There is a difficult side to food addiction that most other addictions do not have. It makes it hard for people who are not addicted to understand it. It makes it difficult for people who are not overweight to ‘get’ why we don’t just cut down on our food intake. Eat less food = lose weight, right?
If you are addicted to drugs, you stop doing drugs. That is not to belittle how incredibly difficult it is to get off drugs as an addict, but that’s how it works. The same thing with booze. “Hi, I’m Fred, and I’m an alcoholic. (Hi Fred!) It’s been 473 days since my last drink and…” While I have never been to an AA meeting, that is how they are portrayed in pop culture; I have to assume that at least one of the myriad screenwriters who have portrayed this scene has been to a meeting and is doing their best to convey them accurately. Whatever it might be that you are addicted to, by cutting it out and spending the rest of your life not doing it, then you have conquered your addiction.
Food does not work like that. You cannot cut food out of your life. You need food to survive. Sure, you can cut certain types of foods out of your life… if you are addicted to sweets, you can to a great extent cut sugar out of your diet. You cannot cut food out completely.
People see food addicts as weak, but the truth is that if we overcome our lifelong battle with obesity and do manage to get slim, then we are among the strongest people in the world. Alcoholics say that if they have just one more drink, they will go back to drinking. While this is always portrayed in pop culture, I have seen it firsthand, from people I know to be alcoholics. When I lose all of my weight, will I be able to just have a small order of whatever it is that I crave? I will have to… but it is more likely that I will have to avoid a lot of foods completely.
In September 2020 I weighed 260lbs. I was at my lowest weight since I first became overweight after the Army. I had been doing so well. After an event at my synagogue, the rabbi invited the volunteers to join him for a l’chaim (a drink). That would never have gotten me. It was the other volunteer who brought homemade baked goods that she insisted we all try that was my downfall. I had one… then another, because they were there. We all left the event, and I went straight to the grocery store… to the prepared foods department, where I picked up a large order of fried chicken.
For the previous six months, I had eaten properly. I was combining my meal replacements with a healthy diet of food that I cooked myself – mostly chicken and salad – and I had lost a tremendous amount of weight. It took a cookie to bring that all to an end.
Food addicts cannot cut out all foods. We have to change our habits to those of moderation, and that is not an easy ask. We have to learn to say ‘Thank you, but no thank you’ when people offer us foods that are tempting, but which are not on our diet plans. Had I turned down that cookie, would I have gone off the program? Probably not… I know that had I not gone to pick up the fried chicken that night then my life today might be extremely different than it is.
Now here’s the rub… How can I say all of this, and then turn around and say, ‘When I drop below this or that milestone, I will allow myself a cheat meal?’ Or ‘When we are on vacation, I am pausing the diet.’ How can I say these things, knowing what I know? I know that I have not beaten my addiction… but I also know that I have learned from my missteps and will fight like hell to do what I need to do. I know that yes, I have cheated… but every time I have, I have been able to get right back on track the following day. I know that I have the love of my life who will ask me (upon our return from Cuba next month) if I am back on the program… and if I say ‘No,’ she will encourage me to get back to it.
I also say it knowing that I am nowhere near where I need to be yet. I am not talking about my weight; I am talking about changing my relationship with food. I am still a food addict and know that it would be simple for me to revert back into gluttony. I do not want to do that, and I will not let myself do that. Yes, when we are in Cuba, I plan to eat. No, I do not plan to gorge myself. I might bring healthy snacks for when there is nothing else available, but in truth there is usually something available that I can eat. In truth, the only food in Cuba that really will tempt me is the proteins – the chicken and seafood, mostly – and that you get one helping of at your meal.
On the resort, we will mostly be eating at the buffet. By tempering what I take, and by loading my plates down with salads, I will be able to stay mostly on track. When we are in Havana or the town of Varadero, I will not go nuts… I would rather spend my money on great cigars than on decent food.
Food addicts cannot cut our addiction completely out. We will spend the rest of our lives battling our demons and trying to keep our addiction in check. I have now lost the fight three times – I have been below 275-pounds three times in my life and gained nearly (or over) a hundred pounds three times. This time around, I plan to win, knowing that I can never really go off the program… not really. If I plan to win, then I will need to be aware of and careful with what I eat every day for the rest of my life.
If only I were simply addicted to drugs…