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Hello, My Name is Jeff, and I’m a Junk Food Addict

I’ve always thought I’d make a pretty good drug addict.  I think that fear is the reason I’ve never done drugs.  I remember Roger Ebert asking an alcoholic how much he drank.  He didn’t understand the question.

“All of it,” he said.

This past weekend I gave into my junk food craving and whipped up a box of blueberry muffins.  I ate half a dozen, feeling sick after the first two.  Before I went to bed I threw the other six in the garbage.  That is my thought process.  There is all, and there is nothing.  I’ve been a vegan for almost two months, but I’m still a recovering junk food addict.

I used to buy a pack of Oreos, get sick on one row of them, then go into a panic imagining having them in my house in the morning.  It’s gonna mess up my whole day.  I’ve gotta eat healthy tomorrow.   So I’d finish the package, not even enjoying them.  That mindset doesn’t just go away.  It’s a fucked up way of thinking.

I once contemplated becoming a junkie to lose weight.  I was half-joking, but seriously, have you ever seen a heroine addict or meth-head who isn’t rail-thin?  I figured it would be like trading one addiction for another.  But every time that thought would cross my mind, I’d feel embarrassed.  Just stop eating, you fat fuck, I’d say.  It’s not like stuffing your face with Oreos is some chemical dependency.

But the mindset was there.  Like the alcoholic, the junkie, any addict really, I didn’t understand the question.

How much?  All of it.

Then comes the shame and the self-hatred.  Then the promises of a better tomorrow, blood still pumping with sugar and grease and other poison.  Then the next day another breakdown and another score in the dark night, this time at a different fast food joint in case the same girl was working the drive-thru and she gave you that sad look you hoped you’d never see.  The cycle repeats.

People love watching addiction. Rehab, interventions, withdrawals, and angry tirades are the hallmarks of half the shows on television.  I used to think it was sad, or at least predatory, to turn these dark moments into must-see TV.  As I get older and deal with my own demons, I understand the appeal.  Everyone has demons.  It may be shopping or booze or sex or pornography or even just food.  Watching others struggle is therapeutic, hopeful even.

I remember the first time I heard Tom Waits in college.  He sang songs that scared the shit out of you, songs about people ravaged by life and love lost with hard lines on their face and hope in their hearts.  I’ve always thought those people were more interesting, but I never knew why.

Now I know.  They’re just like me.  They’re all of us.  We all have bad days.

“This is about all the bad days in the world. I used to have some little bad days, and I kept them in a little box. And one day, I threw them out into the yard. “Oh, it’s just a couple little innocent bad days.” Well, we had a big rain. I don’t know what it was growing in but I think we used to put eggshells out there and coffee grounds, too. Don’t plant your bad days. They grow into weeks. The weeks grow into months. Before you know it you got yourself a bad year. Take it from me. Choke those little bad days. Choke ’em down to nothin’. They’re your days. Choke ’em!”
― Tom Waits

I was doing just fine with no sugar at all.  Then, like an addict thinking just one little hit won’t hurt, I took a bite.  Three days later I’m still scouring the fridge for anything sugar related.  All it takes is a few sugary snacks, and it’s all downhill.  More, more, more.

I’ve got to start treating some foods like the addiction they are for me.  I’ve got to choke away these bad days and start fresh each morning.

Everybody’s got a secret sonny
Yeah, something that they just can’t face
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it
They carry it with them every step that they take
Bruce Springsteen, “Darkness in the Edge of Town”

Hello, my name is Jeff and I’m a junk food addict.  That sounds stupid even as I write it, but there’s got to be something wrong with anyone who’s made a habit of binge-eating cheeseburgers in a fast food parking lot with tears in their eyes, then stopping at a store afterwards to pick up a half-dozen donuts.

I’ve come a long way since then, but keeping muffins in my house?  I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.

Good thing I ate them all, at least.  Tomorrow I gotta eat healthy.

16 Comments

  1. I know firsthand the perils of food addiction… Right there with ya: keep the sweets (or whatever your trigger food) out of the house. You’re doing so great… Keep it up!

    • Yeah, that’s what I’m going to have to do for now. I should not have easy access to it. Saying no isn’t so hard when your out and it’s available, but saying no all the time, every minute of the day your home . . . that’s hard.

  2. One day at a time. I’ve realized that managing my weight is a forever battle. You’re right, there will be bad days, but then there will also be fantastic days that you are really proud of how far you’ve come. Those days make the battle worthwhile.

  3. Powerful post. One thing I’ve noticed over time is that we tend to learn best when struggling with the most difficult demons. I like the way you’ve made reference to others’ struggle since we’re all on the path with similar challenges. I know of people who are trying to deal with their own problems with food and they insist that a “cheat day” is a good idea. But, for me, it’s just an excuse to open the door to bad choices. Can you imagine a meth addict having a cheat day? Hmmmmm Best wishes to you!

    • I was reading another blog about someone who really had success once she started treating her diet like an addiction, not a diet. That makes a lot of sense to me. Maybe eventually that will change. I’ll still cheat, but it will be an extra veggie burger and almond milk, not brownies.

  4. Awesome post! Wishing you all the best in your battle.

  5. I know your pain. I also know you can do it. Just keep moving forward a little each day. Great post.

  6. Thank you for this. What I find most frustrating is that a drug addict can walk away and, granted with difficulty, never touch the stuff again. We still have to eat, go to restaurants, be in social situations which revolve around food. No one would do that to an addict. No one would tell an addict to just eat half their usual fix or just leave a little on their plate. I don’t think I have a food addiction, but there have been times in my life where I’ve thought that I’ll just finish something up so it won’t be there to tempt me again. As if calories eaten tonight aren’t as fattening as the ones eaten tomorrow.

    • Yeah, I don’t know if I’d put myself on par with drug addicts, but I think viewing at least it from that light offers up a lot of tried and true solutions.

  7. Tom Waits really does ease whatever your pain is, somehow. He’s good at that. There’s a metaphor I come back to when I fall off whatever wagon I happen to be riding. When a hypothetical rocket launches for the moon, with even the best of planning, the trajectory strays a bit and there must be small course corrections. And they’re not a big deal. Just a tweak and it’s on course again. No sense in getting all emotional and guilty. That just mucks things up. I like to channel my inner Vulcan in times like that.

  8. My sister is a food addict. She became terribly obese and had bariatric surgery. Even then, she couldn’t stop eating sugar. Finally, she started going to Overeaters Anonymous and through their 12-step program and the support of fellow addicts, she has done quite well.

    I pray you overcome your addiction.

  9. Jeez, Jeff, I needed this today. Compulsive eating is a form of insanity, at least *my* insanity. There’s no reasoning with it. There’s no tricking it. There’s no curing it. My metaphor? I’m constantly hopping off that horse–I don’t get bucked, I don’t fall, I get distracted and jump off all on my own. But then I can just as easily *decide* to get back on. And “getting on” means doing all the things that work (keeping a food journal, getting rid of any binge food I brought into the house, drinking lots of water, etc.).

    Each time I jump off that pony, there’s always a moment between the absolutely insane eating and the “bad habit” when I have a chance to pause. Like that place in your Oreos story. There’s an opportunity to stop. Usually I’m too far into the compulsion to take a breath, but once in a while I can stretch that pause out. On rare occasions, I can stop–throw out what’s left of the food-crack, or take a walk, or go to bed.

    Keep workin’ it, buddy.

  10. Wow, I can certainly relate. One small taste of sugar ruining a whole week of good choices. And I get the “all or nothing” mentality as well. I’ve often polished off a bag of cookies, chips, etc just so they are not in my face anymore. I can’t trust myself to have naughty food in my house because it will not last, I can’t resist its siren song coming from the pantry. Good luck my friend.

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