I am a food addict. In this era, I don’t think anyone would advise an alcoholic to drink only in moderation. Yet, as a food addict, that type of advice comes at me constantly from doctors, media, and friends. I have had to learn on my own that if I want to maintain a healthy weight, I can never eat certain foods again.
Millions of people can drink in moderation, but alcoholics know that no matter how much they crave it, one drink can ruin their lives. With our epidemic of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and obesity we may have to realize that even moderate quantities of addictive food can be harmful, nevertheless, millions of people can and do eat ice cream, pizza, and fast food in moderation; I can’t.
For a long time, I tried to cling to the belief that I could. Berating myself for my lack of will power was preferable to facing a future filled with only low-cal, low-carb food. A life of steamed veggies seemed like a steep, endless path of craving and self-denial.
Fortunately, the daily reality of my ‘sobriety’ is definitely not the uphill grind that I imagined, although, figuring out how to attain it was. Unable to find a program that took the addictive nature of certain foods seriously, I decided to create one for myself. I compare this to trying to self-manage an alcohol detox while living in the backroom of a bar. I failed many times, but kept trying.
In the face of intense cravings, I had to find and eliminate my trigger foods. At first, the constant pull of my addictions made it hard to be honest with myself about what those were. Many foods claiming to be healthy or good for dieters turned out to be on my list of foods that make me hungrier or that I can’t stop eating once I start.
I’ve found it extremely challenging to cope with the total profusion of addictive food and the advertising for it. I had to purge my house of unhealthy choices and try to find ways to gather with family and friends that don’t revolve around food. I videotape all the television shows that I watch and zip through the commercials to avoid seeing all those juicy food close-ups, but even that doesn’t help eliminate the scenes in the shows themselves where the characters chow down on all my old favorites.
By far, though, the most challenging thing has been discerning the foods I can eat safely. Whether by accident or by the food industry’s design, the very foods that have been most helpful to me are the most maligned.
Try this experiment: Casually drop into a conversation that you had lunch at McDonald’s–no reaction, right? At most, if you’re overweight, you’ll get a look. Now, drop into a conversation that you eat nuts or avocados. Chances are your audience will feel immediately compelled to warn you about their high fat content. Just like putting money in a vending machine that pops out a programmed product, put nuts or avocados into a conversation and out pops a programmed high fat warning. Eavesdroppers have even run from the other side of the room to join the chorus of those trying to make me understand the folly of my ways.
The medical community does little to counter this misinformation. Increasingly their first resort is to offer mutilating bariatric surgeries that permanently impair the body’s ability to get adequate nutrients from food. The resulting lack of nutrition actually creates more physical hunger, but for the first few years the patient is retching too much to notice. After a year or so when the nausea begins to subside, all or most of the weight usually starts to return. The only reason these expensive surgeries even seem like an answer is because the advice that food addicts are given to eat in moderation is so self-defeating and wrong.
I have lost over 80 pounds in less than a year while eating as much as I want of fresh avocados, raw unsalted nuts, and virgin olive oil in my diet. I don’t think the food industry wants us to know that all fat calories are not created equal. It’s definitely in their best financial interest for us to overeat addictive fats, and, when we stop, to become so fat-deprived that eventually we must once again become enslaved junkies. This would explain the vilification of high-quality fats that help create and maintain a healthy weight loss lifestyle, and the glorification of non-foods like diet soft drinks that destroy it.
Once I eliminated addictive foods, including all sugars, refined flours, prepared foods, and chemical additives, and replaced them with excellent nutrition, including plenty of high quality fats, fresh veggies, beans, small quantities of whole grains and 3-5 quarts of filtered water a day, the strong physical cravings passed quickly. They return now only when I make a mistake in my diet. The emotional cravings still plague me occasionally, but not nearly as much as I feared, and the freedom and joy I feel with the monkey off my back are much more than I dared hope.
If you are a food addict like me, don’t believe anyone who tries to sell you on a so-called easy diet that allows you to eat all the foods you love. Don’t believe it even if it works for your non-addicted friends. Trying to maintain the delusion that you can just eat smaller portions of foods that have you hooked perpetuates the agony of cravings, and dooms you to repeated failure. Better to just accept that you, like the alcoholic, need to embrace total abstinence one day at a time.