I have an eating problem

I have a problem with food. I know what the problem is. I eat compulsively. I can name the problem. I just don’t know what to do about it, exactly.

Or maybe I just don’t want to do anything about it.

What do I mean when I say I eat compulsively?

  1. I eat when I’m not hungry. I crave food when I’m not hungry, and in that moment I will get food and eat it anyway.
  2. I eat when I watch something on a screen. For reasons I don’t understand, watching a show or movie makes me want to eat. And you know what happens when I want to eat. (See #1)
  3. When I start eating for compulsive reasons, I don’t stop when the pleasure is gone. I continue well beyond the point of having fun. Sometimes I even begin to feel bad and yet I keep eating.
  4. I have a strange compulsion to eat all of whatever it is I have. If I buy a pint of ice cream and eat some of it, I’ll be watching something on a screen (#2) and my mind keeps returning to that half empty pint in the freezer. Eventually I’ll get up and finish it off. Sometimes I get the strangest feeling of satisfaction too, as if by eating all the cookies, I’ve got the cookies out of the house now and won’t be tempted by them anymore. In my bizarro eating world, finishing all the cookies is somehow a healthy move to make and will benefit me tomorrow. You know, tomorrow, when I start eating right.
  5. Rather than make and eat healthy food, I give in and grab a burger or something unhealthy and eat that for a meal, even though I don’t really enjoy it and would save time and money by eating something lighter and healthier that I could make myself.

You add all those up and, yeah, I’ve got a little eating problem.

It’s also a problem that if you met me you wouldn’t think of me as overweight. So my bad eating isn’t costing me a lot right now. I think a lot of men in our culture eat badly, and we carry it in our midsection. I exercise a lot, and my cycling has given me muscular legs. My arms and shoulders are strong too. (Thank you mountain biking) So if I wear a loose shirt, I look fine. But I’m carrying 25 pounds of fat around my middle that I’d be better off without. And there is no way I can exercise enough to fix that. I’m exercising at my max capacity for my life and work schedule right now. If I want that 25 pounds gone, I will have to change the way I eat.

And I don’t want to face that. Because I don’t want to lose what my bad eating does for me. Even though I have no idea what it does for me. I only know that in the moment, I grab the chips, start munching, and don’t stop until they’re done. And I like eating them.

Look, if you have struggled mightily with an eating disorder and have serious weight issues, I understand why you might not take me seriously. But I hope you’ll resist the urge to explain to me that since you have a bigger eating problem, I should be quiet and count my blessings. Maybe you do and maybe I should. But if you read that list of five items in my fourth paragraph again, you’ll see that there is really no escaping the truth. I’ve got an eating problem.

Right now I’m 25 pounds heavier than I should be. In 10 years, I’ll 35 pounds heavier. And if I injure myself or find myself unable to exercise as much as I do, that will become 45 pounds in no time.

I need to do something about it.

I don’t know where to start.

So I thought I would begin by coming clean and admitting this publicly. I’ve made no plans beyond posting this.

Except that maybe, having said this out loud, I might take the next step. Whatever that is.

  • Debora

    Look. Try something like Sugar Busters. You are not really limited on how much, just what you eat. It’s great for men because you can eat meat, cheese, veggies, eggs, etc. Just no sweets, breads, etc.

  • Twila Spaar

    A lot of what’s happening would be solved by filling your kitchen with healthy food. If it ain’t there, you can’t eat it. And it’s harder (but not impossible, lol) to binge on healthy stuff. I have all of these same issue and my challenge us to stay the course on not having munchies (food-like products) in the house.

    • Jeff (no, the other one)

      Second that – just knowing there’s (insert guilty pleasure food here) in the house will eventually burn right through any willpower I have, anyway.

  • Bob G

    Gordon, you have a ton going for you. Keeping active is one and your self-awareness is an even more important one. You’re already like 10 steps ahead of the game.
    Diet: Pretty much anything works (if given an honest effort) for about 6 to 8 months. Then the far majority of people go right back to or past where they were. So no diets. The best outcome (to my understanding) happens when people plan ahead and give themselves some rules and accountability. The more robotic, the better. Eat what you need 80 to 90% of the time and what you want the other 10 or 20%. For example, stay with some (in shell) peanuts or sunflower seeds during screen time.
    Give me the word if you want some resources.

    • http://tertiumsquid.com Gordon Atkinson

      Bob, work I did reading about nutrition and life back when I was doing P90X and became convinced that diets are not helpful. In fact, they are counter productive in the long run. Agreed. Everything I’m doing must be sustainable, long term. For example, the activities I do – currently cycling and raquetball with walking and swimming on occasion, are intended to be enjoyable. Not work. Because I like doing them, I am doing them. I need to find a way to love weight work. I wish I lived near you and could drop by your awesome home gym now and again. Be great to find some guys working that could become a friendship event. But in the meantime, I’m biking and doing other things.

      So I’m not looking at a diet. I’m looking at changing my diet. for that reason, I may go slowly. Radical changes set you up for failure and are more like “diets.” I’m thinking of trying two initial moves:

      1. Restricting meals to pure healthy eating. Eating boring, as you once told me. This would not include celebratory meals. Going out with friends, etc. But running down to the burger joint and bringing a burger back for lunch would be forbidden! If it’s just me at home and it’s a meal. Proteins, veggies, limited fruit.

      2. Stop all unhealthy eating in front of a screen. I like your sunflower seeds or shelled peanuts thing. Maybe something like that.

      Make those two moves and learn to live with them. Then maybe be ready for another move.

      By the way, Jeanene and I play “rally” raquetball. No serving. No keeping score. You just start a rally and hit the ball back and forth. When someone misses, whoever is closest to the ball runs over, hits it and you keep going. This is aerobic racquetball. Lots of fun and will get you breathing! We prefer it over score keeping, which is meaningless to me.

  • Rachel Barenblat

    There’s a passage in Arthur Waskow’s “Down to Earth Judaism: Food, Money, Sex, and the Rest of Life” to which I’ve returned often. He’s talking about the four-worlds paradigm. The idea is that we live simultaneously in the worlds of action / physicality, emotion, thought, and spirit. As babies we learn to associate comfort (in all four worlds) with nursing. As adults, often when we feel a hunger or an emptiness, we go to the fridge… even though the hunger may be in the realm of spirit or emotion, and therefore not truly something we can satiate in the world of physicality. Anyway. I think of this often, because this is a pattern I find myself in too. I have no wisdom to offer, just compassion.

    • http://tertiumsquid.com Gordon Atkinson

      Rachel, I had an interesting conversation with a friend about eating and he said something similar. Feeding yourself is our most basic intuitive, and primitive way of self care. Hence our tendency to try it when we’re stressed or unhappy. Not sure what to do with that but it’s a thing I’ve noticed.

  • Sumana Harihareswara

    This sounds tough and you have my sympathies.

    I’m remembering the retreat where I met you, at Covenant in 2008, where we discussed what we valued, where in our lives we weren’t living as we wished, and rules we would devise for ourselves to help us better live as we aimed. That practice has continued to be helpful to me, and I hope your mindfulness practices also help you as you work on the eating problem.

  • http://revsean.wordpress.com/ revsparker

    me too. Exactly the same issues. When I went low carb for awhile (lost a lot of weight) I did learn why I like it. When I would “slip” and eat carbs, I got a very distinct feeling of being high. I had never noticed it before, but now it’s actually worse because I am conscious of how good it feels and that I can get it any time I want. I wish I had an answer. I don’t.

  • jolene

    “Look, if you have struggled mightily with an eating disorder and have serious weight issues, I understand why you might not take me seriously.” – This is me, but I totally take you seriously. Points 1-5 are real. I have just started to delve into the intuitive eating literature (Geneen Roth, Karen Koenig, etc.) – so far, it sounds good, but I haven’t yet started to put it into practice. Keeping you in prayer as you work through this.

  • Jeff (no, the other one)

    Must concur on the working out, too — if it’s fun and/or engaging, I’ll do it. I coached my kids in soccer a few years before getting around to playing it myself; now it’s one of the best forms of therapy I know, for me, at least. Walking gets dull, and I get sick of my own playlists; similar thing with running. Trying to swim laps would make me drown from boredom. But unfortunately I balance the activity with unhealthy eating, especially late at night.