There comes a point in time when you realise that your choices are no longer serving you, and you want and need to make changes to improve the quality of your life. But why is the thought of giving up these vices scarier than the benefits of a healthier life?
Is this what they call denial? Maybe, probably, but it’s also a common self-preservation method as any addict will tell you. Let’s talk about something that I’m very familiar with and is close to my heart, and that is the topic of processed food addiction, overeating, and being obese. I’ve had a few addictions in life but one of the hardest to manage has been my processed food addiction.
Many years ago, I was a smoker and went through a packet every two to three days, and easily a packet during a party, along with binge drinking alcohol. I didn’t particularly enjoy smoking and was desperate to stop, but I was fearful of what that change would look like. I honestly believed I would never be able to have fun again if I didn’t smoke. I stumbled across a book called Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking.
Using the visualisation methods he describes in his book, I was able to overcome some of my fears around quitting smoking. Just the idea of living a long healthy life wasn’t enough of an incentive to me. There was always an excuse and justifications (apart from the addiction to nicotine), that I wouldn’t enjoy life as much if I quit smoking. I couldn’t for a second imagine what a party would look like if I wasn’t able to smoke and drink copious amounts of alcohol. I couldn’t imagine what holidays would look like, because at that time we did a lot of beach camping and I spent most of my day with my substantial rear end in a chair, drinking red wine, champagne, beer and chain smoking cigarettes. Those addictions equalled a good time, therefore I thought I would never be able to enjoy a beach holiday, or any holiday for that matter ever again.
The cure to quit smoking
When I started to panic about what a life without smoking would look like, I used these two powerful examples of visualisation. Firstly, I would imagine the children who came camping with us and the innocent fun they were enjoying, running along the beach, swimming in the ocean, having the best time of their lives and they didn’t need cigarettes to accomplish that. I would also picture seeing my son at a birthday party or gathering, and notice he was there for the joy of playing with other kids, watching the present opening, and just the general festivity of socialising. There was so much joy, so much laughter and not a cigarette amongst any of them.
Secondly, I was working alongside a gorgeous young woman who was always the life of the party, a social butterfly finding much joy in life, and she was a non-smoker! These are the people I would draw upon when I tried to imagine a life without cigarettes. Then I would try to remember back to when I was younger, when I enjoyed life and I didn’t need a cigarette to get through those events. This is what held me steadfast in my desire to quit smoking. I’m happy to say I’ve been smoke free for at least 15 years now, I can’t even remember how long ago it has been since I’ve quit because it is so far in the past and not a part of my life at all. I don’t think about it, I don’t crave them and I can’t even believe that I used to be a smoker, that’s how distant it is to me.
Diets failed me
So, when it came to being overweight and wanting to lose weight, I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t stick to a diet. I mean I overcame a nicotine addiction, and I thought that I had strong will power [haha], so why didn’t I have the strength, or the will power to stick to a diet?
I used to lament that I could quit smoking and carry on, but I still had to eat to survive, so how could I apply the same method, how could I possibly quit eating? I couldn’t connect the dots and I eventually realised that whilst I couldn’t give up food like I could smoking, I needed to remove only certain foods. The ones that were working against my goals, that were keeping me in that food addiction, that weren’t nourishing me, they were the foods I needed to let go of.
Years and years of Weight Watchers and eating the standard American/Australian diet where those hyper palatable junk foods are still recommended, kept me craving those foods and wanting more. When I realised that I had to quit the foods that were no longer serving me, it was hard. I had to break up with these foods. I’m not going to lie it was one of the saddest turning points in my life, for decades I had defended and justified eating those foods and now I realised that I could never have chocolate or bread or pasta or biscuits or any fast foods really, ever again. I grieved the loss of those foods.
Why? Why are human beings so resistant to change? We fear change. It is hardwired into our brains as a survival mechanism. Our primitive brain wants us to follow the pack and fear anything that could potentially threaten our safety. If the pack ran, you ran, if the pack ate, you ate. If one didn’t do what the pack did, they wouldn’t survive. This is why it is so hard to break free from addictions – whether they are food-related or not. Our mirror neurons tell us to do what the tribe is doing, and when we see all of those cues and triggers for processed foods everywhere, it can be difficult to resist the temptation.
Nowadays, we have processed food cues and triggers everywhere we look. TV commercials to billboards, we’re bombarded with messages telling us to buy unhealthy foods. And because processed foods are so addictive, our mirror neurons are telling us to do what the tribe is doing.
There are a few reasons why this might be. First of all, processed food is designed to be addictive. It’s loaded with processed fats, sugar, and salt – all of which are highly pleasurable substances that our brains crave. In addition, processed food often contains chemicals that can alter our mood and make us feel good in the short-term. It’s no wonder we struggle to break free from these addictions – they’re designed to be hard to resist. But it’s important to remember that we are in control of our choices, and we can make the decision to break free from this addiction. It might be hard, but it’s definitely possible.
Ignoring the Naysayers
I was one of those people who resisted changing and when I finally did, a curious phenomenon started occurring. I was suddenly aware that while I had changed, the people around me didn’t understand it and they certainly didn’t like it.
On a more superficial level, sometimes we don’t like to see other people change, grow and succeed. Perhaps this is a somewhat unpleasant observation, but I am sure just as there are well meaning people in our lives there are those miserable few who don’t like to see other people thrive and succeed. After all, misery loves company, right?
When I lost over 60 kilos/130 pounds, never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would have to face the judgement and fear of change from friends, family, and work colleagues. Sometimes it felt like I was being attacked and I probably was in a way. Suddenly I’m not doing what the pack is doing.
It started out with the odd comment from the work colleagues, but a memorable occasion was during an event, a work mate was cajoling me to eat the food with a jeering, “Go on Pauline have the donut, you know you want to”. Or other comments such as, “Good luck with this diet, wonder how long you’ll last”. Mind you I had been quietly eating this way for the last six months and shedding weight without their comments and sarcasm, but as soon as they started noticing a physical change, my private endeavours were no longer private.
And then there were the comments veiled as concern, “Ooh you should stop now you’ve lost far too much weight”, or running into someone who I hadn’t seen for a while making a comment, “Well you look like you haven’t eaten since I last saw you”. You know if I was a sensitive person I would be rocking in a corner about now.
I’ve been called crazy and weird for no longer eating processed food. And at the heart of all these comments, I know that when one finger is pointing at me, three fingers are pointing back at the naysayers. I know that all these comments, and belittling digs over the years are not about me and are always about the person saying or feeling that way.
A small part of me knows that the more people are disparaging and commenting on my food choices, I must be doing something right. There’s also a massive part of me and probably my inner child asking why it is their business and why do people feel compelled to tell another that they are doing the wrong thing. I whisper to that little girl, “It’s a fear of change”.
Change is hard, but it is possible. You are not alone in this struggle. There are people who care about you and want to help you overcome your addiction. Seek out their support and together, you can make the changes that will lead to a healthier, happier life.
Pauline Atchison (Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) www.nextstophappy.com
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