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:

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.

woman with camera

The summer of 2009 a month or so before I started on 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.

photo of a woman with a camera

Last month, 70 pounds lighter than I weighed in 2009.

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?

new Weekend Cooking logoSince 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.

Signature of Joy Weese Moll



A New Road — October Memoir Challenge — 25 Comments

  1. Yes, I think I could use those books. But doesn’t it still all come down to will-power in the end? More will-power than we needed at 20, perhaps. I’d like to hear more about your strategies and how you broke the craving cycle.

    • No, it’s not about will power — that’s not nearly strong enough in the present climate with 24-7 food marketing. All those strategies and structures are to make will power the least used tool, not the most used one. Instead of resisting chocolate cake, I arrange my life so I rarely encounter it and the few times that I do, I’ve got a plan in place — a written commitment to my coaches (one of the CBT techniques is to have coaches or buddies — I use a group at the 3 Fat Chicks forum) that I’ll have one tiny piece or a promise to myself that I’ll have a substitute that I’ve decided in advance.

      I broke the initial craving cycle by challenging myself to quit junk food, for at least a few weeks. And then I paid a lot of attention to what triggered cravings and what didn’t. For me it was pretty nuanced — biscuits cause cravings, ice cream doesn’t. Almost all candy causes cravings but I can be sane around dark chocolate. Potato chips — well, that’s not so much about cravings, I just discovered that I only like them in quantity (one is too many, a thousand is never enough).

      One of the CBT techniques is to give myself credit, even for things that sound kind of small and stupid. Like I bragged to my coaches just this morning about how I didn’t stop at the new frozen custard place in town because I already determined that the serving sizes were too large for it to be a useful source of treats for me. I thought about it, though, but knowing that I could take credit for resisting and, instead, going home to eat my planned Honey Crisp apple and cheddar cheese made it all worth while.

  2. Have you read “Food Rules” by Michael Pollan? I like his approach, although I am ashamed to admit I haven’t followed it as much as I should.

    Thank you for this post. It gives me a lot of hope. 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience – this is a very timely post for me. I have The Beck Diet Solution (both book and workbook), but need to make the time to actually DO it. You’re inspiring me to get off my butt and get on with it, so thank you.

  4. Reading the post and then comments makes me totally agree with you — will power is almost impossible and so it leads to cycles of guilt and self-disappointment. Keeping temptation out of the house and having a plan sound like good strategies.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post. You are such an inspiration! Loved hearing about how you set up and followed through with your strategies and rules. I like the idea of having a pre-planned substitute for when you’re faced with a tempting treat.

  6. I find what you commented back to Jane Ann very interesting as I’ve always had very weak will power and thought that was my problem. Now I’m not so sure!

  7. Losing weight and keeping it off is such an individual effort that it seems like CBT would be a great way to tackle it, to help you tailor the method to avoid your own triggers and change bad habits the way you did.

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  9. Oh boy, Joy, I could write a novel about my unhealthy affair with food (and perhaps one day I will). Suffice it to say, I have it fairly well under control, but I am not sure I will ever fully recover. I will definitely check out The Complete Beck Diet for Life. It sounds like a treasure…

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