For my most of my adult life, I struggled with an addiction to food. Even after all this time that I’ve been on my health journey, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I used food to fill a gap in my heart and avoid my problems.
But I did. This was especially prominent during the time in mine and Brian’s life when we were really broke (you can listen to that story here). Things were really difficult, we were far away from friends and family, and junk food was really cheap.
Eating became my escape, my high. Junk food releases hormones and chemicals in you that give you a reaction. It gives you a high and so it’s addictive.
For a long time, I would actively seek out sugar, candy, fatty foods and binge-eat. Almost every night. Just so I could get that kick.
I might would stop for a few days, maybe even a couple of months, but I’d always come back to it. It was an addiction and it absolutely had a hold on my life.
Let me just clarify that this went way beyond a little bit of “stress-eating.” I was full on “pigging-out” to avoid dealing with anything that felt too big for me.
At my lowest point I gained over 50 pounds really quickly. Which [side note] is really hard for me to do because, from what I can tell, I have a really good metabolism.
I’m not one of those people who has a slice of pizza and you can see it on me the next day. It takes a lot for me to gain weight.
So, that gives you a really good idea of where I was at and what was going on.
This is embarrassing for me to admit. I don’t like to sound obsessed and food-driven. It’s unfeminine. It’s embarrassing. It’s humbling.
But this was my reality. This is addiction. Just because it’s food doesn’t mean that I’m being dramatic.
It’s just that my addiction was something “normal.” It’s not heroin, or pot, or sex. And I know I’m not the only one who’s struggled with this.
Disclaimer: I know that anorexia, bulimia, food addiction, bingeing, and negative body image are all very real things and it may take more than the steps below to overcome. It’s not easy and if you need professional help, that’s OK. Please get the help you need.
I want to be sensitive to anyone struggling. My intent in sharing this with you is to simply peel the curtain back on my own life, shine a light on this issue, and share with you what I had to do to take back the power that food held over my life. This is my story.
I Had To Take Responsibility
I’ve read that emotional eating is unavoidable. That’s it’s just something that we do not matter what. And I would have to very strongly disagree.
What a hopeless statement! I think we absolutely have the ability and the responsibility to choose what we put into our bodies.
I remember reading that and using it as an excuse like, “Well, see, even science says that it’s unavoidable so, it’s OK.”
Nope. It’s not OK.
I was making choices every day to feed my addiction and so I had to make the choice to change.
I Had to Understand The Brain Behind Addiction
Did you know that our brains have a reward system that hard wire us to want to engage in behaviors that we find pleasurable, like eating tasty foods? When we eat junk foods, the reward circuits within our brains activate and release the chemical, dopamine.
Our brains can become so overwhelmed by the pleasure from these rewarding foods that, in response, the brain adapts and makes more receptors for dopamine.
What this means is that a greater amount of junk food is needed to get the same kick, making us eat more and more. This is the same way drug addicts develop a tolerance to drugs and have to continue to increase the amount of drugs they’re taking.
So, our brains are hardwired to seek out and want rewarding foods which is why we crave and desire sweet and fatty foods.
I Had to Admit I Had a Problem
As embarrassing as it was to admit, the reality was that food controlled me. I started to plan my day around it. Everywhere I went, food was always at the front of my mind.
It wasn’t a self-control issue for me. I had a heart issue—an addiction—that I was sweeping under the rug.
No matter how many times I decided to be “healthy and good” I just couldn’t do it. I had to deal with the heart and the root problem which is addiction. And addiction is really serious.
I Had to Change the Way I Looked at Food
You can’t look at the foods that God gave us and tell me that He didn’t intend for food to be enjoyed. But it’s supposed to fuel your body, not be an obsession.
I had to take a hard look at my relationship with food and put it in its place. At the time, Whole30 was becoming a really big thing.
If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a way of eating where you’re just eating really clean, whole foods like vegetables, meats that are organic, free-range and grass-fed. Just really high quality, good foods.
So, I did Whole30 twice in a row and the weight just fell off. I looked better and I felt good. Which I will be honest was my original intent for doing it.
But something happened during this journey. My heart shifted and the Lord really used Whole30 to get a hold of me.
What happened in those couple of months was I realized that I had made food an idol. I began to lay this obsession down, give it to the Lord and eating became an act of worship for me.
I realized that I’d been avoiding all my problems and going to food instead of being proactive, brainstorming ideas, and coming up with solutions.
I hadn’t been praying or reading my Bible either. I wasn’t reading books. I had just gone all in with food.
Doing Whole30 really taught me to lay that down and to give that up. It taught me how to be a person without being obsessive about my next meal.
If you’re looking to make some healthy changes, I’ve put together a little pdf for you called, 10 Ways to Simplify Grocery Shopping and Meal Planning. This will help you simplify the process of planning your meals, grocery shopping, and food prep. If you have a food-related addiction or struggle with emotional eating, then you know that eating can be really complicated because we do have to fuel our bodies so often during the day. So, I hope this will help! It’s totally free!
I Had to Battle It Out
Whole30 is the opposite of how I was eating. It’s clean vegetables, fruits, no sweetener of any kind, not even honey. It’s basically created to help you revamp your relationship with food.
It’s kind of like an elimination diet of sorts. It’s really clean and really wholesome and really good for you.
But it was dang hard to come off eating Taco Bell and Oreos every night. The first few weeks, I had major withdrawals.
I remember many nights screaming and crying into my pillow because I wanted sugar and my body was aching. I had fevers and chills and headaches. It was awful.
But this is how bad I had let my food addiction get. This is how my body was reacting from not eating the way I normally was.
I would cry because I was so embarrassed—in front of myself, in front of Brian, in front of God— that I was so addicted to food that this was my reaction to eating the way God designed us to eat.
I Had To Realize That This Would Always Be My Struggle
I have an addiction and I can’t mess around with food. I can’t be like everybody else and just eat whatever and be OK.
If I choose to eat a slice of pizza I mentally have to work through it like, “OK, I’m going to have one slice and that’s it because I can’t handle having any more.” Or I don’t have any at all.
In general, I want to live on a clean, whole diet like Whole30 or Paleo. This helps me keep my addiction in check.
It’s still difficult for me when I have to say no to things, but I know it’ll get easier as time goes on.
But this is my reality and I can’t feel stupid about that and ignore it and shove it under the rug like it’s not a problem. This is me, this is my struggle.
I Had To Find Balance
I love food. I enjoy food so much. Cheeseburgers are my absolute favorite thing.
I try to eat Whole30 about 90 percent of the time, but I do enjoy the things I love in moderation.
For instance, one Sunday after church I was just in a mood for a cheeseburger. We went to this place called Burger Lounge where I can get a Paleo burger.
It’s no cheese, no sauces. It’s layered over zucchini. It’s really healthy and really good. But I wanted a real-deal cheeseburger that day.
So, I got a giant regular cheeseburger on a gluten-free bun. And I devoured that thing and it was awesome.
But it wasn’t an obsession where my addiction flared up like “I gotta get a cheeseburger. I can’t go to sleep until I get that rush of dopamine.”
It was just a girl who loves cheeseburgers, enjoying a nice big cheeseburger. And that was it.
I was satisfied. I was happy. I didn’t have fries or a soda with it. I just enjoyed my burger.
It’s truly all about balance and practicing healthfulness, mindfulness, and self-control. I would encourage you to also go back and listen to my episode with Robin Long. I love the way she talks about balance.
It’s not about punishing yourself or never having anything again. It’s about balance and knowing yourself. Knowing when you can have a little bit and when you can’t handle that.
So, that’s my journey. That’s how I quit emotional eating and took back control of my health.
My life is different now. I’m actively getting healthier and losing weight. I love myself and every time I’m going to make a meal, I think to myself, “this is an act of worship.”
I’m treating my body well because I have a job to do and I can’t live my purpose, show up in my marriage, take care of my kids, run my business and show up for you guys, be happy and healthy if I don’t feel good.
I want you to know that if you struggle in this area, you don’t have to be embarrassed and you don’t need to feel alone. I wish I could hold onto your hand and look you in the face and tell you you’re not alone.
I know that we’re all on different journeys and what worked for me might not work for you. But I want you to know that it’s not hopeless.
You can overcome this. You are an action-taking woman.
I say this with so much compassion. I want freedom for you. And I hope this encourages you that this can be done, even if you need to do it differently than I did it.
You deserve health. Fight to take back control. Battle it out.
I’m rooting for you, sweet friend.