By Kim Halsey
Sugar has always been my "go-to, feel-good, comfort-food" fix. I'm pretty sure I had cravings before I had words to express them. The stories my mama told were of the sugar-laden infant formula I was fed, the strict feeding schedule that accompanied it, and the daily donut when I was a toddler designed to soothe my savage beast. I wore 'chubby' sizes in Kindergarten and the self-consciousness of body size was well under during elementary school. I wasn't able to be as active as other children my age, so while others ran at recess I spent lunch money at the popsicle stand. Can you relate?
It seems like my first (failed) diet was the summer I turned 9. Surrounded by mixed messages of 'you shouldn't have that' and 'just one won't hurt' I managed to drop a few pounds and grow a little, but not enough to win the big prize promised for a successful effort: Patty Playpal - a life-size walking doll. The stage was set for the foe that would send me into therapy and eating disorder treatment later in life.
After a lifetime of chronic obesity and epic diet failures, I have learned a few things that seem worth sharing. My mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual states rode the high-highs and low-lows familiar to so many addicts. Of all the drugs available to me - then and now - chocolate is simultaneously my first love and my greatest abuser. It does violence to me, and causes me to do violence to others.
Here's how it works.
Chocolate is a wonder drug. No joke. Increased opioids raise the brain's levels of dopamine, believed to trigger the "reward" response. It elevates our mood immediately. Any man who has ever brought chocolate home to sweeten the PMS disposition of his loved one can attest to this. Yes it works. Until it doesn't work anymore. Like any addiction, it carries with it the potential for a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality change when it wears off. That's what happened to me. After years of self-medicating depression with sweets, I accepted pharmacological help in the form of anti-depressants.
The Road Narrows
Over time, our bodies change. Our chemistry changes. And the effect food has on us changes as well. Antidepressants are a wonderful thing when they keep you breathing. So is anything we use to keep us moving instead of holing up somewhere to die. Eventually, though, we have to face the fact that mood-altering substances carry side effects. Doesn't matter whether it's chocolate, alcohol, or a pharmacological alternative. What changes is how many side effects we can tolerate and still live life successfully.
Food as Friend
After progressively cleaning up my food over the past several years, I decided to abandon the pharmacological approach altogether and focus on nutrition. Out goes the Wellbutrin, in comes the Nutribullet! When you have inherited a sweet tooth like mine, there are just some facts you have to face. I don't like vegetables. Period. Every diet that requires me to eat cups and cups at a sitting is doomed to failure. The only way I'm going to get those green things in is to drink them. So I do. Life without meds is a balancing act. It requires rigorous self-awareness about what is happening right now in my life, this moment. My choices create my destiny, and I want to choose wisely. 90% of the time, that happens without much effort.
Food as Foe
Without dieting, I can really pay attention to the effect certain foods have on me. This Thanksgiving week - Peanut M&Ms were the drug of choice. Surrounded by grandchildren I dearly love, relaxing into a crazy holiday week, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to have a few. And then the cravings kicked in. When they say "1 is too many, and 1,000 is never enough" - believe it! A few turned into a man-sized handful, morphed into 1/2 a bag, and sneak eating. Okay, my 90% healthy brain chose to put them down the same evening I picked them up so that was good. But then came the repercussions. Not immediately, but 24 hours later.
Will the REAL Kim please stand up?
Every woman I know has experienced a time in her life when she's being a total b*tch and can't stop herself. It's like an out-of-body experience. Usually blamed on PMS. At 57, I have no excuse. 24 hours after ingesting chocolate, I am that witchy wife who doesn't know how to be nice. I can create drama with a capital "D" and then spend hours making it someone else's fault. When I was younger, that would lead me to feel shame which meant more eating which meant more shame, until I had packed on 30# a month. Thankfully, that is not the end of my story today.
Just For Today
I work a 12-step program of recovery that allows me to see where I am wrong, make amends to that man I love so much, and focus on how I can be of maximum service to God and the people around me while he rightfully licks his wounds.
I have a food plan that doesn't feed into my crazy biochemistry, and I am grateful to have precooked crock-pot oatmeal with apples & walnuts for breakfast.
I am grateful to the God of my understanding for reminding me that this, too, shall pass and that I don't have to be perfect to be loved and accepted. I am, I am here, and that is enough.
Kim Halsey, MA, SPHR, is a business consultant, author, and founder of RecoveryToday.org. As an Addiction Recovery Expert, Kim specializes in addiction recovery for HFA's (Highly Functioning Addicts & Alcoholics - and their families) before it becomes public and wrecks a career or marriage.
Go to http://RecoveryToday.org for your complimentary audio "25 Ways to Win at Addiction Recovery." It is a companion to the book, "25 Ways to Win: The Pocket Guide to Addiction Recovery" available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore.