It was a hot, sunny day in Sydney Australia, and I was in relapse.
A couple of weeks prior, I’d picked up that fateful first bite one more time, and…BAM! I was off to the races.
My eating was the worst it had ever been. Totally out of control. I’d been spending money on my food habit at a rate that made my husband scared for our financial solvency, and he’d taken our credit card and debit card away so I couldn’t eat us into the poor house.
So I was broke.
And I needed to eat.
Not “eat” as in, “consume fuel for sustenance,” but “eat” as in “binge my brains out.”
But I had no access, so for the moment I was stuck working in my office in the Department of Psychology at the University of New South Wales. My office was on a top floor and out the large, wide window I had a gorgeous view of Centennial Park, and way beyond it the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney looking both small and majestic in the distance. It was quite lovely.
Later that afternoon, something happened that changed the trajectory of my day.
Somewhere in my pocket, I stumbled upon a receipt.
A receipt for sixteen dollars and forty-two cents.
A while back I had purchased some supplies for the research project I was conducting with my Post-Doctoral Advisor, and I could get reimbursed for those supplies simply by bringing that receipt down to the Bursar’s Office and cashing it in.
I started to shake.
I was going to be able to get a fix after all.
The fact that it was the middle of the afternoon on a workday meant nothing to me. I deserted my office and raced down to the Bursar’s Office. I was shaking so badly I could hardly unfold the receipt to flatten it out and slide it under the window to the cashier.
With cash in hand, I walked four blocks to the Randwick Centre where mom-and-pop shops lined the street and one big grocery store stood sentry in the middle of the bustle.
As I walked, I planned my attack.
This money was going to have to last. No fancy pastries or multiple rounds of coffee shop cookies-and-lattes for me.
Way too expensive.
I had to get down to bare bones. What would give me the biggest bang for my buck?
I went into the big grocery store and got a rolling cart. My supplies would be heavy. I found the baking aisle and carefully compared the price-per-unit on various bags and packages. Bigger is always cheaper. I settled on two huge sacks of sugar and two huge sacks of flour. Then I wheeled over to the dairy case and put some generic butter (by the block) into my cart.
Sugar, flour, and butter are all I needed to approximate the raw cookie dough that I’d fallen in love with as a kid while baking cookies with my mom.
My favorite binge food.
Vanilla is nice but not necessary. Eggs add to the consistency, but again, not necessary. There’s no baking involved, so baking soda is irrelevant.
Sugar. Flour. Butter. The three headless horsemen of my food addiction.
I purchased my supplies and headed home. I needed to pick up a bowl and a fork on my way back to work.
While briefly at home I hid one sack of sugar, one sack of flour, and a block of butter underneath my dirty laundry pile. The kitchen was off limits. My husband would find them there. He could tell when I was loaded again and might look for my stash.
Once back in my office I dumped a mound of sugar (about a third of the sack), a mound of flour, and a block of butter into the wide metal baking bowl. I mashed it together with a fork until it resembled the consistency of pie crust dough.
When about half of it was gone the shakes finally subsided.
I kept the bowl and the rest of the supplies underneath my desk and limped through the next couple of days.
During that relapse I put on weight at an alarming rate. I grew from a size 4 to a size 24 in three months, all the while trying desperately, nearly daily, to kick my habit. It was, without a doubt, the most desperate time of my life.
I did finally put down the food again and shrank back down to a size 4, but the misery and powerlessness of those three months live with me still.
I ate with tears streaming down my face.
You never forget that.
For reasons that may now be obvious, I’m a firm believer that food addiction is real. I’ve experienced it in my brain, seen the ramifications in my life, and watched countless others struggle with the overpowering drive to eat unwanted and unwholesome quantities of food, to the detriment of self and others.
But food addiction is still controversial, both according to the popular media and the scientific community.
I’m a bit baffled by this, to be honest.
Baffled, but not bothered.
Not bothered at all.
One might think that with my own experience of food addiction so vivid in my memory, it would upset me that intelligent, well-meaning colleagues in the scientific community still claim that there is some “doubt” about the reality of food addiction.
But it doesn’t upset me at all.
To illustrate why, perhaps a little vignette is in order.
Imagine that a young lady has recently immigrated from a small island nation several continents away. She speaks English well and secures a job as a barista in the local coffee shop. She is friendly and chit chats with the customers. They ask where she is from. When she says the name of her country, they just nod. They have never been there. They have never even heard of it.
One day, a well-read and well-traveled man, a professor, comes into the coffee shop and strikes up a conversation with the lovely young barista.
He notices her accent and asks where she is from.
She tells him.
He inquires where it is located.
She tells him.
He raises an eyebrow.
“There is no such country,” he declares.
“I traveled throughout that part of the world just three years ago. I even lived for several months on an island just off the mainland there. If there were such a place, I would have heard of it. I can assure you, there is no such country.”
She smiles again.
Is she bothered by his emphatic proclamation?
Of course not.
In fact, she is amused.
No one can claim that the land she is from, the land where her friends and family live still, does not exist.
She knows its soil, the particular scent of its air. She can close her eyes and see the shape of the terrain.
She knows it is real.