I Ate a Large Cheese Pizza and This is What Happened

by | Jan 25, 2017
Photo by joeb

Photo by joeb

All I remember is staring at the open box in shock. Did I really just eat 3/4 of a large cheese pizza by myself?

One. Two. Yep, only two slices left.

I was a sophomore in high school and my parents were out of town for one of my brother’s sporting tournaments. I was old enough to be left home alone to work and study.

Normally this meant a free pass for me to subsist on coffee and Frosted Flakes for a few days (remember when dieters were scared of fat instead of sugar?). But this evening something got to me.

Looking back on everything I had going on at the time it was probably stress and anxiety from juggling my daily ballet lessons, teaching at the studio to pay the bills, and getting up before dawn to start my rigorous course work at school.

Or maybe I was just hungry.

I didn’t know what to do for dinner so I called the pizza delivery place that my family loved. I knew this wasn’t good behavior for a ballerina and chronic dieter who still desperately wanted to lose weight, but something compelled me.

It took several minutes after I stopped eating before the sick, bloated, oily feeling took over. The lingering smell of cheese in the house made me feel nauseous, so I took the remaining pizza and box to the trash outside and pushed it as far into the bin as I could manage.

What had I done? I was so ashamed. I told no one.

Chronic dieters typically have at least one story like this, sometimes many. I have at least a dozen more.

Binges are a very dark place for a dieter, because you have to face the deeply painful truth that you failed to live up to your own expectations. There’s no one to blame but yourself. You think things like, “I’m so bad,” or “I have no control,” or worst of all, “I deserve to be fat.”

This is where The Reckoning begins.

In her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown describes the process of reckoning and rumbling with shame so you can rise from it as a stronger, more complete, or as Brené would say, “whole-hearted” person. It is the most complete roadmap I’ve ever come across for tackling emotional issues of this nature, and every last word of it rings painfully true.

When you feel shame you feel isolated, alone and unlovable. You feel small. You want to hide and disappear from the world.

Maybe you put on your fat pants. Maybe you turn down social invitations. Maybe you go back into the pantry and eat another bag of M&Ms to comfort yourself. This is the flight part of “fight or flight.”

I’ve always been more of a fighter, so when I encountered dieters’ shame I knew exactly who to blame: myself. This meant punishing myself by skipping meals or putting in two hour sessions at the gym. It meant counting every last calorie and gram of fat for days or weeks, until I felt like I regained control.

When we feel shame we do everything we can to hide or destroy the thing that is making us feel unworthy. It is destructive, isolating, and keeps us from becoming whole.

Shame shouldn’t be confused with guilt, which is actually a psychologically adaptive reaction rather than a destructive one.

As Brené writes, guilt tells you “I did something bad,” and shame tells you “I am bad.” This difference is huge. Guilt you can learn and grow from, while shame pulls you further down into the darkness.

Simply being aware that you are experiencing shame and knowing that this is the place your work begins is what Brené calls The Reckoning. It involves being curious about the feelings you’re experiencing.

What is the story you are telling yourself that is making you feel so bad?

The fifteen year old ballerina that ate six slices of pizza believed that she was supposed to be thin if she wanted to be accepted by her family and ballet friends. That to be thin she needed to eat fat-free food. That she had the free will to choose steamed vegetables over pizza, and since she didn’t make this choice she lacked integrity and felt disgusted by herself. She didn’t want anyone to see this weakness.

Admitting your own failures feels terrible, so we instinctively avoid it. But if you’re able to get through this process you soon realize that it doesn’t feel nearly as bad as hiding your shame. Brené does not say that this process is easy.

The next step in the Rising Strong method is The Rumble, digging into your experience to find the false assumptions, logical errors and misinformed judgements that are keeping you stuck in your shame story. It’s acknowledging your strengths and imperfections, and taking responsibility for living up to your own values. Brené calls this “owning your story.”

Now, twenty years later, I know all the errors that were in my original pizza story.

I know that my body is not what gives me value as a human being.

That dietary fat is necessary for good health, and my body was probably desperate for it.

That it’s okay to eat foods I love, even if they aren’t perfectly healthy.

That it’s okay to comfort myself when I’m feeling stressed.

That restricting any food for external reasons inevitably leads to bingeing.

That willpower inevitably breaks down when exhausted, and this does not represent a personal or moral failure.

And that if I do make a mistake, the best thing to do is let someone (a person I trust) see.

In hindsight these things sound logical and intuitive, but when you’re in The Rumble and figuring this stuff out for yourself you don’t have a fraction of the clarity.

It’s terrifying, because you aren’t sure if you can break through. The pieces of the puzzle are fuzzy and don’t totally make sense. You feel lost and confused. You want to turn back, but you can’t.

This is the hard work of life, but you can’t skip it. It is the only way to stop the shame and get to the other side.

The Revolution is the next phase of Rising Strong. It is the fundamental transformation that occurs in your thoughts and beliefs as a result of rumbling with your story. Once you figure out the deeper truth, you are forever changed.

For me this was when I transformed from a dieter to a foodist, and it happened ten years after the pizza incident. It was when I learned to eat healthy and exercise out of love for my body, instead of hate for it. This was a big rumble. It was very hard. But every day I’m grateful I went through it.

I started Summer Tomato with the hope that your Rumble doesn’t have to be as long as mine, but is just as rewarding in the end.

Food, health and body are intimately tied to family, culture, and self-worth. But we struggle with shame in places far beyond our plate and in front of the mirror.

When you’re ready to stop hiding from and move past shame, start with Rising Strong.

Originally published September 15, 2015.

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23 Responses to “I Ate a Large Cheese Pizza and This is What Happened”

  1. Oh my God, yes! It’s all about aiming to equilibrium and it’s the most difficult thing. But it’s doable.

    Darya, I felt sad for that sophomore girl. Don’t you ever leave her without pizza, from time to time, or restrict any other foods that she likes for nonsense dieting reasons! Ha! I got it out of my system!(and suddenly remembered you are now a neuroscience Ph.D, so everything is OK, back to normal) 🙂

    Many young girls are going through all that now, so this would be such and important thing for them to comprehend and realize.


  2. Seantaram says:

    Yes! That Tim Ferriss Show interview was really something and I just started reading Daring Greatly because of it.

  3. Liv Faye says:

    Hi Darya,

    Thanks for sharing your story and expressing how much our minds and self-esteem have to do with our food. The healthy eating community sometimes puts aside the mental and emotional part to focus on weight loss or cleaning up your diet, but our mind is the place where healthy eating and healthy living truly begin.Thanks for the Rising Strong recommendation as well!

  4. Hlynne says:

    This is a wonderful post! I think the book Rising Strong would be incredibly useful for me. And your story as a teenager feeling guilty eating a pizza is something I can relate to. As a teenager, I was a perfectionist who starved myself to be thin to get better scores in diving tournaments. After getting down to 105 pounds, I then started binging, literally gaining 30-40 pounds in a few short months. I was horrified by myself, esp. the loss of self control. This weight gain triggered the onset of bulimia which lasted over 15 years whereby I both dieted and binged, basically treating my body horribly. It never crossed my mind that eating such nutrient poor food (popcorn and diet coke) would lead to these binges. I never thought I’d be a person who could actually eat three “real” meals a day. But over time I’ve since learned a more “foodist” approach, basically focusing on nutrient rich, healthy food that my body feels good after eating it. If I could go back and comfort my teenage self, I’d tell her to honor and nourish my changing body, treating it with respect and filling it with nutritious food. Thank you again!

  5. Justine says:

    Darya, thank you for sharing this story. You’re spot on with the difference between guilt and shame. I was mulling this over a couple days ago when that Nicole Arbour video popped up on social media and I saw a few people defending it, claiming that fat-shaming is about health. But shame has no place in health or learning; it must start from a place of compassion.

    As always, your posts are a pleasure to read.

  6. Powerful and poignant. The sooner we stop pretending that shame changes behavior the better. At the same time, everyone needs to tone down the rhetoric about body size and weight.

    The medical and public health community bandies weight and BMI stats around as if they are a reliable litmus test for health. They are not. A preoccupation with weight compromises everyone, including heavier patients who are already doing what they can and thinner patients who get a pass despite a problematic diet and other problematic health habits, and every single person who feels haunted by the scale.

    Most consumers need to heal from weightism and figure a way to embrace health at every size.

  7. Leslie Lax says:

    I hear what your saying Darya but I was in that place of wanting to take care of my health. I was so committed to loving myself and then one day I ate a piece of chocolate. a year and a half later and I’ve put on 28 of the 50 lbs I had lost. I keep asking myself what happened? Why did I let go of my happiness and focus ? Now my mindset is one of defeat. I have given up and I’m miserable. Do I really hate myself ?

  8. Robert says:

    Thanks for sharing this Darya. Emotional eating is without a doubt a big part of the problem for many people.

  9. John Fawkes says:

    Great story Darya. I eat largely paleo, but I allow myself to have stuff like soda and pizza a few times a week- it doesn’t kill an otherwise healthy diet, and occasional “cheating” restores my willpower and allows me to enjoy my diet rather than thinking of it as grueling work.

    One thing that really helped me was taking photos of every meal before I ate it. This was enough to make me pause and reflect, and got me to stop eating junk food most of the time. Once I did that, I was able to get by with following loose dietary guidelines, rather than needing a strict diet.

  10. Awesome interpretation Darya, thanks for being so transparent with your story. Food blogs can sometimes be so much about the food and not about emotions, which really are, inseparable.

    I personally have been obsessed with healthy eating for many years now. Even more now, with our first boy. I am so passionate about eating good I went back to school to study therapuetic foods. Although well worth it I might add!

    But I completely relate to the feeling of being ashamed – if I eat certain foods I say to myself I shouldn’t have i.e. bread products, pizza – organic or not. I do have a sense of dissapointment in myself. I do find it helps to be gracious with myself though, I think a lot of this stems from perfectionism. Do you find you struggle with that as well?

    Thanks again!

  11. Nikki says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story it was very inspiring and a big eye opener for me. I always feel like I need to be a certain weight to be truly happy with myself and for acceptance from others. I have been dieting and binge eating for a year and a half, and it has made my life filled with regret, worry, depression, guilt, shame, anger, and hate. I am going to take your advice and do my best to realize that I need to try to be a healthier me for the inside, not the outside.

  12. Becky says:

    This reminded me of my completely different experience of eating pizzas by the half or more when I started college. I grew up poor and tended to be well underweight. Sometimes there wasn’t enough food for me to get to a normal weight. Even when there was more food at times, I couldn’t eat more. My stomach wasn’t used to having more than a little at a time. In college, it worked out that with a job and scholarships and help from family, I had a bit of disposable income and I could also choose when I ate. At 5’6″ and age 18, I had never reached the weight of 100 pounds. When I had the money and freedom to, I ordered pizza and ate as much as I could get down, every chance I got. Mac and cheese was also a favorite. I could get down a whole box worth. No guilt unless I had to throw some away because I couldn’t get through the leftovers before the should be thrown away. Before college, my weight hovered between 94 (when home) and 98 (when I stayed with my grandma in the summer and she tried to fatten me up). A year after I started, I got up to 107 and thought myself fat when I got to 120 a year later. (I would love to be that “fat” again.) Unfortunately, I still binge even though I weigh double what I did then. I have never felt ashamed of eating too much. Embarrassed maybe, guilty for taking something someone else might like, or because I don’t like how others might see me in a swimsuit, but if it’s just me, I like my body just fine. It would be nice to be trim and fit and healthier of course. I don’t remember the food making me feel bad. Maybe because I actually really needed the calories. Also, I was relatively fit, didn’t have a car, so I walked the mile to work and rode the bus everywhere else. Anyway, I am sorry it was such a bad experience for you. I have been realizing lately that I have very little shame or guilt about eating just frustration about how to solve the problem of bingeing.

  13. Serena says:

    I can relate to that sophomore girl so well. I got hit with a year plus of binge-eating after restricting and disordered eating for the last 2-3 years–while running cross country! It was so frightening. I put on about 20 pounds from my lowest weight, and yet I never changed clothing sizes. No one could tell I had gained, but they all said I looked a lot healthier. I guess it just goes to show how much muscle mass and bone density I lost, and my body was desperately trying to recover them.

    I’m not saying the binges are completely gone, but they’re almost gone. I’m a little more at peace with the episodes, and am mostly able to avoid them because I realize the moments when I need to take more care of myself. If I do slip up, I try to journal what was bothering me and move on. I’ve gone through enough binges (feels like 100 or so), cried, and beat myself up over it often enough.

  14. Laura says:

    Pizza is not “unhealthy” when it’s part of an intuitive diet! There’s no such thing as “bad foods!”

  15. Caryn says:

    I have this book on my endtable! I m not finished reading it but so far it has really helped me!

  16. Paul says:

    Great article and very true, these are some of the dangers of dieting, that a lot of people don’t realise. Years of attempted restrictive dieting has led me to a full on eating disorder. It’s really bad, has a really negative effect on my life, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’m having treatment and CBT to try and sort it out, but it’s not at all easy now it’s got to this stage.

    This is a big problem with restrictive dieting I wish more people could be aware of. You don’t want to end up with an ED, believe me.

  17. Rebecca says:

    Read this article for a second time. Fantastic. Thank you Darya Rose -so many people struggle in silence with the binging issues you raise and your article definitely helps others know that they are not alone.

  18. Pat says:

    I remember this article.Mmmmm yummy
    2017 for me less sugar and more greens

  19. Eleanor says:

    I Googled, “help, I just ate a whole pizza” because I just ate a whole pizza and feel like crap for all the reasons described in your article. It feels like I’ve just fallen down the large mountain that I climbed since the last big binge. Everything I do, it seems, is a mad scramble to recover from the last binge. In my 20s, I could eat whole pizzas (and the like)
    with no problem emotionally or physically. But at 36, the fallout seems so dire for a looong time. It feels like the steaks are so much higher as i approch middle age, as im led to believe that the bottom will fall out from under me, the house of cards will collapse with every facet of my looks and desirability every moment i inch toward dowdy middle age. Let go or be dragged, right? Anyway! I will bookmark this article, thank you.

  20. Eattherest says:

    The sin wasn’t eating all but two slices it was throwing the last two away

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