Warning: This post touches upon eating disorders and food-related health problems. If this is a problem for you, please keep your mental health in mind and don’t read. <3
As long as I can remember, I have loved food. The smell of it, the taste of it, the sheer variety of options. There are very few foods in my adulthood that I dislike enough not to eat them. Food, to me, has always been a source of joy and comfort. From the tex-mex delight that’s a burrito stuffed to the brim, to the warm, familiar classic mac and cheese, I love it all. It brings me immense joy to eat almost anything in the world, and I don’t want to lose that feeling. The problem, however, is that dopamine hits are a powerful motivator, and food, despite my unconditional love for it, has it out for me.
If you’re anything like me, which I imagine a fair number of you are, you love food too. It makes you happy when you’re sad, entertains you when you’re bored, and above all, feels good when the sweet taste of a delectable treat flows over your taste buds. Images in movies of heartbroken teenage girls, curled up on the couch eating ice cream to cope, rich nobles living lives of luxury surrounded by expensive delicacies– food is everywhere in media. It’s a quick and easy way to feel good and experience something nice, and if you’re fortunate enough to have access to it on the regular, you might know its siren song well.
Do you ever aimlessly open the fridge and cupboards, looking for something to eat when you’re not even hungry? Do you ever find yourself eating 4-5 meals or snacks a day just to ignore the thoughts in your brain? I do. When I’m eating, I feel, for a moment, that everything is okay. My problems, everyone else’s problems; it’s all far away. The reality of lazy, unproductive days is masked by the periodic eating I do, making it feel like I did more than nothing. When I’m not doing something, I want to be eating, and when I’m superfluously eating, it means there’s something I could be doing.
For years, I’d been eating more than I knew I was. I didn’t realize what a proper portion size looked like, how healthy food could taste good. Even just awareness of what you eat and when you eat it can go a long way to a healthier life and better mind frame. Since I was eighteen (I’m 22 now) I gained fifty pounds, just idly eating, not noticing day by day that I was feeling worse and worse. For six or so months in late 2019 and early 2020 I was starting to be painfully aware of my gastrointestinal problems. I was vomiting up my dinner near-daily. My heartburn was constant, relentless, and terrible. My stools were irregular, and when I did have to go, I was horribly constipated. Overall, it was a miserable affair. I ate until I couldn’t physically take it anymore, and suffered the consequences. I cried over toilets and slept curled up in agony from the seemingly never-ending stomach ache I had come to know as normal. Then, I got fed up.
I called a gastrointestinal doctor. I had a few meetings, and he told me about something that I had heard of before– intermittent fasting. Before you read on, please understand that I am not endorsing this as a fix-all solution to any person’s eating problems. I highly suggest that if you are suffering from anything similar, or a different eating disorder entirely, and you want to get help, contact a healthcare professional. I am not that. I am simply sharing my own story and reflecting on my experience.
Intermittent fasting is the practice of having two phases to your day: an 8-10 hour period in which you eat, and a 14-16 hour period in which you do not. The doctor told me that intermittent fasting was a good way, after a while of keeping the habit fairly regularly, to keep your bowel movements regular. That, at the time, was the main problem I wanted solved. This was intriguing to me, so much in fact, that I started on the regimen the same day. Give or take a few bad days every once in a while, I’ve been pretty consistently eating between the hours of 12 noon and 8PM for over three months. This, against all odds, has been working for me.
Not only have I managed to finally gain some control and regularity to my bowel movements, but I have reaped unexpected benefits. I have less heartburn, fewer stomachaches, and I’ve lost a few extra pounds slowly but surely. My chronic joint pain has even been reduced significantly, all because I’m not stuffing myself full to the brim with junk all the time. The biggest benefit of all, however, is not really a physical one. Intermittent fasting has helped me to begin picking at the part of my brain that relies on food as a coping mechanism, and start to lose that dependance. Intermittent fasting is changing the way I think about food.
Food is vital to human survival. We need key nutrients, and without them we suffer horrible consequences. In 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 815 million people worldwide receive insufficient food to meet their nutritional needs. The fact that millions are starving and my problem is binge-eating food… well, I just don’t like it. I want to change that. Intermittent fasting, alongside helping me feel better physically, it helping me process food as a necessary thing, not a drug to take whenever I need a little hit of dopamine. Instead of shoving tons of it into my body and making it sick, I should cherish those snacks and meals I do eat, when I eat them.
Adopting the fasting mindset has not been easy. I love breakfast food, and not eating in the morning makes it a little harder to eat it. On days where my depression comes back to haunt me, I find myself eating again, and I fear how easily I slip back into bad habits when I’m sad. Still, I refuse to take it as a loss. This whole thing is a process, and I’m still processing all the information my body and my mind learn every day. Hopefully, someday, I will stop thinking of food as a coping mechanism for good, and I’ll be able to live my life healthier in a way that causes me minimal stress. For now, though, I can only work on getting there.