Last weekend while sitting on the couch, watching television with my wonderful wife, I got a craving. I suddenly wanted a cookie very much. Specifically a double chocolate chip cookie. A big one. In fact, no amount of italicized text will come close to emoting how much I wanted this damned cookie! I tried to take mind off of it and think of something else. Didn’t work. I tried to breathe through it the same way I would a particularly tough work out. Didn’t work. I even tried eating a piece of fruit. Surprise! It didn’t work. I finally brought it up to my wife, and in an effort to support my (completely insane) choice to clean up my eating habits, she offered to help satiate my cookie craving by finding me something else. We went through a myriad of alternate options (none of them actually resembling anything close to a cookie, or chocolate). I won’t get into all of the options we cycled through, but we did eventually settle on a small plate of homemade nachos to share. Delicious as they were, they did not come close to fulfilling my desire for my double chocolate chip cookie.
We’ve all tried to chase the elusive cookie (no, that wasn’t a lesbian joke, although it would have been a good one). What most of us didn’t know was why. When we all said it was “glandular,” despite receiving no medical advice, we meant it, we just didn’t realize there was more to what some would call a bullshit excuse.
It turns out that when we consume our favourite junk foods (or rather ingredients in our favourite junk foods), our brains experience a “high,” very similar to smoking, drinking, drugs, and participating in high-risk behaviours.
How can you compete with an addiction? As someone who is addicted to nicotine, quit several times over 10 years before finally succeeding, I still spend days whispering to myself, “I really want a cigarette right now.” As time goes on I become stronger at denying the addiction. But it’s something I can label. I can look at a cigarette and know that it’s bad for me, and make an effort to put it down, walk away, and never smoke it again.
What do you do when your addiction is to food? You can’t exactly put it down and never touch it again. You can’t not eat. It’s one of two actions that keeps you alive, second only to drinking water. Not only do you have to try to make better choices with your food, resisting your addictions to whatever your kryptonite is, but you also have the challenge of wading through what I like to refer to as non-facts. To me, non-facts are the contradictions that PR/Marketing have created to either make you love a particular brand/food, or doubt a competitor. Or both! One phenomenal example is eggs.
- Fact: Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, and a diet high in cholesterol can contribute to high blood cholesterol levels.
- Fact: Eggs don’t increase levels of bad LDL cholesterol and actually boost levels of good HDL cholesterol.
Both of these statements are technically true, but without the correct understanding or education, the first statement would lead you to believe that eggs raise your blood cholesterol. The second statement is more concise in which cholesterol it raises, and it turns out is your HDL cholesterol. Can you believe that they actually advised people to stop eating eggs because they were bad for them? I mean, I have my reasons for not eating eggs, but it’s not because they are bad for me.
This is just a minor example of what we contend with. Can we please add the plethora of dieting ads we see? Whether it’s radio, television, or the internet, we are constantly faced with these ideas that we must be a certain way, and this is how we get there. Not only is this how we get there, but it’s the fastest way! Let’s dissect…
First, there is no quick way to lose weight and stay healthy. Any diet that recommends restricting (reducing significantly or removing something from your diet) will help you lose weight, but please understand that you will gain that weight back once you reintroduce whatever it was you restricted. In addition, why would you want to restrict? Your body needs protein, carbohydrates, and fats to live.
Secondly, it’s important to educate yourself. This has literally taken me 10 years of wading through fact, fiction, and opinion. I have made countless mistakes on countless diets, and every pound I have lost has been regained. Don’t get me wrong, this has been completely necessary to be where I am today. If I had not made the mistakes I did, I would never have gotten here on my own (here being a place where I’m educated and fluent, and confident in the choices I make).
Long story short, if you find an “expert opinion,” chances are there will be another equally valid opinion stating the exact opposite. Or you’ll find someone recommending major surgery, such as gastric bypass, but I’m not going to go there… I’ll just lose my temper.
With food addiction, it’s not something that is born overnight. It’s typically brought on by a catalyst such as an emotional, traumatic event or series of events. For example, you experience a trauma, and instead of dealing with the emotions of the trauma, you consume drugs, alcohol, or food to dull your senses. Every time the emotion surfaces, you repeat. You do this enough times, and you have an addiction. It seems to me that the key to recover is to deal with the underlying emotions that have been buried beneath your substance of choice.
I’ve often heard from those who have lost weight, gained it back, and lost again that the reason they regained was because, despite weighing much less, they still viewed themselves as overweight. They took time to heal the outside, and not the inside, which resulted in their weight returning, often times faster than before.
Just as with any addiction, you can often find a 12 step program to assist you. When it comes to compulsive overeating, you have Overeaters Anonymous. From their website:
“Overeaters Anonymous offers a program of recovery from compulsive eating using the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of OA. Worldwide meetings and other tools provide a fellowship of experience, strength and hope where members respect one another’s anonymity. OA charges no dues or fees; it is self-supporting through member contributions.
OA is not just about weight loss, weight gain or maintenance, or obesity or diets. It addresses physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is not a religious organization and does not promote any particular diet.”
When do you decide that something is so big that you can no longer do it on your own? I love that there are resources for all addictions, not just conventional ones. I love that one day someone decided that they would no longer accept the stigma that obesity was directly related to lacking willpower, a physical act that was not attached to anything except someone’s inability to say no. I am personally a fan of talk therapy, and have found it to be extremely helpful in dealing with issues that I cannot discuss with those I have the issue with.
All of this stemmed from a desire for a cookie. Since that day I have had very similar cravings, whether it be a cookie, or a cigarette, and in some moments I have won, and others I have lost. I will continue for the rest of my life in this manner. I can only hope that I will continue to learn and grow from the experience, and hopefully one day find that moment where it all clicks, and I am no longer held prisoner by my addictions.
Question: Do you have an addiction? If so, what is it, and have you mastered it? Why or why not?