by Christina Fisanick, Ph.D.

When I first began my recovery journey in 2013, I uncovered mental issues that had been hidden to me and others all my life. I learned that I had anger issues and depression. Prior to beginning recovery, I knew I suffered from PTSD and anxiety disorder, but the anger and depression surprised me. As an adult, I have seen myself as the jolly fat person, always happy and optimistic, even when the chips were down…even way, way down. But when I stopped using drugs (food), these other mental conditions surfaced, and it made me wonder what else bingeing was masking.

As someone who suffers from both Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and Food Addiction (FA), I have a long history of using food for reasons other than nutrition. I ate to feel less lonely, to stop from to stay awake, to work longer, to stop crying, to procrastinate, to avoid, but mostly, to hide. Just like my excess weight, food made me feel hidden from hurts. Hidden from the world. Hidden from myself.

And then, the food was gone. I took all the addictive substances away on May 25, 2013. In one night I decided I had to stop. I had to stop now. On that night, I found myself sitting on the floor in my living room watching The Notebook and bingeing on homemade buttercream frosting. In the middle of the third bowl, tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew I had to stop. The frosting no longer tasted good. It was cloying and disgusting, but I could. not. stop. I got in the shower that night and begged the universe for help. I woke up the next morning and become abstinent of all sugars, flours, and processed foods.

As I began to string days of continuous abstinence together, I felt stronger and more clear headed than I had in years, but I also noticed that it took nothing significant for me to become absolutely outraged. I remember one afternoon when my husband told me he had to leave for work earlier than expected that I broke the handle off of the pantry room door in a fit of rage. My behavior scared me. I felt out of control and dangerous.

My therapist assured me that this phase would pass and that as the chemicals from processed foods left my body, my emotions would balance out. She was right. It took about nine months, but the anger faded as I dealt with the root causes, and my emotions evened out. I felt happy, but not euphoric. I felt content, wise, at peace.

And then at the 18 month mark, I relapsed after having my PTSD triggered. I turned to food to ease my fear. I turned to food to hide from the monsters that I just knew were out to get me. And the old, sick me returned. I was extremely anxious and depressed. I would sit on the couch for hours doing nothing but eating and reading. It took every effort I had to get my son off to school and myself of to work. I stopped exercising. I stopped cleaning my house. I stopped showering. I become a shell of myself. Food was all there was. Food was my best friend and my worst enemy.

My behavior became more erratic. In order to escape this hell that I put myself in, I started spending money. I bought craft supplies and equipment. I bought books and movies that I never watched. I attempted to start multiple online businesses. I was out of control and ended up spending $36,000 that I did not have, a mistake I will be paying for for the next five years.

And then the severe depression came on like a chilling darkness, so black and suffocating that I thought I might not find light again. I was exhausted all the time and could barely function. I used food to stay awake. I used food to continue working long after I was too exhausted to think coherently.

During this time I started to wonder if I might have Bipolar Disorder. I seemed to fit the profile well, but I had never been officially diagnosed. I asked my therapist about it, but she seemed to think that I was simply an addict in relapse suffering from depression.

I tried during those months of blackness to regain my abstinence. I would do great for a few days, and then those foods would call to me so loudly that I would find my hand in the cookie jar once again. Nothing stuck. My weight was rising so rapidly that I had just a few pairs of pants and shirts that fit. Work was stressful and overwhelming. My marriage had deteriorated. My life had become unmanageable.

And then something happened that brought me out of the fog. I woke up from that fog to discover that I hurt all over. My body and my mind felt like I had been in a terrible accident, and I was just beginning the rehab process. I knew I had to find a path back to abstinence, begin meditating again, and put more work into taking care of my needs. I found strength in reducing carbohydrates from my daily intake, but that didn’t seem like enough, so I cranked up the healthy fats and reduced carbs a little more. Within a few weeks, I was feel so much better.

Unfortunately, that is when I realized the extent of the damage I had done to all areas of my life. I had trashed my body, my brain, my wallet, and my relationships to important people in my life. I slowly started the process of reclaiming the peace I had lost, which meant decluttering my home, managing my bills, healing shattered relationships, and caring for my body.

From all of this, it has become painfully obvious that I indeed have more mental disorders than have been diagnosed, but they have been hidden by my drug of choice: food. In a sense, I wonder who could blame me? I started binge eating (as far as I can remember) around age 11, which for me was the onset of puberty. Science has shown for decades that many mental disorders emerge during this volatile time.

Looking back, there is no doubt that I suffered depression as an adolescent. Whether I had Bipolar Disorder then or not remains to be seen, but as the years have gone by, patterns have emerged that point to that diagnosis. Soon, I will see a psychiatrist to get more answers and hopefully come to an even more meaningful understand of what the food has been hiding all these years. I took my first compulsive bite somewhere around 32 years ago. I long for the day when I take my last.

Do you want to read more of my journey through more than 30 years of battling food addiction? Check out my memoir: The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder.