I started smoking when I was 10 and drinking not long after that. My developing brain learned early to feed the dopamine reward loop. Thankfully, the older and wiser me was able to quit both habits – smoking around 2001 and drinking last year.
My brain is still an addict, though, and it is always on the hunt for more dopamine. It’s discovered a couple of methods to keep that feedback loop alive: tumblr and sugar.
For the past couple of years, I’ve spent many hours a day on tumblr. Over the past few months, I’ve backed off. It’s so easy to get sucked back in again (like I did for the past hour I see by my clock), though – I really have to be careful and set a timer so I don’t fall down the rabbit hole.
Sugar, though. Maaaaan, sugar. It lights my brain up like crazy. But just like nicotine, alcohol and other drugs – I’ve built up a tolerance. I can’t have just one. Not one bite, not one cookie, not one piece of chocolate. Could I have one cigarette? Absolutely not. Could I have one beer? Nope.
I’ve got alcohol in my house – there’s bourbon, beer, hard cider (leftover from when The Internet was here how long ago? Months?) But I don’t touch it. Why? Because I know I can’t have just one.
I need to treat junk food the same way I treat drugs & alcohol. There is no such thing as moderation for me. If I have one, I’m off the deep end for the rest of the day, and can pretty much guarantee the pattern will continue for days or weeks after that. When I look at a food with sugar in it, I have to equate it in my mind with a cigarette or a glass of wine.
I’ve also got to get past the withdrawl symptoms – I make it about 2-3 days every time and then the anxiety escalates, the cravings are intense, and I obsess about my next fix. It feels no different than quitting smoking. My brain is addicted to the dopamine loop. I need to push through the discomfort zone.
Some people can track their food or go for “moderation.” That absolutely will not work for me. Here’s how I know:
- I can’t have just one
- I go on multi-day binges and can’t stay off of it for more than 2-3 days
- I frequently hide my eating
- I eat when I’m anxious (just like I’d go for a smoke break)
- I make excuses to get food I know I don’t need (treats for the family)
- I continue to shove junk in my face even when it no longer is satisfying
- There is no off switch until all the junk is gone
So, today is day 1.