Adapting Addiction Recovery Skills to Eating, Part 3

adaptingaddictionrecoveryskills-eating-part-3

 

Strategy 3: Abstinence

Abstinence from an abused substance or behavior is an essential part of addiction recovery. This difficult task includes fending off cravings, finding alternate behaviors to meet your needs, and avoiding triggering situations if at all possible.

When the substance you abuse is food, abstinence is not an option. Since eating is an absolute necessity, you are faced with not only fending off cravings to engage in destructive eating behavior, but also the Herculean task of learning to use food without abusing it.

In order to identify and then change your unwanted behaviors, you have to be able to observe them clearly. This is extremely difficult, as most of us try to forget our blunders with food. “I’ll start again tomorrow” is a typical response to avoid looking at today. The first step is to take away the shame you feel about your problems with food. Remember that shame is one of the main triggers that gets you into your food behaviors, just like it is with your other addictions. Shame is also a form of amnesia – it changes “I messed up with my food” into “I am a miserable failure” – clouding the self-reflection necessary to identify the steps that led to acting out with food.

To help you think about your eating habits without shaming yourself, remember that your behaviors came on for a reason. Perhaps you were scolded for eating something as a child, so you learned to eat that food in secret. Perhaps there was not enough food to satisfy everyone at your table, so you learned to eat in a hurry. You are an adult now, and these triggers may no longer be present, yet habits formed at an early age persist even when they are no longer needed.

Try to think about your eating patterns as just that – patterns from the past that can be changed when they no longer fit the present. You might be thinking, “I have tried to change before, why would this time be any different?”. The answer is that you are always different. Time continues to pass, and your efforts so far have built the foundation for whatever comes next. They may also have built a sense of learned helplessness, a belief that you will never be able to change. The fact that you haven’t changed yet doesn’t mean you are hopeless, but it may mean you have not found a method that fully meets your needs. Try to think of any past attempts to change as stepping stones to this opportunity, not proof that you are a failure.

Identify Unwanted Behaviors

The next step is to identify unwanted behaviors from which you would like to refrain. List the behaviors that take you away from your goals or that trigger you to eat inappropriately. If you have several behaviors, you may find that selecting one at a time is more successful for you, or you may decide that “cold-turkey” from all your behaviors is the method you prefer.

Now consider the options you used to build a foundation of sobriety from drugs or alcohol. In many situations, you can use the same skill set you built to practice abstinence from a substance to reinforce your eating recovery. What helped you abstain from drugs or alcohol? Did you find comfort and safety in meetings? Sponsorship? Counseling? Writing? Music? Prayer? Meditation? Reading? Something else? Perhaps you can implement the same strategy or activities to reinforce your eating recovery and new behaviors.

Finally, put these pieces of information together in a written commitment to your new behavior, as well as any related thoughts about this behavior, and share it with your counselor, support group, sponsor, or other supportive person in your life. It may be tempting to share your goals with someone who will “hold you accountable,” but avoid anyone who will shame you when you are imperfect in maintaining your abstinence, as you may be at first.

Here is an example of a constructive abstinence statement:

I learned to eat everything on my plate as a child. I believed that this behavior made me good, and I received messages of approval that reinforced this belief. Now I know that I am good every day, regardless of what I eat at my meals. Yet when I sit down to eat, I still feel the pull of my old desire, my wish to be good, to feel like I count. These are all normal feelings. However I choose new behaviors to get these needs met, and I will abstain from cleaning my plate in order to feel good, or to get others’ approval. I wish to leave food on my plate, even if only one bite, as a way to separate my food from my need to feel right. To support myself in this change in behavior, I will abstain from eating meals with anyone who comments on my eating; I will silently read this page before each meal; I will leave the table momentarily to journal or call a support person if I feel ashamed to be leaving food on my plate; and I will comfort myself after meals by taking a leisure walk while I process my thoughts and feelings. I will reflect on my ability or inability to make this change by talking with my sponsor or my support person every evening, and I will strive to do so without using the words “success” or “failure.”

Other addictive food behaviors from which you may choose to abstain include:

  • Eating out of a package rather than a plate or bowl
  • Spontaneous purchases of foods not on your grocery list
  • Eating when experiencing strong feelings
  • Eating while distracted
  • Giving in to peer pressure to eat
  • Self-harm or self-shaming behaviors after eating
  • and any others that you feel are destructive for you.

See if you can make these changes out of love and caring for yourself, rather than hate and shame. You are deserving of healing, even if you have been told otherwise, or been accused of being weak or useless. If you are tempted to believe that there is no healing for you, or if you are ready to give up on yourself and your efforts to change, please call Casa Palmera at 1-866-768-6719. Our intake counselors are available 24 hours and will support you in taking the steps to get help. You have already had so many successes! Let us help you add eating recovery to the list.

Why Are Online Pro-Ana/Pro-Mia and Thinspo Communities Dangerous?

danger-of-online-proana-communities

 

Many adults recall the teen years as a time of drama and change, with experiences of peer pressure, disappointment, and social dilemmas. How would we have coped if we didn’t have a safe place to escape? Welcome to being a teenager in 2014. Bullying, approval-seeking and the “group-think” mentality are rampant and constantly accessible, thanks (or no thanks) to smartphones and tablets and the fact that most teenagers are “logged in” 24/7. Constant internet access, the ubiquitous message that looking “good” means being liked, and the inescapable onslaught of what everyone else is doing makes online communities such as Pro-Ana websites and thinspiration blogs easier to find and get hooked on than ever before.

Being a teenager or young adult is a tough time in any era, but today teens are even vulnerable bullying and other types of victimization in the privacy of their own homes through their computer screens and smartphones. It is easy to understand why a teen would try to escape into an online community where he or she can feel accepted or believe he or she is being offered an actionable solution. In a society that encourages appearance changes as a route to happiness and promotes countless visual images of bodies, websites that promote extreme eating, dieting and exercise behaviors fit in perfectly.

But rather than promoting physical or mental health, strength and fitness, appropriate professional help, or even resiliency or social justice, Thinspo, Pro-Ana, and Pro-Mia sites and communities promote extreme and unhealthy thinness as the ultimate goal of being both beautiful and happy. According to the study by Dr. Emma Bond from the University Campus, Suffolk, titled “Virtually Anorexic – Where’s the Harm?” the dangers of these communities are that “[t]hey normalize emaciated bodies and promote unhealthy body images.” This creates a gateway to eating disorders as individuals bond via social media groups dedicated to destructive and even deadly behaviors. Even if teens or young adults don’t have eating disorders when they find these sites, it may not take long for them to start questioning their weight and their worth. Initially the information appears to mesh with the public health messages of anti-obesity, fitness and good nutrition that are taught at home and in school. But taken to the extreme, or used as an escape from painful life experiences, these messages can lead to unnecessary fear of food and eating, inappropriate compensatory measures, and unflattering comparisons with images of malnourished or computer-generated individuals. Mature adults are not immune to societal appearance norms, judgment and pressure. How much more susceptible are teens, with their not yet matured senses of self, to the misconception that extreme thinness equals “perfection” and should be the norm if they want to be happy and considered a beautiful, worthwhile person?

It is easy to understand how teens who are bullied or feel excluded online or in real life can fall prey to the false friendship and camaraderie of Pro-Ana or Pro-Mia websites., According to Dr. Bond’s study, “Through the performance of perfection, the users of pro-ED (eating disorder) sites achieve self-identity as an eating disordered person and group identity as belonging to the online cultural group.”

These teens find a (false) sense of protection and a common bond among other teens in the group who have eating disorders because most of the comments are encouraging and supportive. Unfortunately, some of these sites in fact target teens looking for a place to belong. The teens can be called “recruits” and are offered “secret” diets and tips, as well as strategies to avoid detection by parents and other adults. Some “former” Pro-Ana recruits have been speaking out about their stories, including “Courtney’s” article titled “It Happened to Me: I Was a Member of Pro-Ana Groups on the Internet”. She wrote about the constant struggle of thin as the “salvation,” and how it all started because she “wanted an outlet” and “a way to share [her] words with a secret identity so [she] wouldn’t be mocked.” Courtney found her salvation through the “twisted sisterhood” of “angels of Ana.” The sisters shared their thinspiration photos, which typically consisted of full-body shots that focused on the clavicle, chest and collarbones. The Pro-Ana sisters insisted that they weren’t freaks but beautiful women who “helped each other’s harm.”

Like most addictions — and Casa Palmera treatment center considers and treats eating disorders in many ways as addictions —Courtney found that removing herself from Pro-Ana participating is a process that has to be taken one day at a time. Courtney said she still doesn’t feel like an inspiration, but she’s proud of herself nonetheless and is grateful to have reached a point where she is no longer sinking.

There are ways to help young people like Courtney and to prevent this from happening to friends and loved ones. Make sure to check back on our website to read the next blog post of how to combat the Pro-Ana trend and its dangers. And if you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s eating or exercise behaviors, including resistance to recovery exacerbated by damaging website communities, please call Casa Palmera recovery center near San Diego, California at 866-768-6719. Our phones are answered 24 hours, 7 days a week, and we are happy to help you connect with the help you are seeking.

Adapting Addiction Recovery Skills to Eating, Part 2

adaptingaddictionrecoveryskills-eating-part-2

 

Once you have utilized your addiction recovery skills to Identify Your Triggers for dysfunctional eating behaviors, you can take the next step to avoid those triggers whenever possible. Having been through the 12 steps, you are very familiar with accepting that willpower is not enough to change addictive behaviors. You must consciously try to avoid the situations, places and people that consciously or unconsciously lead you to eat, not eat, or otherwise abuse your food.

The easiest triggers to avoid are those that exist in physical space – the places where you tend to practice your unwanted eating behaviors. This might include certain rooms in your home, certain restaurants or events, a grocery store, or even your car. Consider avoiding these locations completely for a while, or at a minimum avoiding them when you are feeling vulnerable to acting out.

In some cases this is impossible, and in others you may find that any place that has food is a trigger. Test out the strategy of eating on a schedule and avoiding any spontaneous eating. When strong feelings arise, or temptations to eat dysfunctionally, remove yourself, talk to a support person, or write down a few thoughts or feelings that you can process later, when you are feeling calm.

Addictive behaviors occur most often when you are under stress, in pain, or experiencing challenging emotions such as shame, fear, or frustration. If you have easy access to food, such as on your desk at work, or in your car, you are likely to reach for it in these situations, even if that behavior is not congruent with your goals. Keeping food out of your immediate environment doesn’t mean that you won’t go looking for it, but it at least puts a barrier of time and space between you and your unwanted behavior.

If you have identified deprivation as a trigger, it is very important that you do keep an adequate but not excessive amount of food on hand but not within arm’s reach. Keeping food in the kitchen but spending time in other rooms is a good policy. Otherwise you may turn to your unwanted eating behavior as a response to the stress of feeling deprived. This is a paradox that may have confused you in the past – Why when you commit to cutting back on eating do you immediately want to eat? It is because eating is necessary for survival, and many of us have a survival instinct that pushes us toward food when we are worried that we won’t get any, or won’t get enough.

If you grew up in a situation where there was not enough food, or where you were punished for bad behavior by being restricted from food, you may be particularly susceptible to this paradox, even if you are not facing the same restrictions in your current environment. The temptation is to eat as much as possible now because food may not be available later. Food insecurity is a powerful trigger for dysfunctional eating, even if it is only imagined or threatened.

If feeling overly hungry is one of your triggers, it is important that you eat at regularly spaced times, to prevent the intense feeling of hunger that almost always leads to overeating. If you are eating regularly and find that you still feel empty, consider which feelings may feel like hunger for you. Perhaps sadness, loneliness, or disappointment feel something like hunger. Or anger or fear may feel empty to you. Food cannot solve any of these feelings, but it may seem better in the moment than doing nothing.

You may use food as a comforting behavior, or a mood-altering chemical, or as a momentary distraction. You may be aware of what you are doing, or you may not notice until the moment has passed and the feeling persists. The recognition that the food didn’t solve things, and may have made things worse, can cause feelings of guilt and shame in addition to the original uncomfortable feeling. In these situations, exercise self-compassion, the number one skill that you need to be able to use to change your behaviors. Forgive yourself for being imperfect, and plan ahead to identify your feelings before you eat in the future. You may find that downloading your feelings at regular intervals or before each meal is a helpful addition to your eating routine.

If you have identified certain people as triggers for unwanted eating behavior, try to avoid those individuals while you are working to understand and manage your eating. Do not accept invitations to meals or social functions from food pushers or saboteurs – those individuals who can’t take no for an answer, who use guilt or disappointment to manipulate others into eating, or who encourage the dysfunctional behaviors you are trying to stop. If you must get together, choose events that do not involve food, or explain that you are working on a project that requires that you eat in your home for a period of time. Refuse to elaborate or to violate your boundaries if the individual insists or attempts to create conflict. At some point in the future you may feel better equipped to eat in the presence of this type of person, but it is wise to minimize situations that may present you with triggers you are not yet skilled to manage.

Some triggers are completely out of the realm of your control regardless of advance planning and strategy. These include co-workers you see daily, family members and roommates with whom you live, major family events that are unacceptable to miss, and so on. Although your reaction to these events or people can be modified with time and effort, initially it may be easier to at least avoid them while eating, even if you can’t avoid them completely.

Some triggers, especially those that occur over a lengthy period of time, simply cannot be separated completely from eating. These include holidays, vacations, anniversaries of unhappy times, hormonal fluctuations, mental or physical illness or injury, unemployment, moving, graduation, marriage, divorce, and other life transitions.

In the past you may have accepted that dysfunctional eating was an inevitable part of these events or time periods, or you may have promised that “next time” you wouldn’t let them affect your eating. Knowing that these events are triggers because of their ability to influence your emotions, your stress level, and your ability to cope, you can discuss them with a counseling professional who can assist you in determining behaviors that would be more appropriate and effective expressions of your feelings. Having alternate methods of coping makes your unwanted eating behaviors become unneeded.

If you are feeling hopeless about your eating behaviors, or if you feel that you are unable to make needed changes in your current situation, please call Casa Palmera at 866-768-6719. We have intake counselors available 24-7 to assess your needs and recommend care.

Pro-Ana and Thinspiration

pro-ana-thinspiration

 

Before the internet became a constant presence, body image distortion, body shame and related disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating were almost exclusively private matters. Most of us wouldn’t have even considered sharing our secret behaviors or shameful thoughts and feelings in any kind of public forum. Contrast that “old-fashioned” mindset with the current state of constant interaction and communication available to us 24-7. Unlimited access plus the perception of safe anonymity provided by computers frees us to expose and exchange our most private thoughts (and selfies) in our most vulnerable moments. At the same time that this freedom offers an outlet we might otherwise lack, it deprives us of the opportunity to process or consider whether this exchange is harmful or helpful, wise or foolish, supportive or destructive. In times when we need the most support for shaky self-esteem, difficult emotions, or a body that doesn’t meet our perfectionistic standards, we instead find self-proclaimed experts and online communities that preach thinness, promote eating disorders and provide support and praise for dysfunctional eating behaviors.

When these online communities, websites and individual posters focus on the restrictive eating and dieting behaviors common to anorexia nervosa, they are termed “Pro-Ana.” Those promoting the compensatory behaviors associated with bulimia nervosa are called “Pro-Mia.” When they focus on images or selfies (whether genuine or computer-modified) that depict extreme thinness, punishments for eating, or inappropriate weight loss, they are called “Thinspiration” or “Thinspo.” “Fitspo” sites focus on images of “fitness” for purposes of comparison, shaming and diet/exercise adherence. In many cases the four themes are so intertwined that they are indistinguishable.

Pro-Ana, Pro-Mia,Thinspiration and Fitspiration sites and communities allow users to share their stories of what they ate (or, more often, didn’t eat), their excessive exercise behaviors, and “tips” for how to be or become anorexic or bulimic. Members often develop a dangerously enthusiastic camaraderie among themselves, cheering each other on for their “successes” at practicing their unhealthy behaviors.

The unfortunate purpose of these sites and communities within sites is to provide users with validation for their dysfunctional behaviors. Whether spoken or unspoken, the promise of these websites is that abnormally controlling your weight and eating is the solution to your interpersonal problems, the best way to feel better when you are feeling badly, and the escape from your shameful feelings or experiences. Of course this is a faulty premise, and dysfunctional eating and exercise behaviors do not in fact solve larger and unrelated issues. Contrary to what you may read on these sites, this is quite different from offering support for someone struggling with similar issues. The goal of a healthy support group is to help individuals recover. The goal of Pro-Ana, Pro-Mia and Thinspo sites is to inhibit recovery and promote mental illness, malnutrition, and evasion of detection and intervention. This results in users of these sites being victimized at the same time that they believe they are being empowered.

Although the direct causes of eating disorders are most likely biological and occurring in the brain, environmental factors such as social pressure and learned behaviors such as dieting can trigger these dangerous brain changes. This means that although a website cannot directly cause an eating disorder (in fact, many individuals who stumble across these sites are appropriately horrified or nonplussed), by encouraging the behaviors that DO cause eating disorders, the sites act as a gateway to eating disorders and the dangers they present. “Normalizing” abnormal behaviors, that is, making them seem like they are safe and respectable instead of dangerous and inappropriate, leads users to form an unhealthy and inaccurate sense of how to progress toward our goals, or even if our goals are worth pursuing. Repeated exposure to images of abnormally thin bodies warps our sense of our own body size and shape, increases self-consciousness, body shame and the sense that we are being watched and judged at all times, and leads to hyper-inspection of individual body parts of ourselves and others.

Because Pro-Ana, Pro-Mia and Thinspo sites are pervasive and easy to access, awareness is key to protecting yourself, your loved one with an eating disorder, and your children and teens from participation that can lead to initiation or relapse of an eating disorder. If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s eating or exercise behaviors, including resistance to recovery exacerbated by damaging website communities, please call Casa Palmera at 866-768-6719. Our phones are answered 24 hours, 7 days a week, and we are happy to help you connect with the help you are seeking.

Drug Addiction and Stereotypes

drug-addiction-sterotypes

 

Drug addiction is portrayed with some frequency in today’s media, and many people think they have some idea of what “addicts” look like and how they act. This assumption, based on what we see in movies, on television and even in the stories chosen to run on the evening news, can have tragic consequences because many people suffering from addiction and drug abuse don’t fit those images and, as a result, can have a harder time getting help. Becoming aware of common stereotypes and of the ways in which they don’t match the truth is important for learning how to spot real signs of addiction and for removing the stigma of getting treatment.

Common Stereotypes

Some of the common drug addict stereotypes are easy to reel off. Recreational drug users may start out as teens or young adults, students who are influenced by their peers. They are likely to grow up with abuse or in troubled homes. In the U.S. there is a stereotype of disadvantaged people living in inner cities, in poverty, being more prone to drug abuse, especially minorities in those areas. Many people assume that drug abuse always comes with tell-tale physical signs, such as weight loss, scabs or scars from injections, unhealthy skin color, dark circles under the eyes and so on.

Addicts are commonly assumed to be uneducated, often dropping out of school early and either ignorant or uncaring of the consequences of their choices. They are assumed to quite possibly be homeless and likely to engage in criminal behavior beyond the use of illegal drugs. The stereotypes say they are disinterested in change and would prefer to let the rest of society pick up the tab for their choices (and pick up the pieces when their lives fall apart).

Addiction Realities

Stereotypes often have a kernel of truth inside them, which is what makes them stick. It’s true that some addicts reflect some or even many of these stereotypical images. But the fact is that the ways addiction is portrayed in popular culture, especially in the media, tends to teach us to assume that all addicts fit these stereotypes when most do not.

While some addicts are minorities or are financially disadvantaged, many others are successful professionals. These individuals often maintain their responsibilities well and may pursue very healthy choices elsewhere in their lifestyles. Having financial resources can change the face of addiction significantly, in both physical and social ways. For example, someone with enough money to support their habit is far less likely to pursue other forms of crime than someone who is lacking the cash to buy drugs. Also, sometimes the characteristic physical symptoms associated with addiction are actually due more to malnourishment or other kinds of physical ailments, not because they’re the direct result of drug use. Individuals who have financial resources and apparently successful lives are better able to avoid such complications. They have the resources to feed their addiction – and to hide it.

Real Signs to Watch For

Learning real signs of addiction could help you save someone’s life. Instead of unreliable stereotypes, here are some typical warning signs to look for.

Behavior changes are some of the best warning signs of potential trouble. For instance, people may start to withdraw and isolate themselves in order to use drugs privately and to avoid unwanted attention when they are drunk or high. They might start to let responsibilities slip or stop taking interest in hobbies and activities they previously enjoyed. Some people develop mood swings in response to changes in drug use or because of increased cravings for drugs. Marked changes in daily habits can also be trouble signs, as a person rearranges their time around new or increased drug use.

Addiction is not the only possible reason for any of these signs, but whether or not addiction is the problem, someone who shows any of these behavioral changes may need help. The best thing to do is to talk honestly with them about your concerns and encourage them to seek the help they need.

Adapting Addiction Recovery Skills to Eating

adaptingaddictionrecoveryskills-eating-part-1

 

The development of a healthy relationship with food is the foundation of recovery from an eating disorder, yet it takes months and years to build. Therefore recovery from an eating disorder begins the day you commit to change, even if change hasn’t happened yet. Unlike recovery from a substance or process addiction, where you are either sober or using, recovery from an eating disorder is based on your desire to change rather than your eating behavior.

In “Are You Addicted to Food?”, we looked at the similarities and differences between dysfunctional eating behaviors and substance and process addictions. Now let’s talk about how you can direct some of your recovery skills and strategies toward your eating.

Strategy 1: Identify Your Triggers

In your addiction recovery, you learned that you were powerless over your addiction. To help yourself avoid the substance or activity that you are unable to control, you learned to avoid triggering situations and people that historically led to using. You can implement this same strategy to begin your eating recovery.

Consider the eating behaviors you wish to eliminate, then think backward in time: How does the process start? What locations, events, people, or feelings lead up to your dysfunctional eating behaviors? What are the common threads?

Consider timing: What are the trends? Does it happen when you get home from work or school? Middle of the night? Weekends? After you put the kids to bed? When your wife is out of town?

Consider location: Does it happen at work? At home? At a restaurant? Any restaurant or a certain restaurant? When you are at the grocery store? What about when you’re on vacation or business trips?

Consider people: Does it happen when you eat with certain friend? After a phone call from your ex? When you are with your mother or dad?

Consider events: Does it happen when you get your grades? When you cash your paycheck? After a run-in with the law? A close call? Good news arrives? A doctor’s appointment?

Consider feelings: Does it happen when you are feeling down? Feeling like a failure? Feeling lonely, scared, or unloved? What about feeling sad, disappointed, ashamed or embarrassed?

It is typical to feel ashamed or anxious when you try to think about your eating, or to have difficulty remembering what happens immediately before and after your behaviors. This is because you are in an altered mental state when you are practicing your eating behaviors, and because you use them to modify your feelings and thoughts. Of course in the long term, these behaviors move you further from your goals of a happy, healthy life. But in the moment, they serve as a bridge to take you away from difficult situations, people, events, and feelings. They are behaviors that help you survive from one moment to the next. One important benefit of recovery is that you will learn where your deficits are in handling different types of stress as you investigate the triggers that lead to your behaviors.

In addition to contemplating your relationship with the potential triggers in your life, consider the strategy of self-compassion. Can you forgive yourself for being an imperfect eater? Can you look hopefully toward the future instead of hopelessly at your past? You must try to understand your behaviors and what leads to them in order to avoid them, but you also need faith that change is possible even when you haven’t seen it yet.

If you are feeling hopeless about your eating behaviors, or if you feel that you are unable to make needed changes in your current situation, please call Casa Palmera at 866-768-6719. We have intake counselors available 24-7 to assess your needs and recommend care.

Are You Addicted to Food?

food-addiction

 

Have you successfully recovered from a drug or alcohol addiction? Quit smoking? Or stopped practicing an addictive behavior?

If the way you eat feels similar to an addiction, you may be able to transfer some of the skills that you developed in overcoming your other issues.

Some Similarities Between Eating and Addictions:

  • Like alcohol and drugs, food is a biologically active substance that alters mood, changes brain chemistry, and feels rewarding to a sensitive brain.
  • Like behavioral addictions (gambling, pornography, video games, etc.), the process of eating and/or rituals surrounding eating can also feel rewarding and/or comforting.
  • Both are often performed in private and kept secret due to shame, embarrassment, or other negative feelings.
  • Attempting and failing to control the problem behavior with willpower is often unsuccessful, leading to a sense of personal helplessness, hopelessness, failure and/or disappointment.
  • A combination of learned behavior and biological sensitivity most likely set the stage for the behavior, which becomes less controllable as time progresses.
  • The behavior may have predictable triggers that once started, are nearly impossible to stop until the behavior has been completed.
  • The behavior may increase in frequency or severity during times of stress.
  • The behavior is used as a temporary escape, even though it ultimately causes more problems and makes things worse.
  • Underlying issues may fuel the behavior, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and others. Treatment for these underlying issues helps decrease the craving for the problem behaviors.
  • Family, friends and significant others find the behavior difficult to comprehend, and may express frustration, resentment, embarrassment, or retaliatory behaviors.

Although there are many similarities between problem eating and addictions, there are two significant differences:

  1. Abstinence from food is not compatible with life.
  2. It is nearly impossible to completely avoid unexpected encounters with food.

These two factors make recovery slightly different when the substance of abuse is food, because of course you have to learn to use food without abusing it. You can’t simply ban it from your life. But you have learned to manage your cravings for your other addiction issues, and you can do something similar with your problem food behaviors.

Let’s look at these possibilities in the next article. Meanwhile, if you are experiencing eating that feels uncontrollable or reminds you of your experience with addiction, please call Casa Palmera at and speak with our intake professionals who can provide you with guidance.

Heroin Addiction is an Urgent Health Crisis

heroin-addiction-urgent-health-crisis

Recently, awareness has been building about the increasing use of heroin – and the increasing number of overdoses and deaths from it – especially since the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in February 2014 from an overdose of heroin and other drugs. In March 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder released a video statement calling increased heroin use, and especially a sharp rise in overdoses from the drug, “an urgent and growing public health crisis.”

Heroin use has been on the rise in recent years, and federal data shows a 79 percent increase in heroin use between 2007 and 2012. The increase in the use of this dangerous and illegal drug is often linked to the abuse of prescription painkillers, particularly opioid-based painkillers such as Oxycontin and Vicodin. The same data demonstrating the sharp rise in heroin abuse between 2007 and 2012 also indicates that over 80 percent of first-time heroin users previously abused prescription drugs.

To combat the issue of rising heroin use, Holder called for both strong law enforcement and legal action and for an increase in programs to prevent and treat both heroin addiction and addiction to other opiates, especially painkillers. Federal statistics show that abuse of legal painkillers causes more deaths every year than heroin, demonstrating that the abuse of opiate drugs is a much broader problem than that posed only by heroin.

The government has recognized that prescription painkiller abuse is a problem, although in a perverse way, government efforts to crack down on prescription drug abuse may have contributed to the increase in heroin abuse. In shutting down so-called “pill mills” that produced Oxycontin and other opiates and by prosecuting doctors who aided individuals in getting prescriptions for painkillers, federal actions taken to reduce prescription drug abuse appear to have made heroin a more attractive alternative for many individuals, being both cheaper and easier to acquire. Such unintended consequences of government efforts to fight prescription drug abuse show how complex a problem preventing drug abuse can be.

As part of the current response to opioid drug abuse, Holder outlined several aspects of the current government strategy. One is to limit the availability of heroin and other opioid drugs by pursuing production and distribution at all points of the supply chain. An example of this in action is a more than 300 percent increase in quantities of heroin seized on the southwest border of the United States between 2008 and 2013. Officials are also still working to prevent prescription opioids from getting into the hands of drug abusers.

Holder also said that officials are working with doctors, police and others to increase the number of prevention and treatment programs available to people suffering from opioid addiction. By raising awareness, prevention programs may help keep individuals from ever suffering the devastating consequences of addiction. Improved and expanded treatment programs can save lives, assisting people in the often difficult process of recovering from such addictions. While the DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies do all they can to reduce the availability of illegal drugs, as long as any such drugs are available, there will be a need for a multifaceted approach to fighting them. Giving people the information and tools they need to avoid addiction or to recover from addiction are vital parts of this process

National Nutrition Month

national-nutrition-month

March is National Nutrition Month, which makes it a perfect time to celebrate all the ways that good nutrition, combined with other healthy lifestyle choices, can help us thrive and enjoy life. Here are a few tips for changing your nutrition and health – both physical and mental – for the better.

Change Your Definition of “Diet”

When most people hear the word “diet,” they think of a restrictive program to help people shed massive amounts of weight. But in order to maintain good health throughout your life, you need to establish good habits around food and eating that will sustain health in every part of your life. Don’t think of your “diet” as a temporary set of restrictions or a time of deprivation but as your lifelong pattern of eating and enjoying food. This means making sustainable changes if needed. A balanced diet doesn’t mean endless deprivation but rather healthy discipline and regular, deliberate indulgences. It may mean making small changes slowly rather than drastic changes quickly and choosing habits that you can not only maintain but also enjoy.

Think Simple

Temporary diets can also be overly complicated, which makes them all the harder to stick with. You don’t need to learn a complex system of points or follow strenuous rules in order to construct a healthy diet. Instead, think in simple terms about your food. Choose whole, unprocessed foods. Opt for freshness and flavor in your ingredients. Add color and variety to your meals. Learn how to eyeball healthy portion sizes instead of trying to count every calorie. If you add some basic cooking skills to your repertoire, using simple ingredients and spending a little time in the kitchen will open up a new world of delicious, healthy dishes for you.

Slow Down and Savor

In addition to changing your food choices, how and when you eat can make a big difference to your nutrition and health. Avoid eating while sitting in front of the computer or watching TV, because this can easily lead to mindless overeating. Slow down and enjoy what you eat, which will help you feel more satisfied than eating without paying attention.

Make a point of eating with other people. This can provide great health benefits beyond simple nutrition. If you don’t live with family members, roommates or other people you can regularly share meals with, make a point of getting together with friends for meals when you can.

Be Active

Exercise is necessary for good health. But, like diet, exercise sometimes gets a bad reputation, with people envisioning grueling hours in the gym every day in order to make any real progress.
It doesn’t have to be that bad – unless you really enjoy pushing your physical limits. A general guideline is to be active for 2.5 hours every week. That breaks down to a simple half hour for every weekday, or you can trade some weekdays for weekend days. Find an activity you really enjoy so spending half an hour doing it every day will feel like a reward, not a chore.

Reduce Stress

Stress can be a big factor driving other unhealthy choices, such as eating poorly or not exercising. Some degree of stress can help us achieve and learn skills we need in order to cope with challenging situations, but constant stress at high levels is bad for both the body and mind. Taking steps to manage stress and extra tension may help all of your other healthy lifestyle goals. Make sure to get enough sleep, take regular time away from work, spend a little time every day doing something relaxing and spend time with friends and family. Taking regular action to unwind can pay off in big ways throughout your life.

Remember that great health is always a choice, and no matter what your current diet or level of activity, you can always choose to make a change for the better!

Anxiety as the Root of Addiction

anxiety-root-of-addiction

People who suffer from anxiety often try to self-diagnose and self-treat the disorder, whether their anxiety comes from day-to-day stress, such as public speaking, or from a traumatic, life-changing event. Addictions stemming from anxiety disorders are on the rise. Unfortunately, seeking the help of a mental health professional is still seen as a sign of weakness by many people, and those who suffer from one of the many known anxiety disorders can often keep the condition hidden from family and friends by trying to self-treat – leading to additional addiction issues with other substances.

Social Anxiety and Alcohol

One of the most common anxiety disorders is social anxiety, and many people who are exceptionally shy in public will turn to alcohol to help them “loosen up” in what they perceive to be awkward social situations. According to a publication issued by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly one-fifth of patients suffering from some form of social anxiety self-medicate by using and abusing alcohol, and 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety disorder also have an alcohol problem. Alcohol is an easily accessible way of coping with social anxiety that can often become a crutch for people who live with mental health issues. What many people fail to realize is that in some cases, alcohol abuse can make anxiety issues worse. Eventually, the person suffering from anxiety will need to increase his or her alcohol consumption to overcome social anxiety and awkwardness.

Anxiety Issues and Drug Abuse

Another way people cope with anxiety issues is by using illegal drugs. Because marijuana is easily accessible, often inexpensive and more socially acceptable, it is often the drug of choice for those who want to relax in a high-stress, high-anxiety situation. Unfortunately, marijuana can act as a “gateway drug” and lead to the abuse of other substances such as cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and heroin. These drugs often make anxiety issues worse, especially when someone begins to feel anxious about having enough of the drug on hand or wondering how they’ll get their next fix. Additionally, when individuals go through the withdrawal phase of addiction anxiety can be much worse. This is a vicious cycle which in turn leads to a stronger addiction. Often, when a person is treated for substance abuse, anxiety issues can be found as the root of the addiction. Anxiety disorders coupled with substance abuse is one example of a dual-diagnosis – when someone suffers from both addiction and mental illness – and both can be treated simultaneously with different therapies and pharmaceutical drugs.

There Are Other Options

According the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anxiety disorders may often occur with other physical or mental illnesses, making a firm diagnosis tricky. With the information doctors now have about the brain and anxiety issues, medical treatment is often effective, and the person suffering from the disorder will often go on to lead a happy, healthy, and productive life. If you or someone you love is suffering from an anxiety disorder, whether mild or severe, the best course of action is to seek the help of a mental health professional. Self-medicating the condition is never recommended and will often make the anxiety worse over time. Although admitting to anxiety is often the hardest part of treatment, it can also be the most important part and the first step toward recovery.