Recovering from Compulsive Overeating – Five Months In

monkeyHard to believe that it is just a bit over five months since I began to work a 12-step program – Overeaters Anonymous – to begin the recovery process from my compulsive overeating addiction.  So, to date, I have lost a bit over 40 pounds, but more importantly, I know that I have truly begun dealing with my food addiction as opposed to being on a diet.  Besides the simple value of dealing with food addiction as a 12-step program of recovery, as I have discussed in earlier posts, here are some other takeaways 5 months in:

  • in consultation with some basic nutrition information, I am learning a lot.  Knowing what normal food consumption looked like was one of my biggest concerns when I started down this road – that yes, I could lose the weight, like so many times before –  but as in the past, if I only dealt considered coe from a dieting perspective, when I did not need to diet, I would not know how to eat normally, and binges would soon follow. Five months in, because I am working this as a step process, those fears are considerably less.
  • One bit of nutrition wisdom I am following is moderation in what I consume, and staying away from the low-fat diet game.  Here is something of interest to me. For the past few months, I have rigorously avoided dairy products with fat, opting for the 0% fat variety.  Basic nutrition guidance says that we need some fat in our diet, and that nonfat milk is not necessarily a good idea.  And I tend to find that when I use the nonfat, I am left still craving something after.  Of late, I have used reduced fat (2%) milk products and have found they are much more satisfying and filling.  I am not left wanting or craving for more.  A bit of evidence to support that we do need some fat in our diet.
  • The one substance I am not attempting to consume in moderation is refined sugar, as I have discussed before.  I have not consumed any recreational or refined sugar in the past 5 months.  Three times during that period I have gotten a serving of no sugar added frozen yogurt without any cravings or thoughts of follow-up binges.  Ditto, twice my neighbor has made a cheesecake and substituted Splenda for white sugar, with the same results in terms of after effects.
  • I did have an interesting experience of late.  I have read many in OA warn against the artificial sweetener routine as it could lead to relapse on sugar.  Some nutritionists argue that artificial sweeteners are inherently bad because of the chemical additives.  The only time I really miss the refined sugar sweetness is in the very strong Turkish hot tea that I make – and I tended just to stay away from the tea instead.  I decided to give the artificial sweetener a shot with hot tea.  I was quite surprised that although the Splenda did the trick in terms of adding the sweet taste I had previously gotten from refined sugar, I found that after 5 months I really did not like the sweet taste so much any longer.  This is an ongoing experiment, but instead of the one to two packets of sugar I had put in a full cup of tea, I am now putting less than a half packet of the Splenda and only once a day.  Other times I drink tea without any sweetener of any sort. I am comfortable with that.

But mostly, I am not dealing with this issue any longer as a diet.  I am down somewhere approaching an ideal weight and am now beginning the process of maintenance – of balancing food consumption with physical activity with what is healthy overall for mind, body, and spirit.  I am not thinking of when I hit that magic number I will reward myself with a mess of fried chicken or pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  If I choose to eat those things, I need to choose to eat them now and not as a reward for something.

So, this all feels much, much different from any past “diet” as it is something entirely different as well.  Dealing with my compulsive overeating from a recovery perspective, as I do alcohol and drugs, is the foundation.



Why Food Has Little To Do With My Eating Disorder

uptreeThis past week I remained “food sober” along with having an important learning experience.  I have long understood that my alcohol recovery has little to do with drinking and more with living life on life’s terms.  However, with compulsive overeating (coe) what and how much I am putting in my mouth can take on a greater weight (no pun intended) in recovery, at least early on, than the living life on life’s terms.

I participated in an interesting discussion on FB this past week where folks discussed at what point an abstinence is considered “broken” and one starts counting days over again.  I was pleasantly surprised that the overriding response was that in coe recovery, a person can end up replacing one compulsion (overeating) with another (counting days, weighing and measuring food, counting calories, and so forth).

I find the insights I experience in coe recovery seem at a more core or visceral level than in my previous 30 years of alcohol recovery.  A key lesson I picked up from my past three months of coe recovery is that the cravings to binge eat or consume sugar have little or nothing to do with my hunger, what others around me are eating, and often, how well or not I have planned my food for the day.  Cravings to binge have everything to do with where I am at emotionally and spiritually.

This past week I had a higher stress level than I would like, did not read as much recovery literature, wrote less, and I began to push the boundaries of my plan for eating.  And like in AA recovery, I believe that coe relapse is a process and not an event.  I am grateful to have drawn on that understanding – not just so that I continue toward my goal weight, but to better live life on life’s terms.

I find this understanding particularly important because when I reach my goal weight in the next month, that is where the real recovery will need to engage on a completely visceral and gut level.  Then, weight loss definitely takes the back seat, and even more recovery becomes about dealing with the isms of which coe is only a symptom.

Alcoholism, Compulsive Overeating, and Craving

mardisgrasI preface this post by saying, I am not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on TV.  


Also, below I talk about specific foods which in some ED circles is a definite no-no because of possible trigger effects.

I have been food sober since December 20, 2015 – which also means I have not had any refined sugar – or sugary dessert stuff.  I am pleased that today I am not craving sugar.

But I had an interesting sugar experience the other day that got me to thinking.  My eating plan is three meals a day and a couple of “snacks” if I want them.  At night a snack might consist of Sugar free jello or pudding.  The Sugar-Free stuff also gets a bad rap from some in the ED world – I think because of the chemical additives, and that Sugar-Free might be the alcoholics equivalent of near-beer and set-up craving the real thing.  I have not found that is the case for me, at all.

For breakfast I often have a farina type something or the other with raisins – we had that every Thursday morning when I was kid – along with a piece of fruit.  In my food sober life I actually enjoy, cook, and taste food, as opposed to just shoveling it in. When I was at the store, I notice some dried blueberries and thought that might be a nice switch from the raisins in my farina.  So I bought some, and a couple of mornings later, dutifully measured out the 1/4 cup of dried blueberries for my farina.

With the first bite, that familiar taste hit me.  I looked at the package and sure enough, the third ingredient listed for these dried blueberries is sugar.  I looked at the ingredient list for the raisins – no sugar.  Now, I was a bit put off, but certainly was not in the least bit tempted to go over to the sugar bowl that still sits on the counter and shovel it in.

But I got to thinking – I thought back to the mid-1980s when I was sober for one year or so, while taking my mother to Joplin, Missouri to visit her aunt.  At dinner the first night we had some stew dish that tasted so familiar, but I could not put my finger on it – turns out it was beef bourguignon.  The aunt assured me all the wine was cooked out.  The taste did not set-up a craving in me to head to the liquor store for a half-gallon of my favorite burgundy gut rot stuff – but there was just a real familiarity in the tasting.  In the same way, I was in a store one time and could not get over how much I liked the smell of the lime after shave and again, could not put my finger on it until the clerk commented “Yeah, it has a really strong alcohol smell but that goes away after a while.”  Or the factory loading dock with the barrels of distilled alcohol I walked through when newly sober.

And that got me to thinking about how 25 years ago, if the spring breeze was blowing and the temperature was just right, the bar across the street would be calling my name, and not for going in and having a coke either.

Today, I don’t knowingly eat any food cooked with alcohol regardless of the actual content when consumed – I just am not interested.  Today too, as I wrote before, I am blown away how mangos taste so sweet yet do not set me up to want to get the sugar desserty thing that I know will set me on a binge.

Today, I choose to error on the side of caution with food in the same way I did when newly sober from alcohol and drugs.  The only thing I truly miss is not having sugar in my hot tea.  I find it interesting that my refusal to consume any alcohol related stuff has only gotten stronger over the past 30 years.  I used to do a drop of communion wine in the distant past, but have not done so for five or more years.  I am curious where the sugar issue will go.  I am comfortable, one day-at-a-time, of not consuming sugar in the form of desserts, candy, and so forth – not even any King Cake for me this Mardis Gras!!  And that just got me to thinking about pralines – but I’ll deal with that another day.

Since this past December 20, I have not had a craving for any food, and have had what I think is a reasonably easy time with my eating plan.  In the next 30 days or so I will hit my goal weight and then the real work begins – maintenance.  I have lost weight before – multiple times – it is not really that hard.  But this time, I am extremely grateful that for the first time, I am working a 12-Step program and not dieting away the weight.  The 12-Step program approach has allowed me for the first time to deal with my compulsive overeating beyond the food and weight issue.  Instead, through a 12-Step program I understand how I use sugar the same way as alcohol and drugs to not live life on life’s terms.

Sugar And My Sobriety

merrygoroundI have been thinking about long-term abstention from sugar as a compulsive overeater.  Intellectually, and on a gut-level, I understand that I made a decision today to not put sugar in my tea or eat sweet dessert type things like ice-cream and such.  But I also began thinking about the concept of abstinence and what is a trigger food for some is not a trigger food for others and how sugar fits into that.  Comparing this to my years in recovery from alcohol I consider:

  • For the last few years of my drinking, I searched for the magical alcohol mix that would not cause me to black out or drink to oblivion.  I went through the drinking only gin, then only beer, then at the end there were only two types of beer I would drink – one from Australia and a local beer in Ohio – the reason I thought these would work was because they did not have “additives” and were marketed as “natural” beers and that whatever was causing me to binge drink was the additives in all of those other beers – of course, never considering that the additive was alcohol.  By the way, I blacked out on less than a six-pack of the “natural” beer at the very end.
  • So I think today, if someone said  “aha! We have brewed the perfect alcoholic drink that we believe will keep you from bingeing, blacking out, etc. would you like to try it?”  My answer would be a very adamant “No, I am not interested.”  In fact, I realize that the only reason I drank alcohol was to escape, so why should I even want something that allowed me to do otherwise.
  • I then thought about that with the sugar.  So I am committing that I will not knowingly consume refined sugar, like in my tea – nor will I eat dessert things loaded with sugar today.  But then I considered I will have the Herculean task at some point to start thinking about long-term abstention from sugar and what that means – and that perhaps I can eat the ice cream and put the sugar in my tea and so forth and still deal with my compulsive overeating.  But then, I had some clarity –  should not knowing that I was climbing onto the kitchen counter as a toddler to shovel scoops of sugar into my mouth be convincing evidence that I was getting high on the sugar long before I picked up my first drink of alcohol.  So in the same way, today, you could not pay me to consume an experimental new alcohol drink to see if it “worked” for me, why should I treat refined sugar products differently?
  • The above is very important.  If I classify sugar in the same way as I do alcohol, why should my commitment to abstain from both substances be any different, if the result of consuming them is essentially the same?
  • Which then led me to the next thought – what about the sugar-free ice cream, or honey in the tea, or artificial sweetener and so forth.  Then I thought about how I don’t drink that sparkly non-alcoholic cider stuff they put in wine bottles to pretend it is like champagne or near beer because it is too close to the “real” thing  (and it tastes horrible) so I just stay away entirely.  I can see that putting some sort of artificial sweetener in tea would have the same impact – that it is not quite right, and that what I really crave is the sugar – so my sugar-less tea needs to become something different.
  • But I also know that when my wife and I go out, if she has a Bloody Mary, I will occasionally have a Virgin Mary – after repeated assurances by the wait staff that there is no alcohol in it – but I am comfortable with this because I never drank a Bloody Mary in my life, and don’t really think I ever drank Vodka enough such that I could ever remember buying a bottle.  So I am good with a Virgin Mary.  Perhaps honey or sugar-free something will work in the future for me, but that is not something I am interested in dealing with today.
  • Today, in the same way that I am totally comfortable that my life can continue well for the duration without alcohol, though a bit less enthusiastically, I can say the same about sugar.  I have to believe that the proof will be in the pudding as it were.  Meaning that I realize today that one shot of alcohol and the entire life I have come to know over the past 30 years is gone – very quickly.  I am leaning into the same realization with sugar too.