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Overcoming Substitute Addictions such as Food Addiction


My name is David and I am an addict. For years I was addicted to marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs, and now I am clean. I was addicted to cigarettes, and now I don’t smoke anymore. I am also a food addict and a diabetic. However, even though I don’t crave “substances” on a daily basis and believe I have put that chapter behind me, certain foods are still difficult for me to consume in moderation.

For me this can be orange juice or candy bars, as well as eating large amounts of food. Often I binge uncontrollably at night for unknown reasons, perhaps to feed some psychological hunger. All of this is very bad for my diabetes and can lead to serious health problems down the road.

For someone else, their substitute addiction could be acting out on a sex addiction. I know I crave sex and romance, and it has negatively impacted my life and those of other addicts I know. For someone with a serious sex addiction, this person may seek Sex and Love Anonymous Addicts (SLA) meetings.  For these people, I would recommend only having safe sex with a monogamous partner.  Even though I don’t personally relate well to 12-step meetings, someone suffering from a similar addiction to me might want to go to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meetings.  For someone else it could be smoking cigarettes, for which there is Nicotine Anonymous.  It could any time of harmful or risky behavior. It could be a number of things. These are all examples of substitute addictions, or addictions we hold onto even after we become sober from drugs and alcohol.

For the purpose of this article, I will focus on my food addiction because that is the addiction that is most negatively affecting my life right now. I am a good 50 pounds overweight, and even with three diabetes medications, my blood sugar runs significantly higher than normal. Until I made a commitment to myself just two days ago, I would go days or weeks without exercising, and I would binge eat at night, and eat things on a regular basis that I knew were not good for me—things that were high in carbs and sugar, particularly bad for diabetics—like orange juice, candy bars, pizza, and matzoh ball soup.  All were bound to drive up my blood sugar and adversely affect my health. Unfortunately, these are some of the foods I love most. I also have to worry about high-fat foods because my triglycerides run high.

A couple weeks ago, I started suffering from numbness in my foot and leg. My doctor assured me it was just a pinched nerve, but I thought it could also be a symptom of diabetic neuropathy, where the high blood sugar over time does damage to nerves. It did turn out to be a pinched nerve.  However, my dad said that with my diabetes and weight-control issues, I would have to choose between diet and exercise (and effectively controlling my diabetes) or eventually giving myself insulin shots every day. I decided that since I had the power to kick marijuana, alcohol, other drugs, and cigarettes, that I also had the power to maintain a diabetes-friendly diet and exercise daily regimen.

However, just like kicking pot, it will not be easy. For months, maybe even years after detoxing from weed, I would crave it every day and I thought it was the solution to my problems, even though everyone else was telling me it was harmful for me. I have finally come around on that issue. And now, even though I know that foods that are high in sugar, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats are bad for me, that doesn’t mean I won’t crave them.

When it comes to certain foods, like chocolate bars, I will have to do absolutely everything in my power to avoid eating them. If I do cave into ice cream, I should make sure that it is the kind sweetened with Splenda. The only juice I should drink is diet juice. And I will have to force myself to exercise every day for an hour even if I don’t feel like it. Once I get going, exercise usually makes me feel good  It is the getting started part that is hard for me (as it is for most people, I believe).

I can’t underscore to you enough how strong these cravings will probably get at times.  But I have to treat these foods like drugs and alcohol. They are not good for me, and they do physical damage to me. Right now I am comfortable with the idea of never doing marijuana, alcohol, or other illicit drugs like ’shrooms again. However, a couple years ago, this was unfathomable to me.

I have to really do everything I can to permanently adopt this mindset that certain foods I cannot eat, because my insulin does not break down the sugar, and too much sugar in the blood is bad for my body. If I reinforce it into my psyche and really condition myself to think this way, then maybe in six months I can be comfortable with only having a milkshake on a rare occasion and eating healthy on a daily basis, and I will be able to carry through with that commitment.

If I “relapse” and start binging or adopt a pattern of eating unhealthy, I will have to get sober again and get back into a mindset of eating healthy. But if I were to start drinking milkshakes and orange juice and eating ice cream and candy bars again as habit, I would be walking down the same dangerous path that I have been since I was diagnosed with diabetes five years ago and the years before that which led up to that diagnosis.

I have made some progress in how I have eaten with the help of my internist. However, now it is time to take the next step and really get serious. I have to exercise every day, no question. I have to be in control of what I eat, even if it hurts. And in the end, just like recovering from drugs and alcohol, and cigarettes, I will be happier and healthier as a result.

Filed under: Addiction, Eating disorders · Tags: addict, Addiction, cigarettes, diabetes, diabetic, food addict, food addiction

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