As a vegan, there is a clearly defined list of foods I choose not to eat. If it comes from an animal, I don’t eat it. Period. After learning how and why I had succumbed to cravings and temptations for unhealthy foods, there is a new list of foods I choose not to eat. Let me first explain why.
If you’ve ever heard food “calling your name”, or felt such a strong pull to eat a rich dessert even when your belly is overstuffed with a big dinner, you might start to ask yourself why. If you’ve ever decided to have just a few chips (or cookies or popcorn) and end up polishing off half the bag, or intended to have just a taste of a cake or pie or ice cream, only to end up finishing it, then you have walked in my shoes. If you’ve ever had a craving for a specific food, even when you aren’t truly hungry, then it’s time to perk up your ears.
You see, what I’ve just described are just some of the criteria needed to qualify as an addict. There are 11 criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by mental health professionals. The ones I easily relate to for myself are:
Unintended use – having more than you planned.
Unsuccessful effort to cut down – let’s say you’ve tried to cut back on sugar, or have less junk food but end up circling back to where you started. Or, if you’ve ever been on a diet of any kind and put any of the weight back on.
Tolerance – you need more and more of a particular substance/food to feel satisfied. Say you used to drink your coffee black with one sugar and now you tend to order the flavor of the month at Starbucks.
Withdrawl – eating for any reason other than true hunger. Eating to quell an emotion.
Ready for the shocker? You only need to check yes to three criteria in one year to qualify as an addict. Three cravings or three circumstances of unintended use, or a couple of each. You get the idea. I laughed when I heard this because I could have checked off three criteria in any given day!
After learning about the Pleasure Trap, it was no wonder I had become addicted. My primitive dopamine seeking brain was finding all sorts of satisfaction everywhere I looked. There were drugs all around me, disguised as food. I know it might be hard to stomach the concept of food being addictive. If you can set your reservations aside for a moment and look at it strictly from the framework of brain chemistry, it will be a little easier to swallow.
If you didn’t watch the Pleasure Trap explanation yet, here’s a quick and brilliant 17 minute TED talk version that will help it all come together. Go watch it and come back! This will make a lot more sense… As Doug Lisle explains about the research on the Grey Shrike, “By messing with the environment, we’ve misguided the instincts. We’ve hijacked them so that this creature thinks it’s doing a good thing when in fact it’s doing a very destructive thing.”
It becomes very clear to see why our brains lead us toward processed foods. The moment I started learning about the dietary pleasure trap and food addiction, I became empowered to do something about it. To follow a system that would help me rewire my brain back toward its original state. Like coming off of any drug, I knew I would need to be diligent. And I knew that it would be the hardest in the beginning and it would get easier and easier, especially if I really stuck to the program. So here I am, in recovery, for 40 days now, happy to share the results? In order of importance, I’l list my top four:
1) My brain is free from cravings. I haven’t eaten anything that I didn’t plan to eat. And therefore I didn’t feel guilty afterward.
2) I have neuroadapted back to a state where fruit is all the sweetness I need. My belly is full of whole natural plant food that tastes amazing. I chuckle to myself when someone suggests I must be living in deprivation or in a state of starvation. If only anyone watched how much actually goes in my mouth every day!
3) I have learned to listen to my body and to eat when I’m hungry, stop eating when I’m comfortably full, and I never have that bloated loosen-your-belt and lay-on-the-couch feeling.
4) Speaking of belts… I had to give all of mine away. And my jeans and dresses too. That’s right, they were all too big. My old clothes were falling off me. I dropped 3-4 sizes since I began this journey Jan 3, 2015. I knew I had some “baby weight” to shed but in all honesty I joined this program not primarily to lose weight but to optimize my health and to balance my brain. The weight loss was just a really nice side effect.
I’ve been keeping a food journal to not only document my meals but also my thoughts and my journey and my progress. On Day 21, I made a notation that I keep hanging on my wall so that it runs through my head any time I face a temptation and might consider taking a bite of something I shouldn’t:
Nothing tastes as good as freedom from food addiction.