Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Food Addiction

While listening to an Underground Wellness podcast this morning about Food Addiction, much of what they talked about really hit home. I mean, that’s really what I’ve been working on, isn’t it? Yes, there are forces beyond my control pushing me to indulge that addiction but blaming everything from the fact that fast food is everywhere, treats are constantly around at work or even that you can’t even sit down to watch TV without being bombarded by the food industry gets me nowhere. It has to start with me and with taking responsibility for myself.

I have made great strides and accomplished a great deal over the past year. Shedding 50 lbs. and maintaining that loss for over four months is a huge accomplishment. I am very proud of that. At the same time, I know I have more work to do. I have a pretty good handle on the most obvious outside pressures. I’m pretty strong in the face of junk food and wheat based products – those choices are clearly black and white to me. I know it’s just not worth it and that there are better options. Where I’m struggling is in the gray area – the things that are a problem for me, but are not seen as an issue to most. Those trigger foods include coffee (caffeine in general), heavy cream (in coffee), artificial sweeteners (xylitol and stevia), chocolate, and even nuts.

The problem is that all of the above have actually been recommended or justified by many of the respected voices in the low carb and/or Paleo community which I follow. I started up with coffee again to try Bulletproof Fasting – many people see metabolic advantages from this type of approach and I thought I’d try it. I did like it a lot and I’m not ruling it out completely. But, I know for me, dependence on caffeine is counterproductive to evening out my natural energy levels. It doesn’t matter how high quality the coffee. Even putting aside the caffeine issue, I find myself craving a stop at Starbucks for a decaf Americano with heavy cream. It probably has some caffeine, but no sugar. Still, I crave the creaminess… There is definitely something there. Even high fat dairy with very little casein or lactose has a pull on me. Many people can handle this just fine (it’s a “maybe” food in the Primal world); I am not one of them, sadly.

I’ve also let a good deal of stevia and xylitol in to my diet lately in things like Bulletproof Ice Cream and baked items from Maria Emmerich’s site. I think a lot of people can do just fine with these types of things but I’m starting to realize they are holding me back. Using them is keeping the search for the sweet taste alive and is starting to dominate my thoughts again. That has led to me eating more chocolate, pretty much on a daily basis. I was sticking to 85% for a while, but relented to 72% most recently because the former is really just too bitter. I’ve always noticed that I get a really mild background kind of headache after eating even a tiny square of chocolate. Once I eliminate all the other triggers, usually I’m OK with sticking to a small square. But I think I need to get to a place of a clean slate once more before allowing that in…

Nuts are a pretty ubiquitous low carb sanctioned snack and have always been my saving grace. I don’t think I need to give them up completely, but I have to face the fact that they are not an unlimited indulgence.

Rereading what I’ve written so far, I can already see the little back doors I am unconsciously leaving for myself. I’m not changing it, just to show the thought process. My brain is rebelling at the thought of giving up the last of my unproductive habits. I didn’t even mention my dependence on whey protein shakes for a sweet, creamy fix. Because I don’t want to give it up. I am holding on to it for dear life. I need to make peace with the decision to stop these things. I tried a couple times with The Whole 30 and 21 Day Sugar Detox attempts, but it hasn’t stuck. I think I never really let go of my attachments. There is always something out there to help me justify these indulgences and make me feel like they are still OK for me. But I know myself best and I need to face the cold hard facts.

The Whole 30 program is probably the best option for me. I need to go bare bones, at least for awhile [there’s that back door again], to get myself back on the track to losing unneeded fat and getting to the healthiest place I can be for me, both mentally and physically. I have always chafed against their strict mentality – something about the hard core nature of their program rubbed me the wrong way. But now I think I understand it better – when you think of this from a food addiction perspective, it all starts to make more sense. As someone who struggled with substance abuse, I think Mellissa of The Whole 9 (amazing post, by the way) brought that experience to bear on their approach to food. There is no half-way when you’re dealing with addictive behaviors. It’s no different when it’s cocaine or it’s sugar. It’s a problem and abstinence is really the only path to kicking it for good.

At the same time, I live in the realm of reality and know that life will continue to be full of temptations and it’s scary to use words like “never” when talking about some of your favorite foods. That brings up all kinds of defense mechanisms that I’d rather not have to battle. So… my plan is to embark on another Whole 30 – I know I can do this for that amount of time. 30 days of nixing all my trigger foods and concentrating on meat and veggies – satisfying meals without all the snacking. To help me on this path, I’m enlisting the help of Well Fed – it’s a cookbook that is almost 100% Whole 30 compliant and full of amazing recipes and cooking ideas that are super helpful. I love the idea of the weekly cook-up – I spent a few hours over the weekend prepping things like burger patties, ground beef, chicken salad, and veggies for quick use throughout the week. It’s been great having “fast food” on hand. It makes good choices a no-brainer. I’ve also been taking an antipasto snack pack each day for lunch – it’s a baggie with various lunch meats, hard boiled eggs, cut veggies/tomatoes, pickles, etc. All types of yummy food that can be eaten right out of the fridge. Another great steal from Well Fed. Another strategy is to eat more veggies. I think I’ve been skimping on them of late, and will benefit from their filling affect.

Part of this journey is letting go of the resistance. When I expect something to be hard, it is. When I expect that I can do something, I accomplish it with ease. That is the attitude and intention I need to bring to this stage of the game. My plan is to set myself up for success. Over the next week, I’m going to phase out the trigger foods above, and start the official Whole 30 on June 1st. That will allow me to use up all the trail mix I made for myself and get breakfast taken care of with the protein powder until my budget can accommodate buying more of the whole foods I’ll use to replace those crutches. We’re also going out of town for the weekend, so starting after that is probably a good idea. I will report back again on June 1st, to officially set my intention and get this going. I’m very much looking forward to it!


Holly said...

Such a great post and I really empathize with your struggle. I related to a lot of the things you said. It actually reminds me a lot of this Gretchen Rubin post on being an Abstainer vs. A Moderator:

I generally find that I am fall into the abstainer category, because for me it just takes me so much less mental energy to say no instead of regulating my indulgence. I don't feel addicted to food at all, but I do feel that the idea of "moderate indulgences" are a slippery slope for me to manage so I try and stay aware of them. (For example, right now I am ALL OVER dried mango, but I realize it is sliding from a treat to a daily habit, so I'll probably go back to just NOT buying it at the grocery know?)

What I will say though is definitely cut yourself some slack. I know you were just working things out in the post and I'm sure you're not at home berating yourself over it (haha) but just think -- the fact that you are consciously working through all of it, and having awareness and trying new things means that you are open and attentive. There is no way that success can NOT come from that kind of attitude.

Change things a little at a time. And don't forget to keep your eye on how far you've come. Amazing work, lady!


Wow, Holly, I loved that article about whether you’re a moderator or an abstainer! So interesting! Weirdly, I kind of identified with both in certain ways. I guess I am a moderator with certain things and an abstainer about others. Maybe it’s a continuum as opposed to being clearly one or the other? I’m kind of like a moderator in that I get panicky thinking about giving something up completely. But – once I make a hard decision in my brain that something is a no-go and I get it out of my system, I find complete abstinence quite easy. This is how I am about wheat. I just don’t eat it. Ever. I have cheated I think twice in over a year, when I felt it was really worth it. When I was eating it, wheat products had a huge pull on me and I couldn’t imagine “giving it up forever”. But, once I detoxed from it, it really has little appeal. I’ve been trying to be moderate about sugar, and I guess it’s just not working all that well. It’s not like I’m face down in cupcakes, but I think about it way too much and use Stevia and xylitol to get my fix which never really satisfies and has me searching for more. It’s just postponing the inevitable. It’s keeping the cravings going and I constantly have to think about it. I’d probably be better off just putting it in the abstinence category so I don’t have to think about it anymore. So, I guess I’m an abstainer after all – I’ve just been failing at using the moderators’ techniques! Light bulb moment!

At the same time, I also get your advice about not being too hard on myself and taking on too much all at once. Great point! Going into this Whole 30, my biggest goal is conquering the sugar monster. The secondary priority is nixing the heavy cream and cheese (not a difficult one for me). I’m going to put my big girl abstainer pants on about that and give my mind a rest from having to think about how much is acceptable. I must be a true abstainer, because that thought is actually a great relief! I’m not going to worry so much about the coffee and the nuts for now. Having those treats just might keep me sane and they are actually OK on a Whole 30, anyway. I’ll just have to stick with Bulletproof coffee (using ghee, coconut oil, and/or MCT oil to flavor it as opposed to cream). A plan is starting to take shape – I can use the bulletproof coffee to get me going in the morning without me resorting to protein shakes. I just don’t particularly like eating in the morning. I’ve always preferred to drink my breakfast for some reason. It gives me some energy and something in my stomach so I can take my supplements but doesn’t slow me down too much. I will see how that goes and if it seems to be burning me out, I’ll drop that next month and see if I can transition to a more traditional breakfast or just fasting till lunch, if that’s easier.

Thanks so much for giving me so much to think about, Holly! You were right when you said I was probably just working things out by writing that post. It definitely has continued here, thanks to you. I appreciate the support and encouragement :)