The Mindful Cure for Food Addiction

I know how it starts.

Believe me, I’ve been there.

You have a bite.

And then another.

Next thing you know, the box is gone and you feel like shit.

(Again.)

You’re disgusted, ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, and – even through the fog of a sugar high – you know you’re SO much smarter than this. So why can’t you stop eating?

The answer is, because it’s not about the food. It’s about numbing and distracting yourself so you can avoid something unpleasant. 

The boss you don’t like.

The spouse who is distant.

The past you’re trying to forget – or perhaps the future you’re trying to avoid.

My own food addiction in college stemmed from a deeeeeply internalized fear of entering “the real world” with no job, no money, and $40,000 in student loans. (Seriously. My debit card was rejected at Subway.)

Still… rather than face these fears head-on, I’d hit up three different drive-thrus, eat my weight in greasy sandwiches, hate myself for a few hours, go to bed, wake up, hit the gym, and let the cycle begin again.

Sure there was some greedy appeal in the deviously, chemically-addictive food itself, but the added appeal was that the more time I spent focusing on how out of control I was in this area of my life, the less time I had to actually deal with the other parts.  So the distraction was subconsciously intentional.

To be honest, I didn’t think I’d write about this topic again. I’ve already been there, done that and I recovered a long time ago.

Like, when the Backstreet Boys were still together.

But then I read this introduction to Mika Brzezinski’s new book, and so closely identified with her pain and the “daily tyranny” of her hidden addiction that it brought me back to my own struggle, and those of my friends.

While I didn’t use this word at the time, I know without question that I got my life back through mindfulness.  

In fact, the day I started to heal was the day I (finally) admitted I couldn’t change what I couldn’t acknowledge. And once I became willing to observe the triggers that made me want to escape through food, the more I learned the root cause of my bingeing was stress.

Here comes the disclaimer.

You don’t have to be a food addict to recognize the pattern of emotional eating. We’ve all reached for the ice cream at some point to soothe the pain of a broken heart or a broken dream. (The difference, of course, is that addicts can’t stop.)

I was definitely an addict.

And so the gift of being mindful was that it created a space for me to “kill the monster when it’s little.” In other words, I was able to catch myself being triggered LONG BEFORE I showed up at 7-11 like a junkie – and by catching myself I was able to choose a different response.

Waking up to that choice saved me.

Do I still have moments where the monster returns? I’d be lying if I said no.

Halloween in particular is rough.

Still, just being aware of my triggers means I don’t keep junk food in my home, I don’t go to certain restaurants, and I have lots of handy excuses for those cute little Girl Scouts who sit outside my grocery store.  Removing temptation has been my first choice but, in those times when the ugly monster rears his ugly head, turning towards the feeling has become my second.  

Following the practice of mindfulness, I simply ask, “What is this really about?”

While I wouldn’t wish an addiction on anyone else, walking through this storm has taught me a very important lesson:  The more you choose to respect yourself, the easier that choice becomes over time.

And if you don’t choose you, who will?

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