Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food: The addiction

BRAINS!!!This is your brain on cheesecake. Image by shaylamyst via Flickr
I was a smoker for over 25 years. I know what it feels like to quit an addiction. And I can tell you that giving up  empty carbs, fats and sweets feels exactly like quitting an addiction.

When I was trying to give up smoking, the voice of addiction in my head never said Oh, just be a smoker forever and stop trying to quit. It was smarter than that. Instead, it offered justifications for each cigarette, one at a time, until I gave in and then was overwhelmed.
  • Well, today's a bad day to try to have restraint because __________ [insert perceived stressor]. I should give myself a break until tomorrow
  • Just one cheat. Then I'll feel better and I'll get back on the wagon.
  • I deserve one, I should really give myself a little treat because I __________________ [insert achievement)
  • A tiny bit won't really hurt that much.
  • Oh, heck, now I've already blown it for today! I'll start up again tomorrow/next week/after the holidays.
Sound familiar?

And, like a child's whining, the voice would just become stronger and more insistent each time I gave in. That's why willpower has to be exercised, like a muscle. Because every time willpower fails, it  gives more hope & strength to the Dark Side.

I don't know what the mechanism of addiction with fattening foods is...  perhaps we're addicted to the neurotransmitters we release when our brain's pleasure centers are stimulated? I just know my craving for a chip or a donut feels exactly the same way my cravings for cigarettes used to feel.

I remember the day I knew I had won the battle against smoking. I was under a lot of stress, in the middle of a day-long argument with my spouse, and the craving for a cigarette was very strong. I had been battling it hard for several hours. I couldn't think about anything else. Finally, I thought "this is ridiculous" and I got in my car to head to the store. But somehow, I was able to tell myself "The only way you're ever going to quit is to really REALLY want a cigarette and still not have one, no matter how bad it feels." Turning the car around to go home was also the turning point in my battle to quit smoking.

I have to treat fattening foods the same way. I'm always going to have to sit across from a friend with a plate full of french fries they don't seem to be eating.  Or have ice cream or breakfast cereal (my Kryptonite) in the house for my kids. And I'm never going to lose weight if I keep giving in.

The Hat in Rancho Cucamonga CaliforniaHow are you going to cope when your dinner companion orders this?
Image via Wikipedia
I think we have to think this way about each and every craving. We have to practice the same restraint we would expect from a recovering alcoholic faced with a drink, or a recovering drug addict offered a drug. We have to be able to want it really REALLY badly, and still ignore all those justifications in our minds and do the right thing. If we think it's ok to 'cheat' once in a while, we will be cheating ourselves all the time.




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