Many of us get into recovery from food addiction seeking one benefit and one benefit only: weight loss. It’s nice that there are other benefits but we really just want to be thin. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that attitude (being thin is better for almost all of our bodies), it’s usually not enough to keep us in recovery. Why? Because our food plan in recovery then becomes another diet, not a way of living.
So if we can fully embrace all or even some of the other benefits of recovery from food addiction, we may have a much better chance of staying abstinent, however we define that. Here are the benefits I’ve identified as important to me:
- Freedom from craving sugary foods
- Freedom from self-loathing because I can’t eat the way I want to
- Freedom from guilt because I’m poisoning my body
- Feeling in integrity with my word (doing what I promise myself and others)
- Healthier joints
- Great blood work (healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels)
- Greatly reduced possibility of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease
- Better sleep
- Easier time exercising
- One size of clothes in my closet
All of these possibilities help me remember why I want to eat better and eat less.
What benefits are helping keep you abstinent?
Being stuck is such a common experience for us food addicts that we often don’t recognize the stuckness for what it is. Our ruts are so comfortable that we don’t see them as ruts. There’s a 12-Step joke that goes like this: Give an addict a rut and he’ll furnish it (carpet, big-screen TV, barcalounger).
A woman I know has watched close friends lose a lot of weight and feel so much better on a good program that promotes a hot, healthy breakfast. She won’t try it because she “has to have” a smoothie on her way to work. This one change is something she can’t do. Another woman has given up trying to control her eating because once a month she and friends go out for hot fudge sundaes. She doesn’t see how she could ask them to do something else in their time together. “We’ve always gone out for sundaes!” she insists.
I try to watch out for this kind of stuckness in my own thinking (I’m just as prone to it as anybody else). First, I watch my languaging, shifting as soon as I notice from “have to” and “we always” to “I want to” and “I/we could.” I want to keep snacking, I want to keep eating triple portions of cheese, I could have French fries with my burger, we could go bowling instead. When I move into possibility, I’ve a better chance of getting unstuck.
And of course, I try to figure out what’s under the stuckness. It’s usually fear. Fear of change, fear of loss of some comfort, however temporary. Then I can hold my stuckness with more kindness.
Where are you stuck around food? What might get you unstuck?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the post-travel letdown has had me struggling with overeating. I still measure my portions at meals. That’s not the problem. But in the afternoons, I’m grazing again. A few nuts here, a no-sugar protein bar there, some carrots, an apple. None of this food is bad for me. It’s all on my plan. But eating between meals is a very slippery slope for me as I really don’t like being hungry and I can convince myself that I need to eat way more often than my body needs.
I’m fully conscious that I’m doing this. I’m not lying to myself or in denial about it. But I haven’t shared this with either of my food buddies. Not because I’m ashamed. I’m not. But because I don’t want to stop doing it.
I also realize that I don’t know what I want next in my relationship with food. Part of me wants to lose more weight and part of me wants to stop being rigid and structured about food. It’s an old push/pull that I know only too well. Perhaps just being honest with not knowing is a place to start.
How do you deal with the tendency to not tell the truth about your eating?
Since I’ve returned from my trip, I’ve found myself falling back into black/white, all-or-nothing thinking. This never serves me very well. On the trip, I thought about food very little. There were so many interesting things to do and see, and I very much enjoyed the company of the close friend I was with. We ate good meals but I didn’t need anything else.
Now that I’m home, my regular life seems, well, pretty regular, pretty ordinary. I miss the intensity of travel and the full engagement that I experienced and so I want to medicate with food. An old, old habit.
It seems a long time between meals; and when I’m working at my desk, I’m struggling with the false hunger of boredom and then the real hunger of not-yet-mealtime. I want to fix that with food. I’m also finding myself unwilling to get back on weight-loss quantities.
I know this isn’t something that I can “fix.” It’s something I have to sit with, ride through and it will pass. But I don’t like it.
Do you experience a letdown after travel that prompts you to go back to old eating habits? How do you handle that?
During our 10 days in Ireland, my travelling companion and I stayed in air bnb apartments so we’d have a kitchen. We both eat the same way (protein, veggies, fruit) and we really enjoyed the adventure of shopping in Irish markets and grocery stores. Contrary to what we’d heard from other travelers, we had no trouble finding veggies like zucchini (called courgettes in Europe) and other squashes, red and yellow peppers, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, and butter lettuce. Most of it was imported from Italy and other warmer countries, but it was no more expensive than here in Portland.
We ate breakfast in our lodgings (oatmeal, milk, fruit, nuts—we’d brought almonds and cashews with us in our luggage) and dinner (stir fry veggies, sausage) and ate lunch out. We also had chopped veggies, fruit, cheese, and nuts for lunch on train trips and for our air flights. We loved staying in apartments rather than hotel rooms, and it was much cheaper, both for the lodging and the food.
How do you stay on track when you travel?
For more than 30 months, I’ve been off flour and other processed grains. I’m not a fanatic about that. I don’t have any gluten issues and a trace of flour in something is not a problem for me. But I do subscribe to the idea that pulverized grains act like sugar in my body, and that is a recipe for craving and active addiction for me.
I recently spent two weeks in Ireland and Holland and before I went, I discussed with my two food buddies whether I would choose some things with flour. And I did. I had a few bites of traditional Irish soda bread (not interesting), several pieces of a homemade brown bread at a friend’s house for tea, a pizza, and a couple of sandwiches spread over the two weeks. I enjoyed them all, and I was happy to not feel any craving for more. That was the good news. The bad news was that my intestines were not happy with those choices. My clean system didn’t want that stuff coming down the pike.
And so now I’m home and I’m not eating that stuff anymore and my gut is happy again. I like it when experimenting teaches me what I need to know and I don’t need to do that again.
What has experimenting with food taught you and what do you not need to try again?
I recently taught a day-long workshop for a women’s recovery retreat. I always go well prepared with an outline but at the same time I’m willing to go with the flow of ideas as they occur to me. My topic was creating a life that supports our recovery with an emphasis on meaningfulness and spaciousness.
I presented a lot of ideas, got some good questions, but when I asked people to make a list of what was in their way of having what they wanted, a lot of yeah-buts came up, all those obstacles that we believe in and cling to. It was interesting to watch the energy drop in the room, to see the frowns on the faces of so many of these women. So I asked them go a little deeper, to look at which obstacles were factual (I have a disabled child) and which were not (my partner won’t like it, I’m not smart enough). I asked them which ones led to possibility and which ones led to more stuckness.
It was amazing to feel the energy shift again and we moved on to talk about commitments: choosing one change, one shift, one goal towards something each really wanted and dedicating a few minutes (just a very few) to that commitment each day.
What yeah-buts are holding you back? What one commitment would bring you closer to the life you want?
Shifting what I eat has turned out to be much less problematic than I expected. After a couple of weeks of abstinence from sugar and flour, any physical cravings went away and hasn’t returned (2.5 years later). In fact, it makes me queasy to think about eating any sweet foods although every once in a while, I do miss pizza.
The surprisingly difficult part for me of abstinence is my relationship with hunger. I hadn’t realized how much of my overeating was about physical discomfort at its base rather than emotional discomfort. I see now how difficult hunger is for me and what it takes to embrace it as an opening rather than a problem. Real physical hunger is a good sign: a sign that our bodies need fuel. If we want to lose weight, we need to spend some time hungry so that our bodies will burn stored fuel (aka fat). If we don’t want to lose weight, we still need some hungry time for our intestinal systems to rest. If we eat all the time, it never gets to do that.
I find this hard to remember when hunger seems miserable. That’s when I need to hold in mind that my life is sweeter, that I’m more alive with less food.
What is your relationship with hunger?
Overwhelm has always been a food trigger for me. The burden of too much to do ups my anxiety level and I want it to stop now. So I turn to food. I no longer eat the sugar and flour that would just increase the jangled nerves but I still want to eat more, hoping to get somewhere, anywhere but here where I feel overwhelmed.
I recently came back from a blissful week of retreat, where time was open and spacious and responsibilities were few. I stepped almost immediately back into appointments, two work projects, some writing commitments, and several meetings. While none of this feels like overwhelm in the context of my daily life, it felt enormous coming back from retreat, and I didn’t take any of that into consideration when I set it all up.
I didn’t even see how I was feeling until I found myself in the kitchen with my hand in the bag of cashews in the cupboard and I released the nuts from my hand and stepped away. What I did see after that was that the overwhelm just felt worse after eating, not better, and the smartest thing I could do was nothing. I took a break, sat and petted one of my cats. That helped way more than cashews.
What is your solution to overwhelm?
My good friend Sage has taken on maximum health this year as her most important business goal. She’d been through a rough year of stresses and difficulties and found herself sleeping and exercising less and weighing more than she wanted. She and I are part of a mastermind group that focuses on marketing and promoting our services, and it made perfect sense to me that she would take on her health as a business project as well as a personal one.
Being in good health makes everything work better. We have energy, we have clarity, we have strength—things we need to be our best in our work and in our relationships and in our passions. Sage is staying off sugar and flour and eating a crap-ton of veggies and some clean meats and fruits. This is also the plan I’m on and it’s one that works so well.
How has recovery from food addiction supported your business or work goals?