Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Methadone" for your food addiction - part 2

If you haven't read the previous post, this one won't make much sense so I encourage you to give it a read before reading this. This post is about a rough "plan" for those who are food addicted (likely due to biochemical imbalances) and is a follow-up to the previous one.

I think that the approach to food that we are encouraged to take in life comes basically from the perspective of a person who does not have an emotional dependence on food. I've written before about how people who have a roughly healthy relationship with food (which is not to be confused with a "healthy" diet) aren't dealing with food the same way that someone who does not does. They see the choices as indulgence or deprivation. Those with a dependence on food see the choice as suffering or not suffering. And I'm telling you that that suffering is not just some sort of childish "I want to enjoy food". It is real psychological pain which is not dissimilar from physical pain on a chemical level. People who aren't biochemically oriented to be dependent on food do not experience such suffering while depriving themselves.

So, I've been pondering this situation rather deeply and I think that there needs to be a radically different approach toward food for people who have such issues. This is a rough plan, but one which I think would function better for most people with such issues than the absolutism that they are generally presented with.

Step 1:
The most essential aspect would be to reframe the role food plays in your life as not simply one in which it provides sustenance, but one in which it actually can regarded as medicinal. Enjoying food is a matter of psychological survival. You aren't just eating a candy bar to indulge your desire for sweets, you are lighting up a chemical center in your brain which shines into a darkness created by some part that needs that brightness.

It is imperative to abandon guilt over eating food for pleasure. If you are dealing with an imbalance by creating endorphins by eating, you're going to sabotage the impact of that by creating more stress for yourself due to eating guilt. Berating yourself, feeling bad, punishing yourself only creates a stronger loop in which you need to medicate more by eating more. 

Step 2:
Knowing that food pleasure is an essential part of "medicating" your condition, you need to incorporate it in the least destructive and most productive fashion. It doesn't have to be "all or nothing".

For me, a big part of this has been eating small treats throughout the day and mindful eating. I eat sweet food for breakfast most of the time, but in far smaller portions than most people. I would never eat more than half of a bakery-size muffin, and generally eat my own homemade sugar-free muffins which are under 250 calories. I also eat small "desserts". I finish off lunch with a small cookie or a tiny bite-size candy bar that I eat slowly and think about. This is a type of "dosing" throughout the day which does not have a big impact on weight. Eating mindfully increases the chance that my brain's pleasure centers will light up from a much more limited experience.

Step 3:
Map out your eating to suit your psychology and biology. For me, I realize that I need to eat small amounts 5-7 times a day. This generally includes a very small breakfast, fruit between lunch and breakfast, lunch, tea time, dinner, and some snack in the evening about an hour before bed. Small portions and careful attention to a balance of nutrition with "treats" has helped me maintain at my current level for over a year now.

Step 4:
Refine portions and types of food to reduce overall calorie consumption without sacrificing pleasure. This means finding enjoyment in less, and this is by no means easy. I'm no stranger to the pleasure extracted from mindlessly eating food until I reach the bottom of the bag, especially high carbohydrate foods which do the best job biochemically of addressing HPA axis imbalances.

One of the things about being in America now which has "helped" to some extent is that there are many more food options which are lower calorie that I can use to fulfill my needs. No, they are not the best choices in many cases, but mine is an imperfect situation. Personally, I'd rather eat sugar-free gelatin with low-fat whipped cream an hour before bed as a palliative than to take an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Both have toxic elements (the gelatin has artificial sweeteners and food additives), but one provides balance by adding endorphins to my brain, the other messes with neurotransmitters in a far more complex and omnidirectional fashion. 

Step 5:
Deeply internalize the idea that this is not a "pass/fail" situation. Sometimes, you're going to eat a lot because that's all that will "do". The goal is to manage as best you can, not be perfect. Also, understand that you may never be thin. It may not be in the cards, but it is better to weigh 250 lbs. than 350 lbs. (or, in my case, it's better to weigh 180 lbs. than 380 lbs.).

Step 6:
Augment the manner in which you try to work with any biochemical imbalance with other actions which also create endogenous opiates. This is difficult if you have a disability or difficulty moving (as I did when I started losing weight), but this would include exercise, sex, engaging in creative behavior (true creative inspiration releases endorphins), laughing, and engaging social behavior (as opposed to empty or stressful socialization). Diversify your life to actively incorporate these alternatives. You may not be able to exercise, but you can schedule phone calls with friends or watch a comedy on T.V. Don't just "let" these things happen. Plan them in actively. They are not distractions. They are ways to correct a chemical imbalance.

As a last thought, I'm going to say, unless you have a medical issue, don't give up carbs. For people who have the sort of issue I'm talking about, carbs really play a role. The only caveat I'd add is to consume them with some fats and protein to try and slow absorption and the blood sugar impact. You want to get the benefits without the blood sugar spikes.

This is by no means a full "plan", but just an outline. Obviously, therapy would be a critical aspect of any attempt to deal with an issue that is psychological in nature. As my readers know, I have been analyzing and conditioning myself now for 4 years. Only now do I have a notion of why what has worked for me has worked so well whereas other attempts have failed. The way in which I have eaten may have, coincidentally, addressed an underlying issue which I knew stemmed from my upbringing. It wasn't merely all a mindset though. It was a very likely a chemical issue which will never go away.


Jan said...

I'm absorbing your every word in this and your previous blog post. I'm going to try and monitor myself and keep notes if I can be bothered. I am terrible at being consistent. :)
You raise interesting ideas that give me food for thought. It's so refreshing to read about food consumption without the judgements and deprivation aspect.

Human In Progress said...

I love this plan! These are immensely helpful ideas for a person like me who matches the profile (the childhood, relationship with food, the mental health struggles) you have sketched.

The last few posts could form the basis for a book--it's different from anything I've read in any dieting book for sure. Meaning: better.

screaming fatgirl said...

Jan: Thank you, and I am glad that this is offering you food for thought. That's all I can really offer anyone. And, obviously, anything that I can do which might help you with your struggles (struggles which I have and continue to have)would make me happy.

Human in Progress: I've got a book started, but my depression has stopped it in its tracks. The book is half written. The other half, which ironically encompasses the contents of this blog, is the part I have not gotten to yet. I'm starting to come out of the darkness I've been in, but it is not consistent and far from easy. Also, knowing what I know, I realize that brain damage (neuron death in the hippocampus) results from untreated depression and persistent negative stress and I've now been through two bouts of serious depression (the first about 8 years ago, and it was more severe than this one). Recovery isn't a matter of making up my mind to just "feel better", but really a matter of waiting for some biological damage to be compensated for, and that takes time.

Thanks to both of you for your supportive comments!

LHA said...

What interesting and informative posts! Everything you said seemed logical to me and very pertinent to my own life-long struggles with weight. I have come to some similar conclusions about how I must regard food and how I need to eat if I am ever to get my weight under control. I admit I reached my conclusions through a different route, and mine was much less scientific. That made me appreciate what you wrote even more.

I would like to add my sympathy for your current state of depression. I also suffer from depression and have had three periods of very deep depression that I have had to struggle out of. You are so right that you cannot just tell yourself to snap out of it! It is a deep, dark place and escape is difficult and seemingly endless. Unless someone has experienced severe depression I don't think they can fully understand it. I would not wish it on anyone. It is unbearably painful. I wish you luck in escaping its grasp.

I have enjoyed reading your blog and appreciate the time and care you take in writing it. Thank you.

Human In Progress said...

I hope your depression continues to lift, both for your sake and that of others who would benefit from your finished book. You have so much good to offer through your insightful, lucid writing! Thanks for everything you have provided for free on this blog already.