Since I was a child, I have been addicted to carbohydrates- the higher the glycemic index, the better. Corn on the cob was a favorite. If they served it as part of a meal, that was all I ate. I ignored the rest of the meal they served. Potatoes, fried rice, breads of all kinds made from corn or wheat were all consumed in quantity. Anything sweet, whether fruits, candies, cakes, or cookies, were all eaten in preference to other foods. And I always wanted more. I never seemed to ‘get enough.’
All my life I have been told I was “fat” by one of my older brothers who nicknamed me the Spanish word for grapefruit-pomelo. He thought it was funny. I was hurt. Even after we were all grown up and he was married with children, he would call me Pomelo in front of his children. Much as I loved my brother and thought he was the greatest person on earth, he was frequently cruel in his teasing. He delighted in making me cry. He talks about his enjoyment of frightening me in our joint memoir. He knew I was afraid of Santa Claus, so periodically, when he couldn’t think of anything better to do, he would put on the Santa Claus mask and chase me all over the house while I ran screaming. I don’t think my brother ever realized how much his teasing hurt. He probably thought I would think it was funny too.
This ‘teasing’ of my brother’s is probably where I began seeing myself as “fat.” A self-identity that has never really gone away.
In high school, I was told I should weigh 125 pounds if I wanted to be an airline hostess. At the time, I weighed 140 pounds. I was 5’7” tall. I never achieved that “ideal” weight despite going to see my doctor who suggested a diet plan for me. What a lovely, kind man. His daughter was one of my classmates. The diet he prescribed was basically a low carbohydrate diet with an emphasis on meats, salads and vegetables. I felt quite ‘holy’ about ‘going on a diet’ and announced it at home.
That I consistently sabotaged my diet by buying two or three candy bars on my way home from school never penetrated my consciousness. I “was on a diet” only when it came to supper.
Then, I went away to boarding school where the cook was a master at making mouthwatering breakfast rolls. I often went back for seconds and thirds. And my weight ballooned up to 150 pounds.
Years later, living in another state, I was in desperation at my inability to achieve the ideal weight for a woman at my height, I appealed to yet another doctor. He gave me a basal metabolism test and found I had a very low basal metabolism. He prescribed thyroid and a very stringent diet of his own creation. Only fresh foods. Nothing canned. No pork. No breads, only hard tack. I lost weight and got down to a 14-dress size. When I moved away to another state, he prescribed Dexedrine and took me off thyroid. I voluntarily stopped his diet. And I went back up to a size 16 dress. Was it the change in diet or stopping the thyroid that made me gain back all the weight I had lost? I will never know.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties and past menopause that my food addiction showed on my body. I was buying larger and larger dress sizes. If anyone said anything about my growing girth, it was simply, “Lose weight!” Not very helpful. No suggestion on how I was to do that or why I was developing larger and larger sizes. They simply assumed I was eating too much, there was no realization on why I was growing so big.
What puzzled me was that people would bring me gifts of food. They always brought some sweet confection. Because I was becoming increasingly fat, they assumed I would enjoy the box of candies or the platter of cookies. And indeed, I did! And got fatter. (This tendency of people to bring me sweet foods as gifts has not changed!)
Eventually, I tired of having to buy increasingly larger sizes of clothing.
I have always hated buying clothes, I hated the “trying on.” Regardless of how much I weighed, my body shape remained the same – small waist compared to my hips and thighs. Where others could step into a straight skirt and pull it up past their hips, I always had to pull the skirts over my head. The waistline was always too big if I found a skirt that would fit my hips. I was better off buying small waisted fuller skirts and dresses – but straight skirts are always in fashion. It got so that I had no idea what size I was wearing at the moment, so if something appealed to me, I would ask the saleswoman to bring me one size larger and one size smaller than what I had chosen. That was particularly true of slacks. Also, the sizing of women’s clothes seems to differ among manufacturers so the size |I could wear in one brand did not fit in another brand.
I knew I needed to do something about my weight, but what was I to do?
I went to Weight Watchers (twice!) hoping to lose weight. Other than the loss of the first seven pounds of fluid retention, weight loss stopped despite following the diet stringently. The women who ran the groups were very good at congratulating weight loss but did not know why weight loss stalled. Their basic assumption was that I was not following the diet.
Then, I attended a weight loss group run by one of the university dieticians. No help there either. She advocated calorie counting, a high carbohydrate/low-fat diet and if I was hungry, pop myself up a bowlful of buttered popcorn. Almost no calories, she said. Just limit the butter.
Nothing was working. I could not sustain any weight loss program for very long. I was constantly hungry and dreaming about food all the time. Before long, I quit that program. And binged on all forbidden foods.
Then someone introduced me to Overeaters Anonymous (OA). “Turn it all over to your Higher Power!” “Do whatever it takes” to stop overeating. Talking about food addiction was absolutely forbidden. Foods were not to be discussed. In the early days of OA, the founders suggested a weight-loss diet, but they dropped it from the program. Instead, we discussed our obsession with food, little realizing it was only certain foods to which we were addicted. No one ever complained about being addicted to meat, fish, lettuce, celery, or spinach. Sweets were to be avoided and no eating between meals! In order to comply with this last rule, I took to stopping by a Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood on the way home from work. That way, I didn’t nibble while fixing supper.
I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with my weight loss and instead was gaining weight. So, I quit OA.
Now I was on my own with nowhere to turn.
I noticed one day at the veterinarian’s office that a grossly obese clerk had lost considerable weight from the time I had last seen her. I asked her how she did it. She told me about the 40-30-30 program that I later learned was called The Zone Diet. I bought all the books, went on-line to the discussion group, bought the diet planner and met with the veterinary clerk who became my mentor. She would invite me over to her house for a 40-30-30 lunch (she loved to cook) and I would invite her over to mine to sample all the new meal replacement bars I had bought at the local nutrition store. When I went to her home for lunch, the table was set for two, complete with tablecloth, dishes, flatware and glasses. The first course was a small green salad, oil and vinegar dressing followed by a precise portion of a meat and vegetable. Water was offered-either a seltzer or tap. A tiny portion of a fruit was desert. The perfect hostess. In contrast, I invited her to sit at my uncovered table in my breakfast room littered with all the samples of high protein bars available at the health food store. She taught me to recognize the fish flavoring in the bars that advertise a high omega-3 content. I had never noticed.
In spite of the weight loss, it was increasingly difficult to adhere to a 40-30-30 calculation for every meal.
My friend introduced me to the book “Protein Power” by Dr’s Michael and Mary Dan Eades. What an eye opener! I found their explanation/description of the digestive process and metabolic response to food, a revelation. Although I had a course on anatomy and physiology at university, they did not expose us to the physiology surrounding the processing of the food we ate. It fascinated me!
For the first time, I learned about the three major food groups and their actions on the human body. There is a hierarchy of carbohydrates, from the foods containing the least sugar to the foods that contain the most. I learned what happens in my body when I consume a carbohydrate that contains lots of sugar. We have about one teaspoon of sugar floating around in our bloodstream, and when we consume food that converts to large amounts of sugar, our bodies struggle to reduce that sugar content in our blood. (This explained my reaction to having a chocolate malted with three scoops of ice cream!) Over time, if we continue to consume large amounts of food that converts to sugar in our blood, the pressure on all our organs to reduce our blood sugar takes a toll. If we are lucky enough to store it as fat, we are not in as much danger as those who can’t. They are the ones who develop Type II Diabetes, heart disease and pancreatitis. Ouch!
I was convinced and immediately began my life on a low-carbohydrate diet. And the pounds came off! I wasn’t hungry all the time, even if I thought about food all the time. What to buy, what to cook, what to eat.
I lost 80 pounds and have kept 75 pounds of it off.
I remain obsessed with food and periodically “fall off the wagon and indulge.” I have to remind myself that the memory of how good the food tasted is better than the reality. I still binge occasionally when corn is in season, and I will buy half a dozen ears at a time. Fortunately, it is not in season all year long. I will buy a 6-pack of croissants periodically to satisfy my longing for breads. I have bought lime sherbet occasionally or even Christmas candy, usually marzipan. But these are occasional indulgences, not something I do frequently. Not surprisingly each of these “binges” resulted in a weight gain of between 5 and 10 pounds.
Being addicted to food is as bad as being addicted to drugs, smoking and alcohol. Film and fiction constantly have eating, drinking, and smoking scenes and far more rarely scenes of drug use. These scenes, whether in books or on film, trigger an impulse to want whatever is on the screen or described in the book. The desire is totally unconscious. But often it leads to a trip to the cupboard or refrigerator before becoming aware of what triggered the impulse. Food addicts have to learn to ignore these triggers.
Most people don’t realize that an addiction to carbohydrates is just as bad as an addiction to alcohol which is simply a highly refined carbohydrate. Bringing sweet foods to a carbohydrate addict is as bad as bringing a six-pack of beer to a person addicted to beer. Please don’t do it! Just because you are not addicted to carbohydrates does not mean the person receiving the plate of cookies isn’t either. As soon as you turn your back the cookies will be consumed. Do you really want to be a party to that?
A friend wrote to me after reading this post and reminded me that I had left out a very important episode in my life that reinforced my addiction to food. She was referring to our three years imprisonment under the Japanese during World War II where we were systematically starved. (Our Family’s Story of Survival as POWs in the Philippines During World War II) This experience created life-long problems with food for many of us who survived, not just me.