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Does It Really Hurt?

Posted Feb 20 2013 8:00am

by  Kathleen Callahan  

I've been thinking of that a lot since my battle with a packet of graham crackers in the nurses’ lounge yesterday. As I stood in front of the bin of crackers, willing my hands to stay by my side and my feet to walk out the door, that old, familiar, time-honored voice whispered in my ear, "Just this once won't hurt." Would it? I mean, really, in the grand caloric scheme of things, I'd had a beautiful lower-calorie nutritarian day. How much damage could a hundred calories really do? I'm sure if I'd had the graham crackers and stepped on the scale today, I'd still have lost weight.

Graham crackers. Flickr: Sterlic

Here's what I've figured out. Just this once wouldn't have hurt at all. In fact, it would have felt darn good, especially when whatever empty dopamine receptors I had that were crying out for a hit got that first blast of the sugar/salt/processed combo that brings such a sweet release. How many of us have felt it? You're at the church supper, eyeing a gorgeous piece of pie. You're out to dinner with friends, perusing the menu, trying to convince yourself that you're going to order the salad with broccoli and lemon wedges instead of the fettuccini alfredo . You're trying with everything you've got to avoid the cabinet that holds your husband's stash of Doritos. Most people sharing space with you at that moment would have no idea of the epic battle going on inside you as you ferociously and desperately debate yourself over your upcoming food choice. Sometimes we win that battle, and sometimes we don't. We may reach for the pie, smile at the person standing next to us, and  say, "Oh, well. Just this once won't hurt." And, it doesn't. If anything, it brings on a full-body wave of release. We actually sigh out loud sometimes with the bliss of it. Our shoulders drop as our muscles drain of tension.

Our eyes may even glaze over a bit as we go to our happy food place where our taste buds sing and our heart soars. Dopamine, after all, is the very same chemical that is released when we fall in love.

So, it's true, then. Just this once really doesn't hurt at all. In fact, it feels really good. However, when I close my eyes and picture myself having that bite of pie followed by the full-body melt, it's hard not to also imagine the images we've seen of crack addicts in the movies. Just picture the wild-eyed, jonesing addict on the floor, leaning up against the dirty wall of the crack house, tourniquet tight around her upper arm. She inserts the needle into her vein, pushes the plunger, and we see that same body melt, the same release, the same eye glazing we ourselves get when we eat the pie.

Aren't we so very fortunate that our addiction is socially sanctioned, that it takes place in clean, sparkly church halls, restaurants, and our very own kitchens? Aren't we lucky that we don't have to hide in dirty alleys to get our fixes? And, isn't it incredibly tragic that we share the same exact sort of dopamine-craving, soul-crushing, health-destroying compulsion that the crack addict does? My heart just breaks and my eyes fill to think of the enormity of it.

Just this once doesn't hurt. But, here's what does: The next day, when we're standing in front of the bin of graham crackers and doing battle yet again with the craving, we have no rational reason to avoid them. After all, we already know that once won't hurt. We proved it to ourselves the day before. Physiologically, we've primed our dopamine receptors to look for the blast of dopamine that comes from our fix. We all know it's awfully hard to fight biology. We tell ourselves we don't want the crackers as our hands are tearing the packet open and our mouths are watering in anticipation.

Here's what else hurts. Not only are we eating crackers every day now, but we're also eating a bagel with butter in the morning. And, because we're feeling so tired and drained from a lack of nutrients, we're too tired to cook when we get home, so we're grabbing take-out. And, then we see the scale nudge up in the wrong direction. Because here is a universal truth—our minds can be fooled by our addictive brain, but our bodies cannot. We can tell ourselves that we won't gain weight just by treating ourselves every now and then, but our bodies will always tell us the truth.

And this hurts, too: We feel demoralized. We feel weak. We feel desperate, and let's face it, we feel terrified. We may have the specter of serious health problems looming over us. We may have watched a loved one die of their addiction and like Scrooge, feel we've been shown a vision of our future by the Ghost of Things Yet to Come. Anyone who's lain in bed at night with a head full of visions of diabetes and heart disease knows exactly what I'm talking about.

But, does it have to be this way? Are we destined to die in the back alleys of our clean lives? I suppose it's preferable to die in a sterile hospital rather than in a dirty crack house, but must this be our only choice? I don't think so. I believe with all of my heart that we can change our futures. We've all seen people on Dr. Fuhrman’s blog and website do it. We've read of our Fuhrman forum friends beating heart disease, holding cancer at bay, ditching the insulin and cholesterol meds. We know of people who run marathons in their 80s. We know of others who were reborn after losing a hundred pounds. Why can't this be us, too? It can, my friend, it can.

Here's what I learned yesterday: resisting that graham cracker was an incredibly painful experience. It caused me far more pain than eating it would have. I mean, the pain was truly visceral. I swear every cell in my body felt it. But, you know what? When I walked out to my car after work last night, I felt triumphant. I felt victorious. My belly felt blissfully content from the gorgeous homemade harvest soup I'd fed it. And, I knew that I was one step closer to breaking that devilish food addiction once and for all. For me, that kind of intense pain is worth it.

It's tricky for us, because unlike the crack addict who decides to go clean, we cannot avoid our crack houses. There will always be church suppers, restaurant outings, and, yes, even our own kitchens. There will be Super Bowls, birthdays, Mother's Day, the Fourth of July. And after the summer, we've got that sugar-orgy holiday of Halloween with Thanksgiving and Christmas following right on its heels. How will you navigate your way through these dangerous waters? Will you go for the addict's release, or will you fight for your life? Will you fight for your family, so that unlike my dad, you won't leave them with an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table and steal from them the chance to hear your voice say that you are thankful to be alive and thankful for them?

I know what choice I'll make  from now on.  I will take care of this one body I've been gifted with. After all, I can't turn it in every few years for a new one. It requires my love and protection if I am to live free of addiction and disease. 


Image credit: Flickr - Sterlic

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