Here is the manuscript for one of the two backbone chapters of my book entitled, Running Out.
Chapter 8 – FOOD CELIBACY
– Aurora Amaya
Food is my enemy
Most people stop eating when they are full. Most can look at cookies sitting on the counter, decide to eat one or two, and walk away without the thought of fresh hot cookies tormenting them as they sit and read a book or head to work.
My poor relationship with food started at an early age. In consuming food I found a way to avoid responsibility, hiding from myself and others. As a child, I saw how it was used to bring everyone together. Sometimes parents used it to manipulate their kids (“eat your broccoli or no dessert!”); sometimes it was used as a way to celebrate. Whatever the reason behind what I perceived was its purpose, I found comfort in knowing I could use food as an escape mechanism.
My desire for food, especially sweet foods, was far beyond what others might understand. Upon seeing an inviting piece of cake, I could feel my heart begin to race. If I was conversing with someone, and knew there was cake begging to be eaten, all I could focus on was how I could get my hands on it! Whoever I was talking to might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher…my agenda was: Cake. Now. Often my desire for food was so strong that I would have to flee immediately from the room where the food was being hosted. In extreme cases, I would simply leave and drive home.
Where it started
During Junior High, I was overweight for my age, but not to the point that I stood out in a crowd. The stand-out days did not hit until I was in high school.
Looking back, I can pinpoint the very day I began unhealthy habits that would lead to that rock-bottom moment in June of 2007.
Growing up, we always had something to eat. It may not have been much, but it was something.)
One particular day, my sister and I went home after school and waited for Mom to arrive with dinner. Once school was over, my sister and I rushed home in dire need of nourishment. Like most days, I hit up the fridge, only to find a few condiments, chewed gum, butter, and pickles. The pantry was just as bare: some beans, flour, canned veggies, and random boxes of noodles labeled en espanol. If I was really hungry that day, I might eat the jelly with a spoon or if we had bread, I would make a pickle and cheese sandwich. Bottom line, food was scarce in the house. For me, it was almost a privilege to have food rather than a need for living.
One evening my mom came home with a bag of groceries. Odd, being as it was not payday. I remember putting up the groceries and feasting my eyes on all the things in the brown paper bag: chips, bread, hamburger meat, spaghetti sauce, milk, cereal, crackers, apples and ice cream.
Now, when we had food in the house, my anxiety level dropped. I felt on top of the world. It was as if all the problems to be found in a 14-year-old girl’s life had been solved.
Most of what I remember revolves around that bag of groceries. Perhaps the one thing that sticks out most was a single observation that would change my life. That evening, I remember watching my sister and mother eating the ice cream. By the end of whatever show we were watching, the two of them had consumed the entire gallon. Personally, I am not a big fan of ice cream, so I had no hard feelings about them downing the dairy product. What I did take away from watching them that evening was a sense that food was a precious commodity…one that would not last long.
If I wanted food, I needed to eat as much of it as I could as quickly as possible or else there would be none left for me later. In short, I started living in survival mode.
This mindset spilled over into every instance involving food. During meals, if I was ever offered seconds, I jumped at the chance, because I felt I needed to get as much as I could. If I was given a huge tub of popcorn at Christmas, I had to eat it all fast, lest it get stale. I learned to eat whenever I could in order to survive. My sister did not pick up this mentality. In fact, she is quite the opposite. In her home, she has a pantry and a refrigerator full or food. She stock piles. In my home, there is usually little to no food available. In order for me to keep control over my eating, I have to go to the grocery store on a daily basis, purchasing only those things I need for the day.
As I grew older my struggle with food became more and more out of control. My undergraduate years began the “out of control eating” stage in my life. In the dining hall, I would sometimes start with dessert and then move to the meal. If I was really craving sugar that day, I might sneak to another cafeteria on campus, pick up something sweet to eat and then meet my friends at a different cafeteria for dinner. I did all this so they would not see how much cake, ice cream, or cookies I would consume in one setting.
It was easy to sneak food in college. I could go the vending machine before class, make a stop at the fast-food cafeteria between study sessions, and still have enough time to eat whatever I had packed away in my bag from lunch earlier that day. I never counted how many calories I was consuming, but it had to be close to 4,000 a day at times.
Church was the best place to find sugary snacks and baked goods. There was always a social gathering of some kind. Always junk food laying around. I was never a fan of chips, dips, and kolaches, but I could do damage to anything containing refined sugars.
My last year of college found me living off campus, and my accessibility to sweets was extremely limited. Having spent 3 years of uninterrupted access to sugar living in the residence halls, I had learned to think of creative ways to get more. I admit, I panicked a little at the thought of having to buy my own sugary treats. I didn’t make enough money to buy the amount of sugar I was indulging in and purchase real food with nutrients. I also had to think of new ways to conceal how much food I was really eating in a day. I never got into the habit of hiding food. Instead I got into the habit of leaving to go buy candy bars, Cokes and Little Debbie snacks at odd hours of the day or night.
I guess it was beneficial that I did not have a car in college. This forced me to ride my bike all over town in search of something to eat, thus providing the source of what would be my last year of exercise for the next 5 years.
I started becoming more and more embarrassed about buying things I knew were not good for me. I used to think that people were staring at me in line or in the aisles. I imagined what they thought about me…“She is too fat to be eating those”, “I bet she could finish those oatmeal pies before she walks out of the door.”
The guilt of what was happening started taking root in my head. I hated what I was doing, knew it was wrong, but I could not stop. I needed the sugar. I needed something that would make me feel better. I hated my life at that point. I knew something was wrong with me, but I didn’t know what! I was hurting so much on the inside, but did not know why or how to fix it. I knew it probably had something to do with having a manipulative mother who had emotionally abandoned me all my life. I felt terribly alone and deeply wanted my sister to be a part of my life, but she was angry with me for fleeing our unhealthy home a year before I graduated high school. Without my mother, no sister, and a father who was never in my life, I had no other family to turn to. My mother cast herself away from her own family, effectively rendering my sister and I as virtual strangers to our relatives.
I could have sought after alcohol, drugs, sex, or unhealthy relationships for false comfort, but instead I chose food because it would allow me to continue to fit into the crowd that felt most like family to me: my church. Sugar was accepted in the church and no one would have thought anything was wrong with me if I ate a couple pieces of cake. Women are always saying, “I want a small piece”, and then they go back for a second or third piece after that, after all! Sometimes, especially with large gatherings of people, I might take a brownie into the bathroom to eat and then come out for one or two more while among the crowd. This way, no one would be able to keep count or see the true amount of food I would consume.
At this point in my life, I had already been seeing a therapist for 2 ½ years. I had yet to confess to him what I was doing. I was too frightened and not willing to talk to anyone, (including myself) about how much my weight bothered me. Now I can see that my struggle with my weight has been the central issue behind most of my later struggles and sins as an adult.
The day of my graduation a few close friends came to see me walk across the stage and then head over to the house for celebration. The gathering of people was an odd combination.
There was Dolores, the woman I lived with when I moved out of my house my senior year of high school, her daughter, who was about the same age as my mother, the worship-pastor from my church at the time and his wife, two old high school friends, current roommates, and my mother, her husband, uncle, and sister.
The tension of the situation was terribly overwhelming. I knew that some of the people present did not get along with each other, and here I was trying to be polite and talk to everyone and be a good host. Instead of having an elephant in the room, I felt like the entire zoo had been crammed into a three-bedroom house.
The intensity of the situation did exactly what anything intense did. It caused me to immediately buy a box of oatmeal pies. I ate the entire box that day. It felt so good to feel full….feel something other than this hurt that I could not get rid of.
By the end of my undergraduate years, I was fully addicted to sugar. I would use it to ease my hurt, which I was still struggling to identify. Food helped to ease boredom or console my loneliness. The addiction was so bad sometimes, I would get out of bed and make midnight runs to the grocery store for a candy bar and Coke. When I felt like I needed the sugar, I had to have it and would do almost anything to get it.
Three days after I graduated with my B.A., I moved to Dallas to start graduate school. I began the summer working and house-sitting until I could find roommates. House-sitting was lonely business. I knew no one in Dallas; I had no idea where the nearest Wal-Mart was and could barely breathe from the quick life transition.
The first week I was in Dallas, I went grocery shopping. I came home that night with a cake mix. Bad choice! Before that night was over I baked the cake, unleashed an entire jar of icing on top, and then consumed the entire pan before bedtime. Typically the more I ate, the worse I felt, emotionally. I was scared of what I was becoming, but again, did not know how to remedy my pain.
My addiction to sugar would soon bring out the worst in me as I dealt with being obesely over-weight. I’ll address this more in the next chapter.
Making good choices about food
A few times while attending graduate school I decided that I would try to eat differently. This meant trying a host of unexplored aisles at the grocery store. The first day I tried this, I walked into the store, maneuvered my way to the produce and stalled. I was overwhelmed. Here I was, 22 years old and had never gone grocery shopping for substantial things. I knew how to cook with what was in the pantry, but I did not know how to purchase the items that went in them. One would think most people would pick up this skill by observation, but apparently, I was not that person.
My primary struggle was creating a proper combination of foods to make a meal. This brought many questions. Sure, I understood spaghetti sauce and pasta make a good combo, but there was sugar in the sauce! If it has sugar, then what do I do?
Do they make sugar-free sauce?
Does this mean spaghetti is bad for you?
Will it help me change my eating habits?
Will this promote further damage?
What about fruits, don’t they have sugar? Can I eat those?
Is it safe to have artificial sweeteners?
How much fish is too much?
What other foods go with fish?
Fresh or Canned?
Hot or Cold?
Frozen or Raw?
I left the grocery store with nothing in hand and opted for eating out that night. It was overwhelming for me to walk in and attempt to put things together. In those days I learned to fear the grocery store.
Over the next few months, I would learn how to put meals together by reading magazines and/or observing dinner at my friend homes. Essentially the menu in my head consisted of a few options I would juggle around from day to day. Eventually the only part of the store I could effortlessly walk through was the produce section. I would spend the majority of my time there. Thankfully, I was not a picky eater. I tried almost anything I could pronounce, tip-toeing past the other odd veggies like Bok Choy and Kale (which ironically happen to be my favorite vegetables today).
My “Groceryaphobia” would not end until September of 2007. Although I was making headway and trying to eat a little better, I was still super-clueless, still gaining weight, and still scheduling trips to Krispy Kreme.
In July of 2007, a month after my rock bottom moment, I met with a dietician. I obviously needed someone to help me. (chapter 7 details my journey with the dietician) Wendy, my dietician was a huge help in the beginning as I have mentioned before.
About a year into completely revitalizing my food choices, my weight-loss came to a dead stop. I contacted Wendy to discuss what was going on. I admitted that I was still eating sugary snacks, though not gorging myself. But in retrospect, it was more than what the average person ate in a day. Upon further assessment, she suggested I do a 21-day detox. Basically the premise of a detox is to rid your body of junk found in processed food, the air, etc. This gives your body the opportunity to reabsorb the vitamins and minerals from foods you eat instead of letting them pass by clogged and blocked areas in your digestive track.
My initial reaction was negative. I was anti-diets and against subtracting things from my regular eating routine. However, I figured she might know what she’s talking about being a dietician and all, so I decided that 21 days would not kill me.
My detox consisted of eating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and grains. Basically, no dairy, oats, breads, or beans. It didn’t seem so bad on paper, but what was about to happen would both frighten me and radically change my life for the better.
Day One of the Detox began on October 2, 2008. I was determined to do this no matter what. Up to this point in my life I had never actually practiced self-control, so I was scared of failure, but very willing to try.
Below are the actual journal entries from the first 4 days on the detox.
21 Day Detox
– It’s 2 p.m. and all I want is a table-spoon of Ketchup. It’s funny ‘cause I don’t eat Ketchup. If I could just have a tiny bit, I feel like it would make me feel so much better. I honestly don’t know how much longer I can take this.
– (3 p.m.) I am pacing in my house. There is nothing in the pantry containing sugar. NOTHING! I can’t read, I can’t sleep, I can’t watch TV. All I can think about is how good it would feel to devour barbeque sauce.
– (4 p.m.) I can’t take this anymore. I am taking a sleeping pill. I can’t handle these cravings anymore.
– (1 a.m.) I am awake again. I am taking another pill.
– So far so good. Super hungry but no intense cravings.
– (Noon) They’re back! Bananas help a little, but it’s not enough.
– (2 p.m.) I just ate 12 bananas. I wasn’t even hungry and I ate 12 bananas to try and curb the hunger.
– (4pm) Sleeping pill.
– Good start
– (10 a.m.) I want something sweet, but am not going completely nuts yet.
– (Noon) Want something bad. But am able to function and do everyday life even though I want sugar.
– (3 p.m.) Finished editing a wedding…I was able to concentrate. The cravings are intense! But manageable.
– (9 p.m.) Off to bed. Three straight days and no sugar.
– I feel like I can do this….I have never used this much discipline in my life. I must say I am surprised with myself.
These were the most difficult days. As weeks passed I was challenged. A couple of times I was working out of town and had to figure out how to travel with this diet and how to get in the calories I needed in order to shoot a 10-hour long wedding event. I had success there.
I was able to locate a Whole Foods in Laguna Beach, buy the fruits and veggies I needed to survive the next three days, and stay committed to my eating schedule of every 4 hours.
It was hard, but when you are determined to succeed, something clicks, you make time, and re-organize to get things to work in your favor. I was making my health a priority.
How my view of food changed
A detox is meant to eliminate harmful toxins from the body. These toxins are said to enter our bodies through the air, the foods we eat, household cleaners, cigarette smoke, etc.
I was never sure why or how a detox would help. But in the end, I learned more than I had bargained. I did not feel physically different, but I felt I had learned about “me” in the whole process. My experience was similar to what people often talk about when explaining their experience while fasting.
Now, from my understanding, fasting reveals how much we depend on other things besides God, to sustain our needs. It shows us how little or how much we need in order to survive. Biblically, fasting helps us understand what Jesus meant when He said, “I am the bread of life”.
Though detoxing is not fasting, I reaped many of the same rewards because I was giving up many things, and learning what I really needed to survive.
The overall experience was very spiritual. Around day 16 I began to understand what was absolutely necessary for me regarding my food intake. I was learning what true self-control/discipline looked like. Before the detox I had never really practiced self-control with such intensity. In general, I began making good choices. This habit began to spill over into other parts of my life.
One day I was out running errands. The old Aurora would avoid doing the things she did not enjoy, saving them for last, and possibly putting them off for another day. On this day however, I made a choice to look past my annoyance with certain tasks, accomplishing them as they were listed on my ‘to-do list’. Returning phone calls was no longer a 24-hour delay. Laundry, oil changes, dentist appointments…everything was being done in a timely manner.
21 days of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins taught me how to make good choices about food, and then in my life.
Probably the most valuable insight I acquired was how much I was depending on food for survival instead of on the Lord. The detox really reshaped how I approached God and continued in relationship with Him.
I refer to this time in life as ‘Food Celibacy’.
Through food celibacy I realized that I had developed emotional and physiological attachments to food; especially sugar. The 21-day detox, or fasting, brought to the surface the deepest fears affecting my rationality and decision-making.
By giving up certain foods and coming to the conclusion that I don’t need much to fuel my body, I realized how this whole process challenges the complex human instinct. Because of Christ, I don’t have to be controlled by my instincts.
Addictions are simple. They work so well because they require no work on our part. All you have to do is smoke it, drink it, pop it, or eat it…simply sit back and let it work. By putting so much faith in my addictions, I gave them power. It’s crazy how liberating it was to discover that I can live and survive without sugar. In fact, I can live better without sugar!
By learning my over-eating habits, why I over-ate, and why I was dying to eat even when full, I was able to regain control over myself and address the real issues preventing me from walking without shame or guilt hovering over my head.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. Col 3:12-17
I had to learn to see food scientifically rather than a means of comfort. To allow my brain to view food as fuel. By educating myself on the benefits of various foods, I became able to turn down a Coke or brownie without an uphill battle of will-power. Immediately I was able to determine how I would feel if I ate something with that much sugar at a certain time of day. If it affected my sleep, it was not worth it. If it affected the way I would run, not worth it.
So, for the first time in my life I am celebrating recovery from my addiction and addictive behaviors to sugar. Though the beneficial habits are still there, I still crave sugar ever so often and sometimes have to remind myself of what I have learned.
I will always struggle
I continue to struggle. Although I understand the benefits of eating calcium in the evening and ceasing my sugar intake in the afternoon, I still have difficulty knowing how much I should be eating in one sitting. Portion control seems to be the factor still rocking the boat. Sometimes I am afraid to eat too little, while other times find me concerned about eating too much.
Although I now understand how to deal with food, it does not mean I am perennially perfect. Here and there I have moments where I break down. Those moments are few and far between, but they happen. Those are times when I make phone calls to people who are supporting and encouraging me in my struggles. Together they help me regain control, clear my mind, and get back on to a healthy path.
Sadly, I have many friends who don’t seem to get it when I tell them I struggle with food. When I am honest with them about how much being around sugar can sometimes challenge me, they will still offer me a cookie or a homemade pastry! It hurts me a little, but I understand that these are the kinds of temptations that I will face the rest of my life.
Some days I am strong when it comes to food. Some days I am weak. On days when I am strong I can walk through the bakery area of the grocery store, see the pastries, and control the insatiable urge to buy a cookie. On days when I am strong I can walk through the food court (the unhealthiest of courts!) at the mall without having to hold my nose for fear of smelling the food.
Weak days happen. Christmas morning 2008, I was playing with my cousins, exploring all the new toys and games. They asked me to make them something to eat. Anna wanted cereal and Ali wanted pop-tarts. The cereal was not so bad, but the pop tarts hurt.
I opened the pastry and immediately the smell of all its sugary goodness poured forth from the open package. I held one pop-tart in each hand contemplating how wonderful and satisfying the taste of sugar would be to my tongue. I don’t know how long I stood there, but it was long enough for Ali to have to get my attention to give her the pop-tarts. After she had them on her plate, I made a b-line for the bathroom where I immediately washed my hands of taste and smell. Shortly thereafter, I began to sob. The feeling was overwhelming. I wanted so much to have one bite, but I knew I couldn’t. I was both scared of what was happening to me emotionally and sad because I knew I was always going to struggle with food.
Sometimes I think it is not fair that I have an addiction to food. If you are addicted to alcohol, you can make a choice not to be around bars, certain friends, or buy it at the store. If you struggle with pornography, you can put blockers on your computer preventing you from viewing certain sites and avoid buying magazines. If you struggle with food, you cannot ignore it and walk away. After all, it is a fundamental human need. For me, sometimes it is a necessary evil.
When I go home to visit the Mexican side of the family in Michigan, I face a variety of challenges. Almost all of our conversations happen around the kitchen table. As my primos, Tias and Tios show up, we pull more chairs around the table to enjoy each others’ company. Soon after, the table begins to fill with laughs, smiles, and corny jokes, coffee is served along with pan de dulce. Leftover cookies from Tio Joe’s birthday may show up on one end of the table while homemade tamales are being warmed in the microwave. Fresh tortillas show up out of nowhere in the center, beckoning my cousin to reach for the butter out of the fridge. In a matter of seconds seven hefty Mexicans are enjoying each other while indulging in a high-sugar, enriched-flour fiesta. Without thinking, you begin to eat. Picking up a tortilla here, pan there, extra butter….
These little things sitting all over the tables are what I like to call DNF (Darn Nibbly Foods).
Sadly DNFs test my self-control and tend to be my ultimate weakness.
While I was still learning how to control my addictions, I would have to make hard choices about what birthday or Christmas parties I would attend. If there was going to be certain foods there, I would opt out of attending. If friends called and wanted to go out to dinner, I might refuse on the basis that I would not be strong enough to order something beneficial for my body. I use to have to make hard choices like this until I was able to really see food scientifically and not based on its taste.
My celibacy from sugar has completely changed the way I feel and physically look. Looking back on the past 5 years of my life, I cannot believe how far I have come. Things are different now. Life is different.
The more I learn about me, the easier it is to be healthy and happy. People ask me if I feel like I have more energy now. The truth is that I may not, but I do feel confident and strong. Learning that I could exert self-control and discipline helped me walk fearlessly into the next chapter of my life. With this new understanding of myself, I feel like I can do anything the Lord wants me to do. I may be fearful, but now I have the confidence to comply with his desires for me in other areas of life.