Physical, Emotional and Mental steps on my journey towards healthy living on every level

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Addiction to Food (Though you might be able to apply this as a metaphor to any addiction)

Addiction is a funny thing. I’ve often said that I have an addictive personality and that the reason that I never got addicted to cigarettes, or booze, or drugs was because I never had the first one.... but my mother fed me, so my food addiction began. And while this is a funny joke, it is really quite true.

I have also found that addiction, whether it is to food or anything else, can turn us into people we don’t want to be. It can make us lie, it can make us hide things from people, it can make us break promises to others. It can compromise our integrity. And often it makes us lie to ourselves.

Take fast food for example. Eleven weeks and two days ago I had my last bite of fast food with the exception of Arby’s and Subway wraps. I allowed myself those two things because I knew there were times when I would need to take the kids for something quick and I would need to eat too. So I gave myself those exceptions.

Since I made this commitment, I have not been inside a single fast food restaurant except Subway. When I have been to Arby’s it has been through the drive through. My only solution has been to stay completely away. Because I know this is how it would go. I would head in the door to McDonald’s, for example, saying to myself, “I can get a fruit and walnut salad.” And that is what I would order. And I would sit next to one of my kids who had a large fry. McDonald’s fries are my weakness. The whole time I would be lying to myself. convincing myself that I could have just one fry. And then, I would have it. And then, pretty soon, I would have another, all the while lying to myself that I was going to be able to stop after “just one more fry.” The problem is, soon I would be offering to buy my child another order and eating those too.

For me, the only way to not have fast food is to stay away from the restaurant completely. If I don’t, I will find myself right back where I started from. And once I had cheated once, what harm would be done if I just did it one more time? And then one more time. You’re getting the picture. Pretty soon I would be right back to having it five or six times a week.

There are some people who believe that moderation is a good thing. But when something is an addiction, there are no plans for partial use of the thing to which one is addicted. I don’t believe that Alcoholics Anonymous is preaching moderation... This may be why Food Addicts Anonymous is so successful -- no sugar and no flour. Period.

And then there is the old substitution game. OK, I promise not to eat ice cream any more. I am going to completely give up ice-cream never to have it again. But then there is frozen yogurt, or frozen custard, and what is the harm in that? And pretty soon i’m eating more calories with the substitution than I did with the ice-cream itself.

Have you ever played mind tricks with food? You say, OK, I am going to diet, and this time I’m serious.... but you set up just one loophole in your diet plan to reward yourself. Every week I will go have one scoop of ice-cream. And soon you are saying, “well, I get one scoop a week, so why not have my weekly scoop today?” And then, the next day you might conclude, well, maybe a scoop a week isn’t enough, maybe I should have a scoop every day. And pretty soon the diet isn’t working.

And then there is accountability. Finding the right people who can help an addict is tricky. It takes a lot of will power to help someone overcome an addiction. My children get caught up in old patterns too, and forget some of the progress I have made. They will walk up and offer me chocolate, or some other treat. They hold it out to me and ask me to have some. It is my job to say no but often I can’t. I grab whatever is offered me and chow down.

I have had to teach my children that if they love me, they will help me stop my addiction. They will stop handing me the candy, the chips, the donuts. And some of them, who have started to get the picture, will actually even say no when I ask them. I reach out my hand when they have a treat and say, “Can I please have some?” and even though they would love to share their treat with me, they say, “No, mom, sorry. You can’t eat this junk any more.”

Love is saying no to a person who has an addiction even if you want more than anything to make them happy and give them what they want. I hope that my dieting is teaching my kids how to do this as it might, unfortunately, be a skill they need some day if they are involved with someone who has an addiction.

All of this to say that for me, the only way that I can see stopping an addiction is to give it up completely. In the case of dieting, it obviously can’t be all food, but several things that just aren’t good for us, with no substitutions, and as extreme as possible. If I don’t, I fall back into old patterns. And if I am helping someone in that same position, then I can do it no other way, even if they want moderation.

I’d be interested in hearing feedback from others about my “all or nothing” approach. Has anyone been able to completely control an addiction by using moderation? To me it seems it would lead right back to where you began. Maybe this is a personality thing, or maybe it is just the nature of addiction... and “cold turkey” is really the only answer, regardless of how very hard it is.


At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Melissa said...

I too have an addictive personality. I think you are spot on in your approach.

There are a few things about our bodies and food, especially fast food, that you are working against and they create powerful urges that are very hard to resist.

One is that, as you drop weight, those shrinking fat cells are going to release chemicals that will tell your brain "YOU ARE STARVING" even though that's not the case. This will trigger cravings of the worst sort. I'm sure you've experienced them before and getting through them is not just a matter of willpower. You have to find some way of tricking your brain into thinking that you've satisfied the need to avoid starvation without actually giving in to the urge to consume excessive calories. This trips up so many people, time and time again. The more fat cells you shrink the more powerful the urges will become. I had to lose about 35 lbs which isn't that much but it was painful. People with more to loose have it much rougher than I did.

When I am experiencing these cravings I do a lot of self talk, I remind myself it's my body's urge to protect itself but I know it's not in danger of starving. I drink a big glass of very cold water slowly as I give myself this pep talk. This works for me most of the time but sometimes I still eat that which I'm craving no one is perfect. Then I have to start all over but I try not to be too hard on myself about it. I don't let it become permission to indulge again because I FAILED anyway.

Another thing you're fighting is the human body's urge to prepare for famine in times of plenty. Our bodies CRAVE added fats and empty calories as a way to hedge against future times of famine. The problem is that, in our country at this time, many people spend their entire lives with access to more calories than they can ever possibly hope to utilize. Fast food and processed foods are PACKED with added fats and empty calories. It really does become an addiction. These foods trigger a chemical reaction that works as positive reinforcement even if you feel AWFUL about what you did. The brain got it's hit and it felt GOOOOOOD...and it learns that those fries feel GOOOOOOD.

I think it helps to keep in mind (at least it helps me) that the urges and cravings are not a result of "weakness" but a result of chemistry. Finding ways to satisfy those cravings without actually satisfying the craving takes a lot of effort and it requires vigilence. We won't always succeed but as long as we pick ourselves right back up and recommit to avoiding them we can keep moving in the right direction.

I've not commented here before, I normally just read your family related blog but I just wanted to comment and let you know you're doing so great!

At 3:07 PM, Blogger Claudia said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I can use any insight I can get and certainly any encouragement that might come my way.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger Torina said...

Claudia, you are doing great! I so admire you for going to the Y every morning. I can totally relate to hating to exercise. I read your diet blog occasionally hoping for some inspiration to get my butt in gear, but I mostly stick to your family blog too.

For me, removing temptation HAS to be part of it. If it is there, I cannot moderate. (I have gained 20 pounds in the last two years since I now have snacks in the house for the kids and work at a new job where women bake and bring in goodies regularly). I'm sure different things work for different people, but I have to remove snacks altogether.

At 2:12 AM, Blogger linette said...

Good post.As a fellow food addict I definitely relate. Since I joined food addicts in recovery anonymous (different from food addicts anonymous) I am acheiving success in beating my addiction for the first time in my life. Keep blogging and I'll keep coming back. My next blog post will be up tomorrow. Linette

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Mom in MN said...

You are RIGHT ON about the addiction! And because we need food, we cannot quit "cold turkey" and not have any at all, as with other substances to which one might become addicted. So we need to make some serious choices about what foods we do allow ourselves to have. It's tough -- I have been up and down, and am currently up --and your blog has inspired me to "get back on the horse" and try again!


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