Food addiction is a hard thing to explain.
Even though you can’t go to jail for it – it can leave you feeling like you have no control. Helpless. Worthless. And in the end, it can kill you. People giggle when I tell them I am a recovering food/sugar addict. They respond with “yeah, I LOVE food too”. They don’t understand that at times, I can have no control.
My struggle with food started when I was little. My parents divorced when I was one and my father had weekend visitations, just like every other dad. Until one day when I was 5 years old. He had taken me to the park and tried to explain that he couldn’t see me anymore. He kept repeating that it wasn’t my fault and it was nothing that I did. I didn’t get it.
A few years after, when I was 7 years old, I was molested by a family friend.
Dinners growing up were anything that could be made from a box in under 30 minutes. I ate a lot of macaroni and cheese with hotdogs (barf), and fish sticks (double barf). My mother was a busy, working single mom that was going to nursing school full-time at nights. I now understand the typical, exhausted mama struggle of dinnertime.
At some point in my tweens, I started turning to food for comfort. Something to numb out the pain inside, the pain of not feeling good enough. Smart enough,pretty enough, just… enough.
“I’m not even enough for my own father” I would tell myself.
During my teens and early 20’s, food still wasn’t a huge problem, it wasn’t controlling me at that point. I didn’t eat healthy by any means and would eat whatever, whenever, but I think that’s normal for that age. I was never smaller than a size 14 in my LIFE – and I hated my body, the way I looked, my belly and my stretch marks (before I even had kids).
It wasn’t until I was grown, and pregnant with my first child, that food started to take a hold of me. I mean, c’mon – who is going to tell a pregnant lady that they can’t eat what they want? Lord help you if you tried. I stuffed my face full of anything and everything I wanted.
After the birth of my first child, the food trend continued. I did a diet to lose the baby weight a couple years after my daughter was born, but put it right back on—plus some. I ended up having hypothyroidism, high blood pressure and a severe enough gallbladder attack that I had to have it removed.
This was the point that I started hiding food and lying. My husband found a pack of Oreos one day while hunting in the cabinet. “Why are these hidden and how long have they been there?” he asked. “Umm… I don’t know – they must have slipped back behind something.” I lied. I knew full well that I had bought them the day before and had already eaten two rows, before breakfast.
After another pregnancy and birth (of course eating whatever I wanted) we moved from sunny Arizona to the isolation of upstate New York. That’s when postpartum depression hit. I was stuck in the house with no adult interaction – but that also meant no adult supervision. This kept me in my pregnancy jeans for a solid two years after my son was born.
I would scheme for food. I would plan the week out around all the food places I wanted to eat at. I am a sucker for eating out because I’m not a fan of cooking. Who would choose to cook over eating out? Not me. No hassle, no sweating, no dishes. Sold.
I would pack my kids in the car twice a day to go run out to grab food. Fast food, hole in the walls and nice restaurants – it didn’t matter as long as I could get my fix. Plus, a few candy bars in between with the wrappers balled up and hidden in napkins at the bottom the trash.
At night after the kids went to bed, it would get ugly. During the day I would drink a 2-Liter of Coca-Cola (reg – not diet) and at night I would down a pint of ice cream, 3-4 king size candy bars, sour patch kids. You name it – if it had sugar in it, I was all over it like white on rice. My kids would go to bed watching me bake a pan of brownies or smell them and wake up to find THE ENTIRE PAN GONE. Not a crumb left.
I felt so bad. I beat myself up over and over. Why can’t I control myself? What is wrong with me? I can’t even leave the kids a piece of brownie?! Over and over I would fight with myself and promise that tomorrow was going to be different.
It wasn’t. It would be more of the same. Finally, I found a way to deal with depression and pull myself out, but the food/sugar addiction remained. My kids started talking – you know – the talking that you can FINALLY understand. This was a good thing that soon turned into a problem.
As soon as daddy got home, they would spill the beans on all the things we had had to eat that day. So, like any logical addict, I started convincing my kids to lie. I would tell them that it was just “our special treat” and that we didn’t need to tell daddy. If you know anything about kids – this didn’t work. As soon as he would ask how their day was, I was on high alert with anxiety, listening for them to tell my secrets.
I started scheming for more ways to get food. I would lay in bed at night and plan what I was going to eat the next day, always telling myself it would be “the last time” so I could binge. It wasn’t. I felt worthless. I felt gross. I felt like I had no control. I felt ashamed. I couldn’t figure out a way to get control back over food.
I would find any excuse to leave the house by myself. The old “we need milk” run to the grocery store so I could grab chicken fingers, ranch dressing and a donut without being “caught”. I would shove it in my mouth while sitting in the parking lot or the driveway (a spot that became no longer “safe” once my hubby started looking out the window).
Now let me be clear, I was not afraid of my husband “catching” me because I would be in “trouble”. It was more shame and not wanting to admit or show anyone how out of control it really was. Not wanting to face it.
I remember sitting in my father-in-laws house eating ice cream one summer evening – we had all gotten our own flavor pints. I had melted mine down in the microwave (I like my ice cream melted, so I can drink it) and polished it off in record time. He looked at me in shock that I had eaten the entire thing when he could only finish half. I felt so embarrassed and deep down I was glad that no one knew how much crap I was actually eating. It got to the point where I would literally drink heavy whipping cream from the container.
One day, like any other, I ran to the gas station for a pack of cigarettes and a few candy bars. I started up the car with the plan that as soon I made the left hand turn – I was opening one of those suckers up and shoving in my face.
Then, life changed. I was t-boned on my drivers side.
I broke my back, my pelvis, my sacrum, and my head went through the drivers window resulting in a brain injury.
I was in shock – I had never broken a serious bone before. I was non-weight bearing on my left side for 6 weeks and had to use a wheelchair and walker to get around. I couldn’t care full-time for my kids like normal (I am a stay-at-home mom), so therefore my hubby couldn’t go to work. He had to take care of me and the kids full time.
With my husband having to take care of me, there was no hiding what I was eating. I set my mind to recovering as quickly as possible. I showed up to physical therapy on the first day and told them that “I didn’t have time for this shit anymore.”
Needless to say, I recovered extremely quickly and after 12 weeks, checked myself out of all my doctors—including pain management. After working in pharmacy for 11 years, I know exactly how dangerous and addictive pain medications are. The pain management clinic was shocked. They said they had never had anyone check themselves out before.
However, without the meds in my system, my body was in A LOT of pain. My husband had gone into what I lovingly refer to as “freak out mode” at the thought of losing me in the accident, so he decided it was his job to keep me alive. He took over the cooking for the most part and was with me 24/7, so I couldn’t cheat on what I was eating. He showed me research and documentaries that proved most of what I was eating was causing the pain and inflammation in my body.
I would get so angry and defensive. “Why are you taking my food away?” I would yell at him. I would get so sad and angry at times that he was “making me” give up my favorite foods. He kept asking me “what do you want more – to feel better or have the temporary satisfaction?” Thankfully he talked me off the “ledge” many times and I am so grateful for his help, motivation and strength. The truth is, in the end, it was my choice.
I chose to live, over slowly killing myself. I could have, at any time, given the middle finger and gotten in the car to go get whatever I wanted.
One night, I had a meltdown over my husbands suggestion of doing one “treat” meal a week. “WHAT?!” I said. I was just getting used to one “treat” day. The glorious day that I would shove whatever I wanted in my mouth (with a little more self-control) and ate myself into a food coma. However, as I sat on the bathroom floor, crying from being so pissed off, I started to ask myself, “Why am I getting THIS emotional and angry about food?”.
That’s when I started relating my unhealthy relationship with food to an addiction. Once that started to click, I started to look at food differently. I did research and tried to find a way in real-life to heal my relationship with food and overcome my addiction. It has been two years now and I still struggle at times, especially around the holidays. Food is hard because you need it to live and it is everywhere you turn.
Everywhere can be a potential trigger for me. I literally mouth breath and rush through the bakery section at the grocery store. I had massive anxiety leading up to Halloween because I knew there was going to be candy in the house. I am an equal opportunity candy fiend and have ZERO preference what kind it is.
I don’t believe in having zero treats whatsoever – let’s be realistic. So, as a family, we have a treat night once a week. However, my biggest trigger is sweets. Sometimes, it can get out of control and I find myself battling food again. That’s when I know now to pump the brakes and do a sugar detox. It helps reset me and refocus back on eating food for nutrition and being good to my body instead of the temporary satisfaction of eating garbage.
After working the past two years, I am now down 70+lbs and have been 80% plant-based for over a year now (something that I NEVER thought I would say).
I have completely come off all of my medication including hypothyroid, depression and anxiety meds. I have also never been the size that I am now that I can remember – I was so excited when I actually found my collarbones.
Now, I share my story with other women to let them know they are not alone in their real-life battles. I help women overcome their own food issues, depression, anxiety, self-doubt, fear, loss and all the other real-life battles that we can face. I teach real-life tools to help women create a life filled with more purpose and passion everyday. This is my passion and I absolutely love sharing and lifting up all the other strong Warrior women, to form an incredible, brave Warrior Tribe.
Renea Paulsen Bio: Renea Paulsen is a Real-Life Coach, Author, Speaker, Wife, Mom of 2 and Warrior Woman. She is passionate about connecting & inspiring other Warrior women to step into their strength & live a life they absolutely love in real-life. After struggling with her own battles in life including depression, anxiety, mental and physical trauma she developed her real-life tools to completely transform her life. She set out on a mission to share her battles so other women would know they were not alone and teach them the real-life tools to help change their lives as well. Today, she motivates and inspires countless women to rise up like the strong Warriors they are and live a life filled with happiness, joy, love, passion and fulfillment.
Renea’s Page: https://www.facebook.com/RealLifeCoachRenea/?hc_ref=ARQq4AcYdrX9S3currOEixdTfZRPhpEy_COVayATMD0-W8FZ2KHc3su1mE8GXRKzvhQ&fref=nf