I recently saw an article about Demi Lovato. I mean, her shit is everywhere. But it was the headline that got me. It got me thinking and here I am writing about that exact same thing.
Because this shit is important. Because gaining weight in early recovery (recovery in general) is usually inevitable. For me, I was doing drugs instead of eating. And it’s true. I was skinnier when I was snorting pills. But I couldn’t have been more unhealthy.
And that’s the thing. Skinny doesn’t mean healthy. And gaining weight —especially when you’re off drugs (alcohol too) does not mean you’re unhealthy either.
Like me, you may be one of the 65 percent of people who have gained weight after getting sober —specifically, right after leaving rehab, which is what that Demi Lovato article was all about.
Today though, I want to talk about gaining weight in general. Like gaining weight as a sober girl with temptation everywhere. Nearly 20 percent of individuals who have been able to overcome their drug addiction have also found themselves gaining a decent amount of weight.
Unfortunately, many more will struggle with an eating disorder, compulsive overeating or what is now being called a food addiction. It’s a balancing act. And I know it’s hard. Because I lived it. I’m still living it. But being healthy in recovery is way more important than a few extra pounds. So eat the damn cake —just don’t eat it every day for every single meal.
Balance, people. Balance.
When we get sober, our bodies have to recover from years of damage. Cell repair and growth both require a lot of energy. Plus, our brains are usually completely out of whack. When you take substances —whether you’re thing was alcohol, cocaine, or opioids —you’re basically flooding your brain with a surge of chemicals. Those chemicals are responsible for our overall sense of well-being, motivation, energy levels, and movement.
And because that flood became your brain’s new normal, your brain will seek out those chemicals in other pleasure-seeking substances. Substances like food (particularly sweet, calorie-loaded, salty, fried foods), sex, nicotine, and gambling. It’s called addiction transfer. And it’s not your fault. It’s because this neurological process has the ability to override rational thought in pursuit of pleasure that you can eat an entire pack of cookies and have no idea how it happened.
It’s also the reason we snorted one pill and couldn’t stop.
On the other hand, it doesn’t help that sugar used to be considered a harmless replacement for drugs and alcohol. In fact, AA’s “Big Book” —the 12 Step bible —suggests that recovering addicts keep candy on hand. It’s because sugar helps with drug cravings. Consequently, this may explain why donuts, coffee, and plumes of cigarette smoke are often staples at so many 12 Step meetings. And when you’re looking at the amazingly pink frosted donuts for an hour, especially as an addict, it’s hard not to walk to the back of the room and eat it.
But like I said, it’s OK to do that. You just don’t want to eat the whole pile of donuts. And you don’t want to do this at every single meeting you go too for the rest of your life. If you’re not into the 12-step stuff (I’m not anymore), it’s the same thing if you work at an office. The break room. Or, when you go out to eat with a bunch of friends —all ordering up some sugary (salt too) goodness. So even though sweets may have eased some people’s drug cravings in the past, that many more have ended up experiencing that thing called addiction transfer. You know.
Like what I mentioned above —when you switch your substance of choice to sugar (or food in general).
If any of you guys watch Jersey Shore: Family Reunion, you should know Mike “The Situation” is newly sober. And if you caught the season I’m referring too, you should also know he’s been eating everything in sight. That’s because, “Once [you’re] off drugs, your brain [still] craves the same rewards those drugs used to give,” explains Dr. Pamela Peeke, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland. “An apple’s reward simply doesn’t cut it. So what’s left?” Peek asks. “Addiction transfer.”
“Off the cocaine, onto the cupcakes.”
Research suggests that food and drugs have a similar influence on the brain’s reward center. A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that sugar, not fat, stimulates cravings. And a widely cited study from that same year found that Oreo cookies activated the nucleus accumbens —the brain’s pleasure and reward center —just as much as cocaine and morphine, at least in laboratory rats.
And from those studies, they all say that this shit has an effect —not only on the addict’s neural pathways, but also on the addict’s psyche and overall self-esteem. “Some relapse because they’re so disgusted with the amount of weight they’ve put on,” infers Dr. Marianne Chai, the medical director at the New York Center for Living, a recovery facility for adolescents, young adults and their families in Manhattan.
She maintains that the mindset is all about instant gratification.
Most people don’t want to invest the four to six months of strict diet and exercise it takes to see results. So, they live off caffeine and stimulants (sometimes cocaine) in order to suppress their appetite and hence lose weight, which is anything but healthy. Chai considers this addictive behavior. Essentially, this shit can lead back to addiction; a relapse —making it of grave importance to step away from those self-harming habits.
Playing the Tape
Instead of giving in to your cravings, I suggest you play the tape. How will I feel after I eat this? Then, literally imagine how you’d feel. Because there are alternatives to the junk food you love. Healthy alternatives that will nourish your mind, body, and soul. Plus, whole food nutrition will fill you up. Processed foods do not. That’s the reason you want to eat the whole bag of chips. Because fatty, salty and carby foods make you insatiable. You’re just feeding the bad. Instead of restoring the good.
Luckily, more awareness of sugar’s negative effects on the brain, have inspired some rehab facilities to improve their meal plans and hire culinary nutritionists who are also registered dietitians. “We’re not asking them to live on arugula,” reiterates Peeke who is also the senior adviser for multiple addiction and eating disorder treatment centers. “We’ve come upon creative, delicious entrees and snacks that will compete with the junk they’ve been eating all along, to reclaim that reward center.”
We’re switching them from bad fixes to healthy ones.”
I’ve heard of other centers offering on-site cooking classes for patients and parents alike —along with lectures on nutrition and healthy eating in general. All of this encourages them to want to eat healthy. And what better way to do so than to grow your own herbs and vegetables on a roof-top garden? Sounds pretty cool to me. Well, that’s what even more places are doing. Plus, it gives addicts something to do. And maybe they’ll like it enough that they take up gardening (or at least something positive) when they go home.
I’ve heard that too. Because most young adults don’t know how to pick out food; they’re living on deli and fast food, and a lot of parents fail to model self-care. It’s just, maintaining a wholesome diet plays a pivotal role in maximizing one’s ability to recover in a way that’s sustainable. Endgame, people. Endgame. Along those lines is taking the time to exercise. That shit will bridge the gap.
Because working out is my sanity.
“You can’t get an addict into recovery until you deal with every aspect of their life,” says Christopher Kennedy Lawford, American addiction author who has over 23 years sober. “What you think, how you think, how you relate to people, what you put in your body, how you exercise —it’s all related. And we need to get smarter about it.” The thing is, it’s not as hard as you may think. Pick one thing you either want to add or remove from your daily routine. Do that. And then every week add or remove another.
For me, I wake up every morning and meditate. I’ll drink some coffee, eat a nutrious breakfast like eggs or eatmeal —and once I’m caffeinated enough, I’ll head into the garage where I work out. I’ll walk on the treadmill, lift some weights —and I feel better. I can almost guarantee that you will too. And it’s OK to miss a day. Just try to be as vigilant as possible. When it comes to food, stick with foods that have always been foods. Fruit is nature’s candy. Dark chocolate works too. And when you fall short —because I can also guarantee that you will —don’t beat yourself up.
And it’s never too early or too late to work towards being the healthiest you.