He was celebrating four years of sobriety.
When I asked how he knew it was time to initially seek help, he said, “I finally realized I had no control over alcohol. I thought about it all the time. I couldn’t wait to drink. I was obsessed with it. I needed a place to get help.” As I listened, I thought, “Substitute the ‘food’ for ‘alcohol,’ and that’s me.” It was one of the triggers in getting me to lose my weight.
It was also the instant I realized that overeating is every bit as much of an addiction as drugs or alcohol.
We don’t like to think of overeating as an addiction for several reasons. First of all, it’s part of the norm to eat too much. That would make us a country of addicts, and true as that might be, we sure don’t want to admit it. Moreover, there are no age restrictions, you can do it in public, and it’s legal. Eating too much might make you fat, but a cop won’t pull you over for a 300-triglyceride level, it won’t cause you to black out, nor do unwise things you’ll regret with morning’s light.
Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines addiction as, “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be physically, psychologically, or socially harmful.” Let’s be clear; when you’re hiding goodies in your purse, lying on the bed to tighten your belt, or avoiding social gatherings because you’re afraid of the reactions; it’s a safe bet you’ve met the entry qualifications for addicted.
The bigger problem is, unlike the more nefarious addictions, we cannot “just say no.” As difficult as it might be, an alcoholic can swear off booze, and a smoker can refuse cigarettes. We, however, must continue to indulge while learning to set arbitrary, always shifting, sometimes ill defined limits about what constitutes “too far.”
Sure, a half-gallon of ice cream is a pretty clear violation of self-control. One could say the same for a quart, maybe. But where do we draw the line? Is a cup all right? What about two? To the alcoholic, an ounce is too much. For us, where does it start?
Let’s set the stage: A healthy, thin person consoles herself after a rough day with “chocolate therapy,” downing a pint of fudge-brownie-chocolate chunk ice cream and a couple of devil’s food cookies as a chaser. After sharing with her co-workers the next day, they all laugh knowingly.
“I’ve been there,” says one, “Sometimes, you just need to go with it.”
No one thinks she’s addicted. She looks great. She’s healthy (albeit sporting a humongous sugar buzz). Yet, when I do the same actions for the same reasons, I’m out of control?
See, it’s not really about the overeating, but the internal dialog. A healthy personality analyzes the calorie overload and thinks, “Well, that was over the top. I better cut back tomorrow” — and she does, regaining her balance.
The food addict blows it out of proportion, thinking, “Oh my God! I blew it! How could I do this? This is awful! I can’t believe what an idiot I am!” Berating her very worth as a human being she finally decides she’s a complete failure. With that observation, she gives herself permission to let herself totally go and accelerates over the cliff.
Yeah, we’ve got issues. Yeah, it stinks. But handling mistakes is part of the process. If guilt and shame were motivational, we’d be skinny as rails. It’s not about perfection. Everyone slips up; success will be determined in how we handle it afterwards.
P.S. If you have an event where you’d love me to help with presenting, let me know. Remember, “This Time I Mean It!”