Not too long ago, I ran across this article in the Washington Post about David Kessler and his research into and findings about the chemical changes in the brain that are triggered by certain foods which can lead to food addiction.
And if you read that article, it gives you a very clear peek into not only my brain, but I'm sure the brains of countless other people out there.
When I read the article, I came close to tears because there, in print, in words from someone smarter than I, who had done research, was something I had suspected all along:
I have an addiction and my brain works against me.
If you've been around long enough, you know that I quit smoking (again) just over a year ago.
As hard as it is, kicking that addiction is much easier. It's easy to stop going to the stores where I purchased my cloves. It's easy to move away from the situations where I typically smoked. It's easy to change your habits so that not smoking becomes as normal as smoking was.
Eating, though, is a whole different ball game.
A girl's gotta eat.
Eating is just not something one kicks cold turkey.
Yes, I can move towards better habits, I can cook for myself starting with whole foods, I can read label and be careful. I can do really well 75% or 90% of the time.
But sometimes you have to be out all day.
Or in the evening.
Or it's Thanksgiving.
Or you workout and then hit the commute and then don't get a chance for a real breakfast until you get to work, which, thankfully, has a toaster and a refrigerator and a microwave.
Sometimes little things that don't affect most people pile up and before you can get a handle on it, your squirrel brain has gotten hold of a craving and won't let go. Rationally, you know it's bullshit and you need to walk away, but there's that part of your brain that is just screaming and won't let it go.
I've tried so hard to stay away from things that I know will trigger the angry squirrel part of my brain.
I don't keep regular bread in the house. Or tortillas. Or chips, popcorn, treats, cereal I like.
There's almost always a constant, low grade *hum* of craving in my brain and most of the time, I don't even know what the hell it is that I'm craving. Because it's not any thing.
I crave processed, refined, fattened, sugared crap.
My latest thing is sushi. If you live near Raley's, you might know that some of their stores have sushi that's made in-house. It's really good. I could eat that every day for quite a few days before I got sick of it. In fact, there have been some days when I did have it in a row.
I also crave Panda Express.
Last night I finally realized what I think I've been trying to deny. I think the reason I've been craving sushi & Panda Express is because I'm craving white rice.
Who the fuck craves white rice?
But white rice is probably the most "simple" grain I eat any more. So if you're a food addicted brain who knows it's not getting any zingers, where do you turn? White rice?
Mostly I've had this under control. Mostly. I understand the problem. I've started tracking calories. I realized how hard I bust my ass at the gym and I've started to get a grip on how I spend my calories.
But I still have a food addicted brain.
And I can totally get everything as under control as I can get it, and then things happen that I choose to relinquish control over.
Because normal people can eat things like stuffing and dinner rolls and mashed potatoes and pie at Thanksgiving dinner and it's ok.
Normal people understand how portion control works and calories and either mind them or don't, but then they walk away from the dinner table, clear out the leftovers and go about their lives.
I understand about portion control and calories, but my brain gets ahold of those chemicals and it's all over.
It's not just walking away from the table.
It's not just making the conscious decision to get my eating back under control.
It's having to wrestle my angry squirrel brain off the addiction hamster wheel so I can start thinking about something other than "how can I get something made with flour?"
And the only way you can really do that is to get your eating back under control and then ride it out until your brain settles back down and all you've got left is that hum.
But that can take awhile. It takes constant vigilance. Any slip and you start over. Meanwhile, you're walking a tightrope, trying to juggle what you should be eating and what you might want to eat.
Which is how you end up standing in the aisle of a grocery store doing everything in your power to not break down in tears because you can't figure out what the fuck to get to have for breakfast when you've exhausted all the "normal" possibilities and you know damn well that, if you don't have a plan, you'll be in a drive through and starting all over again.
Fortunately I had the sense to walk away and go on with the rest of my shopping before following a bread crumb trail to this idea:
220 Calorie Breakfast Sandwich
One meal at a time, I build back towards rational. The eating part, I can handle. Mostly. I know how to make the right choices. But my brain works so hard against me. It's not about will power. It's not even about planning. It's a constant vigilance in a war against myself.
And it sucks. And I'm tired. And all I can do is just keep moving.