Food Addiction, Eating Disorders and Body Shaming: When it’s Not About Willpower

Say you find yourself in a terrible health rut. You haven’t been eating very healthily, you either haven’t worked out or haven’t gotten in a really good high quality workout lately, you’ve been drinking less water, feeling more tired than ever or you’ve just been slacking off somehow. Either way, you’re not making any progress. You ask: “Where did all my willpower go? How can I get it back?” There’s just one thing that you may have to consider: maybe it’s not lack of willpower that is stopping you.

Think about it. You can’t go to a cig user and tell him or her to smoke less just like you wouldn’t go to a depressed person and tell him or her to be happier. It doesn’t work like that. There are certain aspects of the situation that should not be taken that lightly and really needs to be taken into consideration.

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Some people have a serious addiction, whether it be to food, drugs, electronics, hoarding, etc. Addiction only came out of desire once. As it grows, it starts to come more from an impulse, or a sense of comfort/control. For instance, when absorbed in the body, sugar acts as a dopamine releaser very similarly to actual dopamine. This is why people associate certain meals to “comfort food”–you get high, you feel amazing–the problem is that it only lasts for a short amount of time and you have to eat all over again. Same goes with artificial sweeteners and certain carbohydrates. And it only takes one round to get addicted again if you’re recovering.

When I was in eighth grade, I struggled with so many obstacles–epilepsy and speech delay to name a few. I’d come home after a long and dreadfully lonely day of school and eat an entire package of grapes, bowls of cookie dough and handfuls and handfuls of granola and cereal with cow milk. Obviously as time went by the pounds piled on, which made me feel even more horrible in my skin and enforced me to eat even more. It wasn’t until the night I went batshit crazy when I knew my addictions were seriously dangerous.

The simplest solution was to cut those foods cold turkey…..for a period of time (if it’s drugs, then you’ll have to extent that amount of time until your death date). I stopped buying them so that they’d be out of the house–the more abstinence they had in my life, the less I desired them. Since then I did not touch a single bowl of cookie dough, granola or even grape simply because they were “triggers” (yes, even healthy foods can be triggers!). It wasn’t until two years later when I gained enough self-control to eat grapes and granola in moderation and found recipes healthifying cookie dough!

On the other hand, food addiction can be so chronic that you will have to seek outside help in order to start the recovery process. Getting the perspective of a professional is always helpful, since you can trust their knowledge and possible experience.

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Getting the feeling of “control” and “comfort” can actually come in the form of an eating disorder. Eating disorders are forms of positive reinforcement, meaning that repetition of certain habits result in rewards that encourage the cycle to repeat over and over again. I knew someone at my school who rummaged her kitchen to eat whatever she saw fitting: fruit, chocolate, cookies and granola when she felt upset, when she failed a test, when her parents were fighting or when she lost a soccer game, only regretting it minutes later. Her mother told her to stop overeating millions and millions of times, zero of them actually being effective. It’s definitely not a positive situation, but badgering about bingeing only made this girl eat more. When you completely adapt these types of habits, you trap yourself in a bubble. More commonly is when girls develop body distortion, overexercise, purge and under-eat their way to anorexia, bulimia and even orthorexia. If you know my story with calorie counting and overexercising, you know what I’m talking about.

You tend to plan ahead, make sure everything is precise and let the subject run through your mind every minute, every second. You get very irritable when something interferes with your plans–family dinners, no exercise time, nothing healthy to eat, or you can’t record anything; sometimes you even lash out on others. You even find peculiar ways to get around so that you can make up for it, like throwing up your food after everyone’s asleep, sweating it out, lying that you already ate/feel sick/have an allergy or secretly spitting something out. On the contrary, you could go apeshit crazy and eat all of the food in the fridge and the cupboards because you’ll never see them again, and you then cry and self-deprecate yourself for the following three hours, promising that you’ll make up for it tomorrow. But then it happens again…and again and again no matter how much you try.

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What’s harmful is that this seems normal, and you actually like it. Unfortunately, change usually doesn’t happen until a disaster happens. Maybe you have to see someone you love in pain to recognize the eating disorder. Then, you take action: you lay out a plan, get rid of all your triggers and maybe even seek therapy. Sometimes even that doesn’t work–in fact, less than half of the people with EDs have relapses ranging from brief to life-threatening, meaning that they never recover 100%. Millions of victims die with their eating disorders.

Recovery is a highly underestimated journey. Eating disorders are mental issues that cannot just be solved simply by the weight gain (or weight loss for B.E.D.). The ultimate recovery goal is the acceptance of that weight change. You can’t just “snap out of it” or choose to remove your ED. It is a psychological form of abuse that gradually develops in your brain and has control over you by the time you know its there. I remember trying to find willpower to not exercise or to say yes to eating some cake–the willpower to recover from my disordered thinking. Predictably, I failed.

When you step outside, triggers such as a diet label (It’s also why people have switched out of veganism and the Paleo diet: labels!), a sugar free green smoothie photo or a skinny modeling ad will rewind back into that mindset, until you remember that at the end of the day, NOTHING is permanent and significant in your life unless you make it that way. The mental borders that you instigate on yourself will only bring you down. That blueberry muffin three days ago will not be there in a year, five years or ten years.

It may take something big to finally motivate you to recover. You could possibly meet someone who went through the exact same problems but found a light at the end of the tunnel and learn from them. You could read a book, find a blog, find a YouTube video documentary, anything that sheds light on the ugliness of eating disorders and how to get out. Or,you may find an alternative lifestyle that will give you so much freedom–this can be done through veganism, the Paleo diet, intuitive eating, etc. (note that this does not work for everyone and may actually worsen the problem–so proceed with caution if taking this route) Sometimes, you may have to see yourself on the brink of your destruction to jumpstart your recovery journey. Even worse, you have to see that happen to someone else.

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Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand there comes body shaming. We are just SO OBSESSED with image, aren’t we? In fact, statistics reveal that we spend more money on beauty products and procedures than education and social services combined. We are told that when we look beautiful, we are happy. This mantra is only true in some cases, including mine, but it’s obviously not something that everyone should live by. I believe that if you put some effort into cleaning yourself up and enhancing your features, then yes, you can gain confidence. On the other hand, just because you’re the fairest of them all doesn’t mean you’re the happiest.

The year I discovered my weight problems was the exact same year as the birth of the thigh gap. PERFECT, RIGHT? (in tone of sarcasm) At the time, all I wanted was to fit into the standards. I didn’t want to be average, but I wanted to beat the odds and become an ideal. I was told by relatives that I had an inherently curvy and pretty large build, so I could forget about the thigh gap and give up on my goals. While achieving certain “standards” should never be a goal in weight loss or health, those statements remain as mental scars to me. The doubts, the way that my family shoved my goals aside seriously hurt my feelings and made me feel even more worthless than I had already felt. I only let that negativity deplete away through my exercise while I kept those remarks in mind. A few months later, boom, I found the slightest trace of a thigh gap and proved everyone wrong. Today, my thighs tend to fluctuate. Sometimes I wake up with a thigh gap, sometimes I don’t. Of course, the distance between your thighs did not change how I ate, how I performed and how I felt. I’d be sad on a “thigh gap” day and happy on a “no gap” day.

There is just one problem to resorting to body shaming, however. Like fashion, body standards are just trends that expire. There are just too many ways people market these different ideologies of the best body. Curvy, thin, big booty, small waist, tall, average height, wide hips, tan lines, a symmetrical face, large muscles, flat abs, you name it. Think of all the cultures around the world and how differently they would photoshop or portray their ideals. You will NEVER please EVERYONE, and that’s not what life is about in the first place. There are enough people in this world who can see beyond the skin-deep surface and know your true colors. A beautiful body does not signify a beautiful personality. If everyone in the world was blind, what do you think would happen?

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If anyone reading this is struggling with food addiction, eating disorders, body insecurity, all of the above or none of the above, I really do hope that this post is helpful or inspiring to you. Please, these are extremely serious subjects that can really impact a lot of people dramatically. You don’t have to share this post because that’s not what I’m looking for, but if you know anyone close who deals with any of these three problems or believes willpower is the all-or-nothing determiner, encourage them. Encourage yourself! Take action to kick that food addiction, eating disorder and image obsession in the ass. Our ancestors, who lived such simple lives, had none of these problems and only cared about survival and helping others out. It’s about time that we do the same.

What are your thoughts/experiences/stories regarding body image or unhealthy relationships with food?


2 thoughts on “Food Addiction, Eating Disorders and Body Shaming: When it’s Not About Willpower

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