Thursday, August 27, 2015

Overcoming Food Idolatry: Mystery Blogger Series

I'm terrible at taking blog breaks, or relaxing in general. But just in case I do happen to feel like relaxing with this new baby when the time comes, I've asked some of my favorite bloggers to guest post for me. But not in the usual way.

Blogging is a great way to share insights and experiences. But, sometimes, as much as we'd like to start a discussion, it's not our story to share, or feelings could be hurt, or relationships damaged. So, for my guest posting series, I asked bloggers to share here, anonymously, posts they felt they couldn't put on their own blogs.

I hope you'll find them as compelling as I have.

-Kendra 


It seems that food is an inescapable part of our culture, especially as women. When there’s a playdate, a mom’s group, or a women’s conference, you can bet there will be a table of baked goods, pastries, and other delicacies. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course; but the sight of such tables used to fill me with a sense of dread and a rush of adrenaline. You see, I’m a compulsive overeater, and food is my idol and my drug of choice.

Just from looking at me, you might not know that this is the case. At my heaviest (197 lbs on a 5’6” frame) I was a size 14 and while I wasn’t slim and trim, I wasn’t morbidly obese either. I’m currently hovering between 160 and 162. Health-wise, I could stand to lose another five or ten pounds, but it’s also not a guiding factor of my life to be a certain pants size or see a certain number when I step on the scale.

It used to be a guiding factor. I could write a book about my relationship with food (and maybe someday I will), but here’s the abridged version:
  1. Loved food, especially desserts, junk food, and “comfort food”
  2. Discovered as a preteen that eating as much of these things as I wished was making me gain weight
  3. Disliked how I looked when I gained weight
  4. Attempted to diet and exercise
  5. Failed; consoled myself with food
  6. Attempted step 4 again; succeeded; rewarded myself with food
  7. Repeated steps 4-6 continuously for about a decade
  8. Was certain that my college crush would love me if I were thin
  9. Through a lot of unhappy dieting, got thin
  10. Crush dated and eventually married another girl
  11. I comforted myself with the thought that at least I’d learned how to “eat right” thanks to my diet
  12. I started uncontrollably binging again and fell into despair
And then, after those 12 steps into the abyss of isolation and food obsession, I discovered a new set of 12 steps: the 12 steps of Overeaters Anonymous. I went to my first OA meeting in November of 2005 and left the meeting knowing I was not alone. I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t quit eating. I wasn’t the only one who...
  • snuck food
  • hung around the food table at parties
  • went to social events for the food
  • bought food and ate it in the car on the way home from the store so no one would know
  • lied to cashiers who asked if I was having a party based on how much junk food I was buying
  • hated myself for not being able to “just have a little self-control”
I know some of you--maybe even most of you--are normal eaters. You can leave a half-eaten piece of pie on your plate because you’re full. You can eat a handful of chips at the Superbowl party and then not think about them anymore. You can even notice that you’ve gained a couple of unwanted pounds after the holidays and then actually go about losing and keeping off the weight with a diet. I applaud you, but I am not one of you.

For anyone else out there who knows the magnetic pull of food; for anyone who can’t be satisfied with “just one” or “just one more,”... I get you. There are some foods I just don’t eat anymore because “none is easier than one.” I can’t eat them moderately, and God knows I’ve tried. Just as an alcoholic can’t have just one beer, I can’t have just one donut. I will either eat as many as I can surreptitiously lay my hands on, or I will obsess about how to get some more later without anyone knowing about it.

Since coming into OA, I have learned that my problem wasn’t that I was kind of fat and I just needed to lay off the ice cream for a while. My problem was that I had made food into my god. I was breaking the First Commandment and food was my idol. Food was my comforter, my peacemaker, my friend. Food never turned me down for a date. Food never gave me a C on a paper and demanded a rewrite. Food was always there with open arms, promising the same old thrill.

But the same old thrill wasn’t enough; as with all addictions, food addiction is progressive in nature. At some point in my life, one piece of pie was enough. Eventually, one whole pie was enough...enough to fill my stomach for a while, but as soon as I could manage to eat some more, I would. I wasn’t happy about any of this, mind you. I hated myself. I ate to console myself and to punish myself. If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. But perhaps some of you know what I mean.

This November will mark my first decade in OA. I say “first decade” because, by the grace of God, I plan to spend the rest of my life going to OA meetings and talking to OA friends on the phone and working through the 12 steps of the OA program (which, while not religiously affiliated, align pretty much perfectly with our Catholic faith). I wish I could say that I’ve been “abstinent” (which is defined in OA as “the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight”) for the whole time. I’ve had multi-year periods of abstaining and I’ve also had multi-year periods of relapsing. I’m currently six months into a new period of abstinence and I’m so grateful to be released from the slavery to food.

In her song “Compelled,” singer-songwriter Sara Groves puts into words the whole gist of my life in recovery.

What a relief it is to know
that I’m a slave to Christ.
Of all the masters I have known,
I’m compelled to live this life
free for you…
And I have a new hope that blows away
the small hopes I knew before
and at the end of the day I am yours
and I am compelled

At the end of the day, whose are we? Did we labor under the yoke of slavery to food, overspending, sex, prescription drugs, or something else? Or did we take up Christ’s easy yoke and light burden instead? AA’s primary text, Alcoholics Anonymous, puts it this way: “We tried to find an easier, softer way [than taking the steps suggested for recovery]. But we could not.” Our own idols promise comfort and delight, but they don’t have the power to give those things in abundance. Only Christ can do that.

As one great hymn pleads, “Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.” Those words have a whole new meaning to a compulsive overeater like myself. Till I want no more? Jesus, do you even KNOW how much bread I can eat?? Yes. Yes He does. You’ve likely heard it said that Jesus comes to meet us where we are; that He meets us in our weakness. It’s true. My mouth has been the gateway to the great weakness of compulsive overeating; yet in the Eucharist Christ enters even there in order to heal me and claim me as His own.

When I pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” I think of the roof of my mouth. I think of all the excess that has passed its way and how much I’ve sinned against my own body. I’ve stuffed it full of food in ways, at times, and to degrees which were sins against the body God bought at so great a price. I know that I am definitely unworthy of receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ into this same space; and then I say the rest of the sentence: “...but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” It is a mystery of mercy.

Whether you read this post in puzzlement that anyone could be so obsessed with food, or whether you are reading it while nodding vigorously and maybe even crying because you’re this way too, I want to thank you for reading, and to thank Kendra for letting me share my story here. If nothing else has worked for you and you feel completely demoralized by your attempts to deal with food obsession (dieting, starving, purging, etc.), I hope you will look into Overeaters Anonymous. It has changed my life for the better in countless ways. As we say in OA meetings, “Whatever your problem with food, you are welcome here. Welcome to Overeaters Anonymous. Welcome home.”



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6 comments:

  1. Awesome! Thanks for sharing! It's such a hard addiction, as you know, because you can't NOT eat food, like you can NOT drink alcohol. I've struggled with this at times, too!

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  2. Very interesting to me. I am very overweight. But I really don't think I'm a food addict in this way. Obviously I have issues, lol. But I don't sneak food, I don't reward myself with food, or obsess about it. I have a big appetite, I like to eat, and I lack in self-discipline (not just where food is concerned). But I see my husband here. That's all I can say about that, because I don't want to gossip about him, but. Yeah. Big time. He is overweight, but a lot less overweight that I am. But this is him.

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  3. The Mystery Blogger asked me to add this comment for her:

    I should have mentioned this more clearly in my post, but I definitely do not think that we can just go around assuming that every overweight person we see is a food addict, any more than we can assume that all thin people are anorexic/bulimic! I believe that each man or woman must examine their own conscience and check in on their relationship to food: if it is becoming either a physical, spiritual, or emotional problem that has spiraled out of control. If so--regardless of their appearance--it *might* indicate a deeper problem than "merely" a lack of self-control.

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  4. Thank you to the mystery blogger for being so vulnerable and sharing her story.
    Thank you Kendra for this series - such a great reminder that in our own respective way, we are all broken and need a Healer.

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  5. Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing something so personal. As a former ballet dancer I have had an unhealthy relationship with food for a long time (not that all ballet dancers have food problems.) It is an area I still a struggle with and one that has actually gotten worse since becoming Catholic. I have guilt issues with trying to maintain a healthy weight because I can't separate my desire to be healthy and care for my body from my desire to fit into certain clothes or look a certain way, but have illogically turned that into an excuse to eat whatever I want. I have been trying to rectify this because in the past 3 years I've gained about 18 lbs.

    There is a wonderful book, The Beautiful Bones, about how St. JPII's theology of the body relates to other areas of our lives outside of sex. It includes our relationship to work, electronics and food, among other things.

    Recently in a series on prayer, our RE director was talking about the logismoi (8 evil thoughts) identified by early Church fathers as the root of all sinful behavior. (These are the basis for the 7 deadly sins). Our RE used Gluttony as an example, because it is the most fundamental of the logismoi - we have an innate drive to eat and drink for self preservation - and because of that it is arguably the most difficult to master. He explained that gluttony can be exhibited as compulsive over eating as well as anorexia or bulimia or any relationship with food that puts food before God. He explained that "gluttony warps the natural desire and necessity that we posses for food and drink by impairing any sense of proportion." The early church fathers also developed practical strategies to overcome an unhealthy relationship with food. The strategies are not really different that concepts presented in modern behavioral psychology and concepts found in 12 step programs. (One more reason that our faith is SO cool! Ideas that some people think are new to the past 60 years were pondered and recorded by monks almost 1500 years ago!) The book he referred to is called, The Ladder of Divine Assent, but I beleive there are other resources out there that may be a bit more contemporary. Looking into this is on my To Do list once we've settled into our back to school routine. Sorry for the rambling comment! :-)

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  6. "Entering under the roof" of my mouth. What imagery! Thank you! I will never think of that the same way again.

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