by Christina Fisanick Greer, Ph.D.
Optimistic Food Addict
I was up late working, like usual, when a message popped up from a man that I dated 25 years ago. Although the conversation started out with both of us commiserating about being up late, it soon moved to him slowly revealing that he still had a crush on me. I was surprised given that when we dated, we were teenagers, and I had honestly forgotten most of what we did together, including why we broke up.
Just three years ago I would have been flattered by his profession of love/lust. “Someone likes me! Someone thinks I am attractive!” But something significant had shifted in me since I entered recovery from food addiction in 2013–my self-esteem has soared.
At first I was polite, trying to understand where he was coming from. Why, I wondered, would a married man tell a married women that he still thought about her in a romantic why? Was his marriage troubled? Was he having regrets? As I tried to figure out what triggered his confession, I found myself getting angry, which shocked me more than his words.
The more he wrote, the more angry I became. Finally, I said, “I am married.” Then, I am blocked and deleted him, an act that one of my male friends thinks is childish, but one that I stand by.
I shut my laptop lid with a huff and walked out onto my back deck, breathing in the cool night air. It was around 3 am and even the bugs had stopped singing. In the silence of my suburban neighborhood, I stifled an angry scream by holding my breath. Once I released it, I climbed down the stairs, flipped on the garage light, and searched for my work gloves. I slipped them on, their gray suede surfaces dirty from my last gardening project, and walked over to the Rose of Sharon bushes standing stark along my back hedgerow. I had been meaning to uproot a dead bush for years, but never got around to it. Tonight was the night.
Thinking about all of the men who had ever humiliated me for the way I look, menaced me with their provocative stares, and continued to have sex with me long after I had said no, I pulled with all my might and ripped out the bush, dirty, bugs, and dead leaves scattering in the night. The satisfaction of that effort, of taking care of a chore I had been meaning to do for years was overwhelming. I carried the now-hollow branches to the pile of yard remnants waiting for the chipper.
As I filled in the hole with a bag of top soil, I realized I was sweating and trembling from exertion, but I felt so powerful. I felt like I could take on the world. I felt fearless. I walked back into the house, chugged a glass of water, and went straight to bed. I woke up the next morning feeling well rested and transformed. Being able to say no to a man’s advances–to give myself that choice, to respect my own desires–because the love and esteem I held for myself was strong and secure was truly miraculous. For as long as I could remember, I would say yes to a man’s attention, even if I had no interest in him because I thought it would make me feel better about myself. In the end, it always made me feel more worthless.
It has been almost two months since that night, and it has been almost two months since I last binged or ate compulsively. I exorcised a demon then. Through my anger I released decades of self-loathing and discovered power in myself that I did not know I had. The manifestation of my eating disorder shifted again, like it had done several times in recovery. My relationship with food has become almost easy.
I eat three meals a day. I eat until I am almost full because I know that if I eat until I actually feel full, then I will feel heavy and sick by the time my brain catches up with my stomach. Sometimes I still can’t tell if I am full or not because that is how it is with food addicts, but I monitor it anyway, waiting for the signal. I have done this for most of my recovery. The difference: it is never hard to stop eating before I am full. I check in, assess my state of satiety and fullness, and act accordingly.
The difference is that I am not really putting in any effort. When the rare occasional food thought comes, I let it and then I keep doing whatever it is I am doing. I am not measuring food. I am not counting calories or fat grams or portions. I am not counting my daily steps or regretting not making it to the gym when I miss some mornings.
I find myself hungry only at meal times and often not even then. I eat anyway, though, because I know it is important. Eating three meals a day is like brushing my teeth…it is an act of prevention.
I wish I knew why this was happening; what triggered this stage in my recovery. It is mystifying.
I can’t and won’t just ride the wave or enjoy this simply because it is my natural inclination to find out what is happening in my head, in my body, and in my life.
I feel normal. I feel like what I imagine people without an eating disorder must feel like. I sit down at the table for a meal, eat foods that nourish me, and clean off the table. I don’t linger over the last morsel of food or munch on the scraps my son left behind. I put my plate in the sink and go back to my desk or walk to the playground or drive to the store.
Unlike my first 18 months in recovery, my thoughts are not on the scale or on abstinent eating. My thoughts are on living. Preparing for upcoming readings of my new book, volunteering at my son’s school, helping other food addicts in their recovery, and so on. I realized a few days ago that I am no longer trying to escape from anything. My life is far from ideal, especially my family life, but I am not running from it. I am facing it head on and maybe ripping out a few dead trees along the way.
If you want to read more writing like this, please see my other books on the subject of food addiction: The Optimistic Food Addict’s Recovery Journal and Activity Workbook and The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder.
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