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Improving ourselves—and our circumstances—is a great idea

Self-improvement often gets a bad rap. Don’t try so hard, people say, or just accept yourself as you are. That can be fine if acceptance is a starting point for creating what you want but not if it’s encouragement to stay miserable.

I’ve been reading Jen Sincero’s great book You Are a Badass. It’s a wonderful, energetic, and sassy take on the Law of Attraction ideas. One of the statements she makes really resonated with me. “One of the best things you can to improve the world is to improve yourself.”

I’m not talking plastic surgery or some complete make-over. I’m talking about giving up the beliefs that don’t serve us anymore. “I can’t live without sugar.” Well, sure you can. “I can’t make money doing what I love.” Well, people do that all the time. Why should you be excluded? “I can’t keep the weight off.” Yes, you can. You just have to create a wonderful life that satisfies you more than food.

What one thing about yourself or your circumstances could you change that would support your abstinence from trigger foods?

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Getting out of the stale conversation about weight loss

I’m back in an old and very stale conversation with myself. When am I going to lose the rest of the weight? Two and a half years ago, I gave up sugar and flour (all pulverized grains), got on a great food plan, and lost about 80 pounds. In the last year, I’ve gained back 14. What’s more, 80 pounds wasn’t all I needed to lose. There were/are 30-40 more to get me to a really appropriate weight. So I need to return to the weight loss plan and do it.

But I don’t. Instead I talk about it and I think about it. And nothing happens. Of course not, because talking and thinking don’t really create change. Action does. And I’m having trouble getting out of the conversation and into action. I know this is probably familiar to you. In fact, you may be stuck in this same stale conversation.

So I’m committing to action. My first step will be to get myself back on a meal schedule: Breakfast between 8 and 9, lunch between 1 and 2, dinner between 6 and 7. I can see that I’ve let that slip and been both eating at odd hours and eating more than three meals.

What one step would get you out of your stale conversation about weight loss?

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Do every simple thing you can think of

We can be tempted to think that moving into abstinence from sugar and food addiction is a big, complicated process. And sometimes it can be. Sometimes a number of things in our life may have to shift so we can reduce the triggering circumstances that drive us to self-medicate with food. But other times we can be tempted to use those complications as a reason to postpone abstinence indefinitely, and that doesn’t serve us.

When we want to make an important change, we can start by doing the simplest parts. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Here are some of the simple things I started with. Note that I did these one at a time.

  • I gave away or threw away all sugars (white, brown, powdered, honey, agave, stevia, you name it) in my home.
  • I gave away or threw away all flour and prepared foods with flour (crackers, chips, just about every snack food).
  • I stopped buying energy bars (most are a form of “healthier” candy bar).
  • I began reading labels on anything canned, frozen, or packaged.
  • I stopped going to certain kinds of food places (pizzerias, Mexican restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops).

These were pretty simple ways for me to start taking care of myself in a new way.

What one or two simple ways could you use to start taking care of yourself?

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The world needs us to be abstinent

Many of us are conscious of how our active addiction impacts our friends and families. When we’re obsessing about food or trying to hide our stash or the wrappers and cartons, we’re not fully available. And when we’ve numbed out from eating, we’re not really present to our lives or those around us.

With the world as difficult as it is now—shootings, terrorism, immigration unrest, climate change—the world needs our concern and our consciousness more than ever. We can only bring that consciousness to those around us if we aren’t obsessing about food, if we are willing to stay abstinent and stay present to our lives. We may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but we can take a step in the right direction by solving this one of our own.

How might seeing your abstinence as service change things for you?

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Taking responsibility for our success

In the end, no matter how much help we find from others, we are the only one who can make the changes we need. We’re the only one who can stop putting sugar and flour or excess food into our bodies. We’re the only one who can eat on a schedule if that is what works best for us. We can’t abdicate responsibility for this to someone else. We can ask for help, we can accept help, but we have to do the work. It’s our responsibility.

The same is true of most of the changes that support our recovery. We have to find the courage to speak up for what we need: a sugar-free home environment, less stress at work, financial independence, whatever it takes. The Big Book of AA puts it quite succinctly: “Half-measures availed us nothing.” We need to be all in if we want to succeed at being free of food addiction.

What will it take for you to be all in?

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Who’s got your back?

Active addiction is a lonely experience. We are usually so driven by shame and self-loathing and guilt about behaviors that we can’t control that we isolate and hide our eating from those around us. We cover up what’s in our shopping cart, we hide our binge foods in the back of the cupboard or in an underwear drawer or in the basement or in our purses.

However, we can’t afford to have a similarly lonely experience in abstinence and recovery, not if we want be free. One of the big reasons that 12-Step groups are successful for those who follow their path is that they are groups, that the experience of the struggle and the recovery are shared. We learn we aren’t alone in our behaviors and we air our secrets.

Overeaters Anonymous and other 12-Step food addiction groups are one good option. Each individual group meeting is different and it can take visiting several to find the right fit. 12-Step groups also offer free sponsoring by members who’ve been around a while.

You can also get a buddy. It’s usually helpful to buddy up with somebody who is also an addict and also committed to abstinence. While weight loss is often part of the conversation, it’s not the same as abstinence.

I have a food commitment buddy (we text each other every night with our food plan for the next day) and I have a 12-Step buddy I talk to once a week about food and emotional work. And I attend 12-Step meetings each week. It can take a little time to sort out the support you need but having someone you can be honest with is a huge step forward for your abstinence.

What kind of support might work for you?

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How abstinence has changed how I shop for groceries

In my active sugar addiction days, I grocery shopped a lot, sometimes 3-4 times a week, mostly because I couldn’t keep a sufficient supply of sweets on hand. As a very discriminating and focused addict, I only wanted certain kinds of ice cream or candy or cookies, and I always had to have plenty on hand (my relationship with alcohol was the same). I also bought a lot of other food, healthy food. I knew enough about nutrition to know that I needed meat and fruits and vegetables so I bought a fair amount of that, much of which I threw away because it went bad in the refrigerator.

I always bought the sweets first, then wandered around the grocery store looking for things that appealed to me. New products I could try, deli ideas for quick meals, frozen stuff. It took me a while (unless I was on a straight ice cream run) because I had no plan, just appetite.

When I got abstinent, I not only gave up all sugars and flours but I also began eating on a food plan: starch once a day, protein three times, fruit twice, and a crapton of vegetables. With few exceptions, my food was fresh (I do stock canned beans, some condiments and sauces). This means I have no business (literally and figuratively) in the central aisles of the grocery store. Everything I need is on the edges: produce, meat/fish, dairy.

I also don’t go more than once a week now. I do all my shopping on Wednesday mornings and cook the same day, roasting or baking pans of vegetables for the second half of the week. The more perishable vegetables and fruits get eaten first. This keeps me out of temptation, out of exposure to trigger foods, out of food as activity.

How could you shop differently to support your abstinence?

More support like this is available in my book, Candy Girl: How I gave up sugar and  created a sweeter life between meals. Available in paperback and Kindle.

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Unexamined justifications can sabotage our abstinence

We all know what justifications are. They’re the reasons we give for our behavior. Sometimes justifications are true. They’re an honest explanation of cause and effect. I was late because I got stopped by a train.

But when it comes to justifying addictive eating, we tend to fall into what I call unexamined justifications. These seem like the truth but aren’t really. However because we want to believe them, we don’t stop to think about whether they are true.

  • It’s my birthday so I can have cake. Everybody gets cake on their birthday.
  • I worked hard. I deserve a treat. Everyone needs a treat now and then.
  • I’ll eat this now and eat less tomorrow. That’s totally doable.

It may well be true that it’s your birthday or that you worked hard. But not everybody eats cake on their birthday and not every treat needs to be food. And yes, it is doable to eat something now and eat less the next meal or the next day, but will we really do so? Even as we say these things to ourselves (or others), we know we’re justifying our behavior. We know that what we are about to do is not in our best interest, not if we want to be free of addiction and its consequences. But we use the justification to do it anyway. This sabotages our abstinence.

What unexamined justifications have you used to make decisions that don’t serve your abstinence?

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The relief of knowing that I’m a sugar addict

For the last five of the 20 years of my active alcoholism, I suspected I had a big problem but I didn’t want to know. Then when I finally began to educate myself about the disease, it was a relief to know what was wrong with me. I didn’t stop drinking then, but I knew for sure that I needed to. And that led me before too long into sobriety.

Like many alcoholics, when I got sober, I went back to my primary addiction: foods with sugar, flour, and fat. Because I didn’t have a weight problem at first, I didn’t even consider that I was a food addict. I just loved to eat. Who doesn’t? Eating made me feel better. It calmed my anxiety. It soothed my loneliness. I was convinced it was helping me stay sober. All good, right?

The weight came on very slowly. Five pounds a year. After a few years, my blood pressure wasn’t so good. A couple more and my cholesterol didn’t look good either. I began to hear “It would be good if you lost 20/30/40/50 pounds.” I heard the doctor and I wanted to change, but I couldn’t stick with a diet and every time I went back to sweets, it was worse. I clung to the medical reports that said sugar addiction didn’t exist. I didn’t want to know that I had another addiction, and I didn’t want to stop eating. So I gained more weight and my health got worse and so did the self-loathing that comes with wanting to do one thing and always doing another. Sound familiar?

Finally a friend forwarded the videos of Susan Peirce Thompson to me. I saw and heard enough evidence to be convinced that sugar was an addictive substance and abstinence was the way out. I gave up sugars and flours on October 12, 2015, and have lost most of the weight and become healthier than I’ve been in 20 years. All a result of accepting that I’m a sugar addict. What a relief!

What relief might you find in accepting your addiction?


More support like this is available in my book, Candy Girl: How I gave up sugar and created a sweeter life between meals. Available in paperback and Kindle.

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Some good things to know about willpower

Why don’t I/you have more willpower? This is a common question among those of us who struggle with food. It helps to know that addiction is a disease, an abnormal response of the body and mind to a substance. At the same time, we do have to call on our willpower to help us in making the right choices because abstinence for food addicts is not abstinence from all food but only from trigger foods. In other words, we have to keep choosing instead of eliminating food all together.

One of my creativity coaches sent me the link to the article below. Her point for us was about creating an environment conducive to making art. But the article uses food as its main example and it’s perfect for us addicts too.

 How to Stick with Good Habits Even When Your Willpower Is Gone