Nuts is as nuts does

Here’s a report from the intersection of legumes and insanity, or, in a single word, nuts. I have a checkered history with one, and I have the other. I went through this intersection last week and the tale illustrates what food addiction feels like.

I decided to spend a day posting flyers for a speaking gig 45 minutes away that I have coming up, and prepared by gathering lunch for me and a lunch and snacks for Joe, my 21-month-old. But I didn’t bring a ball, a heinous oversight in the eyes of Joe, so I stopped into a market for one and picked up some blueberries for him while I was there.

I misjudged how long I’d be gone and found myself hungry about 4:30, well past when I normally have my mid-afternoon snack, six ounces of fruit and two ounces of protein, as prescribed by my nutritionist, Theresa Wright of Renaissance Nutrition, outside Philadelphia.

I was unwilling to go to a market again because so much work remained before Joe’s bedtime. This unwillingness is a key part of the tale: Like every person with a health-threatening condition, my survival is directly related to my willingness to take care of myself daily. In this instance, I was not willing enough.

Maybe I would have stopped if I'd had nothing in the car — if I have food coming, I'm going to eat it, got it? — but unfortunately, I did. The blueberries would suffice for the fruit, and I knew I could get the protein from a can of mixed nuts we keep in the car’s emergency kit to leaven my wife’s blood sugar if it wavers.

The thing is, I don’t eat nuts, or have decided not to, just as I have decided not to eat popcorn, dried fruit, sugarless gum, and other substances, because once I start with them, I won’t want to stop and don’t know when I will.

If you know an addict, you may have heard that description before. But ”food addiction” confuses some people because unlike alcohol and drugs, total abstinence isn’t possible. However, abstinence from specific foods is, and nuts have been on my bottom line for years. Even after more than 20 years in recovery, having lost 155 pounds from my top weight and maintained it for a couple of decades, I’m still not past cutting a corner if I think I can get away with it.

When I began peeling back the seal on the can, I “thought” I was opening them for Joe, but before I’d finished pulling it back, I had “reasoned” that I could meet my protein requirement as well.

How does that square with my decision not to eat nuts? It doesn’t. Nuts are not an immediate, guaranteed route to relapse for me, but they’ve never felt safe, which is why I prefer never to start.

In the worst case, I’ll find myself, immediately or within days, eating them uncontrollably, or more likely, eating them daily and thinking about them all of the time.

In microcosm, that’s what happened this time. I knew that eating them was risky, I knew I didn’t have a measuring device with me, I knew I had an alternative but didn’t want to use it. From the first bite, I was wrestling with myself about when I should stop.

Is that enough?

Is it too much yet?

Maybe I should eat just one at a time, instead of a handful. Yes, I’ll do that, I tell myself, only to notice three bites later that I’ve returned to handsful. (This could have to do with the multitasking I’m attempting: driving, navigating to the next stop via printed directions, feeding Joe in the back seat, perseverating about the nuts.)

Maybe I should just pull over until I’m done.

Maybe I should stop now.

Or now.

OK, definitely now.

I’m going to.


I finally did stop but half the can was gone, far more than if had if I’d measured. I’d weakened my serenity around food, and it took me several days and several consultations to begin to get it back.

That’s OK. I’m not perfect and I don’t have to be. Slips are part of the path, and I retain some input into whether slips become tumbles from which I can’t recover without strenuous, sustained effort, such as when I went to rehab in 1991, or into another form of inpatient treatment in 1999. Only in hindsight will I know if this was just a slip or more serious.

Please note: Almost certainly, I took in more calories than I normally would have, but none of this discussion was about weight. Yes, if I ate a half a can of nuts every day, weight would become an issue, but if I ate half a can of nuts a day, weight would not be the most serious issue; my relapse would. And it wouldn’t be just about nuts. Or, it wouldn’t be just about legumes.


Thanks for the post. It comes back to if you don't want to slip, stay off slippery slopes. I carry a can of sardines in my truck. Sardines are something that I would not think of overeating on, and one can is the right size. 

Good one, I wouldn't think of overeating them, either. Problem is, I wouldn't think of eating them, either. But, absolutely, I take your point. Perhaps there's something better than nuts as a safetty substance.

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