The First Step is Admitting It
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
Hi. My name is Jill. And I am a food addict.
I knew addiction ran in my family. On both sides. Alcoholism. So I never drank.
The smell of cigarettes and cigarette smoke disgust me, so that was never a draw.
I also knew being overweight ran in my family. It was in my genes. What could I do about it?
I never really learned what to eat. I knew I had to eat everything on my plate. Or suffer the consequences. I’ve never liked quiche. I can remember at least one time, as a child, being left alone at the table, face-to-face with quiche, refusing to eat it. But typically I cleaned my plate. I cleaned it so thoroughly, the joke was my plates could be put straight back into the cupboard. No dishwasher needed.
From around age seven, I was always overweight. Sometimes I was aware of it. Sometimes not. Sometimes acutely so. Sometimes in denial.
A friend’s grandpa once commented that “Becca looks like she’s been eating too many groceries.” Surely he wouldn’t say something like that in front of me if he thought the same of me. I must not be too fat. Or I must hide it well.
I heard about a diet where you eat only cabbage soup. It didn’t sound appealing but didn’t sound too bad. I tried it. Not bad, but not sustainable either.
One day, Amy from school called and told me she had stretch marks on her stomach. She was normal-sized. The stretch marks were worrisome. I didn’t admit that I too had stretch marks. Did she think I did? Did she think I should?
After college, I was hired to work as a performer at a theme park in Georgia. When I arrived, none of the pre-made costumes fit me. I was bigger than all the other girls. The man who hired me said I must have gained weight after they saw me at the auditions. I hadn’t.
Dancing and singing seven days a week at the theme park and running a few days a week on top of that, I lost some weight. I didn’t have a plan. It just happened.
I moved to NYC and got a job as a hostess at a kosher Jewish restaurant. I found some of the weight I had lost at the theme park.
Over the next 10 years, I was diagnosed with food allergies and made serious changes to my diet. While I did lose some weight, I remained in the overweight category.
I had tons of conversations with friends about food and weight. Many of my friends had similar struggles and concerns. We discussed moderation. Abstinence. Mindful eating. Hunger-based eating.
Addiction would come up every once in a while. But food addiction couldn’t be a thing, right? People can’t be addicted to food. You have to eat in order to survive. You don’t have to drink or smoke to live. But you do have to eat.
October of 2017, my friend, Shana, heard of a program called Bright Line Eating (BLE). She signed up for a boot camp and over the course of a year, she lost 65 pounds and achieved her goal weight! She has maintained that goal for two-and-a-half years … and counting.
September of 2018, I joined the fray. Susan Peirce Thompson, the woman who created BLE, has been addicted to just about anything you can be addicted to (sex, drugs, alcohol, smoking), including food. BLE is based on the OA (Overeaters Anonymous) model. Susan is a neuroscientist and approaches her addictions through the lens of science.
For the first time in my life, I was hearing evidence for food addiction. Cravings. Dopamine hits. Crashes. A chemical reaction in the brain. Fascinating.
But that wasn’t me.
Being overweight ran in my family. It was in my genes.
The more I learned about how the brain works, specifically in response to highly refined and processed sugar and flour, the more I could identify with what I was reading and hearing.
My husband had joked years earlier, “Do you think one day we will view sugar as a drug like we do cocaine?” To be fair, documentaries have been made around this topic. He wasn’t the first to consider it. But we began to jokingly envision a world in which being in possession of sugar was an illegal offense. You could be arrested. People would have to stash candy bars and bakery items away from the eyes of the authorities.
With this newfound information on how the brain works, and examples of how an addict’s brain works, I found myself hearing other tales of addiction. A podcaster, 16 years sober, noting the hold his substance had on him. The freedom he felt. The need for total abstinence. Then a slip. Prescription pain killers. Suddenly his brain, acutely aware of time, anticipating the next dose. Never satisfied. Always looking for more.
This sounded familiar. Too familiar.
The chocolate in the middle drawer of the island in the kitchen. Meant to last the week. My “dose” was one square a day. Every time I walked into the kitchen, my senses were on high alert, directed at that drawer. A mental game of negotiation. Staving off the beast. Wait until after lunch. After dinner. Later. Until I would give in and decide to have the one piece “now”. Only to enter the same negotiation an hour later. And another hour later. Until I agreed it was better to finish the bar so it would be gone and leave me alone. I shouldn’t have it anyway. Once it’s gone, I’ll be free of the mental chatter. Until the next trip to the grocery store, when I remember that I don’t have any chocolate at home. I’ll just grab one bar. It’ll last me the week.
Round and round it would go.
It is true that people don’t have to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes to stay alive. We do have to eat. But we don’t have to eat everything.
Some people can eat in moderation.
It’s no different than the alcoholic who abstains from drinking. One drink will send them right back into addiction, negotiating when the next drink will come.
I am a food addict. I do not eat sugar or flour. One bite will send me right back into addiction. Negotiating the next bite. And the next.