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[Jul. 23rd, 2004|11:09 pm]
Compulsive eating and "the real problem" discussion follows, but it's long, and possibly dull...

It's kind of a shame, the way words get torn apart. Words lose their meaning, or end up unusable, because of new associations.

One of the big ones that comes to mind for me is "pussy". I don't know the etymology of this word as it relates to a person who is a wimp, weak, and/or unable to take care of (usually him-)self. I would have thought that it referred to a pampered kitty cat, as opposed to, say, a big dog. But, it's also slang for a vagina, so it could have come from the notion that weakness is a feminine trait .

Even if the etymology referred to "pussy cat", it really wouldn't matter, because of the possible confusion today. But, it's kind of a shame, because there are times when I feel that I need a word to describe a quintessential wimp, and, because of when, and where, I grew up, "pussy" is the first word that comes to mind for such a wimp.

This is a bit of a long introduction, and I'm still not done yet, so be patient.

Take a fairly tough person, one who can take some of the hardest knocks that life can throw a person, and respond "Is that all you got, pussy?"

(see, I bet you're wondering why this was all relevant ... in fact, that particular thought/phrase has stuck in my mind mostly from a South Park episode. Nevertheless, it is an awfully useful idea ... "That was your best shot? I scoff at you!". )

Imagine that person feeling two steps away from breaking down crying. You'd figure that it has to be a serious load of pain that would put a person into that state, right?

And, then you find out that it's because the person can't gorge themselves on pizza, or have a half a dozen snacks over the course of the night, or something similar.

You'd probably think one of two things. You'd I think that the person wasn't nearly as tough as you thought, or, you would realize that there is a pain that you simply do not understand associated with food for that person.

I've seen a few live journal entries that have dealt, directly, or indirectly, with eating disorders. I don't have an eating disorder, not by any stretch of the imagination. But, I feel that I could have, and I think I understand a large part of how eating disorders work.

(I don't know if this will prove my credentials, but, I am 5' 11", and, in December of last year, weighed 260 lbs.. At that time, I was exercising regularly. Today, jogging 40 minutes a day, most days at work, and bicycling to to three hours a week, I still way about 235 lbs.. Given how much I enjoy exercising, and given how hard I try to stay in shape, I should probably weigh in at about 200, or maybe 210 lbs., and that's assuming that I'm starting to lose my battle with middle-aged weight gain.

And, thinking about this over the past few days has made me think about one of my concerns about programs that are supposed to end compulsions.

The 12 step programs are at least somewhat successful in treating some compulsive behavior problems. (right now, I'm treating chemical addictions as being somewhat behavioral, since they involve obtaining, and using a substance. )

I think that they might be incomplete. I think that they might be useful in a first-aid sort of way, or maybe as part of a greater whole.

Here's the thing: If I'm in a good mood, and I have the food craving, I can make some kind of compromise with myself. The pain is there, but it's not really unbearable, and I can put off some of the food for later, with a small quantity of a treat today. But, if I'm in a depressed mood, the pain is almost unbearable.

Now, keep in mind, one of my theories of depression is that it's a defense mechanism. Your brain surrounds itself in a dull, gray, haze of pain, but nothing feels much worse. Sure, you don't feel good, but, this is about how bad it's going to get. Depriving me of food, or, at least depriving me of comfort food, is one of the things that can bring me closer to breaking down then just about anything else. It's a special kind of pain, sharper, and deeper, and, for some reason, more meaningful, and many others.

Mind, there are certainly other pains that will bring me close to breaking down, but this is the one that is so painful out of proportion to its meaning that it strikes a special chord in me.

It's not because of physical hunger, and, while it might have something to do with the fact that carbohydrates can help produce serotonin, I don't think that's everything. Something about certain types of foods just makes them comforting, in some way, and helps them alleviate a desperate, hollow ache that I feel.

Again, it's possible that this is related to serotonin, but there are certain types of food, like pizza, or certain snack foods, that seem to fill this ache better than other foods that have just as much carbohydrate content.

If I were to stop eating compulsively through "willpower", or with the help of a program, I don't think that it would help the underlying problem.

I would still have this hollow ache, and, unless something taught me how to avoid that ache, all I would have done is learned to let myself suffer one way, to avoid suffering another way.

The only proper answer would be a way to ease, or erase, all of the suffering.

I hope that, in some ways, I've taken some steps towards doing that. I don't know, because most of the indulging that I have done over the past few months has been out of habit, and I haven't faced that deep ache in a long time.

But that is one of the things that bothers me about programs that are developed to stop a particular behavior. I'm not sure if they do enough, and, while I don't blame them for not doing more, I think that more might be necessary. I think they might be, at times, treating only one of the symptoms, rather than treating the true problem.

[User Picture]From: mittelbar
2004-07-24 08:43 am (UTC)
What do the programs do?

I was a compulsive eater (binge eating, no throwing up, no dieting) until I was maybe 23, and a nervous breakdown broke it. I mean...I still sometimes stuff the hell out of myself, but I never again desperately needed it the same way. And as far as I know, it wasn't the pain going away, but a blinding, debilitating *level* of the pain that just couldn't be dealt with by food. Somehow or other my brain figured out that food wasn't going to do the trick.

That treated a symptom, by somehow unwiring *that* response to the pain. In some sense, this also helped break a feedback circuit. I did not get "better," but one avenue of cyclical worseness was torn up for repairs until funding ran out.

If these programs rely on willpower, they are likely useless. I know that some compulsion-breaking is more about brain training or counseling than self-discipline, but I haven't explored any.

They are calling this an eating disorder these days, by the way, and I know more than one man who has described similar, thinking they were insane for wondering if maybe they had an eating disorder. I'm not diagnosing you, just suggesting that, if you don't know, there are varieties of compulsive eating that are "called" something now. Let me see...oh just "compulsive eating" and "binge eating," as far as I can find. Pff. Lot of fun that is.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2004-07-24 05:39 pm (UTC)
The programs don't quite work on 'just' willpower, but their only goal, as I see it, is to break the cycle of addiction, and try to repair some of the major problems caused by the addiction.

In some cases, that's enough, I think... sometimes just breaking the cycle is enough for the person to walk away.

In other cases, I think there's more that needs to be addressed.

In my case, it's possible that I could be diagnosed, but, for the most part, I'm under control. Keeping depression under control (which I seem to be better at doing nowadays) is key; without it, as I mentioned, I can compromise with myself. There's still a bit of an achy desire, but it's more like an ordinary disappointment.
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[User Picture]From: rickvs
2004-07-24 12:30 pm (UTC)
I've got a few people in my life who participate in twelve-step programs, and I've attended more than a few meetings as their guests. These programs have their uses, but I think to a large extent they replace various substance abuse problems with an addiction to twelve-step programs.

While I think that's mostly a good bargain (and perhaps as useful a trade-up as some folks have the strength to make), I don't think successful completion of the program means all the problems are solved... especially in regards to addictive behavior.

All that is to say that I think you've got a decent chance to find the root of your own problem ...because I don't think you indulge in self-delusion to the extent that many folks, including myself, do.
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[User Picture]From: johnpalmer
2004-07-24 07:09 pm (UTC)
I think you're right about the transferance problem (getting addicted to 12-stepping), and I wonder if that's always been a problem or if it only started relatively recently. (Well, "relatively recently" meaning, "with my lifetime" which is no longer all *that* recent.) It seems to me that there was more growth in the awareness of and acceptance of twelve step programs.

It's a funny kind of thing. Right now, I'm thinking that there has to be a way to address the things that lead to addictions... but then, I'm also remembering that one of the hallmarks of addiction is a feeling the addicted person has control over the problem... and so the entire notion of saying that there might be control over the problem gets a little risky.

It's definitely something I want to think about.

Thanks for the last bit, by the way... though I do have to wonder how close an escape I had. I've had some family members who I don't see as being "less" than me in some way fall prey to addictions. That drives home to me that there might be nothing more than... well, not "good luck", but some of the twists of fortune at play. (One family member made friends better than me; if I'd made more friends as a kid, maybe I'd have known someone who did drugs, and found a supply. Or, maybe not. Or, maybe I'd have tried them and hated them. Or... well, that's the thing. I can't point to any one thing and say "this is why it happened to him, and I know it couldn't have happened to me.")
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