Junk food junkie

Even though I’ve taken a long hiatus from blogging, I haven’t broken the weekly workout routine.  My anxiety regarding weight loss has improved since my last post, but I will admit freely that my stress eating this week has been a little over the top. Things at work have been tense due to one of our doctors announcing an early retirement after being diagnosed with cancer. Boy, that is never good news. And my lady friends arrive tomorrow for a five-day visit, so of course my mind is reeling over that. I haven’t done any wedding planning and I haven’t done any writing. I feel very full.

Two days ago I made a dozen cupcakes, but you might be proud of me because I’ve only had two. However, my lack of appetite for the cupcakes probably relates to the fact that the break room at work has been stocked with a heavenly assortment of treats for the doctor’s send-off party. I’ve been grazing like a Holstein and I’m giving myself upset stomachs. Which brings me to a question that I’ve been pondering for a while. Why do I over-eat despite the fact that it makes me feel bad? Doesn’t behavioral science teach us that negative reinforcement–like getting sick from eating too much–should deter an individual from the activity that caused the unpleasant result? Really, it should. But perhaps my food addiction is so strong that the outcome doesn’t really matter. The impending physical and mental anguish doesn’t come to mind when that plate of piping-hot Mexican food hits the table.

I mention Mexican food because my fiance and I recently went out to eat at our favorite south-of-the boarder restaurant, and, like usual when we frequent this place, I finished last in the category of self-control. First of all, we arrived hungry and I ate way too many chips with salsa. Way too many. Then the food came, and they set in front of us what basically looks like a plate of melted cheese. Everything is saucy and flavorful, and even though my stomach gives me early warning that the party’s over, my mouth keeps begging for one more bite. And with each “last” bite the synapses in my brain are shooting off like rockets until pretty soon I’m as stuffed as Violet Beauregarde and I’m being rolled home for a night of tummy ache and poor sleep. Then I ask myself, why?

The Food Network chef Alton Brown talked about his slim down in a Time Magazine article several months ago. He said that he cut sweets out entirely because he truly was addicted to junk food. Then he made an analogy that’s really stuck with me; he said, a junkie wouldn’t cut back on heroine in order to become clean. A junkie would have to give it up entirely in order to be successful. That’s not verbatim, but you get the point. Of course there are those people who–through amazing will-power or through a complete lack of addictive tendency–can have just one cigarette or just one bite of cake and so on. But I think it’s clear that I am not one of those people. I will eat the whole cake.

Alton makes an excellent point, and I wonder if I too should shun the sweet stuff. So far, in my quest to become healthier, I have chosen not to give up sweets. I do not want to feel as though I am denying myself. Denial feels like a punishment, and I’m not out to punish myself. I think overall, good choices have been made. But I’m not perfect and a few disreputable items tend to find their way into my grocery cart. For the sake of full disclosure, which is the point of this blog after all, let me give you a tour-de-my kitchen.

Enjoy the Where’s Waldo search if you like, but I’ll point out the things that I think are significant. There’s frosting in the fridge for the cupcakes in the freezer. Some whipped cream in a can. Popsicles. Cheesy kale dip and queso. But there’s also a large container of spinach which we’ve been eating almost daily, carrots, blue berries, and apple sauce. In the cupboard there are some chocolate-covered almonds, a box of blue berry muffin mix, and Pirate’s Booty puff corn. But we do eat whole grain pasta and organic canned tomatoes, beans, peanut butter, and flour. I don’t know what healthy people’s cupboards look like. I assume (because I want to believe that my life contains scraps of normalcy where food is involved) that everyone has a few junky items like whip cream and puff corn. But I could be wrong.

I like to think about what it means to be a junk food junkie, and I wonder if a junkie can keep a bit of the hard stuff around and still lead a healthy life. For the time being, I’m not ready to eliminate sweets from my diet. Maybe I’m making the best choice for myself, or maybe that’s the junkie talking. I don’t want to seem complacent, but truly I am still taking this just one day at a time.

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