Have you ever noticed that some people are on an endless diet plan, but never seem to lose the weight that they so desperately want to lose? Anyone know the girl who is mentally preoccupied with exercise and calorie counting but never seems to follow through with the plan? How about the guy who always talks about quitting cigarettes, but the next month he’s puffing away again?
I think every one of us can think of a loved one, whether it be a friend or family member, who suffers from a food, tobacco, alcohol or other drug addiction. We all have our downfalls or vices. We learn at different paces. This blog is not written in judgment, but instead to shed light on a sensitive subject that many of us may not have considered in our own battles against unsavory habits. What is the disconnect between yearning to change our lives, but not being able to carry out our wishes? Do we not know what we REALLY want? What blocks longterm success against these temptations?
Characteristics of Smokers
In college, I had a girlfriend who smoked like a freight train. Not only was she up to a pack a day because working at a bar made it so easy, but she began to have recurrent bronchitis, requiring loads of antibiotics. Finally she had had enough. But it soon became clear that she was unable to quit. No matter what was said, we all knew she being buying a pack the next week. And she’s not alone, smokers on average require 5 to 7 attempts at quitting before they are successful. The thing about my friend was that she had pretty severe, untreated anxiety. Cigarettes always “calmed her down.” After taking so many history and physicals in residency and as a hospitalist for 7 years, I began to notice this same trend. Patients who had untreated anxiety or panic attacks are more likely to get hooked and have trouble quitting.
A 2010 Australian study confirmed this when it published its findings in the Australian Journal of Psychiatry. It showed that people with anxiety disorders are more likely to be smokers, are less likely to cease daily smoking, and on average, smoke for longer exposing them to greater risk of tobacco related harm. In fact, other literature has shown that all mental disorders have a higher risk of smoking and other harmful behaviors like alcohol dependence. So ok, that makes sense. You can maybe see why its been so hard for your friend to kick that tobacco or drug habit? They are self medicating for a deeper issue. This is why it is never wise to just try those nicotine patches or gums, methadone, subaxone, or even Chantix, without first addressing a deep rooted issue inside.
What are you treating? Is it depression, anxiety or something else? I urge anyone suffering from these issues to dig deep inside. Just recognizing the feelings won’t be enough. You must decipher where they are stemming from, and in most cases, these deeply rooted feelings arise from our upbringings and childhoods. I’m not trying to knock anyone’s parents or childhood, but the truth is that no one is perfect. Most young parents bring their own set of unresolved issues-pain, hurt, neglect, shame, self loathing, anger, or fear right into the family dynamic. And although we are all doing the best we can, we usually can’t see ourselves. We are all molded by the opinions and guidance of the people who shaped our world when we were impressionable. And sometimes those emotions are mirrored in our own lives because thats how we were taught.
This also does not mean you have to be stuck in old feedback loops or unhealthy patterns forever. You hold the power of every decision you make. If you truly want to quit smoking, address the underlying cause as most are not successful at breaking the habit until this is achieved. If you are suffering from a mental disorder, take the steps you have been avoiding to heal. If you have self deprecating behavior because you lacked a loving home environment or parent, then seek self help books, be open to change, and start giving yourself the love you need. We all have aspects of ourselves that could be cleaned up. I liken it to cleaning out the closets of your mind. Self work is never pretty.
In the book The Tobacco Epidemic: the Psychology of a Smoker, the author notes that studies reveal that smokers tend to be more extroverted, anxious, tense, angry, and impulsive, and show more traits of neuroticism and psychoticism than do ex-smokers or nonsmokers. Again here, the literature also reveals a strong association between smoking and mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression. Of course not all smokers fit this bill, but it is important to bring the statistics to light. Be sure you are honest with yourself when trying to toss out the cigs-your success rate will improve. Are you constantly worried? Are you numbing something else? The interesting part here is that although anxiety, for example, can make quitting smoking more difficult, studies confirm that anxiety and depressive symptoms IMPROVE after the patient does stop smoking. So we anxious and can’t quit smoking, but are happier once we do.
Numerous studies have confirmed the validity of spirituality and self assessment, accountability, forgiveness, and self love in the healing journey. The same goes for alcohol and any other substance abuse problem.
But what about obesity?
A food addiction affects so many people today. Nearly 70% of Americans are overweight with the numbers climbing. If you know me, you know I definitely feel as though chemicals, not calories, are mostly to blame. But we are responsible for our portion size and the choices we make concerning each meal. Many people plan to begin to eat healthy, only to fall off the wagon the following day when their friend orders cheese covered nachos out at the local restaurant. What makes some people be able to resist dietary temptations while the rest of us fall victim?
The emotional cause of obesity and overreacting is protection. Extra weight is a cushion for the body physically and emotionally. We can kind of “hide” in our own skin. Think about it-thats why its called comfort food! The extra pounds can serve as an armor from a very harsh world. Of course, sometimes mental conditions like depression or sadness are to blame, but this does not apply to everyone. Top that off with dysregulated gut bacteria and dysbiosis that help to continue fueling cravings for the wrong types of food, and you have a real addiction. If you always are looking to lose weight, but can’t quit eating too much of all the wrong foods, then look into self love and check yourself. Are you afraid to be seen? Are you afraid for the world to notice who you truly are? Do you feel safe when you can hide? Do you feel happy or sad when overindulging? Have you dug deep into why this is?
I was a chunky kid and teen. I can remember feeling super insecure about it. I would cuss my thighs while looking in a full length mirror. I would wear baggy clothes so no one saw my cellulite. As much as I wanted to be skinny, I couldn’t quit indulging in hot cheetos and pasta. And my mother was a dietician! As I got older, I realized that my weight was shielding me from the fear I had of speaking up. I grew up in a very oppressive and religious household where I was taught what to think and feel. Once I became semi independent, I really didn’t know how to think for myself. I was terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing in the eyes of God and the world. Food had become my comfort and worst enemy. Only when I began to come to terms with the unresolved emotions I had from childhood, was I successful at ridding myself of the weight. Once I began actually telling my body I loved it, rather than hating it silently, things slowly changed. I forgave my parents. I forgave myself. Over time, I began to not want cheetos anymore.
One of my friends growing up I had an issue with obesity. She confided in me that her parents had shamed her every time she did not clean her plate at dinner. This had carried over as subconscious thoughts that she was a selfish and bad person if she wasted food—so she always ate all of it. Another friend had been molested as a teen and used weight as a way to deter men from finding her sexually desirable. There are many ways that we may use weight to protect us, but we can overcome these deeply rooted thoughts and be successful at kicking any habit.
Research has found a link between obesity and physical or sexual abuse in middle aged women. Even when taking variables into account like education, stress, and inactivity-this large California study of over 11,000 women found a connection between childhood abuse and obesity. It is estimated that up to 40% of significantly obese patients have experienced sexual abuse. This is not to say every overweight person has been abused, stress and genetics also play a prominent role. This is a multifactorial problem that is NOT just connected to the physical.
Resistance Can Be From a Deep Rooted Issue
Many of us fail at CHANGE due to resistance. And resistance may come in many forms-friends, procrastination, parents, distractions, extra sleep or a fun night out. It seems many of us–myself included–succeed at short term goals that give instant gratification, but wrestle with longterm beneficial goals. If we don’t get rewarded right away, we have trouble dedicating to the challenge. For me, I can always enjoy a good meal or have a great night out drinking, but it is much harder for me to set a daily meditation, workout or longterm diet plan…AND STICK TO IT. However, it is self loving, albeit challenging, to continue healthy patterns and kick the ones that no longer serve us.
Trust me when I say that you will be more successful if you decide to lovingly work on yourself and focus your energy on clearing negative thought patterns and trauma from childhood (we all have something). Once those negative emotions and thoughts have been acknowledged and you begin your self work journey, you will notice that it is much easier to be accountable to your dreams. Some find that they can overcome the various forms of resistance once they are mindful of it and have done the necessary self work.
Plant medicine like ayahuascua, ibogaine, DMT and Santo Daime are often successful in breaking food, alcohol, or drug addictions. It is postulated that this is because you come face to face with your true self and are guided by a higher power into self revelation. This often propels us in self love and makes us accountable for our decisions rather than seeing things from a victim perspective. Once we truly love ourselves, we will try our very best not to engage in activities or with people that harm us.
I think its very important to dig deep into your ego, or “shadow self” to truly improve your life over the long term. Your shadow self is the murky, “sinful,” or hidden parts of you that you deny, or hide away from the world. Until you can be accountable and embrace your imperfect self, you will continue to put unloving substances in your body. Understanding the psychological factors associated with tobacco, drugs, alcohol or food and dependence can further the development and improvement of therapeutic strategies to be used in cessation programs, as well as of programs aimed at prevention and education.