Sunday, July 24, 2016

On Giving Up Addictive Stuff

Everyone knows some foods can be addictive, just like drugs and alcohol. It's generally agreed that certain types of foods are more likely to be addictive than others (I never heard of anyone being addictive to, say, cabbage... right?) because of the response they get from the body. But you know, it's really a lot like alcohol. Some people can drink moderately and never get even a twinge of addiction. Some people can even binge drink and then quit and be fine with that. Same with foods. Some people can eat a piece of cake and not have a second thought about it, and others flip out and want to binge on cake for days. I personally have experienced both reactions. Why is that? Seems like even the same person can go through times when they feel addicted or compelled to eat certain foods, and other times when they can have a serving and be fine. That's been my life.

I've written before about my mother's alcoholism. She came from a dysfunctional, alcoholic upbringing and she learned early to turn to alcohol for many things: fun, numbing, comforting, socializing, even dying (although thankfully she did not succeed in her attempt to use alcohol + medication to end her life before I was born). When my Dad met her, she was a bar hopping, heavy drinking young lady. And though he helped her quit with AA for long periods, she always went back to the drink. When I was a toddler, my father would often come home from his work to our Army base home to find his elderly dad babysitting me, my mother no where to be found. He would get back in the car and go looking for her, often finding her drunk at some bar, and bring her home. I remember as a small child going to visit her in the hospital where she was inpatient getting some kind of alcoholic/mental health treatment. She used to make little animals out of yarn during their craft time, and I'd always get excited to go see what Mommy had made for me each time we went to see her. By the time I was in preschool I had a whole family of yarn animals on a shelf in my bedroom, but I still didn't have a present mother.

Eventually my mother Found Jesus and we moved to another state. This fresh start with new friends and a new religion, along with continued participation in AA, gave her the stability she needed to stay sober for more than a decade. Yes, she found a new addiction in junk food (and as a result gained 100 pounds and stayed morbidly obese for the rest of her life), but being a food addict was a lot more socially acceptable and didn't land her in the mental ward like alcohol had. She was able to get a driver's license, build lasting friendships, and settle into a typical stay-at-home-mom life.

You know what I don't get? A few years after we moved, she stopped going to AA. And she started having a drink here and there. When we'd go out to dinner, she would have a glass of wine sometimes. At home, we had a booze cabinet because my Dad liked to come home from work and relax with a martini, and my mother would occasionally join him with her glass of Southern Comfort or Peach Schnapps. But she didn't go overboard, even with a whole cabinet of alcohol right there for the taking. Once or twice a year, we'd go visit her family in another state. They still drank. they still got drunk. And that's when I'd see her drink a little too much... but never enough to be slurring her speech or passing out or not remembering what happened. But somehow she could go from a night drinking with her family right back to her regular, functional, not-alcoholic life at home. Somehow she got to a place where she could have one drink, once in awhile, and be fine with that. How is that possible for an alcoholic? Myself, I quit drinking when I was 17. I had started in my early teens just because that is what my family did. I'd get into that booze cabinet when my parents weren't home sometimes. I'd drink out of sadness over things that were happening in high school. I even took medications and drank one time, and laid on my bed passed out for more than 24 hours before waking up. I was in a depressed state over some deaths and other circumstances of teenage life, and I knew I, too, had that addictive, alcoholic tendency. I could feel it as I sat in class counting the hours until I could get home and numb myself with alcohol. I knew where I was headed, because I had watched it in my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, and my mother. That's why I quit cold turkey, right after graduating high school, at the age of 17. Nowadays I can have a drink here and there if I want one. A glass of wine, some kahlua. It's probably been two years since I've had any alcohol. And I don't have any desire to drink and don't think about it much anymore.

So... does an alcoholic have to give up alcohol 100%, for good, forever? How could my mother manage it so well for so long? How could she go from being a raging dysfunctional alcoholic to someone who could have a drink here and there and be fine with it?

Does a person with a food addiction have to give up their trigger foods 100%, for good, forever? My experience tells me no. How is it I could go from complete obsessiveness about certain foods (Pizza rolls, pizza, cake, chips, cookies!) to being able to have a little bit here and there in a sane manner? I've been there. I've been in a place where I am losing weight and eating healthy foods most of the time but still make room for, say, a scoop of ice cream on a hot day... and it didn't trigger me at all. How is that possible? This, I think, is what has kept me from giving up addictive things 100%.

I know the foods that are addictive to me. They are foods I cannot IMAGINE giving up 100%, forever. Chips. Candy. Cake. Ice cream. Pizza. Bacon. Cheese. Coke. There have been months, even years when I have rejected these foods and done fine without them. Don't miss them much, for awhile. But then I go back to them, because they are my comfort foods, my numbing agents, my familiar place. I hold out hope that I can find a way to have them once in awhile. I can't get my head around giving them up forever, so I do the whole "just for today" thing. But that's not fooling anybody. I still know the goal is to give up certain things because they aren't good for me and keep me in a bad place, or keep dragging me back there.

My mother was an example of someone who took their Drug that was killing them, cut it out, and then slowly let it back just a little bit. In a controlled way. It wasn't hurting anything. She was fine. I have always wondered how she could do that... stay sober, yet have a drink once in awhile. She got over her addiction or something. Until more than 2 decades later, she once again grabbed that bottle of booze and downed it with a handful of pills intending to end her life.

It's never really okay, is it? Those addictive things... we might think we've tamed them and let them in just a little bit. In moderation. In control. Let the deadly back in so it can lurk. Lose a hundred pounds on Medifast or whatever, then stay in control but just have a few chips once in awhile. A piece of cake here and there. It doesn't trigger anything. It's fine now, I can control. Until I can't, and somehow all that weight comes back no matter what I do. That addictive junk can seem so innocent in small, controlled amounts. It's still deadly though. It'll kill us in the end.


Anonymous said...

The answer is in the question: she never gave up her addiction, she switched it to a more socially acceptable morbid obesity. A lot of people do that: lose weight and develop a drinking problem. My friend just beat a long standing drug addiction and has substituted food and is now morbidly obese for the first time in his life. Happens all the time.

Down With Bullies said...

Don't let yourself switch from one addiction to another, Lyn. You are not your mother! Remember that.

Anonymous said...

So... does an alcoholic have to give up alcohol 100%, for good, forever? The answer to this question is yes. No alcohol, not even a small piece of a rum cake for a recovering alcoholic. Would you say that it's OK for a heroin addict in recovery to just use it here and there in small quantities? Now replace heroin with any other addiction in that question and the answer stays the same.

It wouldn't be bad for you to ask yourself if you really are addicted to some of that stuff or you just like eating them a lot. For example, does eating chips leads you to isolate yourself from friends, family and society in general? Does eating chips makes you feel shame? Does it create an increased need to eat more and more of it, but gives you less and less satisfaction when you do? Do you often think of giving up eating chips but can't find strength to do it? All these things and more are requirements for considering it an addiction, it is a lot more than just craving a food and using it as comfort. A good CBT therapist would help you sort these things out and get you on a path to healthier behavior patterns.

Josie said...

Do you realize that the point of WLS is to use it as a tool to stop eating garbage food? In fact, those types of foods will make you sick after surgery. There is a honeymoon period after surgery where you will lose weight fast but it's during that period that you have counseling to learn healthy eating habits that will sustain you for a lifetime so there is no regain.

Also, to qualify for WLS you probably have to lose 20lbs first, following their guidelines and have counseling. None of this is a bad thing. I just want you to realize that your whole world will indeed change. For example, coke is something you should never have post surgery as it can harm your new stomach.

I had the vertical gastric sleeve surgery on May 18th. Before surgery it took me about 5 months to lose 20 lbs on my own. Since May 18 I've lost an additional 33 lbs (a little over 2 months) for a grand total of 53.

My future as I see it, is about eating healthy food, not fitting in doritos and coke, as well as feeling and looking great. I KNOW I'll have saggy skin, heck I already do, but the health benefits outweigh it all.

I had the surgery because though I'm in my forties both of my knees are bone on bone, which had been very painful. Though my knees still don't work great, the pain is now practically gone! I know that sounds bizarre, but I believe its the lack of 53 extra lbs plus not eating any sugar,

I hope you do go for WLS, and wish you luck.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever thought about hypnosis? It seems less drastic than WLS.

Lyn said...

Thanks all...


hypnosis, hmmm. Well I don't know. I haven't looked into that. I have seen ads in the paper for that kind of thing. I had a hypnosis CD set for weight loss I used to listen to but that didn't seem to help.

LHA said...

Lyn, this issue is one I continue to struggle with. I, like you, have given up sugar completely (and other junk food) for months or years at a time. Most of the time I am okay with it while I am abstaining, but there always comes a time when I do eat something sugary or junky or very high carb and that's where the trouble starts. I can regain very quickly once I start down that slippery slope and regain the many lost pounds in the wink of an eye. The longest I ever abstained completely from all unhealthy foods was two years and I maintained a 50 pound weight loss during that time. Little by little those foods, especially the sugary high carb ones, started creeping back into my life and then it became an avalanche of eating where I not only regained the weight but added more too. Now my approach is a little different. I felt that one reason that once I started eating those old comfort food again and was unable to stop was the guilt and shame I felt. I decided that needed to go! Now I save the eating of "those foods" for very special occasions. I make a conscious decision about when I want to eat them and I do not allow myself to feel any guilt. I don't allow it to go on long either. Especially with sugar I am very, very respectful of where it could lead me and I eat a piece of birthday cake with caution and make sure to not repeat it anytime soon. I have to be extremely cautious for a few days till my eating feels back to normal and becomes more automatic. I am hopeful that this very controlled approach to eating some not-so-healthy foods will allow me to continue losing and at the same time keep me from feeling so deprived that I go off the rails completely and regain. For those how can completely abstain and not risk having the deprivation/overeat/regain cycle start, I salute you! I knew I needed to try a different approach.

When you were able to add in some desserts or high carb foods from time to time and not have it set off an eating binge, I thought the frequency with which you did that would never work for me. That doesn't mean it won't work for you though. How do you really feel about it now that you can look back on that time? Do you see physical or emotional triggers that were set off at some point? You would certainly know best about whether you think that way of eating could work permanently for you.

Good luck going forwrd and thanks for an honest and thought provoking blog.

Laura said...

Hi Lyn, I think the person above was referring to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, not hypnosis. CBT can be very effective in teaching yourself to recognize when you're tempted to do whatever it is you're training yourself to avoid, and to do something else that you have pre-set-up for yourself. DBT (dialectical Behavioral Therapy) can be helpful as well.

Anonymous said...

I can't recall if you have ever researched or tried the intuitive/mindful eating approach? It's supposed to work really well for people who have issues especially with rebound eating while on diet plans and/or binge eating. A former coworker of mine lost 100 pounds with that approach- she was someone who too felt frustrated by trying every diet approach under the sun, having some success, then recessing into old habits.

The key for her she says was allowing herself to find, and feel, real physical hunger. People who graze or eat multiple small meals or even regular meals with snacks just don't have as strong a sense for it. Friend said she didn't plan meal times, but just let herself get hungry, asked herself what she really truly wanted to eat, ate it to the point of satiation and boom. Lost 100 pounds in around 10 was pretty fast but she looks amazing. I saw her this weekend and talked to her about exercise because she mentioned she was running a 10k- she didn't exercise much until she'd lost 60 or so pounds.

Anyways, your post made me wonder if that was something you'd considered. I've read Geneen Roth's book, Brain Over Binge, Have your Cake and Skinny Jeans- all the same idea. I don't know if it could work for me (I wasn't a big fan of any of the books, just too "woo" for me. The Cake and Skinny Jeans one is pretty good though) but some are wildly successful with it- my friend was a binge eater from the time she was a teenager and basically always overweight. She's been a normal -actually truly thin!- weight for a couple years (145ish, and she's like 5'9" I think).

Just some more thoughts- as if you don't get enough ;) - but I'm pulling for you to succeed Lyn! I really think you can do this, with surgery or without. Actually I feel you are not heavy enough to qualify for Bariatric Surgery but that's not a bad problem to have either!

Hollie said...

Lyn... have you ever considered doing keto? I've written about it on my blog. Feel free to contact me personally and I'll tell you about it. It's so freeing. And I get to EAT. None of that calorie restriction. And it will help you get over the sugar and junk addiction. It works. I've lost 50 lbs so far this year and I'm living. Not miserable and hangry.

Lyn said...


I had a trial of intuitive eating, I think way back before I started blogging. I had read one of Geneen Roth's books (the one where she ate balls of cookie dough for each meal until she didn't want it anymore) and I was all "yay cookie dough!" My problem is when I try to eat intuitively (really think about what I want), most of the time I WANT junk. And once I eat one ball of cookie dough I want more and it takes a heck of a lot for me to get sick of it. It's like that with almost any junk food for me. I gained some weight doing that and was on a steep upward trend so unlike Geneen I didn't keep going for months to see if it would work out and resolve. I think my intuition is broken.


I have not. I will drop you a line, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I think I understand what you're dealing with. Both of my parents were alcoholics. I was raised with too many expectations for a kid, and I still think that everything bad that happens is my fault.
I don't have any suggestions but I just wanted to tell you I feel your pain. It has affected not only my weight but all other aspects of my life.
I know that knowing what the problem is doesn't make it any easier to solve.

Lyn said...

Thanks, Anon, and I'm sorry you had to go through that. Hugs to you, I do believe we can grow beyond it somehow.

Amy said...

Things like food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gaming etc are ways that we numb ourselves because we have broken or missing coping skills from our childhood. It is easier to stay away from unproductive foods when we are happy and everything is going great for us, but there's times when we don't have enough of what we need/want in life, comfort, love, order, companionship, rest, free time, answers,etc...and those times we either have great coping skills or we use an alternative. It's not about willpower or trying, it's about finding ways to get enough of what you need in life without food. It is not a popular idea in dieters mentality, but we should be allowed to take pleasure from life, even from food because food in itself is not evil, but we should also be aware of what drives us to eat more than the amount that satisfies us, because that's not true hunger for food, but for comfort.

LuckyMama said...

Your last paragraph fits me quite well. You can control it until you can't. Further, you can't really predict when you won't be able to control it. I was "in the zone" for a long time, then got a little loose, then got a lot loose, and have had trouble since then getting the cat back in the bag. But I keep trying.

Lyn said...


sometimes I think that... about numbing myself as a poor coping mechanism. I do that sometimes, usually when some medical crisis (mine or my kids') is involved. I feel so helpless when there is nothing I can do, and I turn to food. I have not found anything that works as *immediately* as sugar to calm me. A long, brisk walk, a good cry, a talk with a friend are all as effective, but take a LOT longer so I end up wanting the instant fix to my pain and food sure does that (in the moment).

Other times I am just being juvenile and *wanting* to eat whatever junk. It looks good and I know I like the taste and I don't want to say no to myself. That's why I eat junk *most* of the time... sheer "selfishness" or whatever you want to call it (wanting it because it is tasty) rather than using it to cope.


yeah, that's always what I find too. It was so easy sometimes on Medifast, until I'd give in and eat something off plan and then it would be a monumental struggle. We have to keep trying though.

Kari A said...

Hi Lyn,
First time commenter, long time reader. I have found that I have to give up my trigger foods. Everytime I decide I can have a little bit, it sets off the ticking clock to a complete relapse into junk. I went vegan a year ago and I lost a lot of weight. I say this not because I think you should try that necessarily. I think it worked because it made many of my trigger foods (pizzahut pizza for example) simply not an option anymore. I don't think that you necessarily have to eat like I do, but I think cutting out triggers forever is the best way to go. Now I'm struggling to cut out other triggers. It's scary to think that I won't ever have flour tortillas or peanut butter ever again. But I know that these foods trigger compulsive eating so I have to let them go. Or I will keep fighting them forever.