Friday, August 18, 2006

The M&M Diet

In one of my many efforts to deal with this food/weight plague, I consulted with a shrink at a local clinic. At that time, somewhere around 1982, there really was not much help available for folks with eating disorders. There were dozens of diet programs, of course, but nothing for people like me for whom the relationship with eating / weight / not eating / no exercise / over exercise / blah blah blah had crossed the line into addictive, obsessive, destructive.

I had about six months of Overeaters Anonymous under my belt and as is typical, I wanted more, faster. I was convinced I had an addiction to sugar; allergy to sugar in the OA sense, as an unnatural reaction to a substance. My unnatural reaction was that I could not seem to eat just a little like regular folks or if I did, I obsessed about it while I was not eating it. It sounds like lunacy and if you're reading this and you've never experienced it, lucky you. If you are, like me, an addict in every sense of the word, you know the uncomfortable experience of feeling split in two. One part of me wanted so much to just be normal, eat like everyone else, have a cookie and move on. The other part of me made it a goal to subvert every positive action of the other, while pursuing every last morsel of sugar in her vicinity.

So off I went to the shrink because a highly paid doc can fix anything, right? She was pretty fresh, a teensy slender petite thing, very kind and caring. As with 99% of the shrinks and docs and medical people of every ilk I've met in my life, she discounted the possibility of an addiction to sugar and insisted it was merely a choice. Just briefly, I have to say that I don't understand the insistence of the medical community that sugar cannot be addictive. Sugar is a white crystalline or powdery substance refined from a plant. Cocaine is a white crystalline or powdery substance refined from a plant. Heroin . . . well, it just seems so obvious to me, especially in light of my (yes, anecdotal) experience.

Long story short, we ended up trying what she called "the M&M diet." My obsession of that time ~ my food obsessions are usually pretty long-running ~ was hot M&Ms. Don't even ask and I'm not going to tell. Anyway, I would go days without them and then go on an M&M run, just like a junkie, with the result being weight gain and a demoralizing sense of failure. I was in OA, attempting to abstain, working the old Grey Sheet food plan. These periodic binges were disheartening. It is a little startling to me in writing this to realize that at that point, I wanted to lose 50 pounds so I could weigh 135 again. The fact of not having a top weight and the progressive nature of this thing is the subject of a future post.

The M&M diet consisted of normal food throughout the day and permission to have one regular sized bag of M&Ms daily. The theory was that if I gave myself permission and was not deprived of these little nuggets of goodness, the binges would stop. It worked! It worked for a day, two days, it worked for eight whole days! I was so on to something that I added another bag to the day. Why not? I was losing weight, young, active, working out with the big boys at Mike Moguin's gym. Then one day I ate three, the next I ate none, then one, then five and so it goes.

I know there's a whole psychology of deprivation related to food intake and eating and weight loss. I'm aware of that and actually using it in my food plan today. But here's what I think about the M&M diet and every other diet I've been on that includes sugar as a regular thing: they are doomed to failure. I have eaten sugar and I have eaten it "successfully" if a couple of days of white knuckle sane eating following a piece of pie is successful. I suppose if I were truly an addict, I'd not be able to white knuckle through it and get past the effect of sugar on my body. But I know people in AA who "go out" for a night and come back and stay. They're miserable until the craving again subsides as the alcohol leaves their bodies, and they're at tremendous risk of a repeat until the obsession goes into remission.

I'm not saying I'll never eat sugar again, I probably will. But I will do it with a healthy awareness of its effect on my body and the realization that in my history, one bite has often led to a binge which has many times turned into a series of binges and weight gain. When I feel like I feel today: clear headed, happy, joyful, free, I don't even want to take the chance.

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Anonymous Lynn said...

It sounds like a lot of hard work and thought. You have to think about this every day--probably every bite. I feel for you. I have issues with food, too. I think everybody does to a degree, but this just seems horrible. I think it takes real maturity and self-understanding to tackle this. It sounds like you are on the right path. I loev this blog--why were you hiding it from me??

August 18, 2006 8:49 AM  
Blogger V'ron said...

I disagree with "doctors" who say sugar is not an addiction, that its a choice. It IS an addiction.

Have you read Greg Critser's "Fat Land -- How Americans Became THe Fattest People in the World?" Scary stuff. (its a nice companion to Fast Food Nation, if you've read that, if you haven't, I consider it required reading!). There's a chapter or two where he discusses good ol HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup), and how its used in so many products because it preserves well, and its extra sweet. And, it has the added advantage of conditioning our bodies to need that extra sweet, it almost numbs us to natural sweetness, and like junkies, we end up craving and needing more, and getting satisfaction in only extra sweet sugar things. I about dropped the book on the floor when I read it, and like you, decided then and there I had to cut refined sugar out of my life. I read labels, and when I see HFCS on a food, I don't buy it. I still eat candy, and I still eat sugar, but slowly but surely, I'm working to cut this out of my life, and my kids' as well. A little sugar and carbs is nice and good. But HFCS and the overabundance of it is out of control, and probably goes a long way toward explaining my weight and other things.

August 18, 2006 8:53 AM  
Blogger SUNSHINE said...

I just started reading your blog.. a couple of days ago and it is a great inspiration to me. I am a southern belle also by way of Atlanta.. I am just on the beginning stages of my weight loss journey and after a lot of flip flopping - I have as of today decided on a weight loss & fitness plan. Your words have a lot of honestly and heart. I am also suffer from sugar and flour addiction- so I can relate. Keep posting!

August 18, 2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

Aw, geez! Of course a person can be addicted to sugar. (I have a bread problem myself). When I was reading about what your shrink told you (and all your other drs), I was just thinking about the soda problem in this country. Kids are drinking soda at really frighteningly young ages these days and it's scary to think how many of them will become addicted to the sugar and thus overweight. I guess that's why they are saying soda causes obesity.

Anyway, I also agree with v'ron about the HFCS. That stuff is poison.

August 18, 2006 11:51 AM  
Blogger lisa said...

Belle, I thought I was a sugar addict; for me, what I've found is that I was addicted to the calming and soothing effects of sugar and carbs. I ate to avoid feeling. NOw that I've legalized all foods, my weight has stabilized and is slowly falling as I add exercise. I eat "normally" now for the most part, and I have not had a binge in over a month now (down from at least 4 a week). I'm so glad your plan is working for you. I do NOT discount, though, intuitive eating or non-dieting methods; they have saved my life and sanity.

August 18, 2006 1:59 PM  
Blogger The unconventional mother said...

Wow...I am new to your journal. I found your comment on a fellow OAers page and followed here. My Mom's addiction was also M&Ms. Interesting reaction from the psychiatrist. I recently had a talk with a psych when I was having problems with depression and she asked if I had an eating disorder and when I said yes...she politely informed me that overeating was not yet a disorder.

August 18, 2006 7:06 PM  
Blogger Lily T said...

How can overeating not be a disorder? Is it because everyone does it so it's considered normal?

Anyho. Thank you for your comment on my blog. I have similar issues with sugar as you do. I'm fine most of the time, but if it's present I can't not be having it. I hate obsessing over it.

I hope you overcome it.

August 21, 2006 10:57 PM  

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