Weighty Matters

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Judging My Food

One feeling I cannot seem to shake is that when I’m around other people, they constantly look at what I’m eating and judge.  Maybe they’re assessing how much, or how little, I’m eating.  Perhaps they’re looking to see what actual food choices I’ve made.  I imagine them frowning inside if I eat a cookie, or if my plate has too many carbs.  Oh no, she’s eating something fried, I picture them thinking in their heads.

Let me state unequivocally that I have no evidence that anyone actually does any of the judging that I imagine.  They probably aren’t, or maybe some are and some aren’t.  I don’t know because if they are, they aren’t expressing their judgments to me.  Nobody says, “Wow, are you supposed to be eating that?” or “I can’t believe you’re eating that.”

However, the feelings that they are remain real to me and create a self-induced stress on me all of the time when I eat with friends or family.  This state makes me want to launch right back into sneak eating.  Sneak eating is a behavior that creates a whole messy pile of other negative emotions and unhealthy eating habits.  When I sneak eat from stress I tend to eat more in quantity – even if I spread it out over sneak sessions – and usually choose foods that would be okay as a single tasty treat but become unhealthy choices when consumed in that quantity.  That’s not self-judging.  It’s fact.  It’s okay for me to have a single cookie as a treat.  It isn’t good for me to eat half a dozen.

The whole “being judged” thing comes up for me a lot right now because I’m on my annual holiday trip and constantly spending time with different groups of friends and family.  I’m fighting the urge to obtain a secret stash of food so that I can sneak eat it.  That’s part of the insidiousness of this aspect of my eating disorder.  I stress over being judged to the point where I have to prepare my stress release eating of junk.  Totally doesn’t make sense.  It is also much more problematic because in escaping the behavior that stresses me out, I do something that makes me feel really bad emotionally and, ultimately, physically.

I seek a healthier alternative and am working to reshape the situation with more positive behavior.  I remind myself that what I eat, what I put on my plate, etc., is my business and nobody else’s.  If someone is going to judge my choices that’s on them.  I do not need to feel bad about my choices, nor should I project that they are viewing me with negative eyes and thoughts.

Above all, sneak eating is not a positive stress release.  I have other things I can do instead.  I could do a few moves of Tai Chi, meditate instead of eating, pick up a book instead of another food item.  Banish the negative thoughts.  Take a walk.  In short, there are numerous other options.

Writing about it in this post has relieved some of the stress.  It’s like adjusting a valve and letting some built up steam and pressure escape.  I don’t have to give in to old patterns.  I can, and need, to deal with it in healthier ways.

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Food Shame

Sometimes I wonder if there will ever come a time when I will eat certain foods and not feel like I should be hiding their consumption; when I will not feel shame.

My logical brain says that foods eaten in balance are okay. That I do not need to be ashamed if I occasionally eat chocolate cake or M&Ms. Unfortunately, years of sneak eating and secret binges have left their mark on my psyche. Last night I went to the movies. I ordered a small popcorn and a small pack of peanut M&Ms. The popcorn I ate openly. Later, mid-way through the movie, I felt like I had to go into stealth mode, slipping each M&M into my mouth, so that the friend sitting next to me wouldn’t see me eating them.

Okay, so popcorn and M&Ms aren’t a healthy meal, but the quantities were quite small so it’s not like I was ingesting poison or illegal drugs. After the movie, I tried to connect with what I was feeling. I decided that I didn’t feel judged for eating the popcorn but I projected that people would judge me for eating candy.

Why? Because in some part of my brain, I still see myself as a horrifically obese woman whose food and eating habits were always looked at to some extent. Probably I imagined some of the judging and assessing by other people but I have definite evidence and memories of actual judging experiences.

Honestly, if my friend even noticed, I’m sure she didn’t care or think twice about it. Ultimately, I self-shamed.

Yep, I felt like I was doing something wrong. After two and a half years, my relationship with food is still pretty messed up.

I’ve also noticed that when I retreat into the old behavior of sneaking food I eat it faster, savor it less, enjoy it much less and end up eating more of the food item. Clearly this is something that I need to work on. I want to make it okay for me to eat what I choose and honor those choices. If I really really want a few M&Ms, then it needs to be okay — and I need to be able to enjoy them. Sneak eating is another symptom of my disease. Not only isn’t it good for me, it’s totally unnecessary.

Yes, definitely need to work on this food shame.

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Eating Slowly

For most of my life, I’ve eaten quickly. While I stop short of shoveling in the food, I know that I still eat too fast. It’s a good suggestion to slowwww down. Chew thoroughly. Pause before delivering another forkful or spoonful of food to the mouth. It’s also part of mindful eating. When I eat more slowly, I pay more attention to what I’m eating, how it tastes, and how I feel as I eat.

I’m horrible at it. I do all the wrong things sometimes like eat while watching television. I’m better when I share a meal out but that’s because I’m more conscious of what I’m doing. Plus, I’m chatting with whomever is at the table with me.

It is difficult for me to figure out why eating slowly remains a challenging skill. Sometimes I think it goes back to the compulsion. We sneak eaters are like pickpockets — make the grab and quickly conceal the prize so we don’t get caught.

Anyway, it’s a very hard habit to break. It’s one more area, however, where the weight loss surgery is such an effective tool. Prior to surgery, when I ate too fast, I could easily eat more than I wanted or needed because the food was already ingested before my stomach transmitted the signal that it was full. Now if I eat too fast, my stomach immediately feels uncomfortable.

I don’t like being uncomfortable. My goal is to not put myself through that, nor do I want to risk eating too much. It is possible to stretch out the small pouch of stomach that remains. I plan to avoid that happening.

If I pay more mindful attention to my pace, I usually enjoy the meal more. It takes time to savor the flavors, the textures, even the aroma of good food. You miss a lot when you don’t let a lot of time lapse between plate and mouth. Eating slowly helps me to feel my satisfaction develop and reduces my eating disorder reflex to still want more. Not eating more when my mind tells me I really want to just creates unnecessary stress. I have to argue with myself to stay on track.

The contrary thing is that I know the techniques that help me eat slow. Knowing them and using them on a regular basis often prove to be two different things. So, once more I return to the basics. Look at my food and my eating one bite at a time for one meal at a time. Through that I can progress to eating slowly one day at a time. So, tomorrow is another day. I have a goal. Be mindful and slow in my eating for breakfast and build from that point on.

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Public Eye

Early American Idol winner Ruben Studdard is a contestant on the new season of Biggest Loser. For some reason, this has me thinking of other obese celebrities I’ve been aware of in the past. Shelly Winters. Roseanne Barr. Jackie Gleason. Drew Carey. John Goodman. Oprah Winfrey. Aretha Franklin. The list really is endless.

I remember when a lot of entertainers played to their weight, or at least appeared to. They were material for countless monologues by late night talk show hosts and stand up comedians. They often made fun of themselves. As an overweight person, I never understood how they could stand it. I’d cringe inside whenever someone made a fat joke about one of them or, as often happened, to them when sharing the set or stage.

It was almost worse when one of them embarked on a successful weight loss effort. Yes, they’d get great acclaim for the pounds they’d drop. I can still remember when Oprah dropped something like 60-70 pounds on the Optifast program. She arrived on stage towing a little red wagon behind her on which they’d piled the equivalent of her weight loss in actual animal fat. I think she had on a long overcoat. With pure joy, she whipped open that coat to reveal her skinny self in a black sweater and tight jeans. What a moment!

She gained it all back and I can’t help but think that it was a more emotionally miserable time for her knowing that she was under intense public scrutiny. I hate it if I think that even one person eyes what’s on my plate and could possibly be assessing or, horrors, judging the choice. I’d want to crawl into a deep cave (with electrical power, running water, a bathroom and internet access, of course, but still a cave) and not come out into society if I was a person who lived her life as a celebrity in the public eye.

On a much, much, much smaller scale, I really craved a cookie tonight. I actually felt a little weird buying a small package and bringing it home. A friend has been staying with me for a few weeks. Living alone, nobody knows what food I buy and have in the house. Having someone around is different. It’s amazing how quickly I reverted to old thinking — the idea that if I make a food choice that’s inappropriate, I need to hide it. I was a champion sneak eater, a skill I developed when I was pretty young. I could open squeaky drawers in my family’s kitchen, open up a package of cookies and eat some without anyone hearing me in the other room. One of the things that I just realized is that I overeat more when I conceal foods. It’s like I need to eat it all and faster before someone catches me or discovers my secret.

Part of improving my relationship with food means being open and honest about it – in all respects. A big part of being successful on the journey overall has been that I’ve been as open and honest about it as I could. Hence the whole writing of this blog. In a way it’s me taking this trip in the public eye.

I just reread this post. You know, where I thought I was going with it at the beginning is not at all where I ended up. I thought I was going to muse on my empathy for overweight celebs. Yes, I have that empathy, but the writing process uncovered different stuff. The whole thing about eating more when I eat in secret is not something I’ve been in touch with, that I can recall. I’m glad that I got there tonight. It’s something I really need to think about and, more importantly, use to aid my recovery.

In the meantime, just to circle back around, I hope that Ruben succeeds on Biggest Loser. More importantly, I hope he is able to maintain his success, whether in private or in the public eye.

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