Food Addiction

Addiction is a trauma response.

Food addiction has some pretty unique challenges, one being that we can’t go cold turkey… you can’t just cut food out of your life like you can alcohol or drugs. Not that it makes giving up either of those things any easier… it’s just a very different addiction to tackle. I’ve been sober for over a decade (bar the odd single glass at Christmas or a single cigarette maybe three time’s since quitting)… once I’d made the decision to quit, that was it. But food appears to have a far tighter grip on me. We all have that one vive that won’t let us go.

Another difficult aspect of the recovery from food addiction is that when we fall off the wagon so to speak everyone can see it. I can’t hide that I’ve started binging again. It’s showing. And I’m reminded of all the time’s someone made a comment about how well I was looking last year… and what they must be thinking now!

My body shame is high right now. Self loathing actually… I hate myself. I’m disgusted with what I look like and how I’ve sabotaged myself. I am body positive about everyone else but me. I was ‘mothered’ by a narcissist who valued looks over everything else, ‘the most shameful thing a woman can be is fat’. I was an average sized kid… I was never overweight. Yet at 12 years old she put me on a Slimfast shakes diet. There was no need. She shamed my body daily. My teens and twenties were riddled with disordered eating. Food was a source of comfort and a source of pain.

After years of struggling with weight loss and weight gain I decided to pay less attention to ‘the diet’ and more attention to the pain inside. And then something clicked in 2019… without me even intentionally focusing on it. My work with Anna was coming together beautifully. I’d even say 2019 was the best year of my life. I was exploring my creativity, learning to let love in, learning to be present in my body.

The following graph shows the natural healthy weight loss I experienced as a result of learning how to care for myself through the therapeutic relationship. I was eating more mindfully and enjoying movement and exercise regularly. My pain had reduced enormously. I wasn’t reaching for food to fill the hole. Therapy and self care had taken over that role. It was effortless and I was starting to learn how to love myself. I had reached a place of contentment with my body that lasted from November to March.

Then the pandemic hit and we were thrown into lockdown. I suddenly lost my beloved therapist and my whole world turned upside down. All of my group memberships stopped, the gym was closed, we were stuck at home, teaching and working from home, physical distancing was put in place, panic buying and food shortages happened. Travel bans. Job losses. Medical appointments cancelled. Unable to socialise. Unable to attend funerals. Unable to see friends. Unable to have time alone. Masks and hand sanitiser became the norm. Statistics and vaccine research plastered the news.

I had my last in person therapy session with Anna on February 29th. I had to grieve the biggest loss of my life in isolation. I had to cope without my therapist and attempt to build a new relationship with a new therapist who didn’t understand attachment wounds.

In August I had to return to my work building where I didn’t feel safe. I felt completely powerless and scared.

In September I started yet another therapeutic alliance. This time with someone who really does understand exactly what I need. And is committed to working it through with me.

This graph shows my trauma response very clearly. My addiction is food. March – May you can see it clearly. How the shock and the grief impacted my behaviour and how it showed up on my body.

Aug – Oct another spike as I was forced back to work unprotected and unprepared. My pain is back, way worse than before. I do not want to be in my body. I’m numbing my discomfort with food, pills, social media scrolling and dissociation.

I’m trying to hold compassion for myself but it’s not easy. You can feel so powerless in the cycle of mindless binging and it happens so fast. Suddenly I’m back where I never wanted to be. And although I have been through more changes than I could imagine and feel like a different person in so many respects than the person I was in 2018, a part of me still reaches for this old coping strategy. I understand it and I hate it.

I listened to a meditation tonight led by Pema Chödrön that focuses on addition. How we are drawn to scratching the itch. How the path to enlightenment and relief from suffering is in the daily practices of learning to sit with discomfort and pain. Each time we reach for the addiction. Each time we reach for food. Each time we scratch the itch… our job is to bring mindful awareness to this act, with compassion. Just to notice.

It’s going to take time. And a lot of work. But I really want to get deep into this. So my intentions start now.

15 thoughts on “Food Addiction

  1. I read a really helpful article back in April and have since cut out sugar entirely as the article talks about how those who grew up with chronic stress/abuse/trauma are addicted to sugar since birth. There is a lot about how cutting out entire food groups is not healthy for us and we deserve treats. On this one, I totally disagree when it comes to those of us who grew up with trauma – our brains are addicted to sugar and so having ‘a little bit’ isn’t really possible, especially during times of stress and overwhelm. I’m 6 months gluten and sugar free (and I’m vegan and sober already) and I’ve never felt better about food and my gut is healing now I can tell and positively impacting my brain chemistry too. I have no cravings at all, even when my daughter is shovelling sweets next to me, and my energy is far more consistent. Breaking the sugar habit means it doesn’t even entire my consciousness to indulge in sweet, carb-laden foods now when I’m stressed. I still have delicious food and treats but they are ones that genuinely make me feel better. It’s honestly the first time in my life I’ve not felt like I have an eating disorder so I am sharing this and the article link in case it helps you on this journey as it did me: https://www.alternatives-for-alcoholism.com/effects-of-child-abuse.html I plan to write a post on this but I worry it sounds preachy, but honestly this has been transformational for me!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for this CB. Yeah it’s very interesting. My brother has zero sugar and I did it for a year back in 2013 when i started therapy the first time round. I did feel amazing. It all falls apart for me too easily though. Even 12 solid months of no sugar or artificial sweetners or refined carbs wasn’t long enough for me to not fall back into the black hole. I do want to get there again and I fully believe in the whole sugar addiction stuff. It’s a deep deep well. I’ve barely touched the surface. I look forward to you posting about it. Thanks for the link I’m gonna look at it tomorrow.

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  2. Self-care is so hard to maintain even under less stressful circumstances. You have been under a tremendous amount of stress and change in your life. I hope you can find some self-compssion during this time Lucy! I hope the connection you are building with Mark will help to stabilize things for you so that you can focus more on self-care once again… of course COVID-19 being over would be a big plus too!

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      1. The other thing you may be dealing with is feeling stuck. I have been dealing with this for two decades now. I have tried to explain it to several therapists, when I was searching for a new one, as well as my current therapist. Several months ago I saw that Caroline Spring had a course on being stuck and took it. She explains that being stuck is a symptom of trauma. To be traumatized is to be stuck. We were without choice or control in our lives and this carries over into adulthood. It fills us with such shame and it is so hard to understand or explain. We need others to care for and about us so we can learn to care for and about ourselves. You have experienced so much trauma just recently Lucy… it can throw us right back into this state. It is easy to fall back into, but it is NOT easy to get out of. My heart goes out to you. I am sure beating ourselves up doesn’t help… it is just so easy to do. This isn’t about being lazy or just a lack of motivation. This is the effects of trauma.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Claire Louise

    The pandemic, a time of collective trauma, has really impacted on my eating. I can really relate to your writing here, and on BlueSkys comments around self care being much more difficult. Thank you for sharing, I don’t have many other words.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Claire Louise

        I am newish to therapy and to blogs (I came across them ironically during searches for therapy ruptures!). I’ve revisted a few of the blogs I found as it was like finding hope, that the stuff I was struggling with wasn’t unique to me. I’ve decided to start commenting as it means something not to feel alone. Thank you for your words.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It really does mean so much, to not feel alone. I share more on my Instagram page, in case you’re on insta. It means such a lot to me to be able to share my experiences and have other people share too. This can be such a confusing and scary process, it helps to not do it alone 💛

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  4. Eating disorder stuff is so hard. I feel like even when I feel like I’m being healthier, there is still so much time spent thinking about food, about eating. I wish I had some really great solutions to these struggles. I think it’s just a one day at a time thing. I just wanted to say that all of this resonates with me, to share that you aren’t alone in this.

    Liked by 1 person

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