Making (and failing at) the transition back to normal life
I found myself floundering emotionally after the initial high from that enormous weight loss wore off. I hadn’t yet figured out how to stay calm while resisting the urge to turn towards food for comfort and happiness. After a lifetime of practice cheering myself up with food, I now felt angry and resentful about not being able to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. My moods fluctuated wildly, and I became prone to angry outbursts at our kids and passive-aggressiveness towards my wife. These mood swings intensified with my growing shame and self-loathing, and I walked around with an insistent internal beckoning to eat.
I managed to stay thin… for awhile. But I was also dimly aware of not carefully following the meal plan prescribed by the medical staff who ran my weight-loss program. After losing that much weight with apparently so little effort, I had begun to feel invincible with food. I noticed that if I indulged in small quantities of some of my former favourite comfort foods, they didn’t seem to have any immediate effect on my weight. After several weeks of experiments that didn’t result in noticeable weight gain, I started to let those small indulgences increase in their frequency, then in their quantity. It wasn’t long after that when I found myself at a drive-thru window for the first time in almost two years. Not that I thought there was anything wrong with that, mind you: I was still in florid denial that anything serious was wrong or that I was at risk of gaining back my excess weight.
It’s painful to describe what it was like when I binged. When I had some quality alone time, I would enter a mindless fog and behave like I was training for a competitive eating contest. I might hit three drive-thrus in a row on one drive home. I would eat a full sleeve of crackers with cheese while standing over my garage workbench late at night when my family was asleep, then I’d carefully and quietly wash and put away the knife so as to remove any evidence of what I’d done. I would eat half a jar of almond butter in six huge spoonfuls before I even noticed what I was doing. I was essentially losing my mind with food, but I was also taking great pains to keep all of my crazy eating a secret.
On the origins of my disordered relationship with food
In retrospect, it’s obvious to me that food has been like a drug in my life. I first got hooked at the age of 9, after an abusive and alcoholic step-parent started to break me down emotionally. No child at that age has sufficient insight or personal resources to withstand daily emotional abuse, and I was peripherally aware that I was being deeply hurt at the time by what was happening. But within a year of us moving in with this step-parent, I began using food to self-soothe during times of torment.
I can still remember the day that I discovered the soft, creamy mouthfeel and slightly-sweet taste of two Kraft processed cheese slices on store-bought white bread with Hellman’s mayonnaise. I can clearly recall the electric jolt I felt in my jaw when I first filled my mouth with two whole Reese’s peanut butter cups at once. Certain foods, especially when eaten in secret and in private, gave me some of the most intense pleasure and joy that I ever experienced as a child, and they let me disappear from myself on a sensory rush for a few precious moments. I sought out these comforts more and more frequently as the daily drudgery of life with this step-parent continued. By the time I turned 12, food had become my de-facto source for comfort, relaxation and happiness. And food never let me down.