by Sherry Bruck
My 54 year old brother is bi-polar and has had a history of battling mental illness for his entire adult life. His routine is to get stabilized on meds and therapy but then inevitably falls off the wagon as he caves in to social pressure and the desire to join in the fun of having a drink or toking a joint. These seemingly minor “cheats” trigger a manic feeling that leads him to believe he doesn’t need his meds, and eventually he ends up back in the hospital to be stabilized…again. It’s a repetitive cycle for which we’ve all gotten used to and accepted for the last 34 years. One day talking to him by phone I found myself getting a little preachy and impatient about taking his meds, accepting and doing what is best for his health and well-being so that he could live a normal life, maintain relationships, and hold a job. He yessed me as expected.
But then I reflected on the difficult lifelong path he has had to navigate. His illness is one in which he needs to be consistently strong and disciplined to keep himself healthy. Then I started thinking “who am I to judge?” Like he with his manic episodes, I’ve had a lifelong battle with my weight and I was not exactly succeeding. I constantly fall off the wagon, succumbing to the social pressure. The only difference is that being overweight doesn’t affect my ability to hold a job, and have relationships, so there isn’t the stigma attached. What if I had to apply the same perfect discipline to myself concerning my weight that I expect him to apply to his mental health? What if using the excuse “My metabolism is slow and I can’t lose weight” held the same severe consequences my brother is dealing with in his situation?
Food can be an emotional addiction, just like cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. It’s just not politically correct to say so. In fact there is currently a PC trend that supports even morbidly obese people. We are not supposed to comment on peoples bodies, or their choices of junk food, or their lack of exercise. But we can freely comment (negatively) on smoking, drugs, and alcohol abuse. We take a superior stance on the state of an addict’s self-control and don’t understand why they succumb to those self-destructive vices if they know how bad it is for them. We lose patience and expect them to just deal with all the temptations. And then I took a look at myself. I’m no better than an addict, because every time I get upset or feel bored, I meander to the fridge to make myself feel better. Or when I get caught up at a party, all my resolve dissolves as I say “what the heck” one appetizer won’t hurt and then it turns into an avalanche that packs on the pounds. What would happen if I pretended that cheating on my Can’t Lose Diet held the same life-altering consequences for me, as someone like my brother?
I decided to put myself to the test. I had already started the “Can’t Lose Diet” for a strict 40 day fat-burning phase where I absolutely could not touch a drop of alcohol, sugar, or carbs and had a severely limited food list. No cheating, no taste of this or that. No grey areas, just black and white.
During the 40 days I endured skepticism, questioning, and social pressure (Fred was entirely supportive—go figure!), but I didn’t cheat, even once. I sat at bars with my seltzer, went to parties where I passed on the appetizers, brought my own food on the golf course, and more. I never hid away and went to every social occasion and abstained. I lost 20 pounds as the diet promised. It wasn’t a cakewalk, but I kept telling everyone—it’s only 40 days. It’s not forever.
But what if it was forever? My most enlightening moment came when I had to socialize without drinking. I now have so much more empathy and understanding for how hard it is to stay engaged and not succumb to temptation. It’s not easy to stand around drinking seltzer while everyone else is whooping it up and getting a little tipsy. It became so glaringly obvious to me just how much of our lives revolve around going to the latest new restaurant or cool bar.
It’s not easy to take responsibility for our own health and well-being, but I found that I’m now addicted to feeling really, really good. And it’s not just the weight I’m talking about. I feel energetic, clear-headed, motivated, balanced, less stressed out. I don’t want to do anything to disrupt that feeling.