Why the Pain?

I asked, a very long time ago, Why do I find food so emotionally comforting?. I have yet to really come up with an answer.

But in retrospect, that might not have been the right question to ask.

The ‘Warm Embrace’ of Addiction“, written by Gabor Maté and published on October 21st of last year, details that, “The first question–always–is not ‘Why the addiction?’ but ‘Why the pain?'”

I can absolutely see the logic in this. My eating disorder is a symptom, not a cause. As for what is a/the cause…I’m not going to speculate. At least, not right now. I think that question is too large for me right this moment. But if I ever do make it in to speak with a counselor, then at least I have a record of it here. And I can certainly ponder it on my own, though it honestly feels so large that I would dearly love to have a guide to help me navigate its terrain.

But I wanted to share this article here. Certainly I’m not the only one involved with this blog who’s been asking this type of question. Maybe, like me, you haven’t been asking the right question?


What’s Your Excuse?

I’ve been pretty candid on this blog about how I have an eating disorder*, and how that disorder is caused by an addiction to various foods, most specifically sugar and pastry. I have a lot of difficulty with self-control when it comes to food in general, but there are some things I just can’t seem to keep myself away from, no matter how hard I try. I’ve been through that cycle of determination (“I can do better next time! I will do better next time!”), failure (“I didn’t do better this time.)”, and shame (“I’ve failed again—I’m a terrible person.”). I’ve dealt with trying to negate the guilt whenever it wasn’t constructive guilt, but the guilt and the shame aren’t what I wanted to talk about today. What I wanted to talk about today is the actual failure that happens before the guilt. I don’t know that this will turn into anything more worthwhile than some navel gazing, but being a creative type, I do know that navel gazing can often be pretty integral to many processes. So here we go.

I try very hard to stay away from foods that I know will cause me problems if I’m around them. I haven’t been that great about it through the month of December, but I blame the holidays on that one (which, really, is mostly an excuse, but I’m getting to that). I will however, do things like something I did the other day.

A friend of mine is getting married in April, and had a wedding prep party of a sort, at which there were expectedly a bunch of snacks and so forth. Once the party ended, our hostess, another friend, and I were divvying up the leftover snacks. I took home some cookies to share with my husband, but I did not take home a sweet spread containing peanut butter and chocolate chips, because I recognized that, while at the party, I had trouble keeping myself out of it. So I did feel pretty good about that…especially since I’m still battling a craving for more of the stuff, two days later. It is a dangerous substance for me, one that I hope to see at other parties in the future, but one that I don’t intend to ever make myself or have in my own house.

But barring occurrences like that, my willpower concerning certain foods is next to nonexistent. And like I said, it’s been pretty bad lately. Some days/weeks/months are better than others. And it isn’t always due to lack of awareness, either. I am very aware of the problem. I am very aware of how I will feel, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, practically each and every time I’m battling an urge to eat something I know I shouldn’t, and cave in anyway. The guilt has, by now, become second nature (sometimes to the point that I don’t always notice that cautionary voice, as I’ve gotten really good at ignoring it—and that’s definitely part of the problem), and that guilt stems from knowing that I will be unhappy, in some way or another, at a later time, after I’ve caved into my addiction yet again. But still, I keep putting my hand back in the cookie jar.

The reason?

There is always an excuse. Always. If you’re reading this and you’re an addict—whatever your vice may be—you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re reading this and are not an addict, then I’ll explain.

Let’s say that I want a donut. It just so happens that on this day, I am at a social function at which there are many donuts present, and they are free for the taking for all attendees of this social event. Even though I know in my heart of hearts that I should either not have any donuts at all, or, if I am going to partake, should only have one donut, I am, about 80 to 90% of the time, almost guaranteed to over-indulge. Here is a list of possible reasons why:

  • I’ve been good about my diet lately, so I deserve a treat
  • I am not often at social functions that have free donuts, so indulging just this once won’t hurt (This excuse never takes into account the fact that there may be many other areas in my life in which I do have access to indulgent foods, so “once in a while” often turns into “all the goddamn time”)
  • I have difficulty passing up free food
  • I have difficulty passing up an excuse to eat junk, because hey, it’s an excuse to eat junk! It’s justified, right?
  • I’m right about to start, already on, or have just finished my period
  • It is almost, is, or just was my birthday/Halloween/Christmas/any other holiday
  • I have any reason whatsoever to celebrate anything
  • I just want a goddamn donut, ok?
  • I’ve been under a lot of stress/feeling depressed lately, and a treat would really help me feel better (Actually, no it won’t, at least not in any meaningful or lasting way, but that doesn’t matter)
  • I’m bored
  • I know I won’t have time for dessert later, so I should take advantage of the opportunity to have a sweet now while I can
  • I don’t know when next I’ll have access to something sweet, so I should take advantage of the opportunity to have one while I can (This is a big holdover from my childhood)
  • I’ve just had lunch or dinner, and so my brain is in the mood for dessert (Tell me again why it is that we reward our children with more food once they finished their initial food? I feel like Pavlov’s freakin’ dog a lot of the time, and I haven’t lived with a parental figure in years
  • (When at home) Well, I’m almost out of X, anyway, might as well finish it
  • Tomorrow is another day—I’ll try again then, the day’s already half over, no sense in being so strict about it now
  • It’s a day that ends in Y

Like I said, there is always an excuse. There is always a way to justify giving in to the addiction, because, well, it’s an addiction. That’s how they work.

And yes, I am fucking sick of it. I hate that cycle (determination – failure – shame). I want to be rid of it—the fact that I had bariatric surgery is actually a bit helpful, in a lot of ways. But to get further—well, I’ve been intending for a while now to go talk to a professional about it, and haven’t quite gotten that far because of insurance reasons.

In the meantime…

Lately I’ve been pondering why I have such a strong emotional attachment to some foods (an emotional attachment that is part of the reason I have such horrible willpower), and I’ve actually come up with a possible explanation.

There are many people in my family who are, shall we say, rather concerned with their own affairs. Some of them have gotten better over the years…some of them haven’t. It was difficult being a child and growing up in that atmosphere. So I had to find a way to cope with it. So what’s a great way for a child to feel special? Why, give her a treat. Treats are, by definition, special—if they become common, everyday things, then they aren’t really treats.

So basically, I used food as a form of self-comfort to fill a human being-shaped void, to soothe that childish ego that always wants to be the center of attention, but always feels ignored instead. Food is how I deal with my abandonment issues.

I shall have to see if I can find any constructive ways to deal with those issues on my own, until I can speak with a professional. In the meantime, I do feel a certain amount of empowerment with that idea in mind. I have long wondered why I feel such a strong emotional attachment to food. …especially as an adult, now that I have much more control over my own life (agency, free will), and have built for myself a much more stable environment.

Though I do, even as an adult, still feel, in certain situations, and on a pretty consistent basis, as though the carpet is about to be yanked out from under me at any moment. I know that nothing lasts forever…but still I have difficulty dealing with an adapting to change, under a lot of circumstances. Really I usually just try not to think about the possibility of it too much, lest I freak myself out.

Anyway. I will continue to ponder the whys and wherefores. But tonight, it is currently -12°F in Indianapolis, which, with the wind chill, feels more like -32°F, and I’m bound for bed soon. If you’re in or around the Midwest, I hope you’re weathering the aftermath of Winter Storm Hercules well. Either way, here’s looking forward to all of the potential that tomorrow holds.

*If you define the word “disorder” as, “a disturbance in physical or mental health or functions”, then yes, by technical definitions, I have an eating disorder. The ways in which I eat are harmful to my health, and are not what might be defined as “normal” eating habits. I’m not sure why I feel the need to keep justifying my calling it that—perhaps I feel I’m being melodramatic, or perhaps because it’s really self-diagnosed—but really, no, I am not. I have an eating disorder.

Struggling with Self-Comfort

This very restricted, pre-surgery diet that I’m on is, as I’ve written, really difficult. But the entries about this subject have pretty much only dealt with the physical reasons why the diet sucks. I’ve been completely ignoring the emotional and psychological side of things. I think it’s time to change that.

As I mentioned in “The Monster Inside”, food has long been a way for me to feel like I had control over at least some aspect of my life. What I didn’t mention is that food has also been one of my various self-comfort methods. That is, it’s what I use to calm myself down or make myself feel better in stressful or otherwise negative situations. When I feel anxious, sad, or worried, my first impulse is to eat. Being that I’m more high-strung than some, I often feel anxious, sad, or worried. And being that I’m not a robot, I also often feel a whole host of other emotions that trigger that “must eat now” response. This is one of the things I know I’m going to have to find a way to overcome if I want to be psychologically healthy as well as physically healthy. And during my pre-surgery diet, well…I’ve had a few instances of wanting to curl into a ball and cry. Or whimper, at the very least.

I can’t utilize any food-related methods of self-comfort right now. Well, actually, I can’t do it anymore at all if I want to successfully lose weight, but I’m trying not to focus on the permanence of the change right now lest it cause more issues. I’ll cross that bridge when I’m not highly stressed because dammit I’m constantly hungry.

But so that’s a mental adjustment I’m having to make in addition to all the physical ones. I want to resort to my usual means of self-comfort. And I can’t.

But writing about it is very cathartic. (Seriously–if you decide gastric banding/another bariatric surgery is the way to go, I highly recommend you keep a journal, private or public.) It also leads to another Important Question:

Why do I find food so emotionally comforting?

Another way I self-comfort is by snuggling things. These things are often stuffed animals or the like, and occasionally one of my cats if it vociferously demands attention. I can’t bring a cat into work, however (more’s the pity), so I think I might start bringing in something snuggly I can cuddle when I’m feeling down in the dumps. Is that an odd way to soothe emotional issues when you’re twenty-five going on twenty-six? I believe most people would find it so. But there are times when I just stop giving a damn about what other people think and…y’know, this is one of them.

One Last Hurrah Part I

My surgeon likes to say, “If you enjoy bread, eat it now”. (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.) Bread and certain other foods have a tendency to get stuck in the band. I realized that before surgery would be a good time to have a last helping of various foods that I won’t be able to eat anymore for various reasons—either they’d get stuck or they’re restaurant portions that are too big for me to be able to justify buying after I get the band, that sort of thing. My surgery has been scheduled for February 27th, so I’ve been trying to check things off my bucket list.

As this is part of the experience, I thought I would include it in the blog. Due to the numerous items on my list (gee, who’d have guessed there’s be numerous items on the list), I’m going to break this up over a couple of posts so as to be less overwhelming.

In no particular order, here are meals I’ve been enjoying since I found out when my surgery was scheduled for.

Outback Steakhouse
Outback is one of our favorite places to go, particularly for special occasions. The food is good, the service at the location nearest us is typically excellent, and the price isn’t bad for what you get. Outback is home to these diabolical things:

Aussie Fries

Those are Aussie Fries, which are French fries smothered in cheese, sprinkled in bacon, and served with ranch dressing for dipping. …yeah, they aren’t the healthiest things in the world. Since amount of food I can eat with the band will be severely curtailed, I’m going to need to make everything I eat count. Due to its poor nutritional value, this dish will be firmly on the Do Not East list.

To drink I had the rather embarrassingly named Wallaby Darned (with a water chaser).

Wallaby Darned

This cocktail is pretty much the only alcoholic thing I drink because I can’t taste the alcohol…which is amazing, because it’s a combination of peaches, champagne, vodka, and schnapps. So it’s not just alcoholic, it’s pretty damn alcoholic.

And for my entrée, I had a steak, garlic mashed potatoes, and snow crab legs.

Steak, garlic mashed potatoes, and snow crab legs

Not pictured: The side salad and bread I ate.

The Journey
The Journey is the best Chinese buffet I’ve ever been to. All the food is freshly prepared right behind the serving stations, so it’s all hot and delicious by the time you get to it. They have a wide variety of Asian cuisine, including a good selection of sushi—which is also freshly prepared right behind the serving station. I doubt I’ll ever be going here again once I have the band in place because I’m not going to be able to eat very much.

California rolls, tomago, kani, crab rangoon, rice noodles, and various other bits of delicious

To drink, I had water, because I stopped drinking soda a long time ago. And for dessert I had one butter cookie, half of a mini-éclair, and a chocolate covered strawberry (did I mention this place has a four-story chocolate fondue fountain?).

Homemade Chinese Food
One of the things my husband and I bought with money gifted to us when we got married is a deep fryer. We use it for, among other things, making crab rangoon. Otherwise known as this stuff:

Rangoon in the works

A pile of gloriousness

The filling consists of imitation crab meat, cream cheese, grated carrots, tofu, garlic, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. The reason I expect to not eat these again is because they take for-bloody-ever to make, and I don’t know that I’ll feel like making them if I can’t eat that many of them. Also, they’re kinda bready, and I’d be afraid they’d get stuck in the band. Plus there’s the questionable nutritional content, yatta yatta.

The rest of this meal consisted of fried rice (steamed, white rice fried on the stove with butter, soy sauce, shredded carrots, eggs, and tofu), and prepackaged chicken things that we heated in the stove.

Homemade crab rangoon and fried rice with prepackaged chicken added

Not pictured: The apple tea we had to drink. Apple tea is black tea steeped in apple juice, sweetened with sugar.

This food was prepared with the help of my husband and a very dear friend, and in the company of new friends that I’m enjoying getting to know better. We then gorged on the delicious fruits of our labors and played card games until after midnight. All in all, the evening was a rousing success.

Still on the list: Burritos, cupcakes, and fondue.

One thing that’s been on my mind during this is that I will be sad when I’m no longer able to eat these things, or eat these things in the way in which I am accustomed. (I’ll still be able to have steak and mashed potatoes, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to justify paying for huge portions I can’t eat. Those food items, at least, reheat well.)

It feels like a friend and I are parting ways on genial but permanent terms. …which is really weird, because it’s freakin’ food. So here’s an Important Question:

Why do I have such a strong emotional connection to food?

Food is not a family member. Food is not a friend. Food is not any type of loved one, it’s not a childhood memento, it’s not a place I used to live. It’s…food. It is sustenance. It is a thing I put into my body so that my body may continue to function. I’m not saying that it’s not ok to enjoy it, but why the strong emotional connection?

I’m not expecting the answer to this to reveal itself any time soon, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about. It would definitely be a good thing to discuss with a counselor.

Next up: A pre-surgery visit to the dietitian, followed by a pre-surgery diet change (hint: It’s gonna be pretty restrictive).