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Why Even Healthy Snacks Don’t Work for Me

With my current food plan, I stick to three meals a day and snacks are a rare occurrence. In my not-so-distant past, I ate off and on all day long; not surprisingly, this was the same way I drank before I got sober. Getting off snacking was a huge revelation to me for I’d always accepted the folk wisdom that 5-6 smaller meals were better. But to be honest, those meals for me weren’t much smaller than breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Here’s what I’ve learned about snacking. First, I was overtaxing my body, which never got a break from digesting. Second, I thought I was burning off those calories with a lot of activity, but I wasn’t. Although I moved a lot (walking, going to the gym), it wasn’t  enough to burn all consumption. Most importantly, I wasn’t accepting the reality that it is very hard for me to eat a small quantity of food and then stop. I can eat until I’m full or I can abstain from eating, but once I get started, I can’t just stop after a few bites.

Snacking assumes you can stop, that you can eat an apple or an ounce of cheese or a few nuts, and be done. Turns out I can only be done when a full meal is over, when I’ve had enough. So now I rarely snack. Instead, if my schedule changes, I move my three meals around to accommodate and sometimes I’m just hungry.

What’s your experience with snacking? Does it help you stay abstinent or hinder it?

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Is It Safer to Eat a Variety or the Same Thing All the Time?

Some food addicts come into recovery terrified by food. They have been so out of control, eating anything and everything in excess, that they don’t feel safe around choice. If they’ve also had success on one of the monotony diets (cabbage soup three times a day, for example), they may believe that’s the only way they can safely live.

My mother was one of these. She felt safest with a strict regimen of grapefruit and toast for breakfast, cottage cheese and tomato for lunch, and fish and salad for dinner. She didn’t want to have to think about food, she said.

Others of us see such monotony as a sure recipe for relapse, a return to cravings and bingeing. We need to enjoy what we eat while watching out for favorites that we can hooked on and then obsess about. We feel safest when we try new combinations and fresh flavors.

While most addicts agree on abstinence as the best path out of food addiction, what we choose to eat can vary widely. And while peace with food is our common goal, how we achieve it can be quite individual.

Do you feel safer with sameness or variety? Why?

www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com offers several kinds of support.

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Thinking Twice about Promises and Commitments

I wrote a post recently about the critical importance for us addicts of keeping our word. A strong sense of integrity makes abstinence so much easier. Then a couple of experiences over the past weeks have had me thinking about this some more.

One of my problems is that I say yes too quickly. Yes to a freelance job coming my way even though my work calendar is full. Yes to an invitation from an acquaintance because I feel guilty saying no. Yes to hosting an event for good friends even though I don’t have the time and others could do it just as easily. I generally end up keeping my word on all these things, but my stress level really ratchets up.

In support of my abstinence, I am practicing thinking twice about saying yes. If it’s something that goes on the calendar, I say “I’ll have to get back to you.” If it’s something that feels like a should instead of a want to, I say “No thanks. Can’t make it.” I don’t let myself raise my volunteer hand until I see if someone else will raise theirs. Stress reduction is key to my sweeter life between meals.

What promises and commitments do you need to think twice about?

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Why TV Is Not Our Friend

Before I got abstinent, I did a tremendous amount of mindless eating in front of the TV. I’d start with dinner and then work my way through a big carton of ice cream as I watched show after show. A good number of my extra pounds were TV pounds.

Television is a very seductive influence in our lives. It pretends to be our companion, amusing us, informing us, helping us be less lonely. But it’s a false intimacy because it’s one-sided. It also pretends to be about entertainment, and while some of it is entertaining, it’s really a business that wants us to buy stuff, including demon foods. As such, it’s part of the perpetuation of dissatisfaction that is endemic in our culture.

As recovering food addicts, we can’t afford to participate in consumption as a treatment for dissatisfaction. Fortunately, most of us discover that if we aren’t getting numb from food, TV isn’t very interesting, and we watch less and less. We turn our attention to other activities that are both more engaging and less associated with food, a win/win component of the sweeter life between meals.

What role does TV play in your relationship with food? What might you change about that?

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Giving up Food as Something to Do

I was travelling recently with a friend. We got to the airport early and had breakfast together. Our flight was delayed an hour and we walked and talked and read. Finally, we got on the flight and took off. About a half-hour into the flight, my friend pulled out a bag of almonds and started eating them. We share the same food plan and it had only been about 3 hours since a big breakfast.

I asked her if she was hungry and she said no. So I asked her why she was eating and she said, “It’s something to do.” I so understood what she meant. That used to be me.

My abstinent life now requires me to give up food as something to do. I can’t afford to have a recreational relationship with food. I can enjoy it and enjoy it immensely, but I have had to learn to experience it as fuel, delicious fuel, but just fuel. Not as entertainment. Not as reward. Not as soother. Not as treat.

In my life, food is only something to do if it’s time for a meal. I’m just safer that way.

How often has food been something to do when you’re bored or restless?

www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com offers a variety of support programs.

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One of the Quickest Ways to Strengthen Your Recovery

At a workshop recently, I was reminded of the power of our word, more specifically, of giving our word and keeping it. And I recognized that this is one of the key ways to stay abstinent: do what we say we are going to do—every time.

  • If you tell your family you’re not going to eat sweets, don’t eat them.
  • If you tell yourself you’re not going to snack, don’t snack.
  • If you tell a friend you’ll call if you get into trouble with food, call your friend.

It’s that simple.

And yes, it’s not easy. We have to go against our addict brain that says it won’t matter. Not this one time. Or that we don’t really need help. But it does matter and we do need help.

Our brains are malleable. They can change. We can create new automatic habits, and keeping our word, to ourselves and others, is a tremendous step in the right direction.

It’s that powerful.

What is your relationship with keeping your word around food?

www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com offers a variety of support programs.

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Getting off the Fence

I met last week with a new coaching client. She wanted to talk about getting into a better relationship with food because she has been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. We chatted for a while and discovered we shared similar addiction histories: we’re both recovering alcoholics who returned to food after we got sober, particularly sugar. Then I asked what kind of relationship she wanted with food and I began to see that she is still on the fence.

She wants to give up sugar but not honey in her tea or kombucha, which she has just learned to make. She was okay with giving up bread (she might be gluten-intolerant) but not pasta. I reassured her that she didn’t have to give up any of these things if she didn’t want to. No one has to choose abstinence and, in fact, there are many kinds of abstinence and I can’t say what will work for her, only what works for me.

And so I moved to talking about being on the fence. It takes tremendous energy to stay on the fence, to live in indecision. And we can’t move forward while we’re there. I sat on the fence about sugar for two decades. I knew it was killing me and I just didn’t want to give up that comfort. I knew what she was going through.

So I encouraged her to make a decision. She could continue eating as she was and see what happens, and she didn’t need my help to do that. Or she could give up all sugar and flour and see what happens, and I could support her in doing that. Either way she would free up energy by getting off the fence and moving forward.

Where are you sitting on the fence? What energy would get freed up if you made a decision and moved in one direction or the other?  

Know someone who struggles with food? Invite them to sign up for this free conversation. www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com

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Powerless Is Not Helpless

A friend in my food recovery support group is floundering. She’s been floundering for the last year, getting a day or two of abstinence and then picking up demon foods again. Of course, this is the nature of addiction: a seemingly irresistible siren song to self-medicate anything that ails us. And a lot ails my friend.

However, we aren’t helpless. Our powerlessness over sugar and flour (or alcohol or drugs) can be managed if we don’t consume them. Is it easy? No, not if we’re in the grip of the cravings. But those cravings fade and disappear. It can take several weeks and those weeks are hard. But they do fade. And from there, we have choice. We can choose to stay away from those foods or we can choose to consume them.

Powerlessness is a not a choice. By the time we’ve wired our brains through repeated self-medication, we can’t control how much we eat of those foods. But helplessness is a choice. For my food group buddy, it’s a choice to stay in a boring job, stay with an abusive boyfriend, refuse to create a life and an environment that can support her recovery. Would it be easy? No. Is it possible? Yes.

Powerless is not helpless. But we have to be willing to seek help and accept help. We have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get through the cravings and then make the life changes that will help us stay abstinent.

What distinction between powerless and helpless can you see for yourself?

Know someone who struggles with food? Invite them to sign up for this free conversation. www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com

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Choosing Freedom over Pleasure

We’ve had an unusual number of snow days this winter so far. At first, I like it. Home with no place to go and a chance to get some things done or play more in the studio or read a good book. But when it goes on more than a day or two, I get restless. And restlessness is one of the triggers for me to eat. I want something good and food is still my first thought. Fortunately, it is no longer my first response.

When I committed in 2015 to a sweeter life between meals, it meant giving up the immediate pleasure of snacking. In my active addiction, I didn’t have just a snack once in a while. Snacking for me meant eating all day long. Whenever I felt the urge. Whenever I had any room. So there are long periods now each day when I don’t eat (I go five hours between meals and 13-14 hours between dinner and breakfast).
The choice I have made is for freedom, freedom from compulsion, freedom from obsessions, freedom from the grip sugar and flour and fat had on my life. Yes, I have given up some of the pleasure I got from food and I do miss it, especially on a snow day. But the freedom I feel from weight and guilt and worry and shame is so much more important to me.

What freedoms might you experience if you gave up eating between meals?

If you find these blogs helpful, consider subscribing to the 52 Conversations program where you’ll get extended discussion, great food for thought, and helpful tools for change. www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com/program

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Five Books That Are Supporting My Sweeter Life

I’m a big reader. I usually have a couple of books going at a time (a novel and a nonfiction book or two). In the nonfiction realm, I am drawn to books with an accessible, friendly style and suggestions for living a more peaceful, generous life. Such books have long supported my recovery from alcoholism and now my recovery from food addiction. Here are a few I’m fond of:

The Rhythm of Life and Perfectly Yourself, both by Matthew Kelly (no relation that I know of). Kelly is a youngish (40s) Australian writer and speaker. He has a genius for phrasing his ideas in a most memorable way and of encouraging us to be our very best selves. His books have had a profound impact on my thinking and my behavior.

Help! Thanks! Wow! by Anne Lamott is a wonderfully unconventional book about prayer. Lamott is known for her quirky, intimate style. This book helped me look at praying in a whole new way.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown has helped me simplify my life and keep more clearly in mind what is most important to me. In our land of overwhelming opportunity and possibility, his ideas are counter-cultural and compelling.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo finally helped me figure out what to toss and what to keep. It all has to do with joy. I’d bought a half-dozen decluttering books and used some of the ideas but always fell back into acquisition and keeping. Kondo’s ideas, if you embrace them, will save you from your stuff.

Courage by Debbie Ford helped me rethink all the reasons why I wanted to be free of food addiction, not just weight loss. Ford’s work is marked by her long-time association with 12-Step programs and with Landmark Education, a personal transformation program I participated in around the turn of the millennium.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m not really a Gilbert fan and I resisted reading yet another book on creativity for quite a while, but this book is brilliant and has so much to tell us about creating a life we really want to live.

What books are supporting you in creating a sweeter life between meals?

If you find these blogs helpful, consider subscribing to the 52 Conversations program where you’ll get extended discussion, great food for thought, and helpful tools for change. www.lifebetweenmealscoaching.com/program