It started with obsessively counting calories and working out. I was a newly divorced, single mom of three-year-old twin boys. My life felt totally out of control. First thing in the morning, I would go to the gym and then again after work. During the day, if pharmaceutical reps brought treats or dinner to the office, I would be sure to log each calorie so I could burn them off later.
I don’t actually remember the first time I made myself vomit after eating. One day I thought to myself, “How did I get here?” I was trapped, battling a secret eating disorder but I looked like I had it all together. Looking back, I can see clearly how each insecurity and false belief led me to grasp for control. Soon I found myself in a life-threatening struggle.
I started modeling when I was eight years old. My dark skin and green eyes gave me an exotic look that agencies couldn’t place. If only I could lose “all the baby fat around my face,” I would go places. My mom tried her best to help me—making sure to point out if I was gaining weight, getting jiggly, acquired a new scar, or even worse... if I cut my hair. I felt trapped in a mental prison most of the time.
When the kids at school made fun of my dark skin, I became obsessed with blending in and being liked at all costs. I couldn’t control my skin color or height but I could control my weight. If only I was rail thin, then I would look more like a supermodel, instead of looking like a giant, chubby-faced girl.
As little kids and even now, one of the ways my mom showed us love was through treats. My mom is all about quality. My mom, my sisters, and I still get so excited—we will even sing and dance to our food—when we know we are about to eat something magical. When I am stressed or avoiding a task, I struggle with wanting to treat myself to something delicious to eat.
My image always seemed to be a discussion topic. In seventh grade, I finished growing. I was almost 5’10” and wore a size 10 shoe. I felt like a giant next to all of my schoolmates. I was blessed with endearing nicknames such as Big Baby Huey, Amazon, and Giant. Every pre-teen girl’s dream, right?
My older sister was a “normal” height for a girl. She also had a thyroid disease that made her extremely thin. Why couldn’t I have the fat burning disease? When I was 14, my sister and I were on vacation, waiting in line for a bungee ride. I was two pounds over the weight limit. My sister went on the ride and I stood there feeling ashamed of my big self. Heat rushed to my face as I looked around to see if any boys witnessed my rejection.
Even as I began to write this, I found myself stopping to totally binge out on food. What is wrong with me? I was even saying to myself, “Ashley, if you would just tackle this blog, you wouldn’t want to eat all of this. You would probably be out in the yard doing something therapeutic and relaxing.” I shut down the voice of healthy Ashley because pizza and chocolate sounded better than being healthy.
After my little binge, I sat there with my racing pulse, swollen legs, and throbbing joints. I felt it was a good time to evaluate why I threw myself off the deep end. I realized a couple things.
My husband was out of town and I was overwhelmed with my kids (there are so many of them).
Writing hurts my brain and is intimidating.
I was triggered because my husband was out of state with female coworkers.
Buying junk food when my husband is out of town is an old unhealthy habit I reverted to because I didn’t have a plan.
Because I haven’t acted out with my eating disorder in 10 years and I’ve done so much internal work, my mind knew the truth even though I let my body run away with the lies. I had to make a plan to not stay stuck in the shame of this binge.
I understand now that my eating disorder started long before I realized and in some ways is still a current struggle. Bulimia is an emotional disorder—distortion of body image, obsessive desire to lose weight, extreme overeating followed by vomiting, purging, fasting, or exercising. Pigging out on food then over-exercising or having a “fruits and veggies only day” is still a version of bulimia.
Like sex, food can be a very hard coping method to break free from. We can’t go through our lives without eating and, in the same way, we can’t go through our lives without being sexual.
Food, love, and sex have been the hardest things for me to use in a healthy way. I am fully aware of my addictive personality. If it’s a drug or destructive behavior, I can completely give it up cold-turkey. This works for me. But trying to balance food, sex, and love in a healthy way is an ongoing-lifestyle change conquered with baby steps.
When I found freedom from my love and sex addiction I freaked out with excitement because I knew real change was possible. Once I had this revelation, I realized I could apply the same tools to my food issues. It would be unbelievable to me if I was actually able to conquer my food issues.
Here’s how my brain got there and what I came up with. Stay with me on this because I’m letting you into my inner thoughts—a very twisted place.
I know if I go to a bar for dinner I’m 99.99999 percent sure I’m going to make a bad food choice. Who is really going to eat clean in a bar? Nothing about a bar screams clean. Usually, everything on the menu is fried. So why wait until I’m sitting in front of the menu to make the choice about what I’m going to eat?
As much as I can tell myself that I will order a salad, I know I will end up making out with a plate of nachos after having all of my senses tantalized by the environment. Bar food is basically the prostitute of food for me. It promises me an amazing experience but leaves me feeling disgusting and full of shame. With all my health issues I usually end up paying for it the next few days. So why do I do this to myself?
I wait too long to make the right choice.
If I’m making decisions when I’m tired, upset, procrastinating, or in a toxic environment, then I will likely make a poor choice. Whatever is easiest and quickest. But having a plan changes everything. I actually used two of Pure Desire’s main sexual addiction recovery tools to help with my food issues. The Recovery Action Plan and the Three Circles Exercise.
When my husband is out of town, I can’t order the pizza I like. Otherwise, I will literally eat almost the entire thing even though I’m allergic to most of the ingredients. I’m a glutton for pain and my self-control is weak. I have to know myself and understand the places in my life that take me from making good choices to being unable to make good choices. Where are those lines? This is where the tools came in handy.
This may seem extreme to some people.
My husband, Jon, couldn’t understand why I was treating food like a porn addiction. There were many times he would leave his desserts at home “because he didn’t feel like eating it after dinner” and I would eat it while he was at work. Trail mix has to go with him to work or I will dump out the entire Costco bag, eat all the M&M’s, then dump the rejects back into the bag. I asked him to stop leaving my food porn lying around the house because he’s messing with my recovery game.
I had to stop allowing myself to fantasize about food. I was no longer able to think about food until it was actually time to sit down and be present with the food that was going to nourish me. Doesn’t this all sound exactly like a sexual addiction?
Both addictions have taken the same amount of intention and work. This is your life and what you eat is a key element to how enjoyable your life will be. Our bodies are temples, so it’s okay to get real honest and start making those hard changes. I was tired of feeling jealous when I observed people who seemed to have such an easy relationship with food.
It doesn’t matter if it seems silly to others. Make a plan. Share it with someone and have positive action steps to keep you moving forward when a food relapse happens.
Because I learned that what the mind thinks the body does (thank you Dr. Caroline Leaf). I knew I needed to start there. In my brain.
FIRST: I identified all the lies and negative thoughts I have about my body or my ability to make good food choices, then rewrapped those lies with premeditated truths. I have my little stash of truths I keep on hand to throw at the lies when they try to creep back into my brain.
SECOND: figure out the difference between brain hunger and body hunger. If I am truly hungry, then I normally get lightheaded, irritable, and my stomach growls. If I’m experiencing brain hunger, it is usually the result of a trigger. Seeing something, smelling something, avoiding something, thinking about something—like my husband out of town with a female coworker. It’s cool, he knows I’m crazy.
THIRD: make choices BEFORE it’s too late. If I don’t plan my meals out for the week, I end up inhaling 10 Rice Krispies Treats before I even realize it. I don’t buy Rice Krispies Treats anymore. Rice Krispies Treats and I broke up.
If I know I will be extremely tempted to go off the deep end at a certain restaurant, then I don’t go there. If I know I will eat an entire package of cookies, I don’t buy them.
FOURTH: fill up on the good stuff. In addition to filling your day with nutrient dense foods like fruits, veggies, and good meats, also fill up on other stuff to release positive chemicals in your brain—exercising, building relationships, conquering a project.
When I am being awesome and kicking my to-do list’s butt, I hardly think about numbing out with food. I’m enjoying being in the moment and feeling good doing it.
I’m sure there are many more ideas out there but these things have been working for me. I still have issues (clearly) but I am way better today than I was three years ago.
Two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion—so keep going.