The thought to eat, versus craving

I’ve said many times that the causes of disordered eating are extremely complicated, a condition that muddles any conversation about overcoming the personal and societal ills that result. Obesity is a very noticeable outcome, and there are others, of course.

One such muddler is the phenomenon of craving, which is well known to addicts of every stripe. It’s the biochemically driven desire to ingest more of the addictive substance or engage again in the addictive experience, because the body has become habituated to the addictive action.

My experience with craving has included, but isn’t limited to, my ingesting flour and refined sugar. When I was ingesting those substances, I felt strong, persistent impulses to have some more. Sometimes this would be immediate; sometimes it would be the next morning; often it would be both. As long as the stuff was coursing through my veins, it could call me, though the call would be less fierce, and arise less often, the further I got from my last ingestion.

This is why I decided, at junctures I was thinking clearly enough, to keep these substances to very low exposures. (I prefer to eat none, but my nutritionist has advised me that as long as the offending substance is lower than fifth on the ingredients list, I’m safe to have it.) I see this as the spiritual equivalent of a cokehead’s not putting any cocaine into his or her system or an alkie’s decision to avoid alcohol entirely.

As I understand it, it is precisely because addictive substances trigger a physical craving that recovering addicts choose abstinence over controlled ingestion. Food addicts like me can’t have that certainty, but we strive to apply the principle in every way possible, specifically to limit the effects of craving.

This doesn’t mean that once I put away the addictive substances and behaviors — for I have an unhealthy relationship to volume every bit as much as I do to any substance — I never have the urge to overeat. In addition to being a food addict, I’m a human being, and like many folks, I have the impulse to celebrate with food, to drown my sorrows in food, to fill my boredom, to excite my senses, to achieve all sorts of aims.

I try, however, not to act on any of those thoughts because I know, from painful experience all the way up to 365 pounds, that those decisions have can different, potentially far more injurious, consequences for me than for you.

The difference that I want to hammer home to the non-food addicts reading this is that the former set of conditions is biochemically based, while the latter is thought-based. The latter goes like, “hmm, that looks good, I think I’ll have one.” The former goes like, “Have one. Go ‘head, have one. It’s only just one. You know you’re going to. Think how great it will taste, how great it will feel! Never mind the downsides, forget the downsides. What downsides? It’s just one. C’mon...” and so on.

And finally, one other thread to the knot: The “normal” thought to eat for whatever outside reason can arise at any time, just like it can for anyone. If I were to get such a thought today, when my food has been clean for quite some time, I’d be far more likely to put the thought into context and push it aside. But when I’m active in my addiction, any idea can seem like a great one, even when it is really the doorway to deeper hell.


Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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