Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I have been watching lots of programs about addiction lately. It started innocently with Celebrity Rehab and then I started watching Hoarders and now I am watching Addicted. I don’t watch much TV during the week, but I like to watch these shows while I am folding laundry on Saturday and Sunday. I am not sure why I find these train wrecks so appealing. Maybe it has something to do with my relationship to food and compulsive eating.
I know there is some debate about whether or not compulsive eating is an addiction. I’ve read some other blog entries on the subject and I know most of us here in Blogland seem to be of the opinion that it is an addiction. I pretty much believe that.
Several years ago I attended Overeater’s Anonymous (OA) meetings on a regular basis. OA is a 12-step group modeled after Alcoholic’s Anonymous. When I first attended OA I was not overweight, but I was struggling with feeling really out of control around food. I was also experimenting with purging behaviors. I worked the program and abstained from compulsive eating for three or four months.
At some point during my years as a person with disordered eating behaviors, I discovered the author Geneen Roth. Geneen wrote a book called Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating and several other books that I really enjoyed and found helpful. She does not believe that compulsive overeating is an addiction. Specifically I recall her taking exception with the idea that we are powerless over food, which of course is the first step in a 12-step program. She argues that diets teach us that we are powerless – that we need someone to tell us what to eat and when, but that if we wish to “break free”, we need to reclaim the fact that we do control what we eat and our bodies know when to eat and when to stop eating. Her argument is pretty compelling.
So with Geneen Roth’s influence, I decided that I wasn’t powerless over food, but I was powerless over the compulsion to overeat. A normal eater probably wouldn’t think about eating the way I do. They wouldn’t want to eat when they weren’t hungry. They might make bad food choices from time-to-time, but they wouldn’t chose bad foods as a method of stress relief or boredom relief or as a way to stop feeling things that are uncomfortable. Is this an addiction?
The only other addiction I have had is cigarettes. I was a smoker for many years, beginning as a teen until I was 21 or so. Then I quit until I was 26 and smoked off and on until I was 34. I haven’t smoked for four years. I don’t usually think about smoking or want to smoke. I didn’t want to smoke during the five years between 21 and 26 either, but I starting smoking again because I was going through a difficult break up and I continued smoking because I was addicted. I quit during both of my pregnancies, but smoked again after my kids were born. Much of the time, I only smoked two cigarettes a day which I think demonstrates a stronger mental addiction than physical one.
It some ways the food thing is similar to the smoking addiction. I ate even though I knew it was bad for my health. I sometimes ate badly even when I didn’t really want to. Like the week before my surgery. I did not have to follow a pre-op diet so I made the rounds for my “last meals”. I went to all my favorite lunch places. I went out to dinner at my favorite dinner restaurant. I considered driving 50 miles to Corvalis, Oregon to eat one “last meal” at Burgerville (Sidenote: If you ever find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, you must eat a meal at Burgerville. Their special sauce is so yummy. Be sure to order a side to dip your fries in!). As I was eating all these “last foods”, I had this feeling that I would be so relieved when I didn’t have to do this anymore. Like I was eating like this because I had to and not because I wanted to. Perhaps the biggest similarity that I can see between the two addictions is that I have gone along before on a food plan and thought about how crazy it was to eat like I did before and feel like I cannot imagine eating like that again. But I always resumed those crazy eating habits and then felt like I couldn’t stop – not just that I couldn’t stop, but that I couldn’t even muster the desire to want to stop. Just like the way I quit smoking and went for years without even wanting to smoke and then one day started smoking and found that I couldn’t stop – that I didn’t even want to stop.
This is important for me because right now I am in the space where I cannot imagine resuming those crazy eating habits again. I am losing weight really well. I feel great. I have lost weight and am a bit smaller than before. I am trying to be mindful of the pitfalls and am making plans to deal with them when they come. I am also trying to do different things. The lap band is an obvious difference, but I’ve also signed up for a 10K (I will be walking). Today for the first time ever I rode my bike to work. Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to do this regularly (my kids come to my office after school so there would be the logistical issues of getting their bikes to my office for us all to ride home). But what happens when I don’t feel like following my food plan anymore? What happens when I can’t make myself want to eat well?
I have been watching the shows about addiction for a couple of months now and one of the tidbits I’ve gleaned is something that Dr. Drew said on Celebrity Rehab about addicts creating situations in their lives in which the only way they can deal with it is by using. For example, if they normally use because of stress in their relationships, they might pick a fight with their boy/girlfriend. It scares the hell out of me that I might be creating situations in my own life in which the only way I can cope is by abusing food. I am worried that I can’t trust my own instincts – like my feeling that I may not be ready for my first fill. So I made the appointment for my first fill. It will be next Wednesday. Because if I am an addict and if I am unconsciously setting myself up to be in a position where I might “use” food in a compulsive way, I want to be ready with an effective tool.