For the final week of the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan our theme is Gratitude and Regrets. I’ve been playing with the notions of Roads Not Traveled and Roads Taken:
- Childhood Abroad (Not) — October Memoir Challenge
- Career Steps and Mis-steps — October Memoir Challenge
Today, I’m going to look at a road that I took, but have recently worked out a way to abandon.
A Road Taken — Overeating
Overwhelm, anxiety, frustration. When I couldn’t handle these situations, I ate over them. My overeating episodes were like mini-vacations from whatever was bothering me in my life. Worse, once I got started, even if the underlying emotions were soothed, I couldn’t seem to stop. One bad day would turn into several before I knew what happened.
When I was eating well, I couldn’t imagine why I would stop. Healthy eating felt natural, fun, and sane. When I was eating badly, I couldn’t imagine how I could possibly get back to eating well. Intense cravings drew me to bad choices in large amounts. It seemed like there was a switch in my brain, but I didn’t know how to find it when I needed it.
I can remember overeating as a child (hello, Halloween), but the habit of medicating my emotional distress with food developed in college. When the task was to study for a test, write a paper, or read a long assignment, my first thought was what food I would get to comfort me along the way — a large sack of potato chips? A box of chocolate-covered cookies? Oh, hey, it’s Halloween, how about a bag of fun-sized candy bars? All of that washed down with a 2-liter bottle of Coke.
In college, and for several years after, I could eat like that without a lot of weight gain, but it caught up to me eventually. I ate my way to overweight when I was 29 and into obesity not long after that. I was 47 before I finally found a new road.
A New Road Traveled — In Recovery from Overeating
The new road began with a book: The End of Overeating by David A. Kessler. That book finally made it clear what I was up against — food corporations with billions of dollars for research to design and market products in ways that they knew would be irresistible to me. My pledges to “do better starting on Monday” were paltry weapons against such foes. Suddenly, I understood why my efforts in the past failed. They weren’t big enough or bold enough for the job. Ending overeating is a lot harder than it seems like it should be.
It was time to bring in the big guns. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques work for drug addicts. I was determined to find out if they would work for me. Judith S. Beck is the daughter of Aaron T. Beck who developed CBT, so I started with her book, The Complete Beck Diet for Life.
With the advice from those two books and others, I developed strategies and structures, tools and rules, practices and habits — a complicated map of the twists and turns that would keep me on my new road and away from the old one. I broke the trigger and craving cycle that kept me trapped in a cul-de-sac of overeating. I began to accept that overwhelm, anxiety, and frustration were part and parcel of an interesting path in life, not conditions that needed to be self-medicated with food.
As for Gratitude and Regrets, I am very grateful to be at a healthy weight. I love and celebrate and delight in my new lifestyle and way of eating.
Do I regret all those years of overeating and being overweight? I hadn’t thought about that question until just this minute. In one sense, the answer is obviously “yes, I wish that I had been at a normal weight with healthy eating habits all along.” But, then, would I have to give up all that I’ve learned in the last four years? There’s a thought that makes me hesitate. I’m building a whole new life, and not just about food, on what I’ve learned in this effort. Expressions of regret shade too close to saying that I’m not happy with who I am today. And, I am happy, so no regrets.
Have you worked your way from one well-worn path to a new higher road? Did that experience come with gratitude or regrets or both?
Since I wrote about food for my last October Memoir piece, I’ll link this post with other food-related posts at Weekend Cooking on Saturday. Check out the post at Beth Fish Reads that day for recipes, restaurant reviews, cookbooks, and more.