It’s amazing how certain things can change so fast simply by a shift in attitude, perspective and action. But it all starts with more awareness and information. I’ve been reading “The End of Overeating” by David Kessler. When they called it “the groundbreaking book that will change the way you look at food – forever”, they were not kidding. I know, I know, the title is a bit dramatic, like if you were caught with it in your hands, well, it’s because you have an overeating problem which you need to end. It also may suggest you are overweight and god forbid anyone thinks that! Not entirely true. I’m not overweight but I do have an unhealthy relationship with food, always have. And I’m interested in addictive behaviors. This book is all about how reward pathways are established and maintained in the brain, how habits and addictive behaviors are formed and why they are so hard to break.
In my opinion anyone who has struggled with any type of addictive behaviors should read this book. And anyone who works with addictions.
Some takeaway points.
1. Hyperpalatable foods (foods that taste great and usually have a high content of sugar, fat and salt) act on the brain in a similar way drugs of abuse do. This is the reason why addiction to drugs and food have a few things in common:
(a) a desire, a want that creates conflict and ambivalence
(b) compulsion and obsession/preoccupation with the object of addiction
(c) loss of control, which usually manifests in inability to stop or just have one
(d) a strong emotional and memory component (which means we associate a chocolate chip cookie with feeling good and a pleasant memory) and
(e) a vicious cycle of the more you do it, the more you want.
2. You don’t know until you know. A lot of us, who have experienced struggle with addiction, have gotten to a point where we know we don’t want to do something but still do it. We can’t explain this. We understand that indulging in our drug of choice provides comfort, pleasure and sometimes stops time when we need it. But we also know the relief and pleasure is temporary and only leaves us wanting more and more. We know this but we don’t fully understand the mechanism behind it. We (and others around us) think we should be able to just say no. And we are weak and our character defects prohibit us from making the right choice. What we don’t realize is the effect that our object of addiction has on our brain, how it changes the reward pathways and even level of certain neurotransmitters like dopamine. Information is power. Get informed, there some interesting research out there.
3. Nothing will change until you change. A lot of clients ask me “how do I retrain my brain?” It is clear to me now that the answer is simpler than I previously thought. Once you get informed and you are able to identify the various ways you drug of choice triggers the reward pathways in the brain and the underlying mechanism of habit formation, there is one thing to do. Change your behavior. Sure we can talk later about emotions, coping, even childhood wounding and relationship difficulties. But first, understand that if you don’t stop the behavior that is reinforcing the reward pathways you have no chance.
“So are you saying, just stop??!! If knew how to do that I wouldn’t come here for help!”
4. You need to outsmart your addiction. The way you do this is by setting yourself up to succeed. Now, this is individual to everyone. So if you get to this point and you feel lost you may need some professional help. But I will give you an example of changes I have been working on the in the past 3 days. I know it’s only been three days but I feel something significant and life changing has shifted in me and this will most certainly be the beginning of something new regardless of how successful I actually am.
I’m addicted to food. I am a sugar addict. And a caffeine addict. I realized my consumption of caffeinated and sugary foods had gotten out of control. I was always feeling moody, tired and consumed by where my next fix would come from.
I got tired of it. No more sugar, caffeine or alcohol for me. I’m going on a raw food diet. I told myself, this sounds great but how are you possibly going to be successful at this?? No coffee?? Are you out of your mind? Why?I had to shut that negative self-talk up pretty fast if I was going to have a chance.
So one afternoon I did my research, got informed, bought the book above and have a list of a few more. I went to the grocery store and bought a bunch of veggies and fruit. Like a lot. I came home and prepped them. I knew when hunger came I would have no choice but to succumb to my cravings. So I needed to be ready. I got rid of all the food in the house that had sugar, salt, was processed or refined. No dairy either. That one hurt. Big time.
First day without caffeine was brutal. But I came prepared with enough Ibuprofen to kill a horse. Got over it. No more headaches. I actually have more energy, am more alert and focused.My mood is great and it’s only been three days!
Last night, my friends and I went to Crepe Cellar and everything went fine until desert time. I knew I wasn’t going to order anything but they did. A gigantic, fluffy, golden crepe filled with luscious, heavenly Nutella, fresh strawberries, banana and topped with vanilla ice cream! Why would I put myself in this situation??! Was I testing myself?
It actually went well. I resisted the urge and learned a lesson.
So until next time, take good care, be more aware and don’t procrastinate on making healthy changes.
And wish me luck!