I came across this great quote from Joan Chittester, an extraordinary radical nun, who writes very interesting books. “We have a chance [at all stages of life] to be the best self we’ve ever been,” she says. “And we have the chance to help others do the same.”
This got me thinking about my best Self and how abstinence from demon foods and overeating gives me a much greater chance of being guided by that best Self. When I succumb to the seduction of numbness, my best Self recedes from me in a kind of sadness that I’m making the same old mistakes again and again.
Abstinence is my key to my best Self. I know that and yet I don’t always choose it. But when I attend to the second part of the quote, helping others do the same, there’s a stronger pull to put the food down and live consciously.
How is your relationship with food connected to your relationship with your best Self?
I’ve been coming across the idea of risking more and more often from a number of different sources lately. First, the women and money group I mentioned in the last post where we each expressed a big risk we could take. Then the same conversation has appeared in several books I’m reading for an upcoming course I’m taking on Deep Vocation as I move towards retiring from my paid work. In those teachings, living a fully conscious and considered life always involves risk-taking.
Of course, recovery from food addiction is by nature a risky business. We have to give up the seduction of comfort and lethargy that lies deep in our relationship with food as sedative. We have to risk that we will survive as our feelings surface and ask again to be dealt with. We have to find a way to be okay in a steady state of alertness and consciousness that we have pushed away for so long. We have to be willing to face the large and small demons that cornered us in the past and encouraged us to eat our way to safety.
So when it came my turn to speak my big risk into the circle last Sunday, I spoke my need to find true peace with food, to stop self-medicating and face my dragons. I have the willingness. Now I’m looking for the courage to risk.
What big risk could you take towards further healing with food?
In a women’s money group I belong to, we had an exhilarating conversation about taking big risks, and I got to thinking about what might be in my way of doing that. I was having lunch afterwards with my friend Pam and it occurred to me to challenge us both to a week-long abstinence from TV watching.
This wasn’t directly related to food because I seldom eat a meal in front of the TV. I’ve trained myself to eat at a table and read or write or think instead. And I haven’t had commercial TV or cable since 9-11. But I’m still seduced into long evenings of Netflix or amazon Prime where one episode rolls automatically into another and suddenly I’ve been on my butt for four hours—well-entertained, to be sure, but passive, really passive.
Because I’ve worked systematically in recover to reduce as much stress as I can, my addiction to TV isn’t as a stress reliever. It’s just easier than something where I think, respond, create. And my deep sense of anxiety when I gave it up tells me there’s something here for me to really look at. Today is Day 5 of 7 and I’m feeling more connected to my life. That’s a big thing!
Where are you seduced by comfort and lethargy that doesn’t serve you well?
I’ve been fooling around with granola. The very very low sugar kind. Eating it for a meal with berries and nuts. But it’s turning out to be as bad a relationship as a seedy motel with a married man.
You see, one bowl isn’t always enough. And I’m finding myself tempted to move from the very very low sugar kind to the low sugar kind, just a couple of grams more per serving. And I’ve moved from skim milk to half and half. And I know what I’m doing. I really do. I’m still looking for ice cream.
Ice cream is at the very heart of my addiction to sugar. It’s the perfect combination of fat, sweet, and flavors that puts me in the numbing coma that I’m still drawn to. I know that ice cream is not in my future, not if I want to be sane and have a prayer of a chance of a normal size body. But I still want it.
So when I began to see that granola and fruit and cream was in response to an ice cream longing, I knew I had to let it go. But not without regret.
What slippery-slope foods have you fooled around with?
You’ll have noticed in the last few posts that I’ve been thinking a lot about self-talk, most especially my own. Part of being in healthy conversations is monitoring our assumptions. I was at the grocery store today and bought black beans. My inner voice started talking to me about buying flour tortillas to go with them. As I’d eaten some flour on my trip abroad without big cravings, there was an assumption in there that this would be okay.
Assumptions are tricky devils. They appear to us as facts (“I could never do X”) when they’re not necessarily true; we treat them as beliefs (“People always X”) when thinking that doesn’t promote peace or happiness in our life; we treat them as real when all they are, are thoughts (“I should be able to eat flour”). And just like that clever saying, “Don’t believe everything you think,” most of us are better served by examining our assumptions for what they are rather than assuming our assumptions are valid.
Because disordered eating and chronic struggle with food has been such a big part of our lives, it’s not surprising that most of us have a lot of assumptions about recovery before we ever experience it. We’re skeptical (“that will never work”), jaded (“I’ve already tried that and it didn’t work”), and discouraged (“nothing works for me”). But those assumptions, those false beliefs don’t serve us. It’s almost never true that we can’t lose any weight if we follow a healthy diet of vegetables, fruit, small amounts of protein, and few or no grains and eat these in moderate amounts. Whether it’s what we eat or how much or both, change is possible if we are persistent.
Just like other forms of self-talk, assumptions that empower us (I can find an exercise program that fits my life) serve us better than those that disempower us (I don’t have time to exercise). Those of us who suffer from food addiction need our own help in choosing assumptions and other forms of self-talk that move us toward recovery, not away from it.
What new assumptions could you make that would strengthen your recovery?
I’m in a food slump. In the years I’ve been serious about recovering from food addiction, I’ve encountered several of these. The thrill of peanut butter with apple, of meat sauce on roasted veggies, of big salads dissipates after a few months. I know that for me a return to sugar and flour is neither feasible nor desirable, so I have to get creative with what is on my plan. Here are a few ideas that have been helping me.
- I add vanilla or almond extract to my plain yogurt. I also add it to my oatmeal before I cook it. It sparks up the flavor and adds a kind of sweetness for my taste buds.
- I add chili powder to marinara sauce, add veggies cooked until just tender, and spoon it over a big salad (my version of taco salad). Adding a few olives or a tablespoon of a creamy dressing is good too. I also do this with meat sauce.
- I mix fresh (cooked tender crisp) or canned green beans, canned tuna or salmon, capers, kalamata olives or olive tapenade) together with a tablespoon of olive oil and a splash of reduced balsamic vinegar. Makes a great pot luck main dish. If potatoes are on your plan, adding chopped boiled potatoes is a lovely addition or variation.
- I mix canned black beans, chopped red pepper and red onion, chopped apple, and a measured amount of crumbled feta with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt.
- In these hot months, I still use my crock pot but I put it out on the patio so it doesn’t heat up the house.
What new dishes are you dreaming up to keep your food interesting?
I attended a personal growth workshop recently and was reminded of an important idea: that the conversations we have about the world and about our circumstances create our reality. Here’s a simple example. If we get up in the morning and tell ourselves that we’re going to have a great day, we almost inevitably will. Conversely, if we tell ourselves that we’re going to have a terrible day, we’ll get that instead. We create our reality by what we say.
This may sound Pollyanna-ish, but it isn’t. Our attitudes and perceptions are powerful tools, and we have choice in how we craft them and how we use them. This is vitally important for those of us in recovery from addiction. We want to be in conversations that empower us, that serve us well, rather than in conversations that defeat us. This applies both to self-talk and to our talk with others. If I talk about abstinence as too hard, as impossible, it will be. If I talk about abstinence as doable and desirable, it can be.
Don’t get me wrong. Cravings are unpleasant and the old grooves in our brain are eager to be revived. Habits are powerful things and creating new ones takes time. But we can support our new habits with empowering talk about how we can do this, one meal, one bite at a time.
Are your conversations about recovery healthy ones?
I’ve had some big open spaces in my calendar recently. This happens in the freelance life where work seems to come all at once or not at all. When I’ve been really busy, time off seems so desirable but when it comes in a string of days, I find myself at loose ends and boredom looms up at me. And this is dangerous for my recovery from food addiction.
I forged a link between self-medicating with sweets and boredom when I was 10 in a 5th-grade classroom that I hated. I bought candy on the way to school and ate it all day long to keep myself in my seat. And I’ve reinforced that thousands of times over the decades since then. Although I don’t eat sweets anymore (sugar-free for almost three years), self-medicating with food is still a temptation when I’m bored.
So I have to choose another response to my circumstances. It may seem odd to think of boredom as a choice but it is; the one sure power we have over our circumstances is how we respond to them. So I can choose boredom and struggle with wanting to self-medicate or I can choose engagement or activity or learning or connecting instead. It takes practice but everything about recovery takes practice.
What is your relationship with boredom?
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?