My Food Addiction Success Story: How I Tamed My Eating Habits
8 min read | Nov 2021

My Food Addiction Success Story: How I Tamed My Eating Habits

An insatiable desire for junk food as a child turned into a dangerous dependence on food.

Boomer Baby / Baby Boomer / Moderate / Writer, Author

I learned the importance of good food at an early age, thanks to my mother, who happened to be an exceptional cook. The meals she prepared for us were never ordinary. While most of my friends' families ate sides of canned vegetables with their main entrée, we dined on fresh asparagus drizzled with hollandaise sauce. Her greens were always prepared in browned butter or some sort of fancy wine sauce that I couldn't pronounce. We didn't have a regular pot roast for Sunday dinner like other families—we had beef Wellington wrapped in a puff pastry shell with foie gras and bearnaise sauce.

My mother didn’t grow up eating gourmet dinners. During the war years, when she was a child, her family lived on a lean budget where meat, butter and sugar were scarce. My father, however, was raised with a sophisticated palate, and he expected meals to be nothing less than gourmet and made from scratch. There was no such thing as Hamburger Helper in our home, and McDonald's had yet to find its way to our small town.

My Mother’s Cooking Was Exemplary—but It Wasn’t the Junk Food I Craved

Food was always the pivotal aspect of our holiday celebrations and dinner parties. Everyone from our next-door neighbors to members of the Exchange Club wanted an invite to one of our gatherings. Mom was "the hostess with the mostest"—the quintessential Donna Reed in her shirtwaist dress, high heels and string of pearls draped elegantly around her neck as she circulated the room with platters of hors d'oeuvres. My father was the bartender, mixing Harvey Wallbangers for his friends as Eydie Gormé's "Blame It on the Bossa Nova" played on the turntable in the background.

To impress guests, they served plenty of buttery escargots nestled in tiny trays, and beluga caviar served on toast wedges. My siblings devoured these gourmet treats, but I would have been much happier with a bowl of potato chips and onion dip. I didn't care if the caviar came from the Caspian Sea—it was still a smelly mound of fish eggs to me, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If I refused to try a particular food, I was sent to my room for the evening. Being the stubborn kid that I was, no amount of garlic butter was going to tempt me to eat something that looked like the slugs on our sidewalk after a good rain.


My Junk Food Addiction Was Rooted in a Desire for Comfort Food

Occasionally, my mother would revert to her family roots and cook the kind of simple foods popular in her Connecticut home when money was scarce: bacon spaghetti; hot rice mixed with butter and sweetened condensed milk; grilled cheese sandwiches. These were my favorites. They were the least expensive and easiest to make, but they were the ones I appreciated most because I could taste my mother's love in every savory bite. 

Another reason I preferred her simple recipes over the gourmet dinners she prepared was because they were the closest thing I could get to comfort food. What I really wanted was store-bought junk food, but it wasn't allowed in our house. My parents made it clear that packaged snacks were unhealthy and would only add unnecessary pounds to our bodies. Being overweight was unacceptable, and being unable to control what we put in our mouths was considered a weakness of character. But being denied the same fast foods and fried snacks that other families enjoyed only intensified my desire to have them. 

Luckily, my best friend, who lived down the street, had tubs of Charles Chips delivered regularly to her family's doorstep. Naturally, I coveted those tan metal buckets filled with salty potato chips and pretzels. As soon as the delivery truck pulled into my friend's driveway, it was as if Pavlov had rung the bell. I raced across the street and waited at her kitchen table like a salivating dog until the first tin was opened.

I Was a Junk Food Junkie, Hiding My Addiction From My Parents

I discovered other ways to get my junk food fix without my parents’ knowledge. We could afford penny candies from the nearby convenience store by pooling my allowance money with my sister's. If we were low on coins, we scoured the neighborhood for empty soda bottles that we could recycle for cash. One bottle was worth a nickel, the equivalent of five pieces of bubble gum back in the mid-1960s. If we earned a dollar or two between us, we would splurge on a box of Little Debbie cakes or a handful of candy bars, which we carefully hid in our sock drawer. Then, when the timing was right, we snuck our contraband to the nearby park and devoured chocolate bars behind a thick hedge next to the baseball diamond. The adrenaline rush of sneaking forbidden, pre-packaged treats and eating them in secret made the sugary candy on my tongue taste even more delicious than the fancy desserts my mother made.

My older siblings shared my obsession with food and had the same deep appreciation for my mother's culinary skills. As soon as we walked through the front door after school, we were enveloped in the comforting aromas of garlic marinara simmering on the stove or cinnamon apple turnovers baking in the oven. We hovered in the kitchen every afternoon to sneak tastes of whatever my mother was cooking. I hated that she was strict about eating healthy, small portions when we sat down for dinner. Most of the time, I finished my food before anyone else at the table and was often reprimanded for eating too quickly. But I couldn't help it. I was always hungry. Even after cleaning my plate, I could never get enough carbs to satisfy my demanding stomach. So on the nights when my food cravings were particularly intense, I'd excuse myself from the table to "help with the kitchen clean up" and then sneak spoonfuls of pasta from the pot until my stomach felt like it was going to burst. Only then did I feel satiated. 

At the time, I didn't realize the disturbing pattern developing; food had become the focal point of my life. Everything revolved around what I was going to eat and when I was going to eat it. I had developed a mindset about food where it was either "good" or "bad." If I was having a particularly rough day, fried junk food was my drug of choice I turned to for a euphoric high. Comfort food was “bad” food, and comfort food was the equivalent of love.

My Husband Thought My Whole Family Had a Problem

Years later, after I married, my husband was astounded by how food-centric my family was. We were obsessed, he claimed. "You talk about food while you're eating food. And when you're not eating, you're reading recipes to one another over the phone and planning meals for the week ahead." 

I was taken aback by his remarks. Didn't all families do this? Were we really so different?

I figured my husband was exaggerating. After all, he'd grown up in a large family with a single mother who cooked on a tight budget. Food was not available in abundance, and meals were more about sustenance than taste. My husband was an active child who only ate when he was hungry. He didn't wake each morning as I did and salivate at the thought of buttery crepes and jam for breakfast or wonder all day what would be served for dinner. He didn't scour the pantry in search of tea biscuits or feel the need to sneak bags of chocolate baking chips to eat in the privacy of a blanket fort.

It Was the COVID-19 Quarantine That Made Me Realize I’m Addicted to Eating

Rather than admitting to him or to anyone else that I had a problem with food, I kept my addiction to myself and continued to eat in secret. I wasn't above sneaking leftovers from my family's plates, and I still stashed candy in my bedroom dresser. (Old habits never die.) I also hid snacks in the back of the pantry where no one could see them. But I was careful to control my appetite when people were around—I'd only eat an acceptable amount from my plate and set the rest aside. Knowing I could return to it later and indulge when no one was around was part of the thrill. There was nothing more pleasurable than binge eating without anyone knowing how much I'd consumed. 

Over the years, food was the one thing I thought I could control, especially when I felt overwhelmed by the demands of running a household or playing Switzerland in the never-ending drama that plagued my extended family. But it didn't occur to me that food was actually in control of me until the world went into lockdown in 2020. 

I baked away my stress during the pandemic, binging on homemade bread, cookies and platefuls of creamy fettuccine Alfredo. I was on a food bender, an endless endorphin high that kept me floating for months in complete ignorance of the addiction I had succumbed to. Cooking was my excuse to combat boredom and loneliness during the quarantine months. Overfeeding my family was my way of expressing love. 


My Food Addiction Wake-Up Call

One morning as I was putting together a grocery list and dreaming of the delectable meals I would prepare, my husband squeezed my hand and told me to stop. Stop cooking. Stop obsessing. Stop searching for love and acceptance through food. "When was the last time you actually tasted food?" he asked.  

He was right. My taste buds had grown dull from months of overeating. Everything tasted the same, and none of it brought me joy anymore. There were times I couldn't even recall eating—it had become as robotic as driving the same route home every day or washing my face before bed each night. 

It took a photo that my daughter sent of me with my grandkids to shock me into the reality of how my food addiction was affecting my appearance. I looked puffy and unhealthy. I thought of all the things I liked to binge on—doughnuts, chicken wings, pizza—and how they often left me sluggish and nauseous. I realized I was tired of feeling that way and was ready for a change. 

For Me, Overcoming Food Addiction Was About Changing My Perception of Food

I worked with a nutritionist who offered emotional support and helped me incorporate healthier eating behavior. I retrained my taste buds and started using standard calculating portion sizes for meals. I learned about proteins, fats and carbohydrates and how they worked with my body. But most of all, the process taught me that food, although made with love, is not love in itself. Instead, it is fuel for the body and should not be abused by mindless eating. 

Today, I make better choices about what I put on my plate, and I take the time to enjoy what I eat. Of course, there are days when I indulge on special occasions. Chocolate cake on my granddaughter's birthday? Yes, please! But I don't eat to the point of numbing my taste buds and feeling drunk on food.

Every now and then, though, I give in to my childhood craving for a bowl of Mom's bacon spaghetti. And it tastes just the way I remember it—made with a mother's love.

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