Bedroom Slippers

“My first sponsor told me that food and eating addiction is the strongest of all the addictions yet other addicts are hospitalized to sit around in their bedroom slippers for thirty days before they graduate to a half-way house. New (Greysheeters) think they can continue doing their (usually) crazy lives while detoxing, learning to be abstinent from sugar, grains and refined carbos, and establishing a new way of living. Wear your figurative bedroom slippers for at least the first thirty days” —-member of GSA

I asked this woman if I could share what her sponsor told her with my readers. It underscores what I want to tell everyone who is detoxing from sugar and grains. As a population, we do not take seriously enough the deadly power of those substances on food addicts. We have grown up thinking that we can just make up our minds to lose weight, find a diet that we think we can stick to and then go on with our lives changing nothing. Even after years of losing and gaining wight over and over, it still doesn’t occur to most of us that in order to kick the dependency on these substances, we have to do what every other addict has to do: cut out everything that isn’t absolutely necessary for our daily life and focus on getting through the detox and withdrawal time.

There are those in the substance abuse field who think that sugar is as hard or harder to kick than heroin. Just the fact that they think this should be important information for us. My own experience is that for me to get through this difficult part of recovery, I had to find a group of other food addicts and place myself right in the middle. I had to call on them for help and advice and just to talk to me on a daily basis. I had to commit out loud to another person (in my case, my sponsor) exactly what I was going to eat that day. Experience and my history showed that unless I did that, I could not be trusted to follow through on my intention even though it was helping ME that I was doing this for. I joined them in group meetings as often as I could. I had a friend at the time who told me “you need your brain washed! Everything you thought you knew about weight, food and how to deal with the accompanying shame is wrong. You are a food addict, you need to start thinking like a food addict.”

There are care units for compulsive eaters and food addicts. They are expensive. I didn’t have health insurance that would cover that kind of treatment. I had to create the CARE unit myself. I capitalized the word CARE because self-care is not something I was familiar with. I focused on others and assumed they would do the same—care for me. Then someone said ‘You have to do this for yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. YOU are your own responsibility.’

After many, many years of trying to breeze through withdrawal, of not being willing to go 100% in total acceptance that I had a disease that would kill me, that wanted me dead, I let go of all my preconceived notions and followed the examples of those that went before me. Now 15 years later and 11 years of back to back uninterrupted abstinence from sugar and grains and MORE, I believe these words more than ever. The further I am from that last binge, the clearer my head gets on how insanely I binged, how crazily I tried to run my life, how distorted my thinking was in order to rationalize eating foods I thought nurtured me (and, in fact, were killing me). They say the disease of addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. I say ‘and sneaky, and cruel and viscous and always just one bite away from jumping back into your thinking and doing.’

Most of us cannot kick this addiction alone but together, helping each other, reminding each other, we can move on and have lives worth living.

What is your story?

Sara

Withdrawal

“Withdrawal occurs once a person stops eating any addictive food. Though abstaining from foods is a contentious subject in the scientific literature, there is no question that it will cause a level of discomfort that often drives addicts back to eating… Feelings of deprivation, obsessions about food, and anxiety arising from unresolved trauma that was being ‘medicated’ by the addictive foods may appear like spectres that linger, worsening before they get better… It may seem that life without one’s comfort foods is simply not worth living. Even problematic eating is seen as better than feeling bereft to the point of suicidal thoughts. But others might find the symptoms so common they are not even recognizable as withdrawal… The good news is that detoxification is not a long process; it only lasts for a relatively short period – between one week and four weeks… Cheating by having a bite here or a spoonful there is also an excellent way to suffer withdrawal in perpetuity. Withdrawal will not end if the substance is constantly being reintroduced back into the brain reward pathway.” 
― Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: Recovery from Food Addiction

Some people who believe they are food addicts and let go of the substances that make us sick: sugar, grains and refined carbos, are completely surprised and shocked by how bad the detoxing and withdrawal process is. Even smart, well educated people with knowledge of food addiction, seem taken by surprise at the discomfort. The discomfort can be great. The physical detoxing can last anywhere from three to twenty-one days. But the emotional withdrawal can last a long time. We know that drug addicts and alcoholics go through bad times. Withdrawal symptoms can include severe anxiety, headaches, sadness, anger, sweating, shaking, disorientation and depression. Why are we so surprised that sugar and grains do the same thing. I think it’s because most of us come from a diet mentality. It’s just food and we go without until we reach our goal weight. Then we are told we can have all those foods back. After all, we’ve earned it! So clearly, they aren’t bad, just give them up for awhile until we get down to a weight we like.

WRONG! That might be true for non-food addicts. They can give up those sugary foods, using willpower, and then not abuse them once they lose the weight. But not us food addicts. Those ingredients are like putting poison in our system. Enough of it for a long time and they will kill us. Strong words I know. The truth is it’s so much easier never to eat those substances than give them up, take them back, give them up, take them back. As Dr. Tarman says “Withdrawal will not end if the substance is constantly being re-introduced back into the brain reward pathway.”

I believe this is why addicts cannot get sober or abstinent on their own. The opposite of addiction is connection. We take away something from our bodies that it is habituated to and it leaves a big hole. We have to fill it with something or we won’t last through the withdrawal. The best (and cheapest) way to fill that hole is to find other recovering food addicts. Talk to them, find out how they got through painful times. They will tell you. They will also tell you to make wonderful meals, to love your food. There is no deprivation in letting go of sugar and grains. When was the last time you felt joyously happy after bingeing on sugar? What’s left without those foods? An abundance of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, fish, chicken, beef or, if you are vegan, other proteins.

Look into the Twelve-Step programs. There are a number of food programs. The worse the food addiction, the more structure one needs. Find out what the community of people are like. Are they happy, in recovery and can tell you about it? Do they reach out to you because they know how you are suffering? Because they’ve been there and know what you are going through? Those are the people you want to surround yourself with. People who can say “I did and you can to.” Yes, sometimes the pain gets worse before it gets better. Do you remember pulling a splinter out of your foot? It always hurts more for a short time. There is a hole there and the air is getting in. Soon it will close up and the body, our magnificent bodies, will heal the wound.

Getting rid of the poison we put in our bodies is worth the short time pain. Then you have the possibility for a life full of other things than obsessing about food. And you get to have different problems just like normal people and not the same problem over and over and over–how to stop eating?

Have you been through withdrawal? Write me and let me know how it was for you.

Sara

What Exactly is Withdrawal: https://foodaddictionresearch.org/question-and-answer/what-is-withdrawal/

Is Food withdrawal a real thing?: https://health.usnews.com/wellness/articles/2017-01-03/is-food-withdrawal-a-real-thing

Food Addiction: Consideration of Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms: https://www.addictionhope.com/blog/food-addiction-withdrawal-detox/

“Withdrawal occurs once a person stops eating any addictive food. Though abstaining from foods is a contentious subject in the scientific literature, there is no question that it will cause a level of discomfort that often drives addicts back to eating…

Feelings of deprivation, obsessions about food, and anxiety arising from unresolved trauma that was being ‘medicated’ by the addictive foods may appear like spectres that linger, worsening before they get better…” ― Vera Tarman, Food Junkies: The Truth About Food Addiction

Dr Tarman’s book. Available at your Indie Bookstore or Amazon.com

All my life, I was told that I just needed to get a grip, pull my bootstraps up, that discipline was the word when it comes to dieting. That I couldn’t diet or, if I did lose weight on some diet, wasn’t able to keep it off, caused me no end of shame and humiliation. It was reflected in every area of my life. I was known as the girl who could never finish anything. I would be gun-ho about learning to play the guitar and after four lessons, I was ready to give up. In my head, I had determined how much I should know after four sessions. It didn’t happen that way.

After I became a therapist, I started doing research on different drugs. I went to recovery centres, asked a lot of questions and took careful notes. One thing that stood out everywhere was addiction professionals telling me that sugar was harder to kick than heroin. I’ve never tried heroin so I can’t speak from my own experience. These people were speaking from experience of their work, having done brain research and talking to multi-addicted addicts. ‘Why didn’t people tell me this?’ I wailed internally, ‘How could they let me think that getting off sugar was easy or should be easy?’ More research and more talking revealed that the majority of people just plain didn’t know. Neither of my parents had a weight problem. They had nothing to go on except what they were told. Food was food. Why would anything be suspect of a hidden drug with the power of heroin. Alcohol and drugs were different. People my parents age had seen Days of Wine And Roses and Man with the Golden Arm. They were the real mccoy. Take sugar and grains away from a practicing food addict and you will see a similar type of withdrawal as to drugs. It is so uncomfortable and scary that, unless a person has been forwarned to expect a time of de-toxing, the compulsive eater will ran as fast as she or he can to the refridgerator or McDonalds.

If you are jonesing for sugar and flour and going through withdrawal without much support, which of these is going to be calling your name? Do food addicts have a chance?

How do we get educated? How do we help our families, ourselves, our students, our patients? First take an honest look around you. Obesity is on the rise at a deadly speed. Then ask people what diet they tried and how well it worked. 9.9 people out of ten will tell you they lost weight only to gain it all back. The only honest places to really get information is one of the twelve-step programs that deals with food. They make no money, they are just one person trying to help another person. One person who has suffered from weight-related issues, shame, humiliation, unable to work or can’t get a job because of their weight telling another person “I get it. I’ve been there too.

I’ve heard it said that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety/abstinence but is connectedness”. It’s easy for the disease of food addiction to ruin a person’s life. The fatter they get, the more shame they feel, the more they isolate. Reaching out to others who have the same problem, can tell you what to expect as you detox from the foods we are allergic to, brings one back to community. Wise people have known for centuries that a group of people can often do what is impossible for the single person to do alone.

Think about it.

Sara