I am so lucky I didn’t have to quit everything before I got to Suppers. I am an expert quitter and an accomplished relapser. So it helped me to learn that there’s a program that embraces you while you’re in the process of quitting and relapsing and supports you as you spiral up towards better health. One day we went around the table and shared what had grabbed us about The Suppers Programs. For me it was the line, “With food, abstinence is not an option. That leaves harm reduction.”
Abstinence is very clear. It’s black and white. Either I smoked a cigarette today or I didn’t. I either took a pill or I didn’t. Quitting is a categorical change and even if you smoked in your thoughts and dreams like me, you got full credit for not doing the behavior. It took me eight tries to quit and I haven’t smoked for two years now.
Food is an entirely different matter. I needed professional help to get a handle on my food issues. I examined emotional triggers. I designed a food plan. My doctor wanted me to take something to suppress my appetite, but somebody like me shouldn’t take pills. So I became aware of times when I ate for emotional reasons and made a plan for eating that looked great on paper. But nothing made me adhere to the changes. And there wasn’t any support group. Every time I’d be good for a couple of weeks, I’d relapse and hate myself. I’ve tried more than eight times to get a handle on my eating. Quitting cigarettes was a piece of cake (did I say that?) compared to managing my diet.
So the idea of nutritional harm reduction brought me to Suppers. What kept me coming back was the desire to make good matches between my problems and solutions. If I accepted that relapse is the logical conclusion to making poor matches, then I had to determine what my good matches were. It did me no harm to go into therapy or design a meal plan, but these things were not good enough matches for me. I understood that there were some very intense forces disabling my good intentions.
I got my first clue when I did the breakfast challenge. A bowl of chicken and vegetable soup, or chili, or scrambled eggs with lots of veggies kept me free of hunger for three hours, pretty good for me. But after lunch, the insanity started. I’d get irritable, drowsy, and hungry every afternoon, which always led to food. So for a few days I ate breakfast challenge food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and journaled the experience. I didn’t know what else to do. In my notes I wrote, “Feeling very sorry for myself,” “Dying for a slice of pizza,” “Mind is wandering to grilled cheese sandwiches.” But I stayed the course knowing that I’d be reporting on the experience at a Suppers meeting.
What I learned after continued experiments was that my biggest food triggers are chocolate and anything with wheat in it. If I eat one pretzel, the bag is as good as gone Even after a big meal, if it included bread or chocolate, I’ll be looking for food again in a little while. I’m also vulnerable to food if I see it or smell it – because it’s there, not because I’m hungry. So based on my journaling experience, two things had to happen right away to match my solutions to my problem. One, I had to totally give up chocolate and wheat, which made life easier once I got over feeling sorry for myself. There were plenty of foods left that I enjoy, although none that made me gleeful. Two, I had to avoid parties and certain friends’ houses to stay away from temptation, and I had to let my friends know I felt it was an act of hostility to leave a bowl of chocolate out when I came.
The experiments and journaling will continue. And I am benefiting a lot more from therapy now that I’m not experiencing false emotions from food all the time. I’m glad I didn’t know ahead of time that giving up wheat was my good match, because I might not have done the program.