Monday, May 10, 2010

Praying for Strength

Recent conversation with a close friend:

Me: I think I am going to services Friday night.

Friend: (well aware of my profound allergy to synagogues) מה פתאום!? What’s up with that!?

Me: Well, this is going to sound stupid…but I need to ask G-d for help.

Friend: That does not sound stupid at all.

Or maybe it does. Maybe this is my version of snake oil. But I am desperate.

The problem is that my eating is out of control. One day I eat normally, the next day I binge. This has been the case for me for literally as long as I can remember. I go through periods—sometimes very long periods— where things calm down—where my eating is “normal”— but it always comes back. At some point I will find myself surreptitiously downing boxes of cookies, slice after slice of bread and butter or bread and honey, or massive quantities of G-d knows what else, and promising myself that “this is the last time” and “tomorrow I will give up sugar and white flour for real”.

This is a stupid, insane, ridiculous way to live. The major difference between me and an alcoholic or drug addict is that I can still drive after getting another hit. (Hell, I can drive while taking a hit, so long as the food item only requires one hand). I neither want nor intend to spend the rest of my life like this. There is no way that any food item can possibly be worth the pain of addiction. So I try to get off the crazy train. I have a rallying cry: fall seven times, stand up eight. I try and fail, try and fail and try yet again. I am a weeble wobble, falling and rising. I am Don Quixote, tilting at windmills. I am fighting a war, losing battle after battle and getting up the next day to fight again. And lose, again. My friends and co-workers find it either amusing or sad, my constant dieting. I understand them. They do not understand. Unless you have gone through it (and I know that many have, which helps enormously) how can you possibly understand?

(It is like this. I hate this feeling of being in thrall…to a candy bar. To an obsession. I hate the feeling of my brain being on fire. Must. Have. Sugar. Now. I want peace. I want mental quiet already. I want to let this go.

It is like this. I do not enjoy most of the food while I am eating it. The first few bites, the first few cookies, sure. But after that? Pure primal, animal gorging. Except that the average animal probably has enough sense to stop eating when it is full. I eat when I am not hungry. I eat when I do not want to eat.

It is like this. I LOVE the way I feel and my body feels when I eat well. I love the feeling of lightness. I love the energy. I love the sense of order, the feeling of mental and physical health and the mental calmness I have when I am not chasing after a drug. Even if I do not always like the food as much—let’s face it, carrot cake with extra cream-cheese icing is a hell of a lot tastier than a melon—I could live with that. It is worth it. I know it is worth it.

It is like this. This is a matter of life and death. I have to win this war. If I do not win, if I do not kill this, eventually it is going to kill me. I think of that, when I am binging on bread and butter. What is this doing to my arteries? How many more times can I do this before they end up blocked completely? How long before I drop dead of a massive heart attack? I really should get them checked out, but honestly, I am afraid to. I do not want to know how bad it is, and how much damage I have already done. How much I have already screwed myself over.)

What I need, what I lack, is strength. I need the strength to get through the withdrawal symptoms (similar to the ones I suffered when I quit smoking 11 years ago). I need the strength to see bread and sweets and to not eat them. I need the strength to stand up against my yetzer ha’ra when it says “Gila, you had such a long day. Don’t you want a packet of TimTams for the ride home?” or “עוד אחד ודאי” “One more time, and then that’s it.” Or “you are starting your diet tomorrow, so you really should binge today because otherwise, you will never be able to eat this or that or the other again”. I need the strength to deal with the day-after-day, the strength not to get lazy and not to get complacent and to not slip into bad habits six months down the road. I need strength to not be afraid. A future without sugar? Never have chocolate again? No more carrot cake? Ever?????

(Just now, writing that, my insides literally knotted up).

I need strength, and G-d has it. He can give me some, if He chooses. He can get rid of the withdrawal symptoms, if He chooses. I will not say “all I have to do is ask”, because sometimes the answer is “no”. Both G-d and I know that He has given me that answer more than once—my perennial single status is proof of that. But sometimes it is yes. So why not ask? What do I have to lose? Friday night, I went to synagogue and I prayed. I told G-d I cannot do this on my own. I told Him I was tired. I told Him I understand that I have to do the work—I am not asking for an easy out or a quick fix—just some hizuk, some strength that will help me to do the work that must be done. I told Him I was desperate. I told Him that, apparently, I cannot do this on my own. I told Him I needed Him.

Saturday morning I woke up early. I went to one of my favorite blogs and checked in on his miracles. Baruch Hashem, they are still going strong. I visited Aish’s website and found, waiting for me, an article about prayer. I had done my grocery shopping on Thursday night. Before I went to the store, I broke out the menus from the diet program I was on last year, the one that helped me to lose 12 kilo (10 still off) and to clean up my eating habits…before I got off track again. I bought accordingly. My refrigerator is crammed with the light bread, the chicken breasts, the cottage cheese and the vegetables the diet calls for. Saturday morning I started the diet again, from week one, day one.

All I need now is His answer.


Emily Segal said...

That is such a brave, honest post. No, you are definitely not alone in this struggle. I myself overcame it 7 years ago, lost 70lbs, and went back to school to study nutrition so I could help others. Now I hear variations of this same story from my wonderful clients.

If I can offer one piece of advice, it would be to take it One Day At A Time. Don't think "I can never have sugar again". Instead think "I choose not to have sugar TODAY." That's all you need to worry about. You can deal with tomorrow when it gets here.

best wishes,
emily segal

aliyah06 said...

Bravissima, my friend! One of my close friends in the Old Country bounced from binging to bulimia....and joined Overeaters Anonymous. She still goes for support but doesn't eat half of Safeway one night and spew everything the next night. Sounds bizarre, but it has nothing to do with "overeating" -- it's a support group like AA for those of us who are addicted to our eating disorders and their symptoms. There's one in English, in Jerusalem. Give em a try. If you don't want to go alone, I'll go with you.

And G-d hears you, even when you're not in a shul.

cba said...

I echo the One Day at a Time advice.


Tzipporah said...

You need more than strength sweetie. You need other overeaters to talk to. Blogging about it will give you that. So, yay God!

I overeat when I'm bored/anxious/don't want to feel whatever I'm feeling/don't want to acknowledge that I'm feeling something.

I've discovered I have to be willing to tune in to the unpleasant feelings, and deal with them, if I want the other symptoms to stop. The only feeling/action that never changes is the one that you ignore.

the dame said...

I completely understand. I think one of the very hard things, that is so different from other addictions and that is so hard for others to understand is that recovery from binge eating requires walking a fine line. An alcoholic has to stop drinking any alcohol. A smoker has to stop smoking any cigarettes. But someone who struggles with a food addiction cannot just stop eating. You have to continue to eat and find a way to make it healthy and normal and no longer a destructive force in your life - and that is so very difficult.

Be gentle on yourself. I wish for you that you will find great stores of strength and willpower and that this will no longer hurt you.

Mongrel said...

Out of solidarity to your quest to eat without gaining weight, I've not put any sugar in my Brinta this morning.

faith/emuna said...

gila thank you for your post, i think alot of people have food issues, just in different magnitudes
you do not have to go to services to pray, nor do you need a particular time.
you can ask for strength throughout your day, in your kitchen, car etc.
have you thought of saying brachot before you eat? you believe in G-d, maybe blessing him before eating might help you put food in perspective, that G-d gave us food to nourish us. i am in no way implying that it is easy, just wondering if it might help, being that you are including Him in the process.
wishing you much luck and praying that you will find the strength that G-d gives you, he has already sent you a lot of good advice from the other commentators (and a good friend who offered to go with you to a support group)

e.e. said...

Hi Gila
I can partly understand you as I often overeat.
Tzipporah said:
"I overeat when I'm bored/anxious/don't want to feel whatever I'm feeling/don't want to acknowledge that I'm feeling something".
This describes me too and anger also makes me nosh.
At the moment, I am not doing that much to correct my eating habits and I don't do sport. Lately, I have tried to walk places for errands instead of driving.
Another idea is to keep soup or a simple dish in the fridge to heat up after work or studying. That way you don't come home ravenous and pounce on the junk food!
Good luck in your mission and try not to beat yourself up if you slip here and there.
Oh, and good Shavuot for next week!

JewishGal said...

I'm not trying to diagnose or pathologize you, but you might want to look into "Binge Eating Disorder." It isn't actually an official disorder, but it's a recognized phenomenon and it is something that some therapists/counselors/etc are trained to support people through.

It sounds like it's causing you significant enough distress to really be a problem. You aren't alone, this looks like something a lot of people suffer from. The website also has some ideas for you to do at home if you aren't interested in going to see a doctor or a counselor.

Anonymous said...

Umm... Maybe you're pregnant, look into that. That would explain your eating habits. My girlfriend was just like that and then she found out she was pregnant and had an abortion (thank god).

Anyway let us know. I think it would be cool for you to have a baby!

Gila said...

LOL. Trust me, I am 100% sure that it isn't that. Also-this is something I have dealt with, off and on, from age 7 (at least). Was not pregnant then either.

Though I appreciate the kind wishes. :)

J.P. said...

God has far more important things to do than to mingle into a discussion about overweight.

Anonymous said...

I understand that your eating has nothing to do with hunger, because I do it sometimes.
Some solutions I have found: 1 - be busy, 2 - each complex carbs then you don't get cravings, 3 - check out this site which has lots of practical and moral support

Risa said...

JP - This isn't a discussion about being overweight. It's about a type of compulsion or addiction that is impacting Gila's life.

And, in my personal opinion (and who knows - maybe I'm wrong... but I will happily go on believing this), G-d is who you turn to with your suffering. Whatever the nature of that suffering is. And Gila is, quite naturally, looking to G-d for strength in a matter that causes her great difficulty.

Makes perfect sense to me. :)

Gila said...

Thanks to everyone for the kind words. I sat on this for a good three days before I posted it--had friends give it a test read and everything. Why NOT post it? Because I was worried that I would come across as a wanna-be Queen for a Day contestant. "Bombing, cancer, PDD-NOS, eating disorder? Oh, for f**k's sake, what sad sob story is she going to trot out next".

And in favor of posting? Every time I post something even remotely spiritual, I get at least one response from someone who says "wow, that helped me".

(Note that the whole issue of boundaries and do I really want to tell the world I have a eating disorder was not an issue. Kind of sad, when you think about it. Or curious, that which such exhibitionist tendencies, I ended up as an accountant, and not as a stripper.)

Anyway, I received feedback both on and off the blog, pretty much all positive and from some really surprising quarters. So, thank you. Still working, still struggling and will likely be fighting for the forseeable future. But, eventually, b'ezrat Hashem, I will beat this.

Shira said...

I just discovered your blog while meandering through Jewish blogland.
I think many of us suffer from a 'spectrum' of overeating.

I know often people turn to food for energy when their lack of energy really is a sign of lack of sleep or lack of exercise or thyroid problems. The first thing they tell you in Weight Watchers, for example, is make sure you sleep well and exercise (now if only I could apply this theory to my own life).
Anyway, kudos for you for keeping off the bulk of the weight you once lost. Most people don't manage that achievement.

Ilana said...

Gila, you wrote such a fantastic blog, I think you are doing amazingly well, you look great (although I realise now you dont feel it), keep going with your strength and you will get there.
I know someone else said it, but I believe it too, G-D is everywhere, you dont have to go to Shul to speak to him, talk to him all the time, I find my shower time is the best. Sending you lots of strength and good luck

Lesley said...

I have been reading for quite sometime and this was the post that I had to respond to. Thank you for writing such an honest post about an issue many people are not willing to admit to.

I have been struggling with weight and emotional eating since I was 8 years old, have been dieting since the same age, have been to support groups, therapists and prayed my heart out. Everything you wrote was as if you had extracted it right out of my head and heart. So what I am saying is: I feel you. I understand you. You are not alone.

mo said...

hey gila,
i love your blog but usually lurk, however, this is a topic very close to my heart.
have you heard about the h.a.e.s. movement? it stands for health at every size. some people in it lean towards fat acceptance, but i think the most interesting thing about it is its approach towards reeducating your body to eat, and trusting your instincts (human instincts that everyone has) as to when and what to eat, exercise, etc. the way i see it, it erases certain notions of good and bad food, guilt about eating and many other notions stuck in people's heads that promote an unhealthy attitude towards eating. it's helped me quite a bit to get in touch with my body.
i'm sure there are many online resources about it, but i particularly enjoy as always, there are things one agrees and disagrees with, but she often writes about medical studies and reports, and shows different opinions and experts. hopefully it'll be of help to you.
other than that, thanks for your writing. i really enjoy it.
all the best.

JACS Rabbi said...

Kudos to aliya06--I'm not an addict myself, but I just attended a JACS Shabbaton as a guest Rabbi, where I met many Jewish Alchoholics--and compulsive eaters, one who told me that she attends AA meetings because the the things they say about alchohol talk to her when it comes to food. Check it outt--OA or COE!

amyrpk said...

Old post. Wondering now the diet went / is going ...

Am on the same boat.

But I've gotta say, I revert to pounds for diet discussions. It's way more satisfying to say "I lost ten pounds" than "I lost three kilo." You know?

Anonymous said...

Hi Gila,

I know this post is over 2 years old but I'm going to assume a) that you still read comments and b) that this is still a relevant issue.

I've just spent the last few days reading your entire blog (!) Although many, many of the issues you write about resonate with me, this is where I'm going to comment because I feel I may be able to help. Before I do, I just want to say that I feel like we should have met, because I lived in Katamon for over a decade between 97 and 08, and I'm only a couple years younger than you, but I don't think we ever did. I wish we had, because I like you! I relate to much of the singles conversation because I only met my now husband a week before I turned 34 (after 10 years in the swamp!) and before him my record was something like yours - basically no relationships that went beyond a couple dates, or pining after men who weren't interested, or having no one to be interested in. Although I have (miraculously) been married happily now for 5 years, I still feel more of a kinship with older single women than I do with women who found their husbands in their twenties. I know what it's like. (And honestly - it's not your fault. I really feel like it's just luck, or bad luck. Life is definitely just not fair.)

Anyway - your description of your compulsion to eat - sometimes - could also have been me. I thought I was an emotional overeater. I was on and off diets for years. They were always the usual weightwatchers/low-fat diets. Either I gave up within days, or I succeeded in sticking to them for some months, managed to lose weight agonizingly slowly and was always starving, and then at some point I snapped, put all the weight back on, and then some. I felt like a freak, like an addict, like I had no willpower.

Long story short, when I was 28 I found the 'right' diet and over 3 years I lost 100lbs, and kept it off for another 4 years, until I got pregnant. The weight I put on when I was pregnant is a whole other story, but bottom line, 11 years after I found that diet, I'm still 60lbs less than I was when I started it. Also, my blood work is perfect and looks like the blood work of someone who is of normal weight despite the fact that I can't seem to lose the weight I gained when pregnant. And although we all want to look wonderful, that's really more important (which is what the whole HAES movement described by someone else above is about).

It is quite possible you do have an addiction - to carbohydrates. It is also possible (although hard) to break that addiction. It's not just the white sugar and white flour though, it's the whole wheat etc too - that's why it's so hard to break the addiction, because you still feed it unless you really know what foods to eat. I finally discovered that it wasn't that I had no willpower, it's that I was still eating the wrong things when dieting that caused me to remain hungry and cravey which set every 'traditional' diet up for failure. So, anyway - you don't know me, and you don't need to take the advice of a stranger, but if you do feel so inclined, I'd recommend that you read Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat" or watch the documentary "Fathead". They could help you, a lot.

With all best wishes for success in everything,