Food addiction. Do those words sound like absolute bollocks invented by the media to you? Fair enough. Sit down my friends and allow me to introduce you to my world.
I have a shocking announcement for you – I’m a fat person. I know, I know, try to hold back your incredulity. It’s a fact. I am in excess of 30+ kilos overweight and it’s literally killing me.
When you look at me, you will know that I am a fat person, but you may not think it’s that big of a deal.
“But Steph,” people so often exclaim, “you don’t look that big!”
While I thank you for your flattering observation, the fact remains that I am marching myself towards death by Type 2 Diabetes at a really rapid pace.
“Well!” I hear you huff behind your computer screens. “Do something about it then!” I couldn’t agree more. And here, dear reader, is where I need you to understand a few things.
I agree wholeheartedly that weight loss and healthy living is down to you as an individual. No one can fix your bad habits except yourself. No one can make you get off the couch and lead a more active lifestyle. Much more importantly, no one can make you eat healthier.
Yet even as I’m writing this, I feel the need to apologise. I feel a million judging eyes staring down and telling me to just fix it. I feel the need to apologise for the fact that I learned bad habits. I feel the need to say sorry that I’m a fat sack of shit that will never be attractive, important or add anything of value to the world. I feel, in short, like I’m failing before I start.
Food and My Non-Existent Social Life
I’ve noticed a pattern over the years – Steph starts healthy eating plan, Steph gets bored being stuck at home, friends invite Steph out to event that involves food, Steph’s willpower crumbles and Steph falls off the wagon in a big way.
“Goddamnit Steph!” I hear you scream, “just eat out in moderation! Just make sure you’re eating healthy most of the time so those occasional indulgences don’t matter so much!”
You sound very accusatory, reader-of-mine. That’s probably because I’m writing you to sound a lot like my own brain sounds like, so if I’m painting you out to be a bit unsympathetic here that’s probably why.
I had a revelation recently. Well, technically someone older and wiser than me had a revelation and I’m passing it off as my own. My aunt, who after over 30 years of being overweight lost over 20 kilos in the past two years, was visiting from Brisbane. She, seeing the state I was in, was trying to get me to sort my shit out. She said a lot of things during that trip but the one thing that stuck in my head most was that she said she was “like a recovering alcoholic” when it came to food.
It is the best description I’ve ever heard to describe my relationship with food.
You would be correct in the moderation side of things had I already lost the weight and was simply trying to maintain it. But while I’m trying to lose it, this description is more apt. If I fall off the wagon, it’s back to square one. The cravings come back, the “oh well I’ve failed anyway” mentality comes back and I end up undoing any good I’ve managed to achieve.
It’s harder than you think to cut food out of your social life. When I moved back to Adelaide after two and a half years away, I found that the world had moved on. People who I used to see all the time had new friends, new partners, new jobs, new everything. There wasn’t space for me. People I considered close friends either turned down my suggestions of catch-ups without offering alternatives, or cancelled on me at the last minute on a regular basis. I felt like a stranger in my own city. I tried new hobbies, tried to take up new activities and explore new places in an attempt to make new friends. Anyone who lives in Adelaide knows that even this is often not enough to break into new friendship groups once you hit your mid-twenties here.
So what happens when you’re feeling alone and isolated and someone throws you a bone and invites you out to dinner?
You fucking say yes, obviously.
I love that people invite me out – I’d go insane if they didn’t. But I’m by nature someone who has to be doing something all the time so if I’m not at work then I’m trying to socialise, and if all everyone wants to do is either eat out or be at events/festivals/activities which involve copious amounts of junk food, then we have a problem. My one dinner catch up with you that week? Yeah it wasn’t one with you. It was probably anywhere between two and seven if I’m on holidays from work. And we’re back to the start again. And my wallet hurts.
Food and Emotions – A match about as successful and about as dramatic as Romeo and Juliet (and just as whiny)
When I feel upset, the first thing I do is think about food. The second thing I do is eat it. The third thing I do is shut the logical half of my brain that’s screaming “STOP!” down and eat more. The fourth thing I do is feel bad about whatever I just ate, making me feel bad, and therefore restarting the cycle.
Frankly, this whole process pisses me right off.
As I was writing this article, I felt utterly disgusted with myself. Disgusted and angry. The whole time I was sitting here thinking “you sound like you’re making excuses for yourself – just stop it. Just own up to being a useless lazy piece of shit”. Some of you may well agree, and I don’t blame you. But I don’t think people often understand the depth of the self-hatred that occurs in those of us who overeat. It’s pretty much insane. Literally.
Eating is not just a consolation when I’m sad. It’s a form of self-harm. It has the same effect of short-term release of dopamine but then long term guilt. It is just as addictive, but more socially acceptable so easier to get away with as an adult. It is just a really, really slow way to kill yourself, but one which people get far less angry at you about because half the population is obese anyway so who’s going to notice?
That may sound harsh but it’s my reality.
Healthy Eating and Time
If there’s one thing I have learned about healthy eating in recent months, it’s that it’s time consuming. That time may well be worth it, but it does take time to adjust your entire schedule and habits to account for the need for this level of prep when your entire adult life has been an exercise in “which food item can I stuff into myself with the least possible effort”.
Changing habits is hard, we all know that, but I’m not talking about incorporating a half hour of exercise into each day (as a matter of fact, I’m actually pretty active – my diet just sucks ass, and as you know you can’t out-train a bad diet).
Next time you’re having a go at someone for being a lazy shit for not prepping their food and eating like every other bloody person on the planet manages to do, take into account that it’s not one small habit you’re asking them to change or form.
Eating healthy requires you to learn how to:
- plan your meals
- prepare meals ahead of time for busy days
- shop appropriately so you’re not drowning in spur of the moment purchases and leftovers you couldn’t eat before their expiry date
This is doubly true if you live alone, because you have to prep your groceries and meals more carefully to avoid wastage. More often than not, it involves shopping every few days.
All of this may sound simple to you, and if so I’m glad for you. Congratulations. You have good habits. I envy you and wish even harder than usual that cooking and Home Economics and/or Food Technologies had ever been a subject at my school in High School, or that I’d spent more time helping my mother cook for the family when I was growing up. I shit you not, it has taken me the last three years to learn how to cook. That was Step One. I’m still working on the planning and shopping. I have a headache just thinking about the weekly menus.
Does all this mean it’s too hard and I shouldn’t try because waaaah woe is me I can’t adult like a real adult?
Of course fucking not!
But it does mean that I need you to stop judging me when I stare in awe at your recent dinner creation. And I also need you to give me the recipe, thanks.
People often kind of don’t want you to succeed
Ooooh taboo. But we’re a fitness promoting society! We’re all about #fitspo and being the best you that you can be!
Yep. Yep. We are. But we also don’t like feeling bad about ourselves or hearing about depressing things.
You know what’s going to make you feel bad about yourself? Hearing that your mate, who’s just as fat as you and has been struggling as long as you, has sorted their shit and lost a bunch of weight. Are you happy for them? Of course! But are you also somewhat panicked because they’ve achieved what you still can’t? Yep, that’s a thing.
You know what’s depressing? Listening to someone who has a genuine problem with food talk about all the things they’ve had to cut out in order to be successful. We don’t want to hear about how hard it is. We want to hear that you made small changes that added up over a long time but it was fine because it happened so gradually you barely noticed! Right… do you actually understand how bad my diet is? Do you understand that when you put on 20 kilos in the space of a YEAR that making SMALL CHANGES will result in death at a slightly slower rate? Small changes do not cut it when you’re on the cusp of Type 2 diabetes. So yeah. My lunch is going to look weird and possibly depressing (although I’ll have you know that lettuce tacos with hummus are actually delicious). I am going to have to miss out on a bunch of things. It’s still better than the bloody alternative.
So what’s the point of all this?
If you think I’m saying “oh it’s all too hard let’s all be fat!” then I apologise for my lack of communication skills, because that’s not what I’m driving at. If you think I’m trying to criticise society for judging people by their appearance, then that’s also not my point.
My issue with my weight is not about my appearance. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt I might feel a little better if I could buy clothes from anything but online shops, but I also know that I didn’t feel any better about my body image when I was a healthy weight either.
My issue is health. My issue is with the way the world sees my struggle with my health. Weight loss is an individual journey, yes, but it’s also worth noting that you can really help someone struggling by your actions too.
- Don’t stop asking them to do stuff just because they can’t eat out. This is probably THE MOST helpful thing you can do. They probably already feel isolated as hell and that’s something you can help with. Find something else to do. See a movie (and don’t encourage them to go to the bloody snack bar), go for a walk, check out your local botanic garden, check out places like Bounce or Latitude, ask them if they want to come for a walk with you and your dog, suggest a round of mini-golf, invite them over to sit and watch docos or play a video game (and don’t provide snacks to go along with it), WHATEVER. Believe it or not, there are things you can do which don’t involve food.
- Don’t ask them to make an exception.You may not think that coming out for your birthday dinner is a big deal. You may not think that one dessert bar you’ve wanted to check out is a big deal. You may not think celebrating some big event at the local bar is a big deal.
It is, it is, it is, it is.
Of course you can’t cancel these events because that person isn’t comfortable. I’m not asking you to. But understand if they say no, and don’t write them off your friendship list because they do. And if they do turn up, for the love of all that is holy don’t sit there and encourage them to indulge “just this once”. Please.
- Don’t mock them for what they’re eating.“Oh you’re trying that fasting diet? I’ve heard that’s really bad for you.”
STOP. Just stop. Unless someone is starving themselves or throwing up after each meal, leave it alone. If it sounds suspect, then by all means inquire if they’ve spoken to their GP about what they’re trying. But don’t sit there and pass judgment on whatever method they’ve chosen to try to get through it. Shakes and fad diets suck – we know this. We also know they work for some people. Sure, maybe it won’t work for the person you know, but maybe it will, and either way at least they’re trying something.
You’d also be surprised. There is a veritable shit-tonne of information floating around at the moment about what is healthy and what is not. What you think in your super-informed opinion is right for everyone may actually not be right for the person you’re speaking to.
Is their doctor aware of it and okay with it? If yes, don’t lecture about how that’s the wrong way to do it.
- Don’t hate me because I’m fat.Because yes, I do think you’re disgusted by me. That’s just a fact.
Ultimately, the message is the same I often have for you guys. Be kind to each other. Be gentle. Help people fight their battles, or at least don’t unintentionally throw another hurdle in their path.
Need help? It’s around. Social media gives you instant access to a lot of like-minded and supportive people who might be struggling just like you. The girls at the Facebook Group “Talk Healthy To Me” might be a great place to start, but there’s a lot around.
As for me, well I just threw out a pizza I was about to binge eat and wrote this instead.
I’m getting there. I am.