I am Afraid of Food

Making a statement like I’ve struggled with weight all my life would be an exaggeration for me–but only a little bit.  Throughout my childhood and teens, I was a small guy; very much the opposite of heavy.  I’m short–I was then and, surprise, I still am–but I was also just small.  The perfect word for it is diminutive.  I wasn’t so tiny that I got mercilessly picked on, but I suspect this is more because I’m a badass dude with an enormous personality.  I grew up hearing the occasional snide remark about my size (one of my favorites is when my first girlfriend related a story to me about how she was talking to some alpha male redneck prick on the bus one morning, and when he found out she was dating me and asked if she loved me–to which she replied yes–he said to her How can you love him? He’s so short. Shit like that sticks with you for the rest of your life) but generally I skated through adolescence being able to forget I was a small guy.  I wrestled for two years in high school–I did it very poorly, but I did it–at the 103 weight class.

One-hundred and three pounds, ladies and germs.  In ninth and tenth grade, my most formative years, physically, I weighed as much as two big bags of flour.  I was little, although I was, I will say, swathed in a fine layer of muscle.

My early-to-mid  twenties saw me (like most folks nowadays, once we leave high school) plumping up.  I got bigger but not to any point of really being unhealthy.  I never watched what I ate or thought about exercising.  I gained a belly and a nice round face but generally didn’t really think about it.  There would be moments when someone I hadn’t seen in ages would make a comment about my weight gain (do I just know a lot of assholes or something?) but I didn’t really care.  I felt fine and women still seemed to really like me, so my weight, for the most part, wasn’t on my radar.

Sometime around age 25 or 26, however, I started getting plenty bigger, and this is where the “weight struggle” starts.  I’ll spare you the long version.  Let’s just say that from 25 until about 32, I would sometimes gain more weight than seemed practical, and then I would feel pretty bad about myself, and I would take great pains to lose that weight. Part of the problem there, however, was that I was still a heavy cigarette smoker, and smoking seemed to affect my respiratory and circulatory systems even more than most smokers.  For me, exercise was basically not even an option.  Losing weight meant starving myself, living off of Slim Fasts and developing coping mechanisms for the sensation of extreme hunger.  My only path to weight loss in those days was through simple calorie deprivation.  It would work to get my weight down to somewhat acceptable levels, but you don’t have to be Dr. Sanjay-fucking-Gupta to know how those kinds of diets work out.  Time and again, I’d be right back where I’d been just a short while before.  Plus, by this point in my life, I liked to eat REALLY bad food.  And lots of it.  So, when I wasn’t dieting, I was really going for it.

Then, around age 32 or 33, the company I worked for moved me to Erie, PA, about a five hour drive from everyone I knew.  I loved it!  But for reasons not fully within my grasp–I like to think I’m a fairly good self-evaluator but who can really make sense of all the nebulous bullshit stirring in our own depths?–I almost immediately started really going for it with food.  Now, there are surface reasons for this which I can testify to: I had recently quit smoking (some really smart people aren’t sure what this has to do with how much we eat, but most agree it affects it somehow), I was all alone and had more time to kill, I wasn’t afraid of what anyone thought of me because I didn’t know anyone there.  As I got more and more visibly fat, I was less and less concerned.  I wasn’t in the market for a woman, so I wasn’t trying to attract anyone, and like I said, I wasn’t going to run into anyone I knew.  I loved eating.  I loved eating whatever I wanted.  And at first, getting fat was kind of fun.  It was neat to see what it was like to get bigger in this area, that area, etc.  It was like I was growing more me, which seemed, at first, like a pretty cool thing to do.

After about a year this trend changed dramatically in my mind.  Suddenly I was physically unable to do some things properly, from tying my shoes to wiping myself.  Even though I was always alone it was humiliating.  Anytime a picture was taken of me, I would struggle with ways to make my wobbling underchin less disgusting, until eventually I had to admit that no matter what I did, I looked fat.  I was a fat dude who was terribly unhealthy.

So, another long story short: I lost the weight.  I had been cigarette-free for about two years, so I started going to a gym.  I devised a diet that worked for me; it was very, very low-calorie, but I wasn’t starving myself.  And quite miraculously, I lost just shy of 50 pounds in just a few months.  It was one of the most amazing things that ever happened to me.  I felt truly glorious.  I was ready to not just revel in my weight-loss, but totally do the “lifestyle change”: eat right, be active, live like a generally healthy person.  And I meant it.  I did.

Just a few months after my weight loss, I made a bunch of massive life changes all at once.  I quit my job at the company I’d worked for for 15 years (basically, my entire adult life); I moved from being all alone in a remote corner of Pennsylvania to living with my mother and four doors down from my sister, nephews, and bro-in-law, in rural South Jersey.  I also was working (for a new company, of course) in Philadelphia (meaning I had to learn how to navigate where I lived–the vast expanse of South Jersey–as well as where I worked, the fifth largest city in the United States, at the same time).  The changes don’t stop there; suffice it to say there were many.  And this is not to say this was not a fantastic move, and a golden era in my life: it surely was.  But my psyche buckled under the amount of change.  Again, I don’t understand my inner workings enough to know what really happened, but I know this: within two weeks, I was (this is a real thing I am about to tell you, I’m not making this up) waiting until my mother went to sleep, quietly sneaking out of the house, driving to the very close-by Taco Bell, purchasing the ten taco meal (ten!), bringing it home, eating all ten tacos, then either taking the trash directly to the outdoor trash can, or some days, hiding it in my work bag and throwing it out in the city the next day.  I was hiding Taco Bell from my mom.  And why?  I have no fucking idea.  I thought she’d be disappointed?  I thought she’d tell me to stop?  That’s not how she is.  It had nothing to do with her, of course (readers of my blog should already know I have a history of addiction, which is certainly tied up in all this, but this is a blog, not a book, so we’re skipping that conversation. But I will say this: it felt an awful lot like a relapse).

Another long story very short: I gained the weight back.  Not all of it, but most (I ended up gaining back 40 of the 50 pounds I lost).  This was, to me, one of the most depressing things I have ever experienced.  I had been so thrilled with my Erie weight loss; not just how I felt and looked but that I had accomplished it, I had set out a very ambitious goal and not just achieved it, but achieved it quickly, efficiently, in view of the whole world.  And now here I was, in what seemed like a matter of days, just a fat bastard again.  Again I had trouble performing some rudimentary household and hygienic tasks.  Again I struggled with what angle to hold my head at in photographs.  Again and again and again.  After all those countless hours in an Erie gym, after dozens and dozens of cans of low-calorie vegetables and oatmeal and writing down calorie counts on little notepads.  Somehow, someway, here I was again just a short time later, wheezing at the top of the stairs like an invalid.  I was so sad.

Here’s yet one more long story short:  I lost the weight again.  A year and a half after moving from Erie (and about 6 months after moving out of Mom’s to my own place in the city) I decided that if I’d done it once, I could do it again.  And so I did.  Almost the exact same way I did it the first time.  And once again, I feel really, really glorious.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this entry: I am afraid of food.  Following my “New Jersey Food Relapse”, I am now painfully aware of how easy it is for me to slip into old habits, and how quickly I can gain my weight back, and how I can be overtaken by the physical as well as psychological lure of food almost as if it were gin (which is to say, in an almost hypnotic way, where I act without full self-awareness).  I have been very close to my goal weight for months now; I am no longer actively losing weight but instead simply improving my fitness and adding muscle mass.  I still think about my calorie count every day: I try to get about 1800 a day, with an emphasis on a very high amount of protein for muscle formation.  But I still weigh myself nearly obsessively: at least twice a day but sometime much, much more than that.  I usually hover around 145 (I wake up around 142); on days when I’ve eaten more than normal, or have a lot of liquid in my belly, or have gone a few days without “passing” my food (that means poop!) sometimes in the evenings I’ll still cross 150…and that makes me freak out.  My inner psyche will simply not allow a Food Relapse to happen again.  And it prevents me from really, truly enjoying food.

Food is an interesting thing to struggle with because it’s not a drug.  In fact, it is something you literally can’t quit.  You have to relapse every day.  Everyone around you is doing it all the time.  Sure, you can eat better, sure, you can create a delicious and nutritious meal, but the fact is, when food or weight become a problem, for you, you can’t simply find a way to quit and get “sober”; quitting gin and cigarettes was easy compared to quitting food…

So.  I don’t have an eating disorder, although I might almost have one.  I eat mostly good food, every day, and just about the right amount of it.  I don’t throw it back up, either.  No, my eating disorder is in my mind, where every bite I take terrifies me, as I think to myself What if it happens again?



12 Responses to “I am Afraid of Food”

  1. It is a struggle. You also come from 2 families of rather short folks with a bit of a propensity for carrying extra weight. Although I don’t believe most to be severly obese. What I really am envious of is folks who are slender who say that they cannot gain weight. Oh my! That would be great!

    • sethdellinger Says:

      No kidding! I know quite a few of those people…what a problem to have! haha. I am under no impression I will maintain this size forever…I know the struggle will be forever…but it will be able to deal with when I’m older if I can stay like this longer…

  2. Kyle Sundgren Says:

    Fuck, you hit home here. The part about having to relapse every day was quite poignant. It’d be like trying to kick heroin by taking no more than the daily recommended dose.

    Man, even now I can’t think of anything better than lounging on my couch while eating snacks in excess and watching something great on TV. Ever since I got on antidepressants my life has been better in a lot of ways, but my desire to lose weight has completely disappeared. Before it would be quite common for me to at least have a nagging thought in the back of my mind to eat better and do some sort of physical activity. Now that I feel better about myself I’ve come to be mostly alright with my obesity. This is most certainly the worst side effect of the pills.

    Eventually I won’t be on the pills (I’ve started tapering down, but that can take a long while until your body is ready), but it’s gonna take some serious brain washing to get me to consistently be healthy and work out. Like, deep Scientology give your kid away to the church type brain washing. Either that or I’ll one day be able to afford lap band surgery. Short of those two things I’m pretty much set on being obese and having some serious health issues down the road. I love food too much, but it doesn’t love me back.

    “that means poop!” made me laugh!

    • sethdellinger Says:

      It’s almost impossible to really do anything about your weight until you really, really want to. It’s so hard! But the thing is, for me, once I got over the really hard part (both the time in Erie and this time) it is SO AWESOME getting in shape!!! Like…it is FUN and it feels great! I’m not at all trying to talk you into losing weight…like I said, you have to want to…I’m just saying, it’s rad. Also, and I am far from the first person to say this: you don’t really love food as much as you think. You love how it makes you feel. But there is a lot more of THAT kind of feeling in fitness. But yeah. Pizza and shit DOES rule.

      Are you weening off this medication under the supervision of a medical professional?

      • Kyle Sundgren Says:

        Yet another similarity to sobriety and dieting is that you really can’t succeed unless you’re doing it for yourself and for no other reason. I know I’m not there at the moment. The few times I’ve been successful at weight loss it has felt great, but I can’t seem to make it stick.

        So far I’ve gone from 150mg to 112mg with no problems. I stayed that way about 6 weeks and decided to step down again to 75mg. That didn’t go so well. On the second night I had an unbearable headache that I just couldn’t ride out. No, I’m not doing it with a doctor supervision. I’d love to, but once again I find myself without health insurance. I’m back to 112mg for the time being. I think I might try to split the difference whenever I do try to get back to tapering down.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Seth, that was truly amazing how you described your fears relating too food and weight gain. I could relate to you so many times when reading this entry. I started running initially to lose weight and try to “find myself” and it turned into much more then just running. I am and probably will forever be, a yo yo dieter. Its sad and frustrating at times. Thanks for letting us into your secret world of food fears.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    PS I hate typing on a touch screen and realizing after I hit send all my grammar and spelling errors. F it.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      I’m glad you could relate to it! I wish I could run, but even when I’m not carrying extra weight, my legs simply will not allow it. And don’t worry about grammar! Who cares? Lol. Also, who are you??

  5. dorothy boyce Says:

    Thanks again for another brutally honest and relatable look into your recovery journey. There are so many parts of this I want to address, and I will send another longer commentary later. For the moment, kudos to you for the insight and courage it takes to write a piece like this.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      Thanks for those words, Dorothy. Your input and encouragement is always very appreciated and helpful. I look forward to what else you have to say!

  6. Thanks for your post and honesty, Seth! You hit on so many good points – some things that I struggle with and also things my clients have related to me. Food is so amazing, and yet our relationship with it (and ourselves) can be so problematic. Keep on keepin’ on. <3

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