Tag Archives: food addiction

Overeating: Is it lack of will power, or addiction? Is there a difference?

Starting tomorrow (because who ever starts anything, including a New Year’s Resolution, on New Year’s Day, right?), we will be reading and discussing The Whole Clove Diet, a novel about a woman named Rita Turner that I wrote in part to explore issues related to food addiction.

I’ve always had a strange relationship with food that I only began to understand when I confronted my addictions to alcohol and cigarettes. In order to be able to leave those two substances behind, I had not only to deal with the physical withdrawal, but also with the emotional and psychological effects of letting those drugs go.

I quit both within six months – alcohol in October of 1999, and cigarettes in June of the following year – and one of the many things I learned from that experience was that my relationship with food had many of the same hallmarks as did my addictions to alcohol and nicotine. For example, my inability to stop over-consuming unhealthy “foods” seemed to have nothing to do with willpower. In other areas I had lots of willpower: that didn’t seem to be my problem. It was something different: many different things, in fact.

So I invented Rita, the main character of my novel, The Whole Clove Diet, and I gave her the same kind of issues with food that I had, although the rest of her life was totally different from mine (starting with her age. She’s only 29 when the novel opens. I am… well, older). While I was telling her story over the course of the novel, I was also applying what I had learned about all kinds of other addictions, and trying to explain what I had learned about being addicted to food.

Since the book has been published, several people have told me that they feel the same way Rita does (and the same way I often do) about what they eat, and about themselves. They hate their inability to stick to a diet or a health regimen. They can’t figure out why they keep caving in to food, and they hate how weak it makes them feel when they do.

Well, I don’t think it’s weakness. I think the problem is that most of us aren’t dealing with the underlying issues that cause us to reach for food that isn’t good for us. I think we do it out of spite, or fear, or lots of other emotions, and not because we’re weak or hungry.

So. The reason for this blog series is to talk about what we have in common – and what we have in common with Rita Turner, the protagonist of my novel – when it comes to food.

Here are the guidelines for this “book club”:

1) We’ll read 100 pages of The Whole Clove Diet a week (or so) as a jumping off point for our discussions. You can ask me any questions you want to, and add your own thoughts about what you’ve read. I’ll talk about why I chose to tell Rita’s story the way I did

2) If there are spoilers re: the plot of the novel in later blog posts, I’ll warn you.

3) You don’t have to read the book to participate in this discussion — as long as you don’t stray too far off topic!

4) All comments are vetted by me before they are posted, so if you are trying to sell something, forget it. 🙂

5) This isn’t a diet support network. It doesn’t matter if you are or are not sticking to some food-related new year’s resolution. We’re only talking about unhealthy weight. We’re not trying to do anything about getting rid of it. (You may be on your own, but we’re not here. There are lots of other places to go to for support.)

6) You can read the first 65 or so pages here and then decide if you want to buy the book.

Tomorrow we’ll start reading. In the meantime, Happy New Year!

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Filed under Addiction, Book Clubs, Dieting, health, Reading Group, The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel, Weight loss

What we talk about when we talk about “dieting”

A friend sent me this link yesterday. It is an article written by a woman named Jen Larson, who has written a book entitled Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head. In the article, she talks about the experience of losing 180 lbs following bariatric surgery, and the effect (or, to be more specific, the amazing-to-her lack thereof) that the weight loss has had on her life and her mind.

Here is Jen Larson’s article in Shine from Yahoo

Within a year and a half of the surgery, Jen had gone from 300 lbs to 120 lbs — a dramatic change in her appearance that is clearly visible in the photos that accompany the article. It wasn’t until she was moving past overweight through normal and toward being underweight that she realized she had fallen for what she refers to as “the fairytale of weight loss.” Like so many of us (almost all of us?) she had assumed that if only she could get her body to the size she wanted it to be, all her other problems would disappear: she would live happily ever after.

It wasn’t true for her, of course, and it isn’t true for anyone that I’ve ever heard of. It is never the weight that is the problem – that is the symptom. It is our unhappiness, or depression, or lack of fulfillment, or sadness, or whatever it is, or whatever we want to call it. Those mind-based issues are very difficult to address, but our shapes and sizes are almost impossible to change unless we do. The roots of our personal demons and our weight issues are intertwined in ways that are very hard to see, although most of us catch glimpses from time to time.

Jen Larson’s story is an interesting case in point because due to surgery, she lost the weight in a manner that did not require her to change anything else about herself. Most of us have to change other things as well before we can be successful at gaining a grip on our eating patterns, but Jen was able to become thinner while remaining emotionally unchanged. Her experience combined with her awareness demonstrate a very important point: successful long-term weight loss is not usually brought about by making a resolution, any more than gaining the weight in the first place results from lack of willpower.

I find it interesting that people use terms like “food addiction” and “eating disorders” when they say they identify with Rita or raise other issues from The Whole Clove Diet, rather than talking about over-eating, being overweight or being obese. The words “addiction” and “disorder” go to the root of what Jen Larson is talking about: those words focus on the emotional and psychological issues that make us eat too much or too little, rather than on the shape that is the outcome of our misery.

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Filed under Addiction, Dieting, Eating Disorders, Habits, The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel, Weight loss

Are you DIETING?? Do you need someone to whom you can feel superior??

Rita Turner would be happy to volunteer. She probably holds the world’s record for being on a diet for the fewest minutes ever: one morning she was absolutely committed to a new diet when she got out of bed, and off it before she even hit the kitchen. In addition to swearing off sugars, fats and every food that’s white, she has even resolved to give up dieting from time to time…. This time, for example:

Rita leaves the three of them at the Emergency entrance to University Hospital. She takes the car home so she can change her clothes, clean the puke off the back seat of the car – as much as possible at least, considering that she can’t get the garage door open and it’s minus fifteen in the driveway and blowing snow – and do something about the mess on the living-room rug. While she’s at home, she takes the opportunity to run downstairs and grab a few Mars bars from a box at the back of the shelf in the guest-room closet. She eats one and puts two others in her purse, and immediately feels much better.

Rita has given up on giving up, at least for the time being . . . for three weeks, to be exact: until the first of January. She’s decided she’s been putting too much pressure on herself by going on so many diets all the time – and then ruining her self-esteem by going off every one of them before a week is up. Well usually, to be more honest, before the first day is up. Or even less than that.

So what if she gains another pound or two between now and January 1? She’s 223 as it is, and at two pounds a week that’s fifty-one weeks of losing weight to get to where she wants to be. What difference will it make if she ends up facing another week or two? None. It’s going to take a year or more, no matter how you look at it. A huge amount of time.

Not that she’s not going to do it. She is. Starting January 1. She just needs a little rest-up first. A breather – a bit of time to draw some breath. Christmas is too hard anyway. Even normal people eat too much at Christmas.

In the meantime, she isn’t going to suffer. She’s earned a holiday from deprivation. “Overstock” has become her creed and motto. She refuses to be stranded ever again with no willpower and no food. Ever. As of the first she’ll have the willpower, and for now she’ll have the food. These days when she gets the Plymouth for an hour she zooms straight over to the shopping centre, leaves the car ticking away its warmth while she hustles through the drug store, grocery store, liquor store, hard- and house-ware stores – pre-drafted lists in hand – topping up supplies of the necessary and the might-be-necessary. She’s gone mad with freedom: secreted boxes of Wagon Wheels and Oreo cookies on rafters in the laundry room and in the storage closet in the basement guest room, hidden candy bars throughout the house, loaded three four-litre tubs of ice cream into the downstairs freezer – one each of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. (She has a complex explanation ready involving coupons and a Christmas recipe for Neapolitan flambé if anyone should ask about the ice cream. And if Simon or Ida should find her chocolate bars – well, she’ll be amazed.)

So what’s her problem? you may well ask. Well, one of her major problems is that her husband, Graham, used to be married to the most perfect woman in the world – Rosa – but Rosa is, unfortunately, dead, and Rita can never hope to fill her shoes:

Rita stands in the McKittredges’ front vestibule waiting for Noreen and Graham to bring the children from downstairs, where they have fallen asleep on the couch in front of the television set. It is nearly two in the morning and Noreen says they didn’t fall asleep until almost one. “Good as gold,” she said. “Just sat there on the couch, still as little owls, staring at TV.” Rita considers with a sinking feeling what they’ll be like tomorrow after sitting still as owls for seven hours and then not getting enough sleep.

Graham and Noreen have been downstairs for quite a while. The house is still; maybe they’re talking about Elmer. Harry must have gone to bed, or maybe he passed out down there watching TV with the kids.

Rita looks through the living room and into the dining room, and thinks that Simon and Ida must have liked to come here once: this house is so much warmer and more welcoming than Elmer and Coralea’s place, where they like going very well, and so much nicer and more spacious than their own home. The living room is softly lit by a gold-footed floor lamp that stands beside the couch, its cream-coloured shade trimmed in elegant long fringes. The overstuffed body of the couch itself is covered in a dark green velvety fabric, and a multi-coloured afghan made of bright granny squares is draped across the S of its wood-framed back. Rita feels her eyes grow heavy as she imagines herself sinking down across those seat cushions, drawing the afghan up. She imagines the soundness of the sleep that would immediately come over her, the way the tock-tocking of the grandfather clock in the dining room would keep her down, down in the plaited darkness.

In this light, the thread-bareness of the house disappears and the living and dining rooms seem richly flocked and shadowed, battened in browns and blacks, dark greens and golds and reds. At the top of the carpeted stairway, with its square newel posts and dark broad rails, wood deeply shone by all the hands that have run over them for decades, the hallway is in darkness. Even that darkness seems soft to her, appealing.

She straightens, forces her gaze to move around the room in order to keep her eyes open. Her shoulders, arms and legs ache with weariness.

Rita imagines coming home at night to this, when everyone else is in bed. Imagines that Noreen’s left the light on, just as it is right now, set it low after checking the clasps on the windows, locking the doors, going upstairs to join her husband. Or maybe it’s him that does the last jobs, Harry – not the drinker he is today. Maybe Noreen’s already gone up there and readied herself for bed, and now she is settled under their duvet reading a hardcover by the light of her bedside lamp.

Down here, their young, still unmarried daughter opens the door on these familiar rooms cast in their muted light, smells the faint lingering aftersmell of the day’s baking and the evening’s dinner, hears the slow even tock-tock-tocking of the grandfather clock. Rosa steps inside and closes the door behind her, closes herself inside. Others have worked to preserve this place for her while she’s been gone; they’ve made it safe for her. This is where she comes for restoration – for food, for rest, for solitude. She hasn’t needed to think about it, doesn’t need to think about it now—she can take it all for granted. She hangs up her coat and heads for the stairs, her only inclination to go to bed, to sleep. The voyageur is home.

Growing up in a place like this, Rita thinks with envy, would make perfection possible.

It’s not Rosa’s fault, of course – how can anything be her fault when she is dead? – but Rita’s envy of Rosa, combined with a lot of other issues, have helped turn her overeating problem into a full-fledged food addiction.

You can read Rita’s story and the story of how she finally gets a grip on it in the The Whole Clove Diet, a novel, which is available in paperback or in ebook format. (Check out the reviews while you are there – and if you read the book, and especially if you like it, please post a review. Thank you!

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Filed under Addiction, Dieting, Dietinig, Eating Disorders, Excerpt, Habits, health, Healthy Living, The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel, Weight loss

Is overeating an addiction, an eating disorder, a bad habit, or self-indulgence gone totally off the rails?

Several book sites such as Book Club Buddy have asked me to come up with a question or two that readers of The Whole Clove Diet, my new novel, might want to discuss with one another. To answer this one, you don’t need to have read the novel (and there are no spoilers in this post).

I was talking to one of my readers who had a problem with anorexia in the past (which she has overcome), and she told me that she had a really hard time reading about Rita’s over-eating because of that. (She said she finally managed to keep reading and that ultimately she liked the book, for which I am very grateful on both counts.)

Some of MY weaknesses: I’m working on them!

Her statement made me think again, as I often did while I was writing the book, and often do when I am overeating – is overeating an addiction, an eating disorder, a bad habit or just overindulgence and lack of willpower?

Maybe eating disorders ARE addictions – I know they have a lot in common. I’ve been addicted to cigarettes and other things myself in the past. And I know that in my mind, Rita and Harry (Rosa’s father, who drinks too much) have a lot in common. (I have a very soft spot for Harry.)

Anorexia and bulimia are certainly addictions and very hard to overcome. Times have changed in the past decade or so when it comes to public awareness of these conditions. When I see a really really thin woman, now I immediately think, “She’s anorexic. That is a fatal addiction. I hope to God she can overcome it before she dies.”

But most of us never feel sympathy or concern when we see a woman (or man) who is obese. We think, “Push yourself away from the table, Woman! Get some exercise, Guy! Don’t be a sloth!” (Most of us know better than to say it out loud any more, but we do think it. Even those of us who are also overweight and haven’t been around the block for months. ) And overweight people know what other people are thinking, and of course that becomes another hurdle to address, which just makes them want to eat something to feel better and think “Why bother?” when it comes to getting outside for a walk. Not everyone has a live-in mother-in-law she needs to escape from, like Rita does.

So. What do YOU think?

Post your comments here or over on my Mary W. Walters, Writer page on FaceBook  or on my GoodReads Blog.

Thank you!

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Filed under Addiction, Book Clubs, Eating Disorders, Habits, Reading Group, The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel, Weight loss