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The Not-So-Sweet Life

In the photo on the left, I weighed 160 pounds/73 kg. Now, in the photo on the right, I’m 123 pounds/56 kg.

I have not weighed 123 pounds since I was a teenager. I thought it was impossible for me to be at this weight ever again without some drastic measures.

But here I am, almost 45, and I’ve been around 123 pounds for almost a year now. And I’m NOT DIETING.

What I do is simple. No fads, weighing, measuring, or weight tracking. Just eating 3 meals a day. I’m pretty healthy, but I’m not strict. I eat reasonable portions.

The hardest line I draw is no sugar, because it is a drug for me. And I also don’t eat anything that comes in a bag or a sleeve or a box (chips, crackers, nuts.) If I start, I can’t stop till it’s gone.

I don’t exercise consistently. I walk 20-25 minutes some days. Or I swim in the ocean for a bit. Or do yoga, sometimes.

The biggest difference in me before and after is that now, FOOD IS JUST FOOD.

Before, food was drugs. Comfort. Companionship. Pleasure. Relaxation. Distraction.

Now, food is just food. Yes, I enjoy eating, but it has ceased being anything more.

What changed?

It started when I got clean and sober in 1999, and then quit smoking cigarettes in 2001. After that, I turned to food.

I discovered the world’s most popular, accessible, and acceptable drug: sugar.

I have a memory around that time of my friends and me, laughing our sober asses off around a table, having just consumed a boatload of sugary confections. I felt giddy. Everything was suddenly hilarious. It was the first time I was cognizant of having a real sugar high.

Sugar is as physically addictive as cocaine, and I became a full-on sugar addict. I craved it daily. It fucked with my moods. I’d be soaring sky-high soon after binging, then would crash and the darkness would come. I’d be super irritable, and live in big-deal-land about everything.

I’d go through phases where I’d stop the sugar, but then I would binge on salty, crunchy, snacky things, or have extra-huge meals. But I’d always go back to sugar somehow.

As the years went on, I would yo-yo. Not only in the traditional sense of weight, but also in and out of unhealthy relationships.

My pattern was that I would be thin and on the prowl, then would get into a relationship. After the novelty faded, I’d turn to food and the sex would stop. Then the relationship would end, always with drama, and the weight would evaporate.

I was filling my cup with whatever I could, except the only thing that would actually bring me the fulfillment I was seeking underneath: meaning, purpose, commitment to something bigger than myself, and connection with god and service to others.

As I got older, it got worse. In my mid-3o’s, I became hypoglycemic. I’d get shaky if I didn’t eat every few hours. This was a direct result of the sugar addiction.

I remember a point in time where I was buying candy in the mornings and hiding it in my car so my then-husband wouldn’t find it. By the time dinner rolled around, I had already secretly scarfed a king-sized sleeve of Reece’s cups.

And yet my mind would be obsessed with dessert after dinner. I would eat 5-6 servings of raw cookie dough followed by a pint of Haagen-Dazs. I’d be buzzing for an hour or so, then try to go to sleep. But I’d lay in bed wide awake, my heart beating in my throat as the sugar raced through my veins.

Sometimes I’d get off sugar awhile, and then secretly relapse and not tell my husband. He’d ask if I’d had any sugar and I would lie. I couldn’t stop.

I started waking up every day saying today was DAY ONE. I’d really mean it, and I believed my words. Then the cravings and obsession would start at some point in the day, which would lead to me caving in and eating sugar again.

If junk food was at home waiting for me, all day I looked forward to the delicious moment when I could dig into my drugs. If there was any left at the end of the night, I’d throw it away. Early the next morning, I’d take the trash out to ensure I wouldn’t go digging for treasure later on. Then, when the cravings came on that night, I’d go and buy another cache and the cycle would continue.

I was in an endless series of quitting for tomorrows that never came.

Once when I was in a Day One streak (living in the Groundhog Day of Day Ones but never making it to Day Two), I got desperate enough to call a few inpatient rehab centers for food and sugar addiction. I just didn’t see how I could stop alone. I thought I needed to go somewhere where I wouldn’t have access to my drug of choice. But the fees were frighteningly high, so I dropped the idea.

More years of trying to manage and control my eating came and went. One time I even quit sugar for 2 years, until I got the flu and just had to have the comfort that only mango sorbet could bring. I told myself that one indulgence would be it, and it would be easy to stop again.

But, slowly over time, I was back to my pint-a-day habit.

Last summer, I made it more than 30 days. I felt some hope, but then cravings seized me every time I’d drive by my old 7-11. Finally I caved, using the old tried-and-true excuse that I would just pig out tonight, and would start back tomorrow.

As I ate, I felt a mix of giddiness, disappointment, and shame. I didn’t finish the goods, and threw the uneaten junk away. I took out the trash to ensure that this time I was done.

I lasted only 3 days. The self-loathing and powerlessness ate at me just as I tried to eat those feelings away with more food. I felt hopeless that I could ever stop.

My friend in Overeaters Anonymous had told me that it was possible to not obsess over food and eating. I didn’t believe her. Maybe it could happen for other people, but not for me.

I quite understood the mechanics of addiction as I was helping many people through the 12 steps and I was a long time AA member. So I noticed that what was happening was that in those moments when the cravings or the obsession took hold, that I was lacking willingness.

There must have been a moment, however subtle, when I decided I wanted what I wanted, and I’d give up and give in to the obsession. One early afternoon in the midst of a string of Day Ones, I checked in with myself: “Am I willing to let god help me with this?” And the answer was no. I was not willing.

That was the crux of the problem. If willingness was not present, then the door to god was shut, barring an act of grace.

This was important because in 12 step circles the idea is that the addict has zero power over the addiction, and that the power must come from something greater: god, source, the universe, whatever you choose. So willingness opens the door for the power to flow in and work.

But if I am in self-will, the door stays shut and I remain in my powerlessness, at the mercy of the obsession and compulsion.

So I started praying for willingness every morning once I saw that was the missing piece. I asked for willingness to allow god in to give me the power to eat healthy, without obsession, and to not binge or eat sugar.

One day, I woke up willing. It was just there. I recognized that this window of willingness would not remain open for long. Out of desperation I seized it, making a decision to surrender my eating to god. And I have been in this space ever since.

I haven’t been perfect. Unlike substances or certain behaviors that can be totally abstained from, I have to eat! I’ve had slippery moments with certain foods. But all in all I have remained in sugar abstinence and food sobriety for almost a year.

I feel safe within my simple boundaries of 3 healthy meals a day, no sugar, and no snacky binge foods. There is freedom in the structure.

One definition of a miracle is ‘something that can’t happen until it does.’ My relationship with food is a miracle. The fact that I don’t live in obsession, preoccupation, cravings, or compulsion with eating is a miracle.

Food has become food and no longer a magical fix for my inner emotional unmanageability. I chalk this up to another gift of the inner and outer work I have done. I am so grateful to be free so that my experience can be used to help others find their own miracle.

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