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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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Getting Clear on What We Want Abstinence to Do for Us

It’s always easiest for me to undertake something difficult if I know what I want to accomplish. When I’m vague about where I want to go, I have more trouble really committing. Many people, especially women, come into food recovery wanting to lose weight. They’re tired of carrying the extra pounds, they’re concerned for their health, and they want to look better.

If weight loss is your goal, you don’t need abstinence. All you need is to under-eat, that is, consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain the weight you have. Almost any diet that restricts food intake will help you lose weight. And as long as you continue to under-eat or eat exactly (usually through trial and error) what your body needs each day, you will stay in a right-sized body.

Abstinence is for something else. Abstinence is a treatment for addiction to food, for those of us who can’t under-eat or eat appropriate portions of healthy foods. It’s for those of us who binge on sugar and flour and fat or salt and fat. It’s for those of us who sneak food, hide food, lie about food. It’s for those of who can’t keep ourselves from eating foods that make us sick or make us miserable.
I had to get clear on what I wanted from abstinence—freedom from obsession with food and the guilt and self-loathing that went with it—before I could embrace it.

What do you want abstinence to do for you?

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Being Willing to Be in the 10%

It’s a well-known and very sad fact that less than 10% of people who seek recovery from any form of addiction, including sugar and food, have long-term success with abstinence. There are several reasons for this. Addiction is a powerful mental disorder in which a deeply entrenched habit rules our impulses. In addition, we accept irrational and self-destructive behaviors in ourselves, feeling powerless to do anything about them.

Also, and quite importantly, while we may be willing to put the food (or alcohol or drug) down and walk away, we are unwilling to make the changes in our lives and our environments that would give recovery a fighting chance. I’m watching this happen to two women I know. They want to be abstinent, they keep putting down the food for a few days, but they won’t make the other changes that will let them leave the food alone. It seems too difficult to create a more peaceful home, leave an abusive boyfriend, step into leisure activities that would be more satisfying than TV and food. Even the idea of taking baby steps towards change remains in the realm of talk and not action.

At a recent workshop, I asked the 8 women present to rate their willingness to really and truly give up sugar and flour on a scale of 1 to 10. Only one woman was at 10. She has now been abstinent for a month. The next highest score was an 8. Most of the women were at 4 or 5. None of them are abstinent.

What will it take to get your willingness to a 10? What will it take to keep it there?