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Battling the demons of food addiction
August 28, 2014 - Andy Flynn
This week: 389 lbs.
Last week: 391 lbs.
Start (Dec. 17): 470 lbs.
Total lost: 81 lbs.
I can break myself out of a food trance ... sometimes. Other times, I’m out of control.
It all starts with a craving, for food and for an escape from my hectic day. I want to unwind — de-stress — and I’ve always found that watching television or programs on my laptop while gorging myself with tasty food satisfies that need.
When the craving gets too powerful, I find myself in a food trance. Some people liken it to being inside a bubble. When I’m in a trance, I don’t think of anything but eating food that tastes good and eating a lot of it, well beyond the point of feeling full. There are no boundaries, either for the type or the amount of food I buy and eat.
I usually watch a TV program while eating in a food trance. I put my blinders on and tune out everyone. God forbid I drop the food on the floor by accident. At that moment, I get extremely angry. Do the words “temper tantrum” ring a bell? Being inside the food trance bubble is like sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night to grab a few spoons of ice cream, hoping nobody will notice when they open the container the next day. It’s a solitary place, inside a cloak, self-medicating with food. It’s binge eating at its best, food addiction at its worst.
Binging while in a food trance has nothing to do with nutrition. It has everything to do with entertainment and stress relief, unwinding after a long day at work. It’s emotional. Instead of reading a book, exercising or socializing with friends and family, I like to entertain myself by overeating and watching television. It’s all about the high of the moment ... the moment food hits your taste buds. I repeat it, over and over, continually fueling the fire. It’s what people call recreational eating.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I’m going to wreck my body for fun. How about you?”
The key to overcoming a food trance is to look for other entertainment options to reduce stress. But changing my behavior isn’t easy.
Take a breather
I’ve found that one way to stop a binge is to take a breather. Step back and think about what you are about to do. Many times, the binge begins while I’m still at work, and it snowballs until I’m full of food in the evening.
I first began taking breathers at the grocery store with a basket full of junk food. I’d be staring at a bag of pizza rolls through the glass door of a freezer, thinking about what I was doing and why I was doing it. There are plenty of times I put junk food back on the shelves. Other times, when I’m too deep in the trance, I plow ahead and buy the junk.
Then I began taking breathers while driving home from work, trying to talk myself out of binging. Every time I pass by a grocery store or a fast-food restaurant, I celebrate a minor victory, but the battle is far from over. And I’m not always able to drive home without stopping.
Lately, I’ve been battling those binge cravings well before I get into my car after work. I’ll sit behind my desk, wringing my hands and holding my forehead, asking myself all kinds of questions about the hunger I’m feeling. Sometimes it works, and I’m proud of those moments. What scares me are the times it doesn’t work.
On Thursday, Aug. 21, sitting at my desk for what seemed to be an hour, I was going through a hunger moment at the end of the work day. I should have been heading to Henry’s Woods for a hike, but I didn’t feel like it. I had a stressful week. After asking myself the simplest question — “Why do you want to overeat?” — my response was, “Because I want to unwind.” For some stupid reason, after an hour of taking a breather, thinking about my dilemma and fully understanding the consequences, I was OK with that answer and shocked at the same time.
So I went to the store and bought the fixin’s for chicken parm. I also bought garlic bread, tater tots, no-sugar-added ice cream, a 12 pack of hard cider (220 calories per can), a loaf of French bread and a bag of Goldfish crackers. I ate all the crackers, two chicken parm sandwiches using half of the French bread, three pieces of garlic bread, one bowl of ice cream and most of the tater tots and drank six cans of hard cider while watching Hulu on my laptop. It’s just a guess, but that’s probably more calories than I should have consumed for one meal.
Since you’re probably already disgusted, I might as well reveal what I ate on the drive home after competing in the swim portion of the High Peaks Cyclery Mini-Triathlon Aug. 11. I hadn’t eaten since lunch, and I hiked 2.6 miles before swimming 400 yards. Then I had to wait until the event was over, and it was almost 9 p.m. before I had a chance to find some dinner. I had not been to McDonald’s since early June, but I wanted something quick to eat, so I went to the drive-thru in a food trance, damn the consequences. Here was what I ordered: two McDoubles, two jalapeno doubles, a Big Mac and large fries. The woman taking the order thought I wanted three jalapeno doubles, so there was an extra one in the bag. I ate that one, too. I made sure to eat everything in the car so my wife didn’t see what I ate. All I said was, “I got McDonald’s.” Shhh!
There I was — after completing the mini-tri with my team and experiencing the proudest moment of my summer — gorging myself on fast food and experiencing the least proudest moment of my summer. Guilt consumes me when I act stupid like that. It shows that no matter how hard I try to lose weight, I’m still addicted to food.
While the act of confession is a sure sign I’m on the right track, there’s plenty of work to be done. I need to make more fundamental changes for my newly adopted healthy lifestyle. Everyone has ideas on alternatives for de-stressing after a long day, but only I can adopt those alternatives and make the decision not to binge. Between the end of the work day and the time my head hits the pillow, I’m faced with a variety of options for making good decisions.
I found last week — after the chicken parm incident — that taking a breather doesn’t always thwart a binge, especially if I haven’t identified and adopted alternatives to unwinding at the end of the work day. That’s my homework.
Five Ws and an H
This year’s weight-loss journey has forced me to take time to examine what I eat, how I eat and why I eat. I probably spend less time eating than I do thinking about it. The fundamental lessons from all that thinking are: 1) I cook and eat what I buy; 2) I eat what I cook; and 3) I eat what’s on my plate.
My conclusion, and therefore the simplest solution to prevent overeating, is to 1) buy only healthy food; 2) cook less food; and 3) use a smaller plate.
If life was only that simple.
Below are some of the questions I’ve started to ask myself when I’m battling the urge to binge. Some of the answers have helped me eat less food. For example, I took two of my favorite spoons, affectionately called “shovels” by my wife because I’d use them to shovel food down my throat, and threw them in the garbage, taking away the pleasure of eating with them.
-WHO are you cooking for?
-WHAT are you eating?
-WHAT are you eating with?
-WHEN are you eating?
-WHERE are you eating?
-WHY you are eating?
-HOW much food are you eating?
Deconstructing a binge
On Thursday, Aug. 14, I unsuccessfully fought the urge to overeat and wound up in a food trance. At the end of the evening, I’d eaten two plates full of pork stir fry for dinner: 3 cups of white rice, a variety of vegetables and about 1 pound of country spare ribs. Throughout the day, I made some good decisions and some bad ones.
Good decision (7 a.m.): I planned my breakfast and lunch and had healthy choices for both.
Bad decision (7 a.m.): I had not planned my dinner.
Good decision (5 p.m.): I went to Henry’s Woods to hike 2.6 miles instead of going home to watch Hulu on my laptop and eat. I didn’t feel well, but I went for my hike anyway because I had not exercised since Monday, and I wanted to keep momentum going and lose more weight. I’d lost 5 pounds on Wednesday.
Good decision (5 p.m.): I had a 1/4 cup of raw almonds as a snack before hiking.
Good decision (6:15 p.m.): I had plenty of water to drink after my hike because the water bottle in the car was full.
Good decision: (6:45 p.m.): I drove past two Tops Friendly Markets on the way home while I was having a hunger episode. I was craving chicken wings and began the rationalization process before talking myself out of it. I told myself that I’d worked too hard to backslide.
Bad decision (7 p.m.): Once home, I decided to cook pork stir fry with the entire package of country ribs and 1 cup of white rice (dry) instead of 1/2 cup or no rice at all. I should have cooked only one portion of pork, but it was frozen with the entire package. This could have been prevented if I had packaged single or double portions for the freezer and cooked only those. The large portion of rice was cooked under the food trance. I simply didn’t care at that point.
Bad decision (7 p.m.): I contemplated but ignored the option of having salad for dinner. There were plenty of raw vegetables, but no lettuce, in the house. I was late cooking dinner because I went for a regularly scheduled hike after work.
Bad decision (7:45 p.m.): I decided to use a large plate and fill it with food, instead of using a small plate, and eat while watching Hulu on my laptop. I didn’t even consider a smaller plate because I was so hungry.
Bad decision (8:45 p.m.): After 15 minutes of hand wringing, I decided to have a second plate of stir fry, finishing all the food I had cooked. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I wanted to continue that high of eating and relaxing. It had nothing to do with nutrition, as I was already full at that point.
Good decision (9 p.m.): I went to bed before I could eat any more.
Good decision (8:30 a.m. the following day): I wrote down the series of events that led to the previous night’s binge in the hope that I could learn some lessons from it and prevent them from happening in the future.
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Andy Flynn poses with a plate full of banana bread sandwiches overflowing with a cream cheese-based filling, made by a newspaper employee and available for general consumption on the lunch table at the Adirondack Daily Enterprise office in Saranac Lake. He did not eat any of these tempting dessert items. (News photo —Peter Crowley)