So here’s something I don’t want to admit:
I’ve gained some weight.
I first became conscious of weight gain—specifically, my own—20 years ago, from a physical with a doctor who later described me to my father as “a little chunky.”
I’ll never forget that he used the word chunky. Like a stew. Like something disgusting that needed to be made more appealing.
I developed what I’d call an “informal eating disorder” from there. I became obsessive about reading and adhering to nutritional labels—I mean, obsessive in the same way you might see behavior on the autism spectrum.
I exercised every day to my mother’s aerobics tapes in the basement.
I only tried to throw up once before deciding that bulimia wasn’t a solution to what felt like an obsession with eating I certainly couldn’t control by just not eating.
Now, I should clarify something.
I was about 12 years old when the doctor called me chunky, so physically, my body was essentially a bundt cake in the oven—there was some necessary rising.
I also was nowhere near overweight, but when I gain or lose weight, it shows very easily in my face first, which can completely distort one’s own perception in the mirror.
And for what it’s worth, I was also going through a profound unfolding of my identity at that point—understanding more of who I was, my sexuality, how I did or did not fit in at school.
The bullying started around that time as well. (As soon as you showed a hint of gayness, the witch hunt began!)
And my relationship with my father was starting to fall apart.
So without diving deep into all of the implied details above, suffice it to say, my weight gain likely had less to do with the amount of McDonald’s I was eating at the time (quite a bit), and more to do with coping, the need for comfort and safety, stability.
Anyone with a food addiction will tell you that one of food’s greatest appeals is that it never judges you. It can be used for pure emotional comfort.
(We’ll pass over the disastrous effects the concept of “comfort food” has on our bodies and even minds for now.)
I have often found myself jealous of people who can treat food like fuel. I, obviously, love food—not just for what it can do for our bodies, for the pure medicinal value of it—but creating meals, putting together flavors, discovering and exploring life through taste.
Would I sacrifice that just so I could treat breakfast the same way I treat brushing my teeth or washing my hair? Absolutely not—but it suggests a level of self-control I admire.
As I said, I have gained some weight, but much like when I was twelve, it’s been at a time of significant change and discovery and growth (which is always two steps forward with at least one step back) and so I’ve turned to food as comfort.
Food has kept me company in a new city where I don’t know many people yet. Food has seduced me away from facing the uncertainties of building a business. Food has made Friday nights special.
It’s rewarded me for all of my hard work and bravery, and has given me something to do when I’m feeling bored or lonely or unmotivated.
But you know what food is actually like:
Food is like a friend who throws you a huge party but then leaves you with the bill.
Food promises you the most amazing night of your life, and leaves you feeling worse than before the next morning.
It was worth it, though, right?
The truth is, of course, that food could be replaced with anything here. Food is not the problem. Alcohol is not the problem. Weed is not the problem. Whatever you actually use isn’t a problem at all. It’s just a thing.
So it can’t make you any promises. It can’t do anything but what you do with it.
It’s a glass of wine until you turn it into a security blanket at a party where you don’t know anyone.
It’s an eighth of marijuana until you make it a rabbit hole from your responsibilities.
It’s ice cream until you make it love.
As a health coach, of course, I know all of these things. That actually inspires an added level of shame—I should know better.
Well, I do!
And so many of the people I know that feel food’s power of them know better! I believe our dysfunctional relationships with food are weaved into our identities, the stories and habits we live out every day.
Losing this weight isn’t just about getting more greens into my diet or drinking more water or exercise. I likely only really need to lose about 10 – 15 pounds to be at a healthy place again. As a man in his early thirties, that’s not a daunting idea from a metabolic point of view.
But it means releasing the emotional ties to food. I essentially need to break up with it—no longer be in this toxic love relationship, but just be friends with boundaries and limits and respect.
I need to allow myself time and space to mourn, to miss, to yearn. And prepare myself with coping mechanisms to support myself through that grief.
And while this can help me get focused and present enough to make the changes I need to my diet and exercise right now and lose this weight, it’s an on-going process of reinforcing new stories and beliefs about food that may be contrary to ideas or beliefs that have felt safe up until this point.
Holistically, my relationship with food has so much in common with my relationship with weed or sex or relationships—the work I do in one area of my life will appear in other areas of my life that need more control or balance.
And with that mindset, this becomes more than figuring out how I’m going to get 10 extra pounds of fat off my body.
It’s an opportunity to heal.