Breaking The Diet Rules In My Head

3 min

Photo by Heather Ford

I am a stress-eater from way back. Cookie dough, icing, cupcakes, ice cream and brownies all have a special place in my heart.  They are trusted friends who pulled me through some tough times. Unfortunately, this self-soothing habit comes to middle-age with a high price. Here’s the story of how I’m trading my chocolate for zoodles and why I’m mostly happy about it.

Am I Addicted?

Just last week, I frantically drove to Walgreen’s for a M&M fix. As soon as I bit into those first three candy coated chocolates, a wave of serenity washed over me. It was euphoric, so much so that I wondered, am I addicted? According to Web MD, sugar feeds every cell in the brain, and worse yet, the brain sees sugar as a reward! The more sugar I eat, the more I am rewarding my brain. My thighs have yet to see a reward.

I tried several methods to quit sugar: harm reduction, abstinence and sugar substitutes. I tried Adkins, Keto, and Weight Watchers. None of these programs worked because my lack of knowledge isn’t a problem. My personality and defects of characters are. I struggle with perfectionism and all or nothing thinking. Each of these new programs just gave me more rules to follow. In recovery, I learned “Analysis is paralysis.” Too many rules means I get stuck in a self-defeating pattern like this:

  1. Green beans is the only food that follows every rule on every diet.
  2. Living off of only green beans isn’t humanly possible for me.
  3. I strictly adhere to ALL of the rules for a short time and then I am overcome with hunger and stress.
  4. In a state of panic, I dash to the nearest M&M selling retail outlet.
  5. Two minutes and two bags later, I’m a peaceful failure.

There has to be a better way, but I couldn’t find it.

How Recovery Helps

I love food, and I love thinking about food. Because of this obsession, I relate my recovery lessons to food and internalize them in my kitchen. Step 1 tells me I am powerless over my addictive behaviors (like bingeing on M&Ms), and Step 12 reminds me that these behaviors affect every aspect of my life. With the help of my sponsor, I’m learning I do have power. I have the power, for instance, to decide what I eat and what I do.

Most importantly, I have the power to do what works for ME.

Based on that mindset, I created a list of “rules” that give me freedom to choose and set me up for success.

Rule Number One: Don’t ask anyone for any advice.

Freedom To Make My Own Rules

Next I made a list healthy foods that I really love like fruits, melons, cheeses, sausages, and nuts. I also looked back at when I was most physically fit – high school. I started doing the same regimented exercises I did back then. From my various studies in dieting techniques, I selected key components of each diet that worked for me. This relates to another recovery tool, “Take what you like and leave the rest.”

Intermittent fasting works well for me. I eat all of my foods in an 8 hour window and then I don’t eat for the next 16 hours. This really helps with my indigestion, another lovely middle-age side effect. During my juicing phase, our family developed a recipe for “Liquid gold,” a delicious blend of fresh squeezed orange, pineapple, lime, apple, and grape juices. This juice is my nightly treat. When I was doing The Plan, I learned that eating only one source of meat protein per day is easier to digest, so that’s another “rule” I incorporated into my new lifestyle. Finally, because accountability is a critical to recovery success, I enlisted the help of an accountability partner.

Confronting The Final Frontier

I haven’t had any sugar for four days. I excel at abstaining for short periods of time, but I have one last recovery tool in mind to help me navigate this tricky love affair. Sometimes I have to wait to make a decision until “I know that I know.” This is case for me and sugar. Until I know that I know I can only eat one serving of M&Ms without falling off the wagon, I’m going to wait. Maybe I won’t ever be able to eat M&Ms again, but surely there is a way for me to set a healthy boundary with desserts.

Each day, I am feeling better and better. I’ve lost a few pounds. I am getting stronger, and my low-level pain is leaving. My stomach doesn’t ache, and I don’t crave M&Ms or other sugary treats as often. This progress make it easier for me to stick to my new rules and not risk sabotaging my success.

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Pam Carver

Pam is the author of two books: Co-dependent In The Kitchen, and Find Your True Colors In 12 Steps. She's also a contributing editor for Reach Out Recovery. She's a recovery advocate who likes long walks on the beach and chocolate.

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