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That old inner voice

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Some people here in Sparkpeople and out in the rest of the world too have made comments along the lines of, "You sobered up and you quit smoking. Just do the same thing about losing weight."

There's a variety of reasons why it's not that simple. You may be tempted to think, "He's just rationalizing to explain his lack of success." To be fair, I cannot with 100% honesty say that's wrong. I mean, part of rationalization is being unaware of it. But putting that aside, there are real differences that are of major significance.

The number one, overwhelming difference is that quitting smoking means "NO" smoking. It does not mean, cutting down on smoking or controlling smoking. It means quitting. Similarly, AA seeks to quit drinking. Not manage drinking or bring it down to an acceptable level In fact in AA they even state that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) could stand for "Absolute Abstinence". Abstain from ingesting alcohol.

So you see where I'm going with this. Not only is it not possible to "quit" eating, but it's also not even desirable. I do eat multiple times a day. My goal here IS to manage, control, reduce it to an acceptable level. All the things that quitting alcohol and tobacco were not about.

Honestly, I don't think I could have been successful in quitting drinking and smoking if I had tried to reduce but continue to practice. It truly had to be absolute abstinence -- All or Nothing.

You may counter with, "Yes, but alcohol and tobacco are both physically and psychologically addictive." True. The comparison is not exact. Those two have more in common with cocaine or heroin or other drugs than they do with food in general. But it really does all come down to chemistry. Every food is just a chemical composition. Our bodies react differently to different chemical combinations. There is a significant difference between "liking" a food -- even liking it a LOT -- and being addicted. I know we often joke about being addicted to some food. Chocoholic is a term we're probably all heard. But there's very little evidence of real addiction, in the medical / clinical sense, to foods.

Probably one of the closest where that line get blurry is with sugar. In America, we have an abundance of sugar added to almost all processed food, so we do develop a taste, a preference for foods containing sugar. Caffeine is another chemical in some foods that does become mildly addictive.

Both sugar and caffeine addiction can be broken without recourse to rehab or other programs. The cases of job loss and social problems stemming from these is not on the scale of alcohol or tobacco-related issues.

But on a personal level, even though I am not "addicted" to food like I was alcohol and tobacco, I do require it. So the techniques that helped me totally avoid alcohol aren't that helpful when it comes to food. They were geared around a "None at all" approach, not moderation.

Alcoholics are famous for having a poor handle on moderation. As a drinker, I didn't want a little drink, I wanted a LOT. I used to be genuinely amazed when I'd be out with someone who, when asked "Do you want another drink," would reply, "No, I've had enough. I'm beginning to feel it."

FEEL IT!!! That's what I wanted! I wanted to feel it.

So moderation and self-control were alien concepts for me. Many of my fellow alcoholics express similar feelings.

Learning to eat sensibly and moderately is a truly new experience for me. It's certainly nothing I've mastered. I make mistakes.

When I quit drinking, I never had a single "slip". When I quit, I quit. Nothing in moderation about it. It was ALL . . . or . . .NOTHING. I could do extremes. That's a concept I understand.
But for food, to be moderate, to be sensible, to exercise self-regulating control?!?! Wow. That's just like telling me to try to fly. "Just try harder." Yeah, right.

I am getting better at it. I've made significant progress.
I have to confess -- and this is HUGELY significant -- my success in moderating my eating has triggered old, crazy alcoholic manipulative thought. My inner voice goes like this:

"You're doing well with eating. You're showing signs of being an adult, capable of making sensible decisions. I bet you could even have a drink. Go ahead. Probably, you could have one beer and nothing would happen. It's been almost 35 years. You're probably past all that now." And on and on.

That is literally insane in the deepest meaning of the word - unhealthy.

It's not unusual for alcoholics to have such a thought now and then. The dangerous part is to turn that over in the mind - to actually consider it. And that, my friends, has happened.

I'm not doing it. Don't get excited. This isn't a pre-suicide note or anything like that. But it is an honest acknowledgement that my old, crazy alcoholism is still in me and I'd be a fool to think otherwise or to forget about it.

Food, alcohol, tobacco, gambling, sex, other compulsive behaviors have their similarities, but they are not identical - not interchangeable.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • no profile photo CD22518161

    I totally agree with you. Food addiction is something you cannot quit cold turkey. You must use your drug of choice three times every day, just to live. I hear you.
    1134 days ago
  • SUSANH1230
    Binge eating disorder has been recognized as a disease. The criteria to be diagnosed with this compulsive disorder is eerily similar to alcoholism.
    1135 days ago
    Thank you for your honesty and openness. I grew up with a dad in recovery since before I was born (without sobriety, there would be no me) and a brother who is an alcoholic, 15 years sober, and an aunt several years sober, and a whole ton of family who abuse alcohol. So, while I don't personally know what it is like to be addicted to alcohol or cigarettes, I do have experience with addiction in many loved ones. I can see the difference in food and other addictions. They are different. And yet, food is a very real addition for me. I have never been to an OA meeting, but I do know that it has taken so very long to even work on my relationship with food, that it certainly does affect my life much like that of an addict. And like you, I often consider that I can't stop eating, thats just changing one extreme for the other. And my body/brain is not wired to deal with moderation. Much like an addict cannot just use moderate amounts of their preferred drug, I cannot just practice moderation when it comes to many carbs/sugar items. For me, it truly does act like an addiction, changing the way my body and brain function, not just wanting food. Thanks for opening up this discussion and being open and honest!
    1141 days ago
  • JUSTME29
    I agree that moderation is harder than abstinence. A person can't just avoid food the way they can avoid substances. Sometimes it's harder to have one proper portion of chips (or whatever) than to have none at all. Food isn't an addiction like substance addiction, but there qualities of addiction there. People use substances in the belief that those substances help them cope with life's curveballs, and people use food the same way. Had a bad day? Have some chocolate. Stressed out at work? Have a pizza. Argue with your significant other? Dive into a bag of chips.

    Learning to cope appropriately without turning to either substances or food, or any other damaging behavior is the challenge here. It's a challenge a lot of us struggle with daily. It may not be a chemical addiction, but it certainly is a psychological one.
    1141 days ago
    I don't disagree with you at all, Alex, but I do think the principles are transferrable. While you can't abstain from ALL food, you can abstain from SOME food (just as an alcoholic doesn't have to abstain from drinking water). There are healthy foods and unhealthy foods, but too often the people who struggle the most are the ones that think they're eating healthy because an entire can of Pringles is "healthier" than a bag of regular potato chips. Eat the darn potato, for goodness sake - it's the "healthiest" option for that food group, just don't make it a giant one.

    So the 12 steps for nutrition could start with:
    1. Make healthy choices.
    2. Use real measuring devices for portion control.
    3. Eat real food, not processed food that comes in a box.
    4. Balance protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber.
    5. Eat whole fruits and vegetables, not juices or processed snacks like chips or gummies.

    What would you add to the list?
    1141 days ago
    I quit smoking and starting eat... still working on that.
    1141 days ago
    As an ex-smoker ( 2-1/2 packs a day) I completely agree with what you say. There is no possible comparison. It took me 3 tries, but I did it. You cannot go "cold turkey" with food. Moderation is the only way, and it is the complete opposite of quitting tobacco and alcohol...
    1142 days ago
    You were able to conquer the problems in your life. emoticon emoticon
    1142 days ago
    As a former drinker, smoker, caffeine abuser, and sugar/carb abuser I totally get your meaning. It all was meaningful to me. It's not that easy to conquer any of them but they are all different. The first 3 were the easiest but were still a lot of work.
    1142 days ago
    well said. I have often thought that I could quit if I was drinking or smoking because it is quitting completely. but you have to eat. control is much harder. good luck to us all in this change of how much and what we eat. so much harder.
    1142 days ago
  • CGPS1795
    emoticon Hey Alex!

    Lots of good insights here and a great deal of personal honesty with excellent insight. I love the way "stinking thinking" always tries to sneak back into our consciousness even after so many years! I used to like that very humbling realization that "... there is always another drunk in us, but not the guarantee of another recovery! "

    Lots of good insights shared here, so I won't repeat those insights. You analysis of the similarities of addictions is equally good. This food obsession and diet obsession is a horse of a different color.

    Unlike alcohol, drugs, gambling etc, we do need to learn to eat healthy, get exercise, sleep, water and all good lifestyle habits. Even riding myself of 230+ pounds, I am still learning, and that is the big difference with this relationship to food and a healthy lifestyle.

    But just like the Friends of Bill W, we need the support and encouragement of others who are "doing and living it!"

    I'm here for and with you Buddy!


    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1142 days ago
    I too quit cigarettes (I was smoking 3 packs a day) cold turkey. I had to do it that way. I also had to give up alcohol the same way. Although not an alcoholic, I was becoming dependent on it. I understand completely how it is not applicable to food.
    I am right there with you.
    1142 days ago
  • 1965KAREN
    Thank you for your honesty in this blog. My hope for you is that you can call a friend or sponsor when the feelings hit you like that. Just like Spark People is here for you when you have feelings of not being able to stick to your plan. You are so right, eating is not something you can quit cold turkey. You have to break old habits to establish new healthier ones. You have made such amazing progress on your journey to a healthier life by stopping some of those unhealthy habits. That is an amazing accomplishment and you have to applaud yourself for the progress you are making in your life! You are taking control! Don't compare your old habits. Just focus on your new habits and where they are leading you. To a better life for yourself! I believe in you and your journey! Keep it up friend! Send me a message if you need to talk it out! emoticon Karen
    1142 days ago
  • no profile photo CD23074764
    Keep the monsters at bay by shutting the door on them as soon as they rear their ugly head. An addictive personality cannot be played with, it is all or nothing. Keep the Spark handy and deal with it quickly. Stay strong and keep moving forward.
    1142 days ago
    Your last sentence says it all to me. We CAN be addicted to food, but it's not possible to give up eating. So, we HAVE to learn moderation. In certain cases, like sugar for me, I have to abstain (well as much as is possible).

    1142 days ago
  • no profile photo CD23266885
    Good for you for recognizing what's happening. Stay strong and don't give in to it. As the old saying goes, "This too shall pass." Be proud of what you've accomplished in giving up two addictions!! WTG!! Keep making healthy choices.
    1142 days ago
    It isn't easy but you can do it.
    1142 days ago
    Good thing to only eliminate one addiction at a time.
    1142 days ago
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