I could easily tell you my upbringing in a food desert on Chicago’s South Side contributed to my battle with obesity during my early teen years, but, this was not at all the case. Looking back, I now know I had a severe addiction to food—Very similar to those addicted to drugs and other vices.
At the age of 13, I spent all my waking hours thinking about food.
At night, I dreamt of breakfast comprised of bacon, toast with butter, frosted flakes, and Doritos with melted cheese. I’d wake up and prepare for school thinking about how good my battered fried shrimp or hot dogs with French fries was going to be for lunch.
After school, during my walk home, I couldn’t wait to get to the local barbeque house for my daily dose of rib tips and French fries smothered in sauce. This was one of my favorite meals as it was one during which I sat in front of the TV for a line-up of afterschool shows.
After this meal I usually received a phone call from my unsuspecting mother telling me what was for dinner. Dinner would be my fourth super-sized meal of the day though it was typically a nutritious one.
Neither my mother nor father had any idea about what I ate throughout the day. I didn’t know any better—I was truly eating without a conscience and totally oblivious to the risks.
By the age of 14 my waistline had expanded out of control.
Having noticed, my mother began to grill me about the goings-on of my day. “What have you been eating?” She asked. “Where are you getting the money?”
She didn’t know I had been walking 3-plus miles to and from school in order to save my bus fare in an effort to buy food. When I didn’t have enough money, my friends would foot the bill. Being taller and bigger than most my age, I was quite a dominant force as a teenager so this was pretty easy to do.
I was certainly not suffering from a severe lack of physical activity as I walked over 6 miles on most days of the week. Problem was, I ate too much of all the wrong things, every day. Once my secret food addiction was uncovered, my mother took immediate action.
My friends’ parents were notified in an effort to eliminate their participation in fueling my eating habits and I was given tokens for my bus ride to school as opposed to cash.
Funny, with the knowledge that I was capable of walking miles and miles to and from school, my mother told me: “Since you like walking so much, keep it up!” From there on out I was given four tokens per week and told to walk once they ran out.
In addition, my mother removed all potentially unhealthy foods from the kitchen. That summer she also purchased a 10-speed bike for me, which I road for hours each and every day.
By my 15th birthday, I had lost 65 pounds and never turned back.
My food addiction is something I battle to this day. I wake up every morning telling myself “I will eat healthy today.” Some days feel worse than others but I’ve managed to remain constant over the years. Knowing that I tend to be an emotional eater when stressed or frustrated, I ignore the urges to eat, put on my running shoes and let the rubber hit the road.
It’s truly a lifestyle!
Exercise has enabled me to sustain a healthy body weight, even when I’ve had major life setbacks. The key to my long-term success has indeed been my ability to acknowledge my vulnerability to food. I’ve also developed coping mechanisms that work for me. From there, I just take it one day at a time.