Why was I here, at this place, again? Why, when I knew what was happening and actually knew how to stop this cycle, was I caught in this loop again?

 

It took one year before I was ready to take the only action I knew would work. One year because I was stubborn and unwilling to give up the memory of that first night, wanting it back, if even for a few minutes. I could not let go of the anticipation that the next tablespoon would again give me that sparkle of delight. Nothing else I knew of could give me that thrill, other than alcohol, which I had foresworn five years earlier.

 

I grudgingly admitted to myself that I had a problem with this particular food: nut butters were a trigger so I had to quit eating them forever. I already knew I could not eat sugar, bread, chips, and pasta. Now I had to admit I was powerless to control my use of nuts too. The only solution: abstinence.

 

I discovered once again another truth about eating trigger foods: I would do anything — fast for an entire day or walk for hours to burn calories — just to allow myself to eat them. The craving was that strong. But, once I stopped, my desire gradually faded; it is as if the beast inside me is deflating each day that I deny it fuel. Slowly, I lose the mental obsession and regain my peace of mind.

I never did lose the fifteen pounds I gained, but I did stop the disease that had caught me off guard once again.

 

Why am I telling you this when I should be offering hope of freedom from addiction? My intention is to instill hope, but within a realistic context. Based on my personal and clinical experience, I believe that addiction of any kind has no cure. There is only a daily reprieve from its course of malignant action. The engine can restart at any time if the ignition is sparked. The engine is always idling.

The evidence has shown me time and again that I am still a food addict and food addicts are always in recovery, always just one mouthful away from the next binge. Admitting we are addicts is not about holding onto a “victim” identity and wallowing in despair. It is simply a reminder that we are powerless over our internal urges, cravings, and addictions once they are triggered. It is our job to be sure that we identify and avoid the triggers in the first place.

 

It is our job to avoid the first bite.

 

My message to you is that if you have a hunger that seems eternally ravenous, there is an explanation. You may be a food addict. Once you understand why this peculiar phenomenon of desiring food beyond “normal” hunger occurs, the solution to quelling that need is obvious. It cannot be done by filling that seemingly bottomless pit with food and more food. The solution to quenching that insatiable hunger is to put the alluring food down, since eating more of it only leads to wanting more of it.

 

Rather than trying to receive gratification from food or any other addictive substance, turning that desire toward connecting with others placates that ache. By sharing our humanity, we can bond with others and feed our own soul. We are then able to feel full at last; the bottomless pit that food addicts experiences can then fade like a bad dream. Freedom from food obsession can taste better than anything you could possibly imagine.

 

I invite you to leave the bleak world of food junkies and join me, by helping others on this journey towards food serenity. The power is ours.

 

Comments

  1. You get it.
    I have been fighting this my entire life. Actually got it under control, or I thought, when I stopped Gluten.
    I thought this addiction was/is only with Sugar.
    However, after I got off gluten and sugar, I turned to heavy cream.
    Luckily for me, I am following a pretty strict ketogenic lifestyle. Unluckily, I passed that point of too much of a good thing.
    As of now, I am off the cream as well.

    I know every bite I take is one step from a huge portion of food gone and possibly redo at the same time the next day.

    Again, thanks

    Doug

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Thanks Doug – you got it too. Even fats at a certain point for some of us can become addictive. It is very wiley, this addiction to food!

  2. I just finished listening to you on underground wellness. IA a food addict. I was in treatment for bulimia,without purging, I have gone to 12step meetings. I went to weight watchers in 2001and lost 130 lbs. I exercise daily and constantly still food is an issue. I can binge on lettuce. I know I can’t eat sugar and I do ok much of the time, but here we are the day before Christmas eve and kids are coming with cookies, candy will be in my stocking, parents at school thank me with candy. Last year I ate an entire box of candy in less than an hour.
    I can be in control for a while, in fact I’ve maintained most of my weight. I fight 30 lb. I gain and lose.
    I love what you wrote above because it’s true for me too.
    I think I need support again to help me.

    Thanks for your helping me already.

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Yes, your story certainly seems the same struggle. It is so much more than a physical struggle only. I urge you to get the book Food Junkies – you can get it on Amazon and it is at promo prices on Kindle. You are SO not alone.

  3. Unfortunately, this is so me. I’ve quit alcohol, bread, pasta etc and am now eating “healthily”. Except that now I overdo nut butters, heavy cream, dried fruits, the occasional chocolate gift box, you name it instead. My eating patterns haven’t really changed. I can go without all these trigger foods for a while, but sooner or later I get that idea that I can have a little. Which soon escalates into a lot. Which leads to having to throw the rest of it out and banish it. Then feels so good: finally I’m clean! I’m starting over! This time I’m so gonna make it! And then, after I’ve been clean for a while, I think that I shouldn’t have to restrict myself so much. Or there’s a birthday party, or some other food situation I’m not really prepared for. And then I’m back to having a little, having more, and ending up in hell. I didn’t realise I was that addicted until I reas about your nut butter incident above. Thank you so much for sharing that. This gave me insights as to actually solving my own problems.

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. Please read my book Food Junkies – I wonder if you can relate to this too and see if it is helpful? It is my hope that if we start talking about this struggle – more people will start talking – and more and more, and eventually there may be a critical mass where we can actually bust the shame and help each other.

      • I just ordered your book. Thank you for making me take that step. I really want to break free from all these food obsessions that I’ve got and become one of those people that don’t really care that much about food.

  4. This is all the awareness you need: “I looked at the tablespoon of almond butter and felt a surge of warmth and excitement”. As a food addict I completely relate. Where could this lead but trouble & devastation? Simple – don’t eat foods that call out with “warmth and excitement”. Not easy though! I sought an eating disorder therapist and OA. Each day is better.

  5. Your interview on Underground Wellness was brilliant. I had listened to another you did with Sean some time ago. But the clarity of the message – it’s relentless, unfortunate truth and, with it, your true compassion and understanding of the individuality of each case – were an absolute beacon. I also appreciated your acknowldgement of the importance of addressing the emotional issues alongside the abstinence. The nut butter post is exactly exactly my experience with tahini! Thank you

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Thank you! Tahini, eh? I appreciate your feedback, yes, it is individual, yet at the same time, it is the same ‘same old’ struggle.

      • Hi – I have been reading your posts with great interest. I have been in recovery for 32+ years from drugs and alcohol and cigarettes but the last frontier is of course food. It has been my comfort and my downfall over the years. Just went through a terribly difficult divorce and turned once again to food. For me it is a spiritual solution. I was back at that place of living to eat and needed to change it back to eating to live. I was finally able to do it about 4 months ago. But like recovery from other substances it is a daily reprieve. Thank you for understanding.

        • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

          Hi, yes, that is true – it is the last frontier! Please have a look at my book Food Junkies. If you find it useful, would you consider giving it a review on Amazon? Thank you ever so much.

      • the book is great – have left a review on Amazon UK – glad you are doing what you are doing!

  6. I have struggled with food much of my adult life. Even so I was normal weight until menopause, then my cravings, in part due to serious insomnia, escalated dramatically. I gained over forty pounds. I starved myself between binges on sweets, but finally started a very low carb eating plan a three years ago which has helped tremendously, and my weight has been slowly coming down. Still, every few weeks something sets me off, and I go off the rails for two or three days. I am clearly addicted to carbs, and have to own it. My goal this year is to stop the binges. I plan to make a safe alternative once a week, and maybe stop the deprivation mindset. I’m keeping a food journal, and reading as much as I can about addiction. Food is such a challenge. I quit smoking many years ago without trouble, but I find fighting urges for sweets is far harder.

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Hi
      Can I suggest that you get my book Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction? It is very cheap on kindle if you dont want to buy it as a hard copy. Really, if you are a food addict, allowing yourself to have a ‘safe alternative’ to avoid the deprivation mindset WILL NOT work, but will keep you in the cravings. If you are not a food addict – then the deprivation arguement has some merit. Please buy the book to understand why your approach is doomed IF you are a food addict. Food is a challange, and people who have quit smoking, even crystal meth, say that food is harder to quit.

  7. I have struggled with emotional eating most of my adult life but I just refuse to believe there is no cure. I have been for the first time not dieting anymore because it really isn’t about the food but more about what is going on in my head. I have been working on my thoughts because it all starts in the mind and thinking about what I’m thinking about. It has been doing a lot of good and helping me to realize why I do what I do. I hoping that loving myself, changing my thoughts about myself and food will be the cure. There has to be an end to this madness I just have to believe that

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Hi Lana, You might be right that in your case it is not about the food. However, if you keep struggling, it might be about the particular foods that are triggering you over and over. Please have a look at my book Food Junkies – which explains food addiction, and also who is and who may not be. I think it might be helpful. Your suggested techniques are great – but they may not be enough. I wish you well!

  8. Thank you for your book Food Junkies. It is giving
    me hope. I am so ashamed that I can’t control my
    eating but I realize the secrecy of shame allows
    Me to continue in the behaviour. I am going to see
    what happens if I abstain ( nut butters are so
    addictive ) and start going to a food addicts group.
    I can abstain from alcohol and marijuana but have
    never been able to control my late night eating.
    At least I no longer binge and purge.
    Talking therapy hasn’t helped. Not even group therapy
    at Sheena’s Place has helped.
    But your book has given me hope.

    • Dr. Vera Tarman says:

      Hi
      Thank you so much for sending me your email. I hope you find the group helpful – if not, let me know, as there are a few to choose from. You really have to find a good match for you.
      Would you mind writing this on an Amazon review? It does get read and is helpful for others. Thanks in advance, and please keep at it – it is worth it to loose the obsession.

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Dr. Tarman does not do individual food addiction consultations,Thanks.