Twenty Questions about Food Addiction

June 20, 2010

When I wandered into my first Twelve Step meeting in January 1999, I was 19 years old, weighed 185 pounds, and had been bulimic for five and a half years. I was nervous about going to the meeting–I always wanted to present the image that everything was fine–but as soon as it started, I knew that I was in the right place. These people spoke about food addiction, and I felt as though—after years of trying to play tennis with a ping pong ball—someone had finally pointed out to me my mistake:

I was an addict.

What was wrong with me finally had a name.

It was an incredible relief.

What really got me, though, was one of the pamphlets. It had (and still has) a list of 20 questions to help people determine if they’re food addicts:

  1. Have you ever wanted to stop eating and found you just couldn’t?
  2. Do you think about food or your weight constantly?
  3. Do you find yourself attempting one diet or food plan after another, with no lasting success?
  4. Do you binge and then “get rid of the binge” through vomiting, exercise, laxatives, or other forms of purging?
  5. Do you eat differently in private than you do in front of other people?
  6. Has a doctor or family member ever approached you with concern about your eating habits or weight?
  7. Do you eat large quantities of food at one time (binge)?
  8. Is your weight problem due to your “nibbling” all day long?
  9. Do you eat to escape from your feelings?
  10. Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
  11. Have you ever discarded food, only to retrieve and eat it later?
  12. Do you eat in secret?
  13. Do you fast or severely restrict your food intake?
  14. Have you ever stolen other people’s food?
  15. Have you ever hidden food to make sure you have “enough?”
  16. Do you feel driven to exercise excessively to control your weight?
  17. Do you obsessively calculate the calories you’ve burned against the calories you’ve eaten?
  18. Do you frequently feel guilty or ashamed about what you’ve eaten?
  19. Are you waiting for your life to begin “when you lose the weight?”
  20. Do you feel hopeless about your relationship with food?

The pamphlet said that if you answered yes to any of the questions, you might be a food addict. I answered yes to 19*.

I joined the program back in 1999. I lost 55 pounds and have weighed 130 pounds ever since. I haven’t binged or purged in nearly 11 years, and I’m no longer obsessed with food. It’s a rigorous program–some people think it is much too strict–but man-oh-man, has it worked for me!

*I couldn’t relate to #8. I didn’t nibble; I binged.

as soon as it started, I knew that I was in the right place. These people spoke about food addiction, and I felt as though—after years of trying to play tennis with a ping pong ball—someone had finally pointed out to me my mistake:

I was an addict.

What was wrong with me finally had a name.

It was an incredible relief.


The Last “Crazy Class”

June 19, 2010

Back in February, I had a really terrible bout of anxiety. For two weeks, my eyelids twitched so badly that I could see my veins jumping when I looked in the mirror. My stomach ran cold, my heart beat fast, and I was sleeping very poorly.

The anxiety was triggered by an interaction I had with someone at a Twelve Step meeting–I’ve been in recovery for food addiction for nearly 11 years–who pretty much told me that I acted like I “owned” the meeting and needed to back off. The woman in question is very direct, very confident, and–to be honest–a little controlling. Her words threw me into a tailspin of self-doubt: Was I too controlling? Was I trying to impose my will on the group? Did I need to back off?

For two weeks, I fixated on these questions, trying to figure out why this whole thing was affecting me so deeply. And then, on the fifteenth day, it became clear: My reaction wasn’t so much about this particular woman or the things she’d said to me; it was about the fact that she, like the doctor who misdiagnosed my husband after his first hospitalization, had made me feel like I was doing something wrong when I knew, I knew!, that I wasn’t.

Dr. Black thought John was anxious and depressed. When I tried to tell her about his psychotic symptoms, she dismissed them. She told John that he needed some space from me, that we were “making each other nervous,” and that the hospital doctors were the ones who’d gotten his diagnosis wrong. When she cut back his dose of the antipsychotic drug Risperdal and he became delusional again, she told him over the phone that she “wasn’t that concerned.” He ended up back in the hospital again the very next day.

I knew what was happening, I knew he wasn’t well, and yet the fact that she was a doctor had made me doubt my own instincts. As a result of listening to her, my life–and my husband’s life–skidded further off the rails.

Once I realized what was at the root of my anxiety–this intense ball of anger and self-doubt and fear–I decided that I needed to get some support from people who knew what it was like to suffer through a loved one’s mental illness. A couple of people had mentioned NAMI to me, but until I had that anxiety attack, I didn’t feel like I needed to go.

Now, having just completed the 12-week Family-to-Family class*, I’m sorry I didn’t go sooner. Not only did I meet people who understood the hell my husband and I had gone through, but I learned that the things that had happened to him–and the way I had responded to them–were very typical. And I now have an arsenal of knowledge to draw upon should we be forced to deal with a psychotic crisis ever again.

The biggest thing I got from the class, though, was an intense feeling of gratitude. Because, my God!, could things have been worse.

John has accepted the fact that he has a mental illness. He sees a psychiatrist and takes medication and has kept his highly responsible, high-paying job. From everything I heard from my classmates, John is the exception and not the rule.

My anxiety has lifted, and I’m pleased to report that the intense anger I felt toward Dr. Black for the last year and a half has disappeared.

*I stayed late at work and went directly to the class every Thursday evening. When a co-worker of mine asked why I was working late, I mentioned that I was taking a class. He asked me what it was about, and I vaguely told him it was a psychology class. Seeing that I was uncomfortable–and being a bit of a jerk–he asked me what specifically we were studying, so I told him it was a class on mental illness. Of course, he then started referring to it as “the crazy class”–and hence the title of this post.


Today, I Think I Might Be Pregnant

June 15, 2010

A year and a half ago, my husband had a nervous breakdown.

A psychotic breakdown, actually.

He was paranoid, he was delusional, he was hallucinating. He was hospitalized for a week, came home, and was hospitalized again.

We’d been married for two years. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.

Today, I think I might be pregnant. I can’t take the test for another week, but my body feels different. I’m thirstier, I’m fuller-chested, and I’m hungry as hell. I don’t know for sure, but I think my body might be getting ready for Baby.