Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Life Beyond Sugar

I can't believe this life. Spending most of my 46 years in a long-term love affair with food, I'm shocked to be able to type that as of May 17th of this year, I have removed sugar and flour from my food intake.
Since I can remember, my life has been consumed with my consumption, revolving around what food I would use to celebrate, alleviate and sustain my psyche. At the age of 7, I remember being tempted with Ding Dongs to stay at the neighbors when my parents were having a party. Wave something sugar-laden in my face, even at 7, and I'd follow you anywhere. I have been obsessed with every sugary substance under the sun - caramel, coconut, Peeps (sugar dipped in sugar? What's not to love) name it. I could fill up a page of this blog and several others listing all the sweet items with which I have been in love. Food has been my constant companion, comforting me when I was depressed, helping me celebrate, helping me cope. It's been my rock, my refuge, my Go-To Guy, my best friend. I never thought I'd have a person in my life that could make me feel like food did. That is how deep my addiction is.

Food, particularly sugar and to a lesser degree flour, eventually transformed into that kind of friend that USED to be great but somewhere along the line turned into an Energy Vampire. I knew I needed to cut the ties, but I lived in fear. My thoughts of food were a black hole. I became obsessed with eating every three hours, having food with me at all times; instead of facing life's joys and sorrows, my thoughts were 100% consumed (that word again) with thoughts like "'s...for....Soy Chips...and...Peanut....Butter...Clif Bar". Food became my most passionate partner, at sacrifice of all else.

As a Weight Watchers member from September 2000 to about July 2003, I lost 140 pounds; I continued with the program because I still had a looooooooooooong way to goal. After all, I started at 346.8 lbs! Sometime in 2004 (after a cancer scare that was just that - all I lost was my right ovary, thanks) my weight crept up 20 pounds and I tread water with that weight until after Rob had the cancer in 2006...we got through that experience, but afterward I started putting on a few pounds here, a few there, and pretty soon my all-time low of 208 lbs. was long gone and I was looking at 252 lbs again in late April of this year. I am not a woman afraid of talking about what I weigh, obviously. 250 is a number I thought I would NEVER see again. When the scale went over that number, I was devastated. The obsessive thoughts of food for comfort and emotional coping tool became stronger than ever.

Thanksgiving of 2006, I remember reading in the Food Section of the newspaper-which I read every Wednesday like clockwork- an article about people who have problems with Food Addiction - binging, bulimia obesity - you name it. The article talked about how difficult the excessiveness of holiday food is to those who suffer from food compulsions as alcoholics suffer from alcohol. The group was called Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous and I read about how they "abstained" from flour and sugar and worked a 12-step recovery program. I admired those who were able to eliminate sugar and flour, and the program sounded interesting - but much too extreme for me. Mom's Cherry Cream Cheese Pie was just around the corner. I couldn't give up that Thanksgiving treat that I've been eating since I was a wee one! Or any of my other Go To foods. But the idea of the program stuck with me. I thought if I ever got desperate, I might go. I even looked on the website to find a meeting, but at the time there wasn't one in Fremont, so I took that as a sign it wasn't for me.

La de da, life went on for a while. I kept playing with the Weight Watchers program, dropping into meetings once a month hoping the 100-pound weight loss that I've maintained would impress someone and stroke my ego (Can you say "in it for the wrong reasons?" I knew that you could). No one needed to know it was once a 140 pound loss. 100 was still a lot, right? I equated my loss with 5 pound bags of sugar, and losing 20 bags was still a lot. Slowly but surely, my grip on my emotions became more and more tenuous. My old buddy wasn't there; I was feeling more hopeless and worthless than ever. The Peeps flew the coop when it came to comforting me. The caramel was leaving me stuck. I can't say that there was a classic "defining moment" that made me revisit the Food Addicts program, but I knew I needed to make a drastic change and detach from Weight Watchers. It wasn't working for me, mainly because I wasn't working it. Give me enough licorice rope, and I'd choke on it. It was just time to move on. I found the FA (that's Food Addicts) site again, and lo and behold there was a Fremont meeting, at Kaiser no less. So I went. That was May 15th, I think.

The next day, a nice woman named Sandy told me to call her at 7.45 am and she would tell me what to eat. I heard in the meeting that I would need a sponsor, and Sandy couldn't take me but she told me to go to another meeting and try to find one. So I went to another meeting 2 days later and that's when the floodgates opened -and I have not looked back since. At meetings end, a reading called "The Promises of The Program" was read, and I LOST it. It says:

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

For the first time in ages, I felt hope! I cried so much I could barely function. I talked to some wonderful fellows there who knew exactly what I was going through, and managed to catch a woman, Paula, who said earlier that she could sponsor someone if they needed it. I caught her before she ran out the door, and she was willing to take me - and she's been my wonderful sponsor ever since. I stopped sugar that day, and OY was it a crazy first three days without it. I wouldn't have believed I'd have sugar withdrawal, or that there was such a thing, until I went through it. Oy the headache, the listlessness, the lack of energy. I laid around in my pajamas for 3 days. I was panicking thinking "whaddaya mean I'm never going to have a Peep again? Come on!" I told Rob if I began to die, shove some German Chocolate Cake Frosting in my mouth because I didn't want to go out with a pound of vegetables as my last meal.

I called my sponsor the next morning, and admitted how overwhelmed I felt and couldn't imagine giving up certain sugar items forever. Her sage advice: "That's why we say 'One day at a time' ". So one day at a time, I am staying "abstinent" by choosing not to consume sugar, flour or quantities of food. I have 3 weighed and measured meals a day, nothing in between. From the start of my program, weight loss was not the reason I wanted to be in it. I wanted to be free from my food obsession - my food addiction. I wanted to be able to help others, and I immediately was able to serve just by going to meetings. As I've progressed with my abstinence, I've been able to help more. I have found a freedom and a fullness that I've never had. I eat so much at mealtimes that I never feel deprived or feel like turning to snacks. In fact I asked my sponsor if I could eat less at dinner because it was taking me an hour to eat and I couldn't get all the food in me! Whoulda thunk it? I've been on a Pearl Jam tour, attended General Hospital Fan Club Weekend, went on an Ed solo mini-tour and stayed abstinent.

I weighed 248 the day I started program, and as of today I weigh 203. Five pounds less than my lowest weight in recent times. 3.1 pounds from weighing under 200 for the first time since the early 80's. 45 pounds are off my body -that is eight 5-pound bags of sugar. I feel truly blessed being able to stick with it - one day at a time.

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