Saturday, I texted my mom at 1:25pm.
“I’m not eating well today. Idk what my deal is I’m so bingey. All I want is all the cereal in the world.”
She called soon after and asked if I’d like to “talk it out,” but the truth I didn’t tell her, and only admitted to my best friend later- is that I’d already devoured 2 boxes of cereal over the past 2 days.
…Even writing just that, I almost lied and put 3 days instead of 2 so that whoever reading this wouldn’t think it was as bad as the reality is for me and cereal, even now 2 years into recovery.
This last week or so has not been stellar in terms of my binge eating. I go months and months without touching trigger foods, but what inevitably happens is that I convince myself I’m “fine” (like Ross in Friends when Rachel and Joey start dating “fine”) and fall right back down the rabbit hole of my own ED delusion.
I am an addict with cereal and granola– plain and simple.
Kid cereal; Adult cereal; Kashi; Trix; Captain Crunch; Reeses Pieces Puffs; Vanilla Chex; Special K Fruit N’ Berries; Honey Nut Cheerios, Nature Valley, Quaker granola- you name it, I’ve binged it.
Cereal continues to be the altering food of my recovery; it is my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde- allows me to access the manipulative, sneaky and shameful parts of me- and it’s now that I’m beginning to come to terms with what the definition of “addict” means, and how it applies towards my relationship with food.
An addict is defined as someone who “devotes or surrenders themselves to something habitually or obsessively.”
I think that’s loose terminology. I believe being an addict is someone who devotes or surrenders themselves to something habitually or obsessively regardless of negative consequences- regardless of standards and ethics.
So often I have assumed that drug and alcohol addiction is “worse” than food addiction because there is a physical dependency component to it… but quite frankly- food is a physical dependency, and while drugs and alcohol can cease to be a part of someone’s life- food cannot- so there is a lot of room to self-manipulate.
The lengths I’ve gone to in order to sneak cereal have crossed moral lines-in-the-sand I’d never consider in ANY other situation.
I have stolen cereal from nearly every person in my life. In reality, I have actually stolen many foods many times, but none more frequently than cereal.
For as long as I can remember, cereal has been a comfort food. I loved it as a child and I loved it in high school when my boyfriend and I would come home from a party at midnight (my curfew) and sit with my mom telling her about the night over a bowl of Cocoa Puffs.
Somewhere along the way, binging became a regular part of my ED. When the anorexia/bulimia sides of my eating disorder grew, my penchant for cereal did as well.
There is nothing more instantaneously rewarding to my brain than reaching into a plastic bag of cereal and scooping out a handful of cereal into my palm.
It’s routine; Like any addict, there are these rituals you abide by with whatever “vice” you use. For me, every cereal is different- there are some I like more and some I could do without, but if it’s all I have in front of me then I’ll make do.
You give me Special K yogurt n berries? I’ll sort all the berries from the yogurt. I’ll pour some into my hands and dig through till I have the perfect mixture of berry to yogurt to flake before I put it in my mouth.
If I have Vanilla Chex- I’ll pour some into my hand and immediately start sorting the glazed pieces to the regular for a perfect ratio.
I’ll eat Kashi cereal a handful at a time, but have to stop and sort through to make sure there’s a couple clusters of granola in each bite.
It’s a bite wasted if I eat a Cinnamon Toast Crunch without the perfect amount of milk.
I have these types of rituals with cereal; I have structure with it-
Except that’s all really bullshit and all I actually have is compulsions and addictions to the same behavior-
And inevitably, INEVITABLY- I end up frantically eating it, compulsively eating it, desensitizing any mindfulness and any awareness of my fullness level to my brain.
I have compulsively hidden cereal to binge as though I were stranded on a deserted island.
Could not even begin to recall all the times I’ve stolen cereal from my friends houses or my roommates. It got so bad living with Kristina (best friend/old roommate) when I moved to New York that she stopped buying cereal all together- or hid it from me in her room.
Admittedly, I often went through her chest of drawers searching frantically for any cereal she was keeping from me.
FOUND IT, I’d think like an absolute crazed monster- unfolding the bag and shoveling in honey nut cheerios.
BUT WAIT- SHE’LL REALIZE SOME IS MISSING- I’d think.
NO SHE WON’T, the other half of my brain reasoned.
So I’d pour some into my hands and scurry back into my room to tuck the cereal under my pillow or perhaps in the pocket of a jacket- carefully sneaking back into her room to meticulously reseal the cereal the way she had it before.
Sometimes this would only happen once; other times it’d happen 3-4x in a day. The same repetitive action over and over.
I’ve done this for 8 years. The kitchens I’ve raided in my life mimic a robber stealing an X-box or the family jewels.
For years, if I spent the night out at a friends I’d peak into their pantry and if I saw cereal I’d conspire ways of sneaking some later. Sometimes I’d just blatantly take some ”I’m hungry,” I’d say. “Can I have a little bowl of cereal?”
“Sure,” whatever friend would say- thinking nothing of it.
But it was a victory to me.
Because once it was out in the open, it gave me complete authority to eat as much as I wanted.
Not in front of them, of course, I’d eat a tiny bowl because I *HATED* eating publicly-
But later on, when they weren’t around. When everyone was off giggling over wine or when we were younger and gossiping about boys-I’d know that I had freedom to sneak back down to that pantry and fill up with cereal- having already been told that it was okay.
Most people find it amusing when they see me with cereal; my preoccupation with it- I admittedly often laugh about it myself.
At work, one of my coworkers brought me French Toast Crunch multiple times because I practically moaned porn-style over how good they were one day- and the following week I ended up with a box on my desk.
You would’ve thought I won the lottery. I thanked her profusely “Now I have to eat it; it’s a present!!!!!!” I rationalized to myself.
And for about 3 days I was able to manage it until I lost the will and finished off half a box in an afternoon.
When I was living in Spain as an Au Pair- at the prime of my exercise addiction- I was always hungry. ALWAYS. I was starving myself and running 2-3x a day and my obsession with cereal grew to unmanageable tendencies.
I can physically still remember sitting on the corner of my bed in my host parents house, and listening in the dark for the mother and father to shut their bedroom door on the floor below me.
I can still remember my heart beating quicker as I’d slink down the marble staircase towards the kitchen; can still remember the sound of my breathing when I’d crack the pantry door open- the long eerie screech it made as the door moved on its hinges.
I can still picture the Spanish cereal sitting there on the pantry rack- and the slow precision I took when reaching for it to sneak back upstairs to my room.
Rellenos de Leche they called it. I was enamored like a school-girl crush.
I cradled that cereal like a child. I hid it in the closet, in my purse, in my bed, under the bed, in the bathroom counter.
I’d watch the kids doing their homework and lie and say I was going to use the restroom just to sneak into the kitchen and hoard more in my pockets for “later.”
On more than one occasion, my host mother looked around completely perplexed when one of the children asked for a bowl of cereal and I’d just shake my head and feign total ignorance. “I don’t know where it went!”
I stole that cereal for months. No telling how many boxes I went through.When I left my host family at the end of that year, I hoarded two boxes of the cereal in my suitcase before I left.
These actions are awful- but they are reality of life with BED. While it seems almost sadly comical, it’s sad that people live their life the way I did every day.
I remember one of my exes commenting one time:
“Oh my God you and my bloody cereal; You pick out all the good parts you ass.”
My best friend in Texas has caught me several times in the past sneaking her cereal into my mouth late at night.
“Oh Linds awesome- finding all my cheerios scattered around the kitchen floor,” she giggled once- and at the time I laughed back, knowing I was frantically scraping them into my hand and that some fell out of my hand and had rolled around the kitchen.
But that’s life with binge eating disorder.
You act impulsively, think compulsively- and it’s a completely out of control feeling.
I just like it, I tell myself sometimes at the grocery store when I’ve scoured the cereal aisle for more than 10 minutes- methodically deciding which box I crave, which looks the best, which I can’t imagine walking away from.
When I binge cereal, it’s like losing myself to another realm. I have left my house or apartment countless times over 10 years solely to go to the grocery store for a cereal binge.
I’ve laughably bought Skim milk/ low-calorie almond milk/ coconut milk/ and light soy milk under the completely delusion that I would eat *THIS* round of cereal “normally.” That I’ve “beat” my ED and can have a bowl or two and not the whole box.
It’s rarely true. It is RARELY fucking true.
Even more laughably, I can’t count the times I’ve cut up strawberries and blueberries and bananas to put in my cereal AGAIN under the bullshit guise that “I am going to eat this time normally.”
It just doesn’t happen. It can- but it rarely does.
There is a tick in my brain. I lose myself in the same way I’ve written about in past posts on binge eating.
Sobriety from alcohol is changing my life this past 2 months, but it doesn’t fix what you have conditioned your mind to crave. It doesn’t “fix” you.
You have to fix you by staying accountable- and honest.
I am a cereal addict.
There, and now I’ve said it.
I have no control over my behaviors towards cereal.
I had a friend once who told met that during their stay in rehab, he once overheard a staff member talking about having painkillers in her car for a bad back and he fantasized for the entire lunch hour about finding a way to break into her car and steal them.
This is what it feels like for me with cereal. I have been so obsessed with cereal at times that I cannot focus on the conversation going on around me. If I’m looking and talking to someone in my parents house but am craving their cereal that I know they always have when I’m home, there are times I can hardly remain present in the conversation while the back of my brain is thumping at the ways I’m going to manipulate everyone and steal it to hide upstairs in the closet.
I have left parties early in the past to go home and eat cereal when I knew my roommates would be out of the apartment.
I have stood in the cereal aisle of grocery stores for so long that someone came over and asked if they could help me find something… likely worried I was casing the place.
I have bought cereal so many times- and did this week- knowing that I shouldn’t.
Knowing that it all leads back to the same conclusion.
Instant gratification is NOT worth the shame I feel when I look at cereal and remember the thousands of times I’ve lied, cheated, and stolen it from others or to others.
Cereal has made me feel completely psychotic- and shameful… and yet on I’ve continued to test myself with it. A few months will go by and “OH I’M FINE! JUST ONCE!”… but it isn’t just once.
And it’s never going to be.
Sitting here tonight, staring at the empty box of Puffins Peanut Butter on my nightstand (another Spain cereal I associate; I do that too. I have different cereals that represent different time periods in my life)…
I know I have to come to terms with this now. I just have to.
As I come to terms with drinking, this is just another part of my reality.
Another therapy convo I’m going to have to have. Another way of keeping accountable.
Another fork in the recovery road.
Any my God- what a road it continues to be.