The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

New weapon for an old adversary

My relationship with food is a complex one, but then it is for a lot of people, not just the anorexics, the bulimics and the grossly obese.

After 2½ years of fights and battles, and the overall loss of over a 100lbs, you might have thought that this relationship would be simpler and easier to understand. And in some ways it is. At least these days I know what I’m up against.

Having said that, knowing that you have to go out and fight a dragon the size of a building that has teeth as long as your arms and breathes fire, while you have little more than a toothpick and a jar of barbeque sauce to help you, doesn’t always make it easier to find the will to go out and face it every day.

But even as I develop new tricks, techniques and strategies to deal with it, the adversary also evolves in unexpected ways.

Something I’ve become aware of over the past few months has been the onset of a new emotional trick up the sleeve of the beast.

There are times when having a tasty treat in front of me, one that I can allow myself to have, fills me with an overwhelming sense of sadness.

At first glance, this might seem a little strange. There, under my nose is a warm, fresh from the oven, home-baked scone, made by my son who has his mother’s touch for creating mouth-watering, indulgent food.

I’ve been good for the rest of the week so eating it is hardly going to tip the scales the wrong way, and it’s going to make Rogan feel good to know he’s created something his father will enjoy. So yes, it’s OK to eat this warm buttery scone, and even have a spoon of Maggie’s homemade raspberry jam on it.

All I have to do is enjoy it.

Instead, I want to cry.


Because I know it will only be a few moments and then it will be gone. And I won’t be able to have a 2nd, a 3rd, a sneaky 4th and then talk Maggie into making us a batch of rock-buns for later.

Before I’ve even placed a piece in my mouth, I’m mourning the passing of the scone.

I’m mourning the fact that I cannot just have the scone, enjoy it, and then stop, feeling satisfied.

I am mourning the fact that for the rest of my life, every time I have a tasty sweet, buttery or salty treat to eat, I will have to fight to stop continuing to eat and eat and eat until I am stuffed, feeling physically sick and disgusted with myself for having given into the binge.

Part of me so desperately wants to be able to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, and damn the consequences.

I want to scream that it’s not fair! Other people get to eat what they want! Other people get to stop halfway through a bag of Maltesers and feel that they’ve had enough! Other people don’t have to worry that if they have one, they won’t stop until they have physically damaged themselves!

It’s like going to a massive funfair with big dippers, giant Ferris wheels and walls of death, and being told you’re only allowed to go on the kiddie’s ladybird ride because the others will be damaging to your health. The kiddie’s ride isn’t going to satisfy you; all it’s going to do is remind you of what you’re missing.

And that is the terrible weapon the beast has developed: I rarely feel much sense of achievement for the weight I have lost. Instead I am continually overwhelmed with a sense of sadness about what I dare not allow myself to have, no matter how tasty, wonderful and enjoyable.

Because the more I enjoy it, the more dangerous it is for me.


Mom the hipple said...

I am very much in that stage right now. I get so mad: Why can't I have the whole bag of chips? Counting out 12 tortilla chips and eating them is just not satisfying. I want to start screaming and crying at the same time. It doesn't help that I have plateaud in my weight loss, I haven't lost a pound since March and I am only half way towards my goal. I keep slogging along though, going to the Weight Watcher meetings and trying to count my calories at least half of the time.

Mary Witzl said...

I had a friend with type I diabetes who was on a strictly controlled diet. She loved baking cookies at Christmas, but would have literally only one miniscule bite of a cookie herself -- enough to fit into a thimble -- and claimed that was enough, as long as she could watch others eating what she made so she could enjoy it vicariously. I know: I don't understand it either. I can never stop at just one cookie.

Foodaholics definitely have a tougher time than alcoholics. If you are an alcoholic, although it is terribly difficult, you can give up drinking. But how can you give up eating?

~ Teresa ~ said...

Well written. It is so true.... Thank you very much for expressing what I have not....Just know that you are not alone in the struggle of food addiction and all the emotional issues that comes along with it. I could say more, but I just may cry....

Shebah said...

Obesity is not an illness - invented weasel words like foodaholic and food addiction should not be used to mask gluttony and bad diet choices. The obese need to accept responsibility for their own health and not constantly seek to define their fatness and lack of willpower as an illness. Obesity is increasing in this country and parents who feed their children chips through the school railings, when the school is trying valiantly to address the issue on behalf of incompetent parents, should be reported to social services. Sorry for the rant, Kim, but this is an issue I feel very strongly about - having watched a friend eat himself to death through sheer greed at the age of 25. I wish I had not been a comforting shoulder to his whinges, I wish I had been very angry with him and told him to get a grip.

Julie said...

Thanks for the post, Kim. It's nice to know that someone else faces the same battle.

I have an overwhelming need some days to have something unhealthy -- cookies/biscuits or chips/crisps -- and have found that having one 100-calorie pack of snacks is just enough to feel satisfied. It's nice to finish the whole bag without a whole lot of guilt. I don't know if they're available on your side of the pond, though.

fatmammycat said...

It's a bit like smoking Kim, I gave up five years ago and I never smoked again- and I liked smoking. I liked it a lot. But you've just got to do what you've just got to do, you don't want to be fat, I don't want to be a smoker. Both of us want to live longer and healthier lives.
So we took charge of our addictions and dealt with them accordingly. I'm sorry you still have tough days, but you should at least know that you fought this particular dragon and kicked its arse from here to kingdom come and on days when it attempts to rear its ugly head, kick it again.

Shebah, I agree, words like foodaholic and workaholic, shopaholic and hell, even alcoholic give me the pip. It's just someone who likes to do something to excess and needs a catch-all name for it so that they can say, 'hey' it's not my fault, it's a symptom.'
People get offended by curtness when it come to weight-they think you're being a jerk and an arsehole and that you couldn't possibly understand what it's like to try and lose weight (like I don't work my obnoxious arse off to keep my weight stable) but I will back a person to the hilt if they really work hard to lose it. But I won't back a person who claims obesity is a disease and that they are powerless to do anything about it.
That for me is a cop out.

Mary Witzl said...

I cannot resist responding to Shebah's comment about greed. I'm relatively skinny, but very greedy -- or ravenous, or whatever you want to call it. I eat a lot, and it is often very hard for me to stop. Yet I look normal, so few people would imagine that I was greedy. I've got two daughters, both of whom have inherited my huge appetite; one, who is as skinny as a rail, has inherited my metabolism. The other has inherited my husband's metabolism, and she could stand to lose a few pounds.

The problem is far more complex than simple greed and ignorance. There really are people who have a tendency to put on weight more easily than others. I have lived with fat people who ate less -- and more responsibly -- than I.

Grossly fat people are a different matter. They aren't greedy; they are compulsive. This really is an illness, not a character flaw.

fatmammycat said...

Or I could just be a jerk and an arsehole, that's also a possibility.

fatmammycat said...

Most people Mary don't have a metabolism that allows them to eat what they like, in fact I'd wager very few people have it. Most people have to watch what they eat, especially as they age. So if you're one of the lucky eat waht you like brigade good luck to you, but the rest of us, fat and fit a like have to be careful.

ArleneWKW said...

What a difficult place to me in. A I sure know how you feel. I think remembering your vulnerability is keeping you relatively safe from the regain. You haven't lose the respect for your old adversary that you need to maintain your control over it. Oh to be one of those naturally thin people, like my daughter-in-law who'll eat a third of a rich dessert and then push it away.

Z said...

I think that is an indication of why, sometimes, a person who has lost a lot of weight carries on past the point of looking good and becomes too thin. It's too hard to have just one scone or chocolate or a small piece of cheese. It's safer to keep dieting and gives more of a sense of purpose.

Brave Astronaut said...

Wow. I know I should be better about what I eat and how I take care of myself. My mother's adult-onset diabetes certainly shortened her life and it will certainly come knocking on my door if I don't do something.

I like to eat and I often eat too much. I pay for it in my appearance and lack of motivation in going to the gym. Just this weekend, I fulfilled an oft-repeated mantra, "Eat til your miserable."

Kim, I really admire your accomplishments and your resolve in managing to deal with your issues. Regardless of what any of us say here, you are to be commended and serve as a model for all of us to follow.

Be strong and be well.

Kim Ayres said...

Mom the hipple and Teresa, welcome to my ramblings and thank you for taking the time to comment.

Kim Ayres said...

Shebah, all I can do is refer you back to my post, The Difference Between Habit and Addiction.

Obesity is not an illness, but for some people, obesity is an outward manifestation of an illness.

If someone has a problem relationship with food then they have a problem. You cannot compare it to someone who doesn't have a problem.

It's like comparing an alcoholic with a non alcoholic. If you place a beer in front of both of them, the internal battles that need to be fought in order not to drink it will be very different for each.

For the non-alcoholic to call the alcoholic greedy and weak willed just because they give into the drink is to completely and utterly fail to understand what is going on.

I am not an alcoholic. Sometimes I want a beer, but for me to walk away from one is no big deal. For an alcoholic it is a big deal. Just because it is easy for me does not mean it is easy for him or her.

This doesn't mean an alcoholic can't find a way over their addiction if they are motivated and focused enough, but it will be a lifetime battle and no one should accuse them of just making easy excuses when there are times that they struggle like hell.

I firmly believe that people can conquer their addictions if they want to enough, but I don't for a single moment believe it to be simple, easy or straightforward.

But simply calling someone a glutton is ignorant and insulting and shows an appalling lack of insight and empathy into the problems and difficulties they could be facing.

Yes, some people just have bad habits and don't know any better. Fine, educate them. But don't assume that everyone is just suffering from bad habits. Go back and read The Difference Between Habit and Addiction again.

Kim Ayres said...

I do want to say, Shebah, that I am truly sorry for the death of your friend, and I can understand why you feel sensitive about this.

But if he did what you say he did, then he was suffering some kind of serious mental health, or physical problem, whether you knew it or not. No one overeats to that extent on a whim. There were clearly problems that went far beyond willpower.

sarah said...

i think my relationship with food can be summed up like this:

i'm as addicted to foodstuff as if it's crack or heroine, but unfortunately, i cannot live without it (food). it's not like i can go cold turkey or wean myself off of FOOD. they don't make "foodadone"..

life's a bitch.

sarah said...

nice toof, by the way..

Shebah said...

Sorry, Kim to disagree - overeating is not an addiction and it cannot justifiably be compared to alcohol or drug addiction. Alcohol and drugs cause chemical changes in the brain which lead to addiction (though even this is not an overnight happening, it does take some time and application). You could become addicted to a food which contained a certain drug, i.e.the coco leaf or bethel nut, but not in a blanket way to all food, tomatoes, milk, eggs?. Food is only a word for fuel. People overeat because they enjoy it. You can choose not to have a second helping, and you can choose to eat a smaller helping; but conversely, you can also choose to have three helpings, because it's so delicious and you just want to stuff more down. We all have our moments of self indulgence, but most of us want to stay healthy, fit and well, and look good, so we exercise and eat enough for our body type. But I guess it's quite comforting to apply various labels to exhonerate us from our greed.
If you believe you are addicted to food, tell me honestly, do you long for five helpings of brussels sprouts, beetroot, tripe, jellied eels? Or is it selective addiction? I will now bow out of this discussion as I don't think you welcome opposing views.

Kim Ayres said...

I have never said that overeating is down to one thing. It is a complex thing with multiple causes - many of them are tied in emotional, mental, physical and self-esteem issues. "Greed" is a simplistic blanket word that means nothing.

You come here, stomp your feet, telling us all that you are so right and then trounce out saying you'll now leave the discussion. The simple fact is, Shebah, you have no idea what you are talking about.

You have no idea about the difference between desire and compulsion.

You care not about the multiple reasons WHY people will overeat. You only care that your vision of the world is the right one.

Your single, linear view of the world will solve nothing because overeating is a far more complex thing than simple greed.

As you are not open to accepting that statement, you cannot learn and grow and see beyond your simplistic view of the universe.

I am more than happy to debate the complexities of the world and life, but I can't debate with someone who has such a narrow view of the human condition and refuses to believe there is more to it than that.

fatmammycat said...

You could be right Kim, certainly I don't understand how a person can continue to over eat and grow heavier if the gaining weight is what makes them unhappy. I don't doubt it is complex in some cases, but neither do I doubt it is not complex in others. (I'm thinking of my mother here so bear with me-she just likes to eat food that she knows is bad for her)
I do believe the solution to weight gain and loss lies in everyone's own hands and that difficult as that might be to accept, EVERONE can change habits and addictions if they are willing to try-and not just talk about trying.
I might come across as high handed sometimes, but I also recognise that I am a gung-ho type and don't always get it that people might be that bit more fragile. For me any kind of challange, be it giving up smoking, training for a marathon, going and getting battered in Memnoch's class, shit even my work, it's like a battle cry goes off and I throw everything behind it. I"m inclined to forget others might need a more gentle route.
That is why I have always though your own battle with weight so admirable, even on the weeks you gained, I knew you'd redouble your efforts the following week and lose it. You pitched everything into it and I get that.
I don't want you to think I come in here and belittle people struggling, Because I try not to, but we are all very different and if I am too Sergeant Major-ish I do apologise. You know I'll never change, but as a gal who also pitches everything into a decision I hope you know from whence I come.

Mary Witzl said...

Some years back I heard a radio program about a man who had been adopted at the age of two weeks. It turned out that he had a twin who was also adopted at roughly the same age. Both men ended up in loving homes and were reunited in their thirties. The twin being interviewed said that his brother was, like himself, overweight. Both of them grew up with people who were of normal weight. They ate their food, shared their lifestyles. But they were overweight.

Obesity is a complex issue. People don't get fat just because they are greedy and don't care about their health or appearance. As for overeating as an addiction, there is scientific evidence to back up the claim that the brains of overeaters have fewer dopamine receptors than the brains of people with normal eating habits. Which explains why overeaters go for carbohydrate and fat-rich foods just like junkies go for cocaine or heroin. If you are interested, Dr G K Wang, an expert on addictive behaviors trained at Johns Hopkins University, did several studies on this very issue.

There are psychological, medical and genetic factors behind overeating. And yet the assumption is that fat people need a kick in the butt, tough love, or some good, honest advice. They need much more than that.

Kim Ayres said...

FMC - I do know from whence you come :)

My beef isn't with you - you do know the difference between habit and addiction, laziness and compulsion, casual desire and chemical imbalance.

There is great truth in what you say - the essence of where we both come from is more or less the same - if you want something enough, you can find a way of achieving it.

What I am very aware of is that there are multiple forces acting on every desire. We can want to be slimmer, fitter, healthier, but our subconscious is very good at sabotaging our efforts.

If we are to succeed in the long term we have to discover what other motivations are going on in the background.

From self loathing, to fear of interaction, to depression, to food associations set up in childhood, to chemical reactions in the brain, to influence by powerful marketing messages. If we don't take these things into consideration, then we have far less chance of success.

I'm sure you know the stats as well as I do - that between 95% and 98% of people who go on a diet put all the weight back on within 2 years, and most of them put on more than they lost.

All I've been trying to say, right from the start, is that it is complex and difficult, and cannot be summed up and dismissed in a single, inadequate, misleading word like "greed", which actually means nothing.

I greatly admire your ability to focus in on what you want and stick with it, no matter what.

I don't have that, so have to develop other strategies. And I believe there are a lot of people like me.

As a person who is prepared to endure extreme pain and discomfort to achieve what you want, I can understand your impatience with people who are a bit more hesitant to put themselves through the mill.

Our approaches are different, but our core beliefs are not dissimilar

Carole said...

I read this post before anyone commented and chose not to comment because I think it is particularly painful. And then Shebah came along and all my good resolve went right out the window.

I remember that as a little one, there was rarely enough food in the house to feed all the urchins my folks hatched so I was in a constant state of hunger. One time we got to go to the grandparents house and grandma fixed the best meal I had eaten in my five or so years. And I took a second helping and was in the process of gobbling it down when my grandpa thundered, "You are such a greedy little pig, Carole. Get away from the table. And you may not have any more food."

I was so ashamed of my greediness then. Embarrassed and ashamed. And now my best time to eat food is when no one is around and they can't see me "pig" down my food. I weigh between 127 and 145 pounds on any given year, but now that I am 53, I think my grandpa is wrong. I think I was hungry and not greedy, but I still like eating alone.

Anonymous said...

Kim wrote (beautifully, I might add), "I’m mourning the fact that I cannot just have the scone, enjoy it, and then stop, feeling satisfied."

You are a braver, stronger person than I, o bearded one. I don't have the strength (yet) to face the mourning.

Sayre said...

The visual image of fighting the dragon with a toothpick was quite apt, Kim. Some days it feels exactly like that!

PI said...

I know those feelings only too well. For most of my life I could eat what I liked and remained skinny. Then in 1979 I married MTL and found happiness and started to show when I had indulged and since then it has been a battle. Just recently I have given up my nightly 4 squares of chocolate. It's easier not to taste it. I am winning the war but it is a constant battle. I do believe- for all sorts of reasons - it's worth it. Stick with it Kim and I'll take strength from your example.

Anonymous said...

i don't know why people are so willing to see the reverse of this (anorexic/bulimic) as a medical condition.. but they see overeating as plain greed.

frankly, it's always irritated me.

fat people are the last acceptable scape goat for hate.

Kim Ayres said...

I know I haven't replied to everyone in this post, but I appreciate your comments. Your contributions I'm sure will chime with other readers.

Carole - that pulled at my heart. coarse and uncaring comments, especialy when we are young, can have such long reaching effects

Anonymouses - I don't know whether both are from the same person or not. Thank you (both?) for taking the time to comment. I would ask if, in future, you can leave a name or initial letter (doesn't have to be your real one, just so long as it's consistent), so i can tell one anon comment from another. Thanks

Sarah said...

sorry kim.. that was me. (the second anon comment)

Jupiter's Girl said...

I understand, Kim. I tend to think like Mary - knowing that the body has a preferred weight.

Just lately, cigarettes have been looking delicious. I dare not cave in and give up 5.5 years of non-smoking work I've done.

Galorealla said...

Hi Kim,

After reading this post and the comments, I felt I had to add something.

Shebah's comments "Obesity is not an illness or addiction"

If what she believes is true then do we have a nation that is quite alarmingly becoming a nation of greedy people by choice?

I think not. So, why is it on the increase? People do not just decide one day "hey I am going to start to over eat and make myself fat". It just does not happen. Lets be honest our eating habits as a nation have been subtly changing for years. As you say Kim, Obesity is a very complex issue with many contributing factors. These are very different for each individual. The common thread is the type of food we eat. We have changed from a nation that cooked and created food each day from freshly bought ingredients, to a nation of fast food lovers. This is not just aimed at the likes of McDonald's either. Our whole eating habits have changed, we can now buy food ready prepared to just bang in the microwave or oven and hey presto its ready in minutes. The convenience food or TV dinner is now a way of life for us. We are now aware of course that it is loaded with fat, sugar, salt and anything else they care to throw in. Such is the way of the modern world. Constraints are put on our time due to work and family. Gone are the days when one parent worked and the other stayed home to care for the family. It is a necessity of life for both parents to work to pay the bills and give the family the lifestyle they want. This is where the convenience food fits in. If like me you don't get in the house until 6.00-6.30, you really don't want to start cooking something that you won't be able to eat until 9.00pm.

It is a fact that we are now exposed to more foods than our parents or grandparents ever were and more generous portions. Eating out is not a luxury anymore it is a way of life and it is cheap, sometimes cheaper than cooking yourself. The food we eat causes chemical changes in our body, this has been proven by scientific study. The most interesting thing I have read about in the media, is where some overweight people do not know when they are full. They lose the ability to read the bodies signals that tell them when they have had enough to eat. Is this a chemical change caused by the type of food we eat? Who knows?

What Carole said rang a bell with me. We were hungry as kids, not starving I grant you, but on a tight budget with 6 kids to feed, there were no treats, just enough food to tide you over to the next meal. This didn't stop my mother from being overweight. She came from a family of short overweight people. My father on the other hand came from a family of stringy thin tall people, with not enough meat on them to feed next doors cat. So where did that leave us 6 kids. We inherited both sets of genes. Half of us struggle with our weight and the other half don't. I never used to. I was always able to eat what I wanted and stay thin. But things change, I changed my job to an office job, sitting down all day and one day thought "cripes what's going on here then a spare tyre". I am approaching middle age and its harder to keep off. I have food cravings (chocolate is my demon). I had a lot of help earlier this year, the most stressful of my life and hey presto the weight dropped off. A combination of food tasting like chaff and running 4 times a week. The big question is how do I keep it off. Will my running be enough?

It's a complex and controversial issue to say the least, but to be unfeeling and harsh does not help anyone. Yes it does help to have self control but there are other factors contributing. This is why it is now a national problem and not just a personal issue for a few unlucky people.

Kim Ayres said...

Galorealla - welcome to my ramblings - thank you for taking the time to visit and comment.

For me, the fundamental question that is so rarely ever asked is "WHY do we overeat?"

An answer like "greed" is simplistic and actually answers nothing. You then have to ask "Why are we greedy?". Then, and only then, can we even begin to make a start at looking at the multiple and complex reasons why different people overeat.

When people think they can adopt a moral high ground by just bandying the word "greed" about, I feel the deepest pity at their ignorance.

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