Posted by: innerpilgrimage | September 14, 2010

11 Months, One Compulsion

      I sit, somewhat bewildered by the fact that I have gained weight on my food plan. Gained weight in abstinence. Normally, I would be upset, but I think I will take this as a message from my Higher Power.
      What I am seeing, however, is that something broke down, and my HP-given awareness has allowed me to see the truth: I have been on a diet for 11 months. I lost the weight. Now comes the real work of losing the compulsion.

      October 27, 2009: 267 lbs, by a doctor’s scale.
      November 30, 2009: 253 lbs. by a scale at a store.
      December 21, 2009: 246 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      January 14, 2010: 232 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      February 14, 2010: 221 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      March 14, 2010: 214.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      April 14, 2010: 201.8 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      May 14, 2010: 195.6 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      June 14, 2010: 191.8 lbs. by the scale I currently use. Confirmed by the doctor’s scale.
      July 14, 2010: 181.4 lbs. by the scale I currently use.
      August 14, 2010: 178.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use. I am at “goal weight”, within 5 lbs. up or down of 175 lbs.
      September 14, 2010: 180.0 lbs. by the scale I currently use.

      So, how did I pop up if I have been eating in my food plan? What did I do wrong?
      I didn’t do anything “wrong”, per se. I kept to my diet. I’m not going to be gaining any seriously excess weight. Vacillation happens on a food plan; that’s just the nature of the beast. However, instead of freaking out excessively (okay, I was upset and weighed myself several times, trying to will my first reading on 178.6 lbs to drop even slightly then find that it went up when I got back on the scale and it stayed up.)
      So, if I am eating the caloric intake that should maintain a 167-lb person, what the Hell happened?

      Compulsion within limits, of which I am acutely aware and am making changes over.

      I have been drinking diet soda to excess, and the sodium and other chemicals have to have been doing something. I had a drop about two weeks ago which left me under 175 lbs., and I recognize that I started drinking a lot more diet soda right around then. More diet soda than water. Yesterday, alone, I think I drank about two liters’ worth of the stuff. If that’s not compulsion, what is?
      Because it’s officially “zero” calories, I treat it like a freebie. I get something with flavor and think I’m hydrating myself. Not so. Well, since my diet drink intake appears compulsive (can’t have just one), it gets set aside with the trigger foods. Yes, I have just become aware that something with zero calories is a binge food for me.

      I have not been exercising to perspiring 30 minutes per day. That is one very small thing I should be doing that I am neglecting completely. I know the benefits of regular exercise, but I just won’t do it. At the core of not exercising is something so profound, something so basic that it affects all levels of my compulsion–I don’t get enough good sleep. I use that as an excuse not to exercise. The irony is that if I want good sleep, I should be exercising 30 minutes per day or more. And today, since I am 11 months old–a baby in the program, I get to put on my big girl pants and get off my ass. I have access to an elliptical trainer. So . . . I’m going to use it. I’m not making it part of my abstinence, but it is a tool that I should be using because it unlocks other tools. I get clarity from exercise, and I get a chance to meditate if I want to. My mind wanders on a lot of things when I exercise, and few of them are compulsive.

      What I think is the best about this pop-up in weight is that I have been shaken aware about the diet stuff from my Higher Power. I have been dieting, and I have been giving into some compulsive behaviors. While I have not outright binged, I certainly have not been eating as sanely as I can be. But I am not going to demand perfection from myself. I am, however, going to start listening to my Higher Power on some of this stuff, because I am aware yet I have not been using that awareness.
      Things I have become aware of as I near my first OA birthday:

(1) I can binge on zero-calorie things. The nature of recovery is that I don’t binge at all if I want to have recovery. Diet soda is not good for me, has no nutritional value, and screws up my sense of balance. I am pumping chemicals into my body at an alarming rate. My Higher Power was kind enough to make it clear by showing me that something is amiss. I am, on the scale, at the same approximate fat and muscle and hydration level I was before. Therefore, something else popped me up. And that something else, as my HP was so kind to let me comprehend without too much panic about my weight gain, is that I have been abusing my food plan. I am abstinent, officially, by my food plan. I have not eaten outside my food plan. But if I do keep drinking diet soda, that’s going to change. Diet soda has just joined peanuts, chips, halvah, and a bunch of other things as a trigger food. Therefore, it is now verboten. Not like it really matters, since, if I really think about it, I don’t like it that much. It’s just got flavor, unlike water. Well, also unlike water, it’s a stew of chemical death. So, diet soda is out completely, because I will drink it to excess.

(2) I have eaten after I have stopped being hungry on my food plan, and I have not eaten when I am hungry on my food plan. I will undereat breakfast and overeat at dinner. I get full, not sated, at dinner, and will keep eating until I run out of calories. Satiety makes me feel better, capable of doing more than sitting around doing nothing. If I eat to satiety, I eat sanely. Eating to fullness (though I don’t eat often to overfullness, which was once a daily thing) is unnecessary. So, to respect my recovery through abstinence, I need to respect my hunger. As much as I don’t want to focus on my hunger because it feels like I am focusing on food and on eating, keeping aware of my body’s messages is necessary at this juncture so I can practice sane eating. Once it’s a habit (like eating within my food plan), I can let it become a second-nature thing.

(3) I bank calories for the end of the day. It’s time to balance my food intake better. That means that instead of a latte for breakfast and no food, I eat at least a bowl of cereal. I can, for breakfast, eat one egg and one piece of unbuttered toast and not feel a need to eat more (I used to eat two or three eggs and two or three pieces of buttered toast regularly). Breakfast foods don’t make me want to binge, and they sate me. It’s when I get to lunch and dinner that things start to get dicey. So, I built a coping mechanism. So, it’s my responsibility to balance my food intake over the day better. Again, I don’t want to focus on that because it feels like I am focusing on food and eating. However, this also needs to become a habit.

(4) I haven’t always been purely honest in measurements. Of course, my food plan is an estimated plan based on learning what an undistorted portion looks like. That’s part of the process of learning this. I need to know what a tablespoon and teaspoon look like, what one, two, and four ounces of most foods looks like. While I am not eating like I used to, with a “portion” being twice to four to ten times its single, undistorted counterpart, there are sometimes 10% slides (because the calories in a serving are usually a little under) above the undistorted portion. And sometimes that slides up to about 25%. While it’s not double-, triple-, or deca-portioning, it’s not entirely honest. Okay, it’s not honest at all.

(5) When I become aware of a trigger or binge food or behavior, I have to act on it. I have been given this awareness to fuel my 12-Step recovery. I eat when I am anxious, to numb myself. It may not be enough to actually cut a swath through my anxiety, but eating to soothe is a compulsive behavior. Instead of eating (even within my food plan), I need to go in the other direction. Recovery work, for this compulsion, starts with the question, “Am I really hungry?” and does proceed to “Something’s wrong that’s making me want to eat abstinent comfort foods when I’m not hungry.” So, to respect the recovery, I need to turn away from the food the moment I try to turn toward it. There’s an opportunity for growth, and instead of hiding, I need to take it so I can achieve sanity.

      Recent true-abstinent habits that have come to light are plentiful as well. First, I have been able to tell myself, “Well, then, eat LESS of it!” When I want something, I will often think in terms of eating a full serving. I’ve learned recently that I often need to eat about half of what I serve myself to sate my hunger. So, why eat beyond that? I can have more things I want if I am willing to accept half of a serving instead of a whole serving.
      Second, I can now forgive momentary cravings. The program is about progress, not perfection (which is why I consider myself abstinent despite the diet soda fiasco). Though my first reaction is punitive (“That’s a bad food and I cannot have it!”), my following reaction usually comes as the resignation that what I think I want is not palatable. For example, this morning I had a craving for a processed chocolatey-covered chocolate cake and whipped sugar-goo concoction from a major snack food company. It was less than a second that I wanted it. First response was, “It’s not in my food plan, so I CANNOT eat it.” Which of course is probably addict-thinking, because if I can’t do something, I will pull hard in the opposite direction and rebel and do it anyway. Then came the recovery thinking, and as I talked to my husband about the momentary craving, I was able to assess that I not only didn’t want it, I did not like them at all. I mean, I really don’t like them. I like the idea of it, but the reality is awful. The coating is waxy, sweet, and tastes nothing like chocolate or fudge. I can’t cross the uncanny divide and pretend it doesn’t. The cake tends to taste a little like sweet dirt. It’s not moist, it has no real “chocolate” qualities save for the color. And then I think about the whipped center, a grainy sticky fluff that’s cloyingly sweet and chemically-tasting. And, in the end, I realized I don’t like them. The fantasy snack food is not what is real. And what is real? I don’t like and can avoid because there’s no point in eating something that has no nutritional value which I honestly don’t like. Same goes for most grocery-checkout candy bars. So, I can avoid them because I can see clearly that the fantasy of the junk food is not the reality of what I end up eating. Go HP-awareness.
      Third, I habitually choose more nutritionally sound food these days. When I eat salad at a restaurant, I don’t get dressing and I am happy with salt-and-pepper (despite confusing the server). While I can go easy on the salt, I’m not drenching my vegetables in high-calorie stuff. And, if I want something dressing-like, I tend to choose salsa (it’s a vegetable in my food plan) or a little cottage cheese (dairy, on my food plan) or even a tablespoon of hummus mixed with water (protein on my food plan). I used to put a lot more of those things on it, but as time has passed, the servings have been halved. I can get supplemental flavor from nutritional sources. And I do.
      Last, I find that I have stopped going back for seconds at all. That’s a huge thing, since I would do that within my food plan if I had enough room to do it. Well, I don’t any more. The positive is that I find I reach fullness without overfullness. I don’t have the distended-stomach pain I used to have. And, as my stomach is clearly much smaller than it was when I started out (I really do find fullness with less food), I can live within my boundaries as long as I’m not trying to numb my anxiety away.
      As much as I would like to punish myself and say, “I was not strict enough!”, there’s got to be leeway for learning within my abstinence. I chose my food plan as it is because I can become aware of potential trouble spots easily within it. If I continued the triggering behavior, I would face off with losing my food plan abstinence entirely. If it takes a little time to realize there’s a problem, I have to forgive that. After all, I am an addict. My natural state is to eat to nauseated excess. My natural state is to choose junk food over nutritional food. My natural state is to keep thrusting said junk food into my face until I am sitting, dazed and covered in food crumbs and stains. While there is room for growth of awareness of how to eat more respectfully of my body, I have kept to my part of the bargain. I have eaten a reasonable amount of food daily for 11 months. Sometimes I will try to eat to cover anxiety, and sometimes I am successful in eating emotionally until I say, “Okay, stop. If I eat more, I won’t have any food left available to me when I am actually hungry again!” There are stops in place. I can stop. I do stop.
      I feel like I’m rationalizing keeping my abstinence, since I am so recently aware that I was over-drinking diet soda and I have been eating after I do not feel hunger pangs any longer. I feel that I should get no forgiveness for not having a perfect food program that involves no excess or accidental emotional eating (some might even consider two liters of diet soda to be reasonable) whatsoever. That I should be a four-star recovery winner even now, relaxing as I work Steps 10, 11, and 12 instead of realizing I may need to face Steps 4, 5, and 6 again after enjoying the benefits of fighting with Steps 1, 2, and 3, then surrendering to the reality that I can’t do this alone.
      I am not on a diet. I am learning how to live outside of compulsion. I am in transition, a lifelong transition. This isn’t easy, but I have held the line with the fellowship of OA and the strength of my Higher Power. The problem I have been having is that I have treated this whole thing as a diet for the last few months (again). This has been about weight loss only. Well, today, something caused the scale to say I gained two pounds over the last month. I recognize, then, that if it’s about the scale, I ought to be upset and freaking out. However, if it is about the scale? Then I’m anorexic and need to look at that weight-based motivation. Next month, it will be different. I may lose weight, I may gain weight.
      The scale should not matter at this point, however. Exposing the sources of why I act in compulsion, still (most often with my Step Seven “character defects” reminds me that just because my food is in its place does not mean my recovery is. Do I have to be perfect? Am I unforgivable because I sometimes eat outside of HP-awareness, still? Do I lose abstinence on a technicality–that I drank more diet soda recently than I am realizing I should be drinking . . . despite it being okay until this morning? Do I have to start over on Day One because I ate an extra serving of a comfort food–despite it being within my food plan?
      My answer is no. I am in recovery, and it’s not easy. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not on your life. As I move aside defects, I feel more raw. I have compulsive habits I will innately turn toward because they worked for so long. I have compulsive thoughts, self-loathing behaviors, and I sometimes struggle with wanting to throw it all away and dive into a bag of something I don’t even want just to get away from the fear that I am failing at this, too. No. I am succeeding because I am learning.
      I am not on a diet. I have an illness which had a one-time cure that I realize not only does not work but never worked. Overwhelmed by the years I wasted trying to make it work, I sometimes look toward my classic coping mechanisms to “make it go away”. I want the pain to end.
      This, however, is not the pain of deterioration. This is the pain of healing. Though I accept I will never be relieved of every ache and pain associated with this addiction, I can live with it. I can’t undo the illness that required the healing. I just have to remember that I finally got tired of the even harsher, everyday pain of addiction. This is extreme discomfort, stinging fear, worry that there is futility because it doesn’t guarantee a perfect, eternal life. I will be human, with all of its trappings. However, I will use the free will given to me by the program to choose recovery or addiction. I was given the choice of misery until an untimely death or the discomfort of a radical cure. Some day the intense pain (that feels magnified right now) will subside. I will even sometimes turn toward the food, but I do it within boundaries. My own boundaries, but boundaries.
      Besides, my addiction wants me to call drinking the diet soda a break in abstinence. My addiction wants to call the slight-extra portioning (despite being covered by the leftover calories in my discretionary calories) a break in abstinence. If I break abstinence, I can give up and succumb to the addiction completely. And I am looking to my HP for the answer: “Did I break my abstinence?”
      And it’s letting me know that I stayed within the definition of abstinent eating I set out for myself. It’s simply reminding me of the importance of the foundation of recovery if I want to keep eating within that definition of abstinence–and within the definition of abstinence it is evolving into. My primary goal was to learn to eyeball undistorted portions by measuring them whenever I am able. I am learning that. My secondary goal was to eat a balanced, nutritional diet so my body receives what it needs to function. I am doing that. That goal of losing weight should never have been a goal. That’s what turned abstinence into a diet plan this time around.
      And with newfound awareness, I can walk away from something that is acceptable in my food plan but not any longer acceptable to my recovery plan.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict. I am terrified of looking at my emotions because if I clear them away, I will come face-to-face with what’s at the core. I have so much longing to have, at my core, a decent person with hopes, dreams, and ambition. I just worry there’s nothing left at the bottom. No dreams, no hope, no personality. Nothing. How could I reconcile doing all of this recovery work to find out there was nothing at the end of the journey. (Please let this be addict-thinking, because while I don’t mind being a simple human being instead of a super-complex one, I mind the idea that nothing is there but an empty shell).

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