Emotional eating is part of the repertoire of an obese child and I was no exception. It was a standard for the majority of my youth (and much of my adulthood). Now as an adult I have a better understanding of its inner working. Similar to other impulse control disorders, like hair pulling, nail biting, cutting, and the all the compulsive activities (shopping, gambling, etc.), emotional eating was a cathartic act. It helped release the tension I built during the day from the tumult of being an overweight child and provided me momentary relief.
I would obsess over food all day. In class, I would fascinate over what the gallon of ice cream was doing in the freezer at that moment, or in what stage of production was the McDonald’s patty of that Big Mac I was going to eat later was in. It was strange. It was similar to a surveillance camera in the fridge, freezer, or pantry filming as well as safeguarding my future binge foods. I would sometimes daydream about what those cookies would be saying to the tasty treats and how they would be anticipating my pending ingestion of them.
The Light Snack
Once I got home, it was time for I what called the “afternoon snack” but most would call an all-you-can-eat-esque gorge fest masquerading as a snack. I would eat two or three frozen entries, 3 honey buns, and a couple of large bags of chips.
My mom never stopped me. She would mostly say “Now, Albertito,, do you really want to be eating that much?” I would say to myself “Shut up, Mom!” as I binged watching Voltron, GI Joe, or Transformers. This continued for years. My mom never deprived me of the food nor hid the food, for after all I had an older brother who would maybe want to eat some tasty junk food.
Later in my high school years, my parents took action. They decided to lock up all the junk food in a cabinet. They hired a locksmith to put in a lock. This action freaked me out. I needed my food! How else was I going to numb the pain? Well, I got creative. I stole money from my parents! My modus operandi was to steal $5 or $10 here and there from both my parents’ wallets when they weren’t looking. Both carried around a $100 in their wallet so they wouldn’t notice the inappreciable amount I took. (A plan that anecdotally went awry in the classic 90’s comedy Office Space.)
I waited until they went out for the night and would order two large pizzas from the then-newly created Domino’s Pizza. After inhaling it down, but I had to dispose of the cartons. The problem was that I couldn’t put them in the trash because I would be exposed so I had to be creative. I didn’t drive yet so I had to find places in the house. If I was eating the food and they came home unexpectedly I would throw the cartons behind the washer and dryer or in my closet. If I had time, I would climb up into the attic and stash them in the back.
It eventually got to the point where I was running out of stash spots so one day I took them out to the back yard and burnt them in a mini-bonfire. Instead of burning it on the concrete I did so in the grass which caused a big burnt mark! I remember one particular day when my mother found the cartons in the back of one of the closets. (She was likely there because she had her own issues of compulsive shopping and needing places to stash her “shame” too.) She brought the cartons out and put them in the trash without saying neither a word of sympathy or even admonishment.
The cabinet was a bigger challenge for me. I needed to get into the Ding Dongs, Cheetos and frosted donuts that laid inside. I would feel them talking to me, urging me to break the lock. “Don’t you want us? We want you. We are lonely here.” (It reminds me of the vegetables left on the plate in the Yo Gabba Gabba classic song “Party in My Tummy.”) I resolved myself to break the lock; the food sang a mellifluous siren song. It was as much as the challenge and act of defiance that impelled me into action as the actual food itself.
I found the heaviest item I could lift in the house and kept pounding it on the lock. It eventually opened and it was the sweetest binge. The angels in heaven were singing! But like with the cherubic, lithe angels that come out of the Ark of the Covenant in the climactic scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the angels turned to demons. As with all binges, the stomach pain, coupled with the guilt, shame, and self-loathing, kicked in. And as most of you know, the self-loathing then incites then next binge.
My parents expressed anger with my destruction of the lock. They didn’t punished me; they never punished or grounded me in my whole youth. They continued to put on the locks and I continued to break them. They endeavored to hide the junk food in other places in the house and I, like a bloodhound, would find them.
Upon reflection, I wonder why my parents never got angry with me regarding the aforementioned larceny and theft. Were they sympathetic to my plight and knew that I was desperately ill? Did they feel responsible for my obesity and that is why they were so lax in their discipline? Were they distracted by their own pain and issues with which they were grappling? I’m not sure.
What I do know is that though I was able to stymie the binge eating during my weight loss it reared its ugly head in my adulthood with ferocity. I’ll talk about that in a later blog.
Reach out to me…I am here to help you achieve your goals.
A. Gregory Luna, Double-certified health coach
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