This personal experience was perhaps the biggest motivator behind writing my book, “Rebalancing the Addictive Mind: Beating Addiction with Exercise and Nutrition”.
When I exited hospital detox September 10, 2001, I weighed 20 pounds over my healthy weight. Not age-25 weight. Not collegiate-athlete weight. Healthy, average, 40-year old woman weight. From there, over the next four months, I gained an additional 40 pounds!
Finally, my doctor said “Hey, you know what? You’re now officially obese. I know you’re trying to stay clean and sober, and I wasn’t worried about weight gain initially. Unfortunately your blood pressure is way up. You need to do something about this. Here’s the number for a dietitian. Call her.”
I did feel fat. I was fat! But somehow I really hadn’t noticed it (or was in denial) because I felt so good about the fact that I was actually staying clean and sober – and felt that maybe I was getting a little bit better each and every day.
What was happening?
Well, in hindsight, it’s pretty simple to see. Not only was all the sugar and fat I was eating helping to satisfy drug and alcohol cravings, but I was eating to my feelings! In spite of the fact that I felt better in some ways, I still felt terrible about myself in many other ways. Little did I know that my eating habits were like pouring gasoline on a fire of mood swings, racing thoughts, irritability and fatigue …and, of course, cardiovascular disease.
The strange thing about all that was this: my over-eating and bingeing on bags of candy and chocolate reminded me of that last vestige of sanity before I went over the cliff into addiction. Remember that moment when your sane brain said “Hey, this drinking/drug usage has crossed a line. This is no longer normal partying/using”? And your addictive brain responded, “F-U, I’ll do what I want!”?
So, I went to see the dietician. And immediately felt overwhelmed by her advice. Maybe I wasn’t listening. Or maybe I heard what I expected to hear. I simply felt that what she was telling me to do way too much all at once.
Why? Food had become my security blanket. I had just given up drugs and alcohol. I needed something. And darn it! I had earned that! (Anyone recognize the addictive and impulsive thinking here?)
That’s why, in the book, I emphasize the importance of changing our diets in recovery, but making small, incremental changes based upon the Small Wins SM approach.
Maintain a long-term outlook. But make small changes in the short-run. Set realistic, attainable goals. It shouldn’t be too easy. But it shouldn’t be too hard, either.
My first step in losing 60+ total pounds was stopping the Gummi Bears. I still over-ate other foods and chocolate. But this was a process — progress, not perfection. The key point was that I had become aware that my eating choices had become problematic both to my physical health and to my recovery. It was up to me to take responsibility for the change that needed to take place. Incidentally, it took me two years to lose the weight. And I did so by removing some foods from my diet, substituting for others, and introducing light, then moderate, exercise into my lifestyle.
And I won’t lie and say it’s not something I need to watch to this day. And my weight has bounced +/- 10 pounds at various times in recovery. But that’s who I am. I can’t do certain things like other “normal” people. I also can’t run anymore because of arthritis in my knee. I can choose to complain and make excuses, or I can choose to take full responsibility, make the necessary adjustments, and live life on life’s terms. I chose the latter. So should you.