Phyllis’s Story: ANTS

I can go for days without getting snared by some trigger that pulls me into thoughts of candy bars. But then something will set me off and I’m not just thinking, I’m filled with ANTS (allowing negative thought space) in my head.

It used to be worse. Before, during, and after Halloween each year, I was obsessed with thoughts of all the different candy bars to hand out – and all the different candy bars to eat once the doorbell stopped ringing. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better about what I eat, but I still can’t say it’s easy to avoid what I know I have to avoid. Now I have been attending Suppers for nearly a year, and in spite of the fact that I’ve reduced my intake of corn syrup and candy, I can still be distracted by thoughts of peanut butter filling and dark chocolate over layers of nuts and caramel.

At Suppers I learned to take a hard look at what, precisely, was triggering these unwelcome thoughts. Once I asked myself the right questions, the answers appeared in the pages of my journal: thoughts of candy come to me when I’m hungry. They come to me when I’m tired. They come to me when I’m thinking about my mother’s terminal illness. And the power these thoughts have over me is that they also promise that the candy will lift me out of my feelings.

I have kept my thoughts to myself about the addictive nature of sweets because I don’t want to hear the comments of those who don’t understand the seductive pull that a candy bar can have. Also, I don’t want to let on to other people that there is so much turmoil in my head over 50 cents’ worth of chocolate and corn syrup. But there is.

We had a guest speaker at Suppers who does experiments with lab rats to study how sugar works in the brain. When he said they had found that sugar works on the same pathways as cocaine, I felt better. It didn’t do anything for the ANTS in my head, but it did help me feel that my problem is real. And not just me; also many people at my meeting. We all have bad diagnoses related to our sugar intake and we all know exactly how we need to eat, and we don’t always do so because sugar does work like a drug. For me, food is the first addiction. I don’t want to minimize what people go through to get off cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs, but the one thing they have going for them is that it’s possible to be abstinent. You can’t abstain from food.

I am going through a rough time now. I can’t promise myself I’ll stay away from the quick-fix foods that medicate my emotions. What I can say is that in the broad scope of things, I’m eating much better now that I’m part of an intentional community, committed to this process of overall nutritional harm reduction.

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