Reflections from a Recovering Glutton

“I am changing my relationship to food,” I told a couple coworkers last spring.

I was cutting a donut in half, something I had never done before.

A couple weeks back, I’d stepped on a scale and seen “191,” a new frontier for my six-foot frame.

Something had to change.

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In high school, I ate anything I wanted. I would plow through a row of Oreos while watching TV after school. Buffets trembled when I darkened their doors. I ate seconds on sundaes. A whole pizza was no match for me. I was never full.

I weighed 165 lbs.

In college, this continued. I spent 90% of my annual food budget in the first semester. When I graduated four years later, I might have been up to 175 at most, but I still pretty much ate all the food I could. I got a bit nervous and twitchy around food. I was accustomed to needing more. If there were shared food at a party, I needed to be near it.
It was like my body was holding me hostage. If I didn’t get to food before the timer went off, something happened. Maybe my blood sugar dropped or my body started pulling on its own fat reserves. But I had a hard time thinking and some sort of primal hunter-gatherer reflex kicked in.

I feared being hungry, not having enough to keep me focused.

Then, in my twenties, something started to change. I realized I couldn’t eat as much as I wanted, of any food I wanted. I sometimes actually felt full. At one big summer party, I ate a lot all evening and felt really ill later on. I was in a new season.

But it wasn’t a radical transformation. Instead I shifted from overdrive down into fifth gear. I probably gained a few more pounds in those years.

Sometime in the last few years, though, something has shifted radically.

I was in my early thirties. I realized I was not exercising quite as much, but I wasn’t eating as much as I could all the time, either. But stepping on the scale this spring was a shocker. Despite slowing down my consumption, pounds were slowly layering on.

No one would say I’m fat. But that’s what makes this so hard. (Click to tweet this.)

This is a hidden struggle. I’m trying to rewire my brain to want what it needs, to turn off that fear of hunger. It feels nearly impossible. When faced with a serving spoon, I often still stack it on, out of habit and that fear. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think a lot of people probably go through a similar metabolic change at a similar age. A coworker is experiencing the exact same thing, and another has just dropped over 20 pounds.

Gluttony needs to be addressed. And it starts with me. (Click to tweet this quote.)

For the past seven months, I’ve made a conscious effort to exercise more. And I’ve been shocked at how little I’m eating. I’m usually eating the same amount as Chrissy and the kids (who are 8 and 10). I have even eaten salads for lunch at times, unthinkable a few years ago. You’d expect some results from months of all this care and attention, right?

I have gained a pound.

I’m frustrated. (Granted, I don’t want to think about how I’d feel if I’d not been trying or paying attention.)

What I need is self-control, that virtue listed in the Bible (Galatians 5:22) alongside other elusive attributes like joy, patience, gentleness, and faithfulness.

How do you grow in self-control?

myfitnesspal

Well, I don’t know, really. I’m praying about this. And I’ve started using an app called MyFitnessPal, at the recommendation of some friends. The saying goes that you get better at whatever you measure. So I’m measuring my exercise and food intake.

planet fitness logo

I’ve also joined Planet Fitness, that new purple and yellow chain that’s just $10/month with no contract. I figure getting out and sweating during the long Wisconsin winter can’t hurt.

How do you rewire your brain from wanting what it shouldn’t have, what it doesn’t need? (Click to tweet this.)

Leave a comment below, and please share this with your friends if you think it might be helpful or if they might have something to say on the topic. 

  • Amy Hauptman

    woohooo!!! Thank you for writing this. All I know is developing new habits takes time and persistence . . . And finding friends who are also working on their relationship to food and exercise certainly helps (for ongoing encouragement).

    You could also train to do something crazy like a half or full marathon . . . (if you like running, donating money to worthy causes, and/or need something to motivate you to regularly get you to the gym). Just sayin. . . it’s also a glorious experience.

    http://www.runningintheusa.com/Race/List.aspx?Rank=All&State=WI&Special=marathon (

  • Emmie Lancaster

    I’m sure you’ve heard of this as your family appears to value a natural/organic relationship with the earth (pastured chickens, homegrown produce, etc) but the emerging science around the connection between the gut and the body/mind is interesting. A lot of our team in the Georgia area have dabbled in the Primal/Paleo way of life. I know the lifestyle has mixed results, but the results are hard to argue with. You may already have tried this, but it seems like it would fit in well with your agricultural lifestyle not to mention you don’t have to count calories, etc. You just eat when you’re hungry and do low impact, high intensity workouts occasionally, haha.

  • Emmie Lancaster

    Sorry, meant to say “mixed reviews” not mixed results!

  • Kellie

    I can relate to most of this, with some added female perspective. I wasn’t 100lbs soaking wet through high school and most of college. I ate and ate and ate. Plus, I was paying my way through college, so free food always made this odd kind of panic arise. It took years even after marriage and a career to finally rid myself of that free-food panic. Then my metabolism began to slow, gradually, in my mid twenties. But I kept eating and eating. It was a running joke at the school where I worked that I always had a bagel or other food in my hand. If my blood sugar dropped too low, I would become useless. I think the term “hangry” also has always applied to me. If I’m hungry, I have no decision making skills. I just. want. food. now. But then right around the time I started gaining some weight, I got pregnant. And the five year roller coaster of weight gain/loss (due to three pregnancies and births with nursing in between) began. Within 6 months after baby #1, I was smaller than before I got pregnant. Then when I hit 30, it’s like my metabolism came to a screeching halt. Four months out from baby #3, and I am 30 pounds heavier than before this whole baby-train took off five years ago. And even though I am nursing (thus burning more calories) and feeling so. hungry. all. the. time. …I am not losing weight. At all. I’m stuck here in hungry, slightly-overweight land. And all I want is chocolate and wine. I’m really trying to rethink my relationship with food, as well. I have heard great things about the book Made to Crave, which takes a fill-yourself-with-God-first outlook, basically. It doesn’t feel like it should be as hard as it is, but your comment about rewiring the brain makes sense. Old habits really do die hard. And I really (really really really) love ice cream. Really.

    • acjeske

      Thanks, Kellie. Our journeys are really parallel, except for the babies and nursing. :)

  • Penny Vinden

    I’m with Kellie (especially the part about the chocolate, wine and ice cream). Except a couple of decades further on. I try to exercise so I can eat more. But I think the answer is really where Adam leaves it – in self discipline. Exercise surely is part of that – there are many good reasons to exercise (although some doctors say that only very extreme forms of exercise will result in weight loss).

    So I wonder – is it only in my eating habits that I lack self-discipline? Where else does it show up? Is my gluttony a sign of a deeper problem?

    • acjeske

      Hey Penny–certainly self-control/-discipline must matter in all this, and exercise is helpful, too. But you’re getting at deeper soul issues, stuff that’s important to ask ourselves, for sure. Thank you for pressing in the more significant–and harder–direction.

  • Giorgio

    Your brain getes information from your body.

    When you eat sugar your brain makes you feel ok, but then your body will produce insuline to reduce the sugar in your blood. So you feel you need more sugar, and again…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycemic_index

    We need not to eat refined sugars, such as white sugar or high corn syrup. Also refined flour is to be considered as sugar, because it contains only the carbohydrates. A lot of doctors define refined sugar as poison for our bodies.

    So if you want to rewire your brain, you need to start with the signals it receives from your body. Avoid peaks of the glycemic index at first.

    I would suggest you to see a good nutritionist that can better explain such concepts, and guide you.

    I agree with the discipline, but it has to joined by knowledge of how our bodies work, i.e. how your specific body work.

    Keep us informed on your improvements

    • acjeske

      Thanks, Giorgio. I have been more thoughtful about carbs and sugars in the past months. I guess it’s a new learning area for me. Let me know if you have specific books/sites that you think are helpful.

  • Jennifer

    Hmm, like I said before, I have THOUGHTS about this issue. But I’m going to step back from food/nutrition entirely (because others have made thoughtful comments and because I think that, to some extent, different things work for different people) and discuss the idea you brought up about changing your relationship to food. I totally agree with that, yes, and I have worked on that myself. But what I have noticed in changing my relationship with food is that it has also forced me to change my relationship with people.

    See, when I take unnecessary (perhaps gluttonous?) food out of the equation, I have to interact with people in ways that might be less comfortable or familiar to me. Just like people talk about alcohol being a social lubricant, I believe food can be too. Sometimes it’s even a crutch. A dinner party, or a trip to a nice restaurant, or a celebratory meal are all wonderful. But WHY does food have to be the default when we get together with others? Even when I’m at small group, why does the coffee table need to be laden with snacks for people who have just finished dinner?

    When I’m not at the refreshment table, or talking about how yummy the desserts are, then I’m forced to really listen to people and come up with better things to say. I have to pay attention to people, and not the distraction of food.

    So yeah, more thoughts on other issues, but that’s what I’ve been thinking about recently with that!

    • acjeske

      Great points, Jennifer. There is something helpful and good about gathering around the table and breaking bread together. But perhaps we have gone off the rails a bit.

  • Mark

    As a med student, the best advice I can give you is to exercise before breakfast. Do at least 20 minutes of intense exercise, such as intervals. What you are doing is exerting yourself in a fasted state (ie when glycogen stores are low), which causes your body to begin to burn fat stores for energy very quickly. And the best part is your body will keep burning fat for a couple hours after.

    • acjeske

      Hmm…interesting, Mark. Where are you a med student, if I might ask?

  • Mark

    Ah sorry, I forgot to respond to this until I was reminded by another of your posts.

    I’m a student at the University at Buffalo. We actually met briefly at last year’s Urbana and when you came to visit our IV chapter several months ago.

  • Aaron

    It seems like you gave a lot to think about without giving long-term Biblical solutions to the problem. If you focus on losing the weight, you won’t get anywhere. Find the root of the problem that is causing gluttony and ask God for help! Ask Him for self-control! If you are going to write an article, it should have a solution, and bring hope, which this did the opposite. God bless!