Daddy, why do you sometimes eat at McDonalds?

I’m a compulsive eater of fast food. I know it is horrible for me and makes me feel physically ill and mental shame, but sometimes I need to eat it.

“Daddy, why do you sometimes eat at McDonalds?”

My seven-year-old asks me as we get into my car–the car I drive to work, the car she is rarely in.

“Why do you ask?” I say, stalling for time. My fast food compulsion is my secret; that I make an effort to hide as it fills me with shame. SHE ISN’T SUPPOSED TO KNOW.

“I saw the bag.”

But I had been so careful! Shameful fast food eating takes place in the car. If you’re doing something that you hate yourself for doing, but are compelled to do anyway, you do it in front of as few people as possible. The drive thru lane minimizes human interaction. At most, you’ll see two people: one to take your money, one to hand you your addiction. And, if you are afraid THOSE people will start to recognize you, you can just drive down the road to a different franchise.

Eating in the car is perfect for shame eating, except it leaves evidence: the bag. Getting rid of it is a calculating process: Will my wife be using this car any time soon? Should I stop at a gas station to throw the bag away? Can I get away with throwing the bag away at work tomorrow?

I miscalculated. Either I forgot about a bag of trash, or my car was used when I wasn’t expecting it to be. At some point, my eldest daughter had gotten into her booster seat, saw a bag of McDonald’s trash, and saved her question until we were alone.

— ∮∮∮ —

“Dad, why do you sometimes eat at McDonald’s?”

I’m a compulsive eater of fast food. I know it is horrible for me and makes me feel physically ill and mental shame, but sometimes I need to eat it. Go get some McDoubles, Sam. They’ll make you feel better. No, don’t fall asleep at a reasonable hour, Sam, keep yourself awake thinking about how you can eat at Arby’s tomorrow.

There’s a cycle to it. I can go weeks without eating fast food, but then I’ll have a bad morning and decide to eat my feelings. In the moment, the greasy cheeseburgers provide comfort, but shortly after I enter a state of torpor. I feel awful, get a headache, and do pretty much nothing the rest of the day. I feel horrible and hate myself for giving in. Then, the next day, all is forgotten, and the craving is stronger than the day before.

I did break free once. After one particularly bad binge-eating trip, I set up a new calendar in iCal called “Days.” I’d put in an all-day event titled “0”. The next day, if I didn’t eat fast food, I’d put in an event called “1”. The only rule was: if I ate fast food that day, I had to put in an “0”. On sheer novelty, I got myself up to several days of being fast food free. And once, I was even on my way to a McDonald’s, but turned around because I didn’t want to lose my arbitrary streak.

I lost after about a year. I was on a business trip and had to sleep on an airport floor. The only food open was a Chick-fil-A. “It doesn’t count”, I said to myself. It’s the only thing open. Well, it counted and I haven’t been able to get clear since.

— ∮∮∮ —

“Dad, why do you sometimes eat at McDonald’s?”

I answer her as honestly as I can.

“Sometimes I eat food I know is bad for me. When I’m eating it, it feels and tastes good. But after I eat it, it makes me feel bad. But my body forgets that part and then I want it again.”

— ∮∮∮ —

This is the post I didn’t want to write. Writing it means I acknowledge that I have to change, which I do acknowledge, but I am hungry. I’m writing this in the morning and I am craving a sandwich (or three) from Steak ‘n Shake, a sandwich I am not going to allow myself to get. I want it so badly.

But I’m tired of the shame. Let’s see if I can get to “1”.


— ∮∮∮ —

Photo by: QuantumGiant

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages five and eight) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

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