Emotional eating and food addiction

Yesterday I read a great piece over on the Huffington Post: Eating Disorders Were Created Equal — So Why Don’t We Treat Them That Way? by Margaret Wheeler Johnson. This is something I’ve often pondered but have rarely – if ever – seen discussed, let alone at a place with as high a readership as HuffPo. Wheeler Johnson references a piece in The Daily Beast, So, Are You Recovered? by Emma Woolf: “What Woolf hits on in her piece is that we tend to see the three phenomena — eating disorders, a general cultural anxiety about food and weight and skyrocketing obesity rates– as separate problems with separate solutions. Instead, we need to recognize that they all stem from the same root. Obesity isn’t the opposite of anorexia (or bulimia or disordered eating or just distorted thinking about food). It’s its twin.

I’m sure if you haven’t already clicked over to read the article that you will after that quote. Go ahead, read it, I will wait. 😉

I think about weight, food, health, and subjects like that a lot – probably in part because I am a former anorexic in a 200 pound woman’s body. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I think “Wow, what would your 20 year old self think about this?” She would probably think that I got lazy, and to some extent she’d be right. You can read more about my struggles with food and getting/staying healthy here. My 32 year old self isn’t a fan of it but for different reasons. I no longer have an all-consuming desire to be thin; I no longer feel like I am in control when I don’t eat; but I have noticed that in some ways, my relationship with food has just flipped to the opposite extreme.

The HuffPo article mentions a CDC statistic that nearly 70% of American adults are overweight. A sizeable (no pun intended) bit over half! You can blame anything and everything for this: laziness, lack of personal responsibility, mcdonalds and other fast food restaurants, our “on the go” society, desk jobs, the internet or video games, processed food and its marketing, lack of understanding/education about eating healthfully, but no one cause is fully to blame. It stands to reason that if the majority of Americans are overweight something is wrong with our relationship with food. Whether we restrict or binge, obesity really can be an eating disorder that is vastly more dangerous than any eating disorder where food is restricted.

When I look around, I see virtually no one who has a healthy relationship with food. I follow many health/wellness accounts on instagram, but while fitness enthusiasts and body builders may eat healthily, many of them don’t seem to have a particularly healthy relationship with food. One in particular pops into my mind, who puts Quest nutrition bars into the oven and bakes them for an “indulgent” snack. A world where one never eats a cookie or just opts for another, more healthy sweet processed food isn’t a relationship with food that I want to hold up as a guideline for how we should eat. The problem, is that whether we are eating healthy or unhealthy, food can become too big a part of our lives.

Food in our culture is many things – an indulgence, a comfort, a social activity, a pastime, an escape, but rarely is it seen as just fuel for our bodies. When I was at my healthiest when I was running regularly, my relationship with food shifted and became the healthiest it has ever been in my life. I started thinking about food as what made me go; I started paying attention to protein and how often I ate it (as a pescatarian – vegetarian except for seafood – it had until that point been very easy for me to have little or no protein in a day), carbs stopped being scary and started being a necessary part of a balanced diet. I ate a lot of egg whites, salmon, protein shakes, and I concentrated on getting the recommended number of fruit and vegetable servings each day. It was probably the only time in my life that food was not my comfort, either in its restriction or in its indulgence.

My current problem came when I discovered sugar. Sugar is a staple of a processed American diet, but up until two years ago I had never been that big of a fan of sweets. I’d almost always choose pretzels over cookies, preferring something salty as a snack. When I quit drinking alcohol something in my body changed, I started craving sweets. It was new and extremely different for me, I didn’t even eat a piece of the cake that I bought for my graduation party. Suddenly I wanted ice cream and candy and cake! Then, when I went through a bad breakup, I realized that ice cream and candy and cake tasted really really good. There were days when I didn’t stop feeling hungry, when no matter how much I ate I didn’t feel satisfied. Never one to keep sweets in the house (once there was an open package of oreos in my pantry for 3 years. They just sat there untouched!) I found myself driving through Sonic and Dairy Queen for their blended ice cream treats. I’d pick up a two-slice package of freshly baked cake as I did my grocery shopping. I had four scoops of ice cream for dessert at a local Chinese food buffet when normally I just ate fresh fruit as dessert.

Sweets weren’t just my indulgence or comfort, they started to take on an almost sensual quality. The way the cold ice cream melts against your tongue on a warm, summer day; the rich, fluffy texture of a slice of cake; the way my mouth seemed to come alive as I bit into a piece of Ghirardelli dark chocolate; a kitkat’s perfect combination of sweetened chocolate and light, crunchy wafers; before I knew it I was eating in a way I had never eaten in my life. Not so long ago I did things like microwaving mini cinnamon rolls and putting vanilla ice cream atop them just because it sounded good. I started thinking about sweets the way I had thought about all food back when I was restricting, like a forbidden lover. I thought about when we could be together again, how good it would feel, how I would get a satisfaction that nothing else gave me… It should really be of no surprise to me that disordered eating translated so utterly and perfectly from restriction to indulgence. I stopped finding joy in denying myself but I found it again in comforting myself with food, either way I was controlled by food.

Wheeler Johnson’s piece goes on to ask: “What if we started reading our eating issues as part of the same story, of a culture’s broken relationship with food and a resulting body image crisis? What if we viewed all people who use food and weight to cope with challenges in their lives as worthy of compassion, whether they are fat or thin?” If we were able to do that, I think the story would begin to change. I’m still in the middle of mine. I’m beginning to control my sugar addiction with extreme portion control, just a little indulgence. I’m also starting to fight all the things inside me that seem to make it impossible for me to sustain good health. I know it’s possible because I did it before, it’s just that my fear, loneliness, sadness, all of that disappears for a moment when I take a bite of cake or put a spoonful of oreo blizzard in my mouth. I realize that food cannot make me feel whole, and that until I deal with the things that have driven me to try to fill that void with alcohol, relationships, attention, and now food that nothing will be able to satisfy me. That has got to be the first step, at least.

chocolate pie


Postscript to Abusing my body with food

I wanted to make one more point that I didn’t make on my original post “Abusing My Body With Food”. I think it’s also important that when we do choose to indulge, we choose high quality foods made with fresh ingredients to indulge in. For example, instead of eating the fifty cent, couple days old cake that I bought from Kroger, I could have chosen to buy a freshly made slice of cake at Campbells, a local bakery that I love. That would’ve been a much better choice for a less than healthy “treat”.

So if you do indulge, choose something that’s good quality – don’t get the frozen pizza (even the “diet” one) instead make it yourself or buy it from a local place that uses fresh ingredients. Don’t drive-through McDonalds for a burger, go to a restaurant that uses good quality beef and will cook it to order, etc etc etc.

oysters by visualnewbie

the way we eat

i have a few different things that i want to talk about concerning jamie oliver’s new show food revolution, which you can currently watch for free on hulu. what i’m going to talk about now is the way that we (americans) eat. i don’t watch a lot of tv, what i do watch i watch online. typically i watch a few sitcoms and showtime original shows. i never watched so-called reality tv until my sister got me hooked on project runway over christmas. because i watch everything online, i don’t see commercials (in english) so i don’t hear about new shows unless i read about them first. i heard about oliver’s show today when a facebook friend posted a link to a blog on the mother nature network “jamie oliver shows kids what’s in a chicken nugget”. i watched the clip, and after being horrified i decided to check out the first two episodes of the show.

what struck me first was what children are being fed for lunch in the public schools. i didn’t attend public school (or private school, i was home schooled) so i “missed out” on school lunches. my one experience with cafeteria style food happened at girl scout camp when i was nine, they gave me fried okra but i thought they were tater tots and i was horrified when i bit into one and it was green. i guess i realized on some level that the food quality was poor, but i had no idea that children were given pizza for breakfast. really? on oliver’s first day at the elementary school the children were given pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch – and something occurred to me and it blew my mind. pizza and chicken nuggets are two of just a few things a young friend of mine who is a very picky eater will eat. it makes me wonder if her eating preferences were, at least in part based on what she grew up eating in school.

there are thousands of blogs, books, magazine articles, films, and all of them claim to know exactly what the problem is. obesity is caused by, take your pick: fast food restaurants, video games, processed foods, fried foods, meat, growth hormones, chemicals, cheese, carbohydrates, lack of exercise, sprawling suburbs and a dependence on cars, sugar, soda, the internet, family medical history, laziness and poor self-control, lack of time, the breakdown of the family, evil corporations, factory farming, poverty/the cost of healthy food, the availability of healthy food, lack of education on healthy food choices, confusing food pyramid, i could likely go on but that’s all i can think of right now. in truth, the likely cause is a combination of all those things, some being more relevant to one person than another.

here is what i wonder about: how often do you really think about the food goes into your mouth? i mean of course beyond, “this is chicken.” you have to know that if you are getting your chicken from a fast food restaurant, a frozen “healthy” meal, hell even from a package that you bought in the grocery store you are likely eating more than just chicken. let’s take the easiest possible thing to eat and look at it: mcdonald’s french fries. it’s possible you likely believe you are eating potatoes fried in oil. is it that simple? nope, of course it isn’t! mcdonald’s offers 20 pages of ingredients available on their website. french fries are on page five.

French Fries:
Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
CONTAINS: WHEAT AND MILK *(Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients).

do you know what half that stuff is? in the first episode of oliver’s show, one of the public school cooks kept pointing out the first ingredient was whatever the food was supposed to be (beef, chicken) but what about all those other ingredients? what are they? what are they for? where do they come from? in the case of mcdonald’s french fries, behold the beauty of google.

let’s break it down. partially hydrogenated soy bean oil read the whole article, it’s good. “In short, trans fats are poisons, just like arsenic or cyanide. They interfere with the metabolic processes of life by taking the place of a natural substance that performs a critical function. And that is the definition of a poison. Your body has no defense against them, because they never even existed in our two billion years of evolution — so we’ve never had the need or the opportunity to evolve a defense against them.

But the worst part is that in the last stages of oil processing (or “refining”), the oil is literally steam distilled to remove its odor. So it doesn’t smell. But a hydrogenated oil is much worse than rancid butter. So it it did smell, it would smell worse than the most rancid butter you’ve ever seen. (And that goes for all refined oils, not just the hydrogenated ones. It’s just that hydrogenated oils are everywhere in the American diet.) So the next time you see “partially hydrogenated oil” on a label, think “rancid butter”.

natural beef flavor i am actually gleaning this information from five or six different sources, google if you want to read more on your own. apparently until 1990 mcdonald’s fried their french fries in beef tallow. to reduce cholesterol but maintain their flavor, mcdonalds now adds beef tallow to their fries. note, beef is natural so it is a natural flavor, however it is not vegetarian. it appears that at one time mcdonald’s actually just listed this as “natural flavor” until enough of a fuss was made that they changed it to “natural beef flavor”. on almost any label you will find this vague term that tells you nothing. natural doesn’t mean safe or good for you – mold is natural, you wouldn’t eat it… would you?

onto one of my personal favorites, which caused me to for a time give up soda cold-turkey. citric acid “In 1917, the American food chemist James Currie discovered that certain strains of the mold Aspergillus niger could be efficient citric acid producers, and Pfizer began industrial-level production using this technique two years later, followed by Citrique Belge in 1929. In this production technique, which is still the major industrial route to citric acid used today, cultures of Aspergillus niger are fed on a sucrose or glucose-containing medium to produce citric acid. The source of sugar is corn steep liquor, molasses, hydrolyzed corn starch or other inexpensive sugary solutions.[9] After the mould is filtered out of the resulting solution, citric acid is isolated by precipitating it with lime (calcium hydroxide) to yield calcium citrate salt, from which citric acid is regenerated by treatment with sulfuric acid.”

dextrose aka sugar.
sodium acid pyrophosphate
TBHQ “TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food…” but it should be ok in small doses.
Dimethylpolysiloxane “Many people are indirectly familiar with PDMS because it is an important (4%) component in Silly Putty, to which PDMS imparts its characteristic viscoelastic properties.[6] The rubbery, vinegary-smelling silicone caulks, adhesives, and aquarium sealants are also well-known. PDMS is also used as a component in silicone grease and other silicone based lubricants, as well as in defoaming agents, mold release agents, damping fluids, heat transfer fluids, polishes, cosmetics, hair conditioners and other applications. PDMS has also been used as a filler fluid in breast implants, although this practice has decreased somewhat, due to safety concerns, despite some evidence that it may be protective against breast cancer.”

think about all that the next time you want a french fry! i’m not going to give up french fries, but i’m likely going to get them someplace that doesn’t put natural beef flavoring in them. for me, it’s not that i’m going to give up all the foods that i love completely. i have a busy life and sometimes i’m going to eat a frozen microwave meal or yes, even fast food french fries. i am however, going to know exactly what i’m eating when i do so. it’s true that if you decide to read ingredients and find out what all that stuff is, it’s going to take a while the first time you go to the grocery store. you’re going to have to write suspicious things down and google them or spend even more time looking them up in-store on your iphone. once you do it however, it becomes easy because then you know which things are ok to buy and which things to avoid. i do 90% of my shopping in the tiny five aisle natural section and the produce section. you can’t even trust the natural section! i made the mistake after my initial vigilance of thinking that everything in the natural section was healthy. then, one day on a whim, when i grabbed my soy milk out of the fridge i turned it and looked at the side. there was a lot more in my soy milk than i realized, there was in fact something i had been pretty good at eliminating from my diet – carrageenan!

i spent definitely more than five minutes in the natural section on my next grocery store visit, and i learned something surprising. although there are soy milk brands that use barley or other things as a thickening agent, the I-55 North kroger doesn’t carry one. so i switched to rice milk, and i was pleased to find that the stomach ache and digestive distress i had been mysteriously experiencing went away. what we put in our bodies does matter, and i think that we all know that. i think that like many americans, we are all busy, but according to the A.C. Nielsen Co, the average person watches over four hours of television each day. that seems like a lot, but then i realized that i watched almost 2 by watching the two episodes of food revolution! it doesn’t take a lot of time to really, truly know what we are eating, it just takes us making the time to find out what the food industry really doesn’t want us to know. no one is watching out for you except you. mcdonalds sure isn’t, neither is tyson or ore-ida or kraft. we have to change the way we think. you probably wouldn’t buy an item of clothing at a $1 store, so why would you eat a $1 hamburger? what you put into your body is much more important than what you put on your body.

think before you eat, and not only that, but think outside the box by reading the box.

my love affair with wine

originally posted to lamiawines.livejournal.com August 11th, 2008.

red wine is a bit like coffee. when i started out drinking coffee i was 13 or 14, i started out drinking frou-frou sweet drinks with whipped cream, until it evolved into drinking black coffee. now i prefer to take my coffee with a little soy milk or splenda (either or, never both) unless it’s very good coffee.

i remember the first time i tried wine. i was seventeen, nearly eighteen, and i was spending the post-christmas new year holiday with my then-girlfriend sara (sally). it was pretty much my first time trying alcohol really. there had been a few times in high school where we’d mixed together tiny bits of everything out of my friend erin’s mother’s liquor cabinet but i don’t really count that as any sort of experience with alcohol.

sally had picked out a white zinfandel because that’s what most people liked. i hated it. it was pungent, i felt like we should be eating cheese with it perhaps because it reminded me of cheese. i just remember it being tangy, tart, and disliking it very much. i’m not sure what prompted me to try the fruity wine “wild vines” unbelievably cheap things. i liked them though and like my slide from frou-frou coffee drinks the enjoyment of the “wild vines” wine turned into an interest in “real” red wine.

i think it was really after sally & i separated that we started drinking red wine. that’s a funny way of remembering, isn’t it? but it’s true. we started drinking red wine together after we’d split. we hung out a few times a week (yes, typical lesbians staying close friends after a breakup but in truth we were always friends) and she started buying a random bottle here and there to try. whatever looked interesting. i wasn’t buying it because i still wasn’t 21 yet, but we’d have a glass of shiraz or red zinfandel and watch buffy the vampire slayer, that’s back when it was still airing new. oh so many years ago…

her sudden interest inspired an interest in me too. i liked what i was trying. i was intrigued, yet i never wanted to get too deeply into wine because i felt there was simply too much to it. there was too much to know, so many intricate things that i didn’t quite understand or know about. i felt like i couldn’t really get passionate about wine unless i knew all there was to know, and since i didn’t have the time to read about it or know where to begin i just drank it occasionally at the theatre, or opera, or at sally’s house. slowly over time however, i began to follow sally’s odd but fun way of choosing a bottle of wine – i looked for something in my price range that jumped out at me in some way: a name, a label, a description.

what i came to realize is something that i see reflected in many wine blogs: it doesn’t really matter what the critics say, it matters what you like. drink what you like. somehow i became known in my family in some friend circles as being some sort of wine coniseur but in truth, i’m not. i do drink a lot of wine. i like the ritual of it. i like taking the cork out and sniffing it though i still don’t know exactly what i’m smelling but i do get an impression from it. i like swirling the wine in the glass and then smelling it, and then taking the first sip. with most wines, i can’t really tell you the notes i taste there. with a few i can, mostly it just tastes good or bad or has a bite, or is light and delicious.

i do like to read about it, and i know over the years i will learn more and more about it. i think that’s truly what draws me to wine, it’s a lot like life. no matter how much you know there is always more to learn, and most of us will never know it all. what i share here won’t be especially brilliant, or teach you anything about wine. i’m simply going to share my thoughts about what i like, what you like could very well be different. i hope that what i can convey is my sheer joy and love for wine. because it is true, it doesn’t matter if the wine costs $5 or $50 for most of us, it’s about the enjoyment we find in the bottle, and that is something that is priceless.