The Fix.

Are you an addict?  Do you need a fix?

Addiction is essentially a compulsive dependence on a behavior (e.g., gambling) or substance (e.g., caffeine) that persists despite negative consequences. A hallmark of addiction is denial (‘I can stop anytime’); thus you must recognize that there is a problem before you can begin to address it.  Battling that addiction is tough. The habit is merely a symptom of the psychological condition. By definition, an addict is vulnerable, so it is easy to see why it is common for a recovering addict to transfer his addictive behavior to other parts of his life, sometimes without even realizing it.  This is ‘replacement’ or ‘substitute’ addiction, also called “switching.”

A dear friend of mine is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. She said that in rehab, they told her that the most common substitute addictions are sugar and sex, but they may also be exercise, work, smoking, dieting, overeating, drugs, shopping, cleaning, or a host of other activities. It’s still addiction. Even if the substitute is not in itself a bad thing, like work or exercise, it is clear that spending an excessive amount of time working or exercising can be harmful. You’ve changed the outward manifestation of your addiction, but you’re still addicted. You may not know it, but the people around you probably do.

I’ve known people who choose not to drink because their parents were alcoholics; their drug of choice is food, specifically sugar. One of my acquaintances quit drinking hard liquor and now only drinks beer. And we all know ex-smokers who gain weight because they eat candy instead of smoking. They simply replaced one habit with another – and that is not recovery. Your brain still craves the reward, the ‘high’ of whatever you did to satisfy the craving; it’s just finding another way to get the fix.

So let’s bring this closer to home. After a lifetime of obesity/food addiction and unsuccessful, yo-yo dieting, you have weight loss surgery. You have changed your eating habits; you are losing weight and getting healthier. However, you now smoke twice as many cigarettes as you used to. Or now, under the guise of ‘celebrating’ your weight loss, you max out your credit card at the mall. Or maybe you have become obsessive about working out. Or you become overly flirty and promiscuous in an effort to demonstrate your attractiveness. Or you become preoccupied with proving something at work, becoming an overachiever or workaholic. Or you spend countless hours online.

Whatever your replacement addiction may be, legal or not, it is like a rebound after a romantic breakup – it is a short-term, feel-better coping mechanism. It helps you escape the downside or negative consequences of your behavior. At best, it may not be harmful, but at worst, it certainly can be.

The problem is not the activity itself – it’s the obsession.

The need.
The craving.
The dependence.
The preoccupation.

So what can you do about it? Well, recognizing that you’re switching is a good start. Then you must realize that you need help dealing with it. Help might mean behavioral therapy with a professional. It might be a 12-step program, counseling, or a support group. It might be developing other ways to deal with the stresses in your life or adopting new pastimes. It might be as simple as enlisting friends and family to hold you accountable or to help keep you away from challenging situations.

To me, it proves that I can’t do this alone. Left to my own devices, I would substitute one thing after another after another. For years, when I dieted, I would smoke more; when I tried to quit smoking, I’d eat more. When I finally quit smoking for good, I gained a lot of weight. Now that I’m not overeating, I find that I’m shopping more and spending more idle time online. (I’m also writing more, but I think that’s a good thing.) I have to be very careful not to let the habit gain the upper hand because I know it can easily happen.  My brain still wants that fix.

I’ve come to the understanding that my obesity was not just about food. Facing myself and overcoming my compulsive behavior takes a lot of work and a lot of time. The key is in finding the balance in your life. You want to cultivate productive, healthy habits and behavior but not form detrimental attachments to them. It’s tough. I’m glad that Mr. Stuck and I are working on this together. I’m grateful to every one of the people who come to the same WLS support group we attend, because their insight and encouragement is what keeps us coming back.

I’m not a psychologist or counselor. I offer neither authority nor expert opinion on addiction. I know there are people out there in much worse situations than I, and I do not mean to downplay their struggles toward recovery. I just want to acknowledge that an addict doesn’t have to have a needle in his arm or a bottle of vodka hidden in the bathroom cabinet. It could be the guy on the treadmill, the boss who stays late every night, or the woman next to you with the Diet Coke.  It could be me.

Or it could be you.

 

For further reading on this subject, check out the book Eat It Up! The Complete Mind/Body/Spirit Guide to a Full Life After Weight Loss Surgery by Dr. Connie Stapleton, a licensed psychologist and certified addiction counselor.  Eat It Up! shows you how to create and maintain balance in your life and helps you on the journey to your well-being.  In addition, Dr. Stapleton is the ‘Doc’ to Cari De La Cruz’s ‘Post-Op’ on their Facebook page, A Post-Op & a Doc, where you can find wit and wisdom and lots of support.  Check them out!

 

photo credit Alan Cleaver

 

 

‘Fessing Up.

A confession has to be part of your new life.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein

One of the blogs I follow that deals with WLS and post-WLS living asked a question of its readers today: do you do anything that you feel might eventually cause you to regain? The replies came fast and thick: ‘grazing,’ ‘not exercising,’ ‘emotional eating,’ ‘bored eating,’ ‘giving in to cravings,’ and so on. Most of the commenters went on to berate themselves for making mistakes and being human. Even though the post did not ask for details, they were offered freely:
‘I am 4 weeks post op and cheated already by licking Doritos.’
‘Every time I add a new food into my diet, I wonder, is this going to be my downfall?’
‘I am 7 years post op, and I am almost back to my pre-surgery weight.’
‘I make bad food choices.’
‘I get so stressed out and then I eat.’
‘Every time I eat I am afraid of stretching my pouch.’

There were many, many more, all with similar issues.

This is the reality. I still graze sometimes instead of eating small meals and snacks at regular intervals. I still crave chips and chocolate. I still mosey out to the fridge when I’m bored, looking for something quick to eat. Not that I’m hungry, mind you. It’s that same rut that I fall into as soon as I lose focus and feel lazy.

It’s tough. Now that Number One Son is working so many hours, he’s often not home at dinnertime. When I come home, Mr. Stuck is often working outside in the nice weather, and when I ask him if he’s hungry, he says no. So I don’t make dinner. When he comes inside after dark, that’s when he’s hungry, and then it’s nearly bedtime. Instead of eating a nutrition-packed, tasty meal lovingly prepared, we end up grabbing a couple slices of cheese and a few crackers, some cookies, or a hard boiled egg. Or a beer. Or maybe nothing.

This is not how I envisioned my post-op life. I was going to have a fridge full of perfectly-portioned, healthy meals and snacks that would keep me from eating the unhealthy stuff. I wasn’t going to indulge in chips and cookies and ice cream. That was the old me. I was going to cook up new, exciting recipes from my new WLS cookbook. There would be kale and broccoli and fish and chicken and all sorts of nutritious goodies to choose from. I would eat like a thin person, not like a fat person.

Well, we did pretty well for a while. Mr. Stuck discovered he loves kale, and we started eating more fish and chicken and far less beef and pork. I tried a few new recipes. I would bring home produce and immediately prepare it, cutting celery into sticks and chunking up cantaloupe. We cut out almost all starches like bread, potatoes, and pasta. We drank mostly water. When we ate out, we would split an entrée and have more than enough food.

But then the old habits returned with a vengeance: junk food appeared in my grocery cart. Instead of splitting restaurant meals, we would each order what we wanted, and sometimes we had cocktails, too. Instead of trying to stick with our schedule of eating every couple of hours, we found ourselves skipping meals, eating here and there, and grazing whatever was available. Instead of small, measured portions, we ate larger quantities over longer periods. We got complacent.

This is a huge lesson. As much as I’ve heard it and said it myself, I still need to remember that WLS is not a magic wand. My surgery did not change my poor eating habits, my self-image, my cravings, my emotions, my baggage, or my conditioning. It didn’t make me automatically love exercise. It didn’t give me license to return to the way I did things before, like a ‘get out of jail free’ card. It didn’t excuse me from having to watch what I eat, and it didn’t make me healthy.

I am the only one who can do those things.

I noticed also on that blog post that several commenters mentioned counseling and support groups. I was glad to see that. I, for one, need the support and encouragement of family and friends.  (I think we all do.)  I am convinced that the best way to be successful for me and Mr. Stuck is to go to our meetings and talk that stuff out. When I do, I find that everyone else feels the same way. They offer ‘been there, done that’ tips on dealing with the problems we all encounter. They acknowledge that we are all human and we will make mistakes, but they offer encouragement, not criticism like we so readily give ourselves. It is so easy to fall back into those bad habits, and it is so hard to admit that to ourselves. Being with people who have stubbed their toes on that same rock makes it so much easier to deal with.

I may look like a whole new person, but I’m just the same old person in a smaller package. It is not surgery that makes me new – it is the commitment I make to myself, that I love myself enough to make these changes and stick with them. It’s not my smaller stomach — it is that I value myself enough to work hard, learn from my mistakes, and get back up after I fall off the wagon.

Thanks to Bariatric Foodie for the food for thought.

photo credit: Steve Wilson