I spent many years ashamed of being overweight. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill shame. It was deeply embedded, running through my veins, permeating every aspect of my life. My breath was shallow from the heaviness of my shame.
The excess weight was just the visible subject of my torment. A more persistent shame, one that didn’t fluctuate with my weight, was the ever-present awareness of my defective eating behaviors — binging on sweets, compulsively overeating, mindless eating on the couch just hours before bed and the incessant monkey-chatter in my head about food and weight. I had many teary conversations with myself that asked the same question over and over, “Why can’t you eat like a normal person?”
Then there was the agony of shame I felt as I would slowly start to put the weight back on after months of diligent dieting and fleeting moments of feeling attractive and confident. Well-meaning advice from friends and loved ones was laced with disappointment, which I consumed as shame.
The tricky thing about shame is that it’s the poison that addiction makes you drink. It kills your self-esteem and self-worth, making you vulnerable prey while the addiction metastasizes through your entire life.
What most people who know this struggle don’t realize is that exorcising the shame from their psyche is essential for recovery. Shame is the fuel that keeps compulsive eating, binging and food addiction alive. You must stop feeding it if you want to achieve and sustain a healthy relationship with food and a healthy weight.
How do you work through such pervasive shame? Let’s start with a few questions:
When did you decide to be a compulsive overeater, binger or food addict? When did you make the choice to start a life of perpetual dieting? When did you check that box…the one that said, “I’d like to be overweight, think about food and dieting constantly, look in the mirror with increasing self-loathing, start isolating from friends, and stop doing things I used to love doing because I’m ashamed of my body?”
I’m going out on a limb here, but I’m guessing your answers to those questions are “never.” You never checked that box, did you? You never chose to have a devastating struggle managing food or to endure the public humiliation of being overweight.
The thing is, no one ever chooses addiction. Addiction is a chronic illness. According to the ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine), “addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.” You wouldn’t choose to be a food addict any more than you would choose to suffer from any other chronic illness.
The point is, you can ditch the shame because you didn’t ask for this problem. You didn’t create this problem. You didn’t choose this suffering. This is not because of some tragic defect of character or willful display of gluttony. This struggle isn’t caused by a dysfunctional lack of self-discipline or willpower. It truly is a baffling disease that will bring you to your knees over and over again.
When you are able to come to terms with the understanding that you are fighting a very powerful and pervasive disease, hopefully you can learn to convert shame to compassion. When that happens, you stop consuming the poison that the addiction needs to keep you in its destructive grasp. You can begin to love and nurture yourself with the same genuine caring you would give others suffering with a chronic disease.
Labeling your struggle with compulsive eating and binging as a food addiction isn’t a copout or a convenient excuse. It’s the beginning of understanding the nature of what you are fighting. It’s the point from which you trade in the crippling effects of shame for the bravery and conviction needed to do battle against a disease that is robbing you of happiness, social connection, confidence, ambition and adventure.
Stop feeding your addiction the shame it needs to persist, and ready yourself for battle. Let Eating Sanity help prepare you for combat and start you on the way to a lasting recovery from food addiction, compulsive eating and binging.
Lisette Cifaldi, LMSW, Founder and CEO of Eating Sanity, LLC, website: eatingsanity.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org