No such thing as a "good reason" to act out

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A friend and fellow food addict called the other day to lament his latest lost eating battle and I asked him to tell me what had happened. But when he started by telling me how he’d been feeling that morning, I interrupted.

I didn’t want to know about his feelings, or the argument he’d had with his wife, or about the crack in the sidewalk he’d stepped on. I just wanted to know, specifically, what he’d eaten that was causing his agita.

It’s not that I’m into food porn. I’ve just learned that when I step outside my boundaries with food, getting clear and honest about it helps prevent bad incident from becoming a bad stretch. The “why” — which often include feelings, whether they are justified by reality or not — might also need to be part of the discussion, but first, what’s the “what’?

Besides, even though when I’ve been in my friend’s spot, I too have sometimes sought to invoke circumstance, the “why” rarely is more complicated than “because I’m an addict.” At the telling moment, I’d chosen eating over anything else, despite knowing that within seconds or minutes, I’d be unhappy with that decision.

There’s actually a second “why” question that’s far more useful than the cliched, bar-pounding, “how could I have let this happen again?!” And that is, why do I “need” to act out?

Before I get to that, though, let me address those quote marks on “need.” I know how damaging overeating is to me. I know that, for me, flour, refined sugar, other substances, and volume (of almost anything) not only fail to solve what I’m eating over, they actually add a physiological problem to whatever emotional, mental, or spiritual deficit I’m was struggling with. In the face of that, very, very little could explain or justify my action.

The habit/drive/weakness/whatever to act out is what unites all addicts, I believe, no matter the substance or behavior we use for misdirection or anesthesia. I used food — volume, more than any  substance, though of course I had favorites — because I was angry, or frustrated, or lonely, among other unwanted emotions. I also used it for celebration, of course, but that’s part of food’s complications.

I don’t know how I became conditioned to do this. I don’t know if I would have developed some other substitute, had I not been “satisfied” by food — and by that I refer to its success as misdirection/anesthesia, not as a salve for healthy hunger. I don’t know if I crossed some biochemical line, after which I no longer had unfettered power to choose my reaction to uncomfortable situations, and if I did, when that happened.

And I don’t need to know. (I would like to, but that’s not a need.) What I need to know is that my default has been to use food when pushed — severely or slightly, in actuality or in my head — and that it never turns out well. I have needed to find other ways to confront uncomfortable feelings, including straightforwardly, to ensure that whatever else happens, I don’t add to my problems while I’m “solving” them.

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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