It never occurred to me that I could be addicted to something. I don’t drink very much; it just doesn’t appeal to me and it never makes me feel very good afterwards. I don’t smoke, either: the smell of it makes me nauseated even without all the harm it does to your health. I don’t do any drugs of any kind, for a lot of reasons: I can’t afford it, I’m not that curious, and I’d prefer not to find out what they would do to me the hard way. I’m not really morally opposed to any of these things, I just don’t like them. If they did away with the drinking age today, I don’t think I’d go and buy up a whole bunch of alcohol before my 21st birthday at the end of this year. There’s just no desire there. The thought of doing harm to myself with these things overshadows any potential pleasure I would get from them, so I just leave them alone. This is part of the reason I gave up meat and dairy, too: I know they’re unhealthy for me, and they’re clearly unhealthy for animals and the environment; eating those would be a double whammy of cruelty to my own body, and to the tortured, terrified bodies I would be consuming.
So it seems very strange and unfortunate to me that I could be addicted to something else, which all of my research, reason, and experience tells me is probably more harmful to human health than all of those previous things I mentioned combined: cooked oils and starches. Sugary crap. Baked pastiness. Fried nastiness. It’s bad.
On the one hand, it seems counterintuitive that cooked food could be dangerous, given that we’ve been eating it for hundreds of years. Yet on the other hand, it makes sense, given that for the millions of years during our evolution as a species, nothing we consumed was cooked (not even meat). We ate just like every other creature on the planet: raw, nutritionally intact foods in unprocessed forms. Everything from apples to whale blubber was organic and chock full of enzymes.
If you’ve ever burned your hand on a stove, you know that heat causes chemical changes: it creates new chemical compounds and destroys old ones. Leave something on the grill or in the oven too long, and it becomes a blackened, inedible mess—something cooked is already halfway there. A few years ago the “Truth” anti-tobacco campaign came out with a commercial that listed all the dozens of toxic compounds found in cigarettes. It was an impressive list, but take a look at the nutrition page of a fast-food chain like Dunkin’ Donuts and you’ll see ingredient lists that look just as bad (restaurant owner and author Sarma Melngailis has a very interesting blog post on the topic here: http://www.welikeitraw.com/rawfood/2008/02/raw-vs-dunkin.html). Even the act of simply cooking a potato produces more than 400 unidentified compounds, according to one of the studies David Wolfe sites in a couple of his books on raw foods and nutrition.
Well if cooking food is so bad for us, then why aren’t we dropping like flies because of it? That’s a good question. But for all our fancy technology, we’re not doing very well as a civilization in terms of our health right now, are we? So many of the main killers in the US are food and lifestyle related diseases like heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancers…eating poorly seems to be its own punishment, and it’s a long, slow sentence.
Which is why it’s so painfully embarrassing for me to admit my addiction to some of these cooked foods, especially of the real sweet variety. It’s one thing if you don’t know better. But if you do? Oh, lordy.
I had naively hoped that this blog would allow me to disseminate all the wisdom, cleverness, and experience (much of which I have yet to put into action) that led me to my pristine health and balance (which I have yet to achieve). Maybe now it serves better as a confessional and a space to admit we’re all human.
But goddamn it, we don’t all have to be sick and miserable humans, with all our vices slowly chipping away at our vitality and well being.
Nonetheless, this is what’s happening with me in the case of sugary garbage. Strictly vegan sugary garbage, to be sure, but junk food is still junk food, whether you have to kill something to make it or not. I did give up processed foods for a while, but lately they have been coming back to haunt me during my serious lapses of judgment. I’m starting to believe that the sweet tooth I had as a child has come back to bite me in the ass as a young adult.
The few things I know about addiction and addictive behavior come from a handful of intro-level psychology and economics courses and Victoria Boutenko’s book, “12 Steps to Raw Foods.” (Great research, profound insights, and a deeply compelling personal story…I hope I can start taking her advice one day, and soon.) What makes me think that I may really be struggling with an addiction (or something like one) is this: (1) I know better than to consume these things, but I do anyway; (2) I do it as a reaction to stress, out of habit or on impulse; (3) it provides a short-term distraction from stress, but does not solve the problem, and ultimately creates more problems; (4) once I have started, I cannot seem to stop myself, even when I am fully aware of the ugly consequences and how badly I will feel afterwards. It may not be drugs or alcohol, but it’s still a pattern of turning to something harmful as a distraction from a bigger problem.
Frankly, cancer, diabetes, and obesity are bad enough as it is. The emotional and psychological issues that our food culture induces in us quite literally just add insult to injury. For a long time, I really looked down on people struggling with their weight or with eating disorders. What a rat race, I thought, this unhealthy desire to be unhealthily skinny amidst an ocean of nasty, unhealthy food. Now I think the reason I was so disdainful was because I was afraid that might be me: too obsessed with food and body image to function. That would be pitiful, I thought. But for years, it wasn’t that far from the truth, and until recently I’ve been too embarrassed to admit it. I’ve been able to function, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a major distraction and a major source of stress.
A while ago, I decided that I wanted to be slim and healthy, but I wanted to get there in a natural, healthful, sustainable way: I didn’t like the idea of artificially forcing my body into a shape I couldn’t maintain without long-term damage and pain. So that ruled out things like diet pills and making myself throw up. I’ve been doing some research (my God, there’s a lot of bad science and shady “products” out there), and I’ve since learned a lot about nutrition and natural health, and I’m still learning. One the one hand, this is great because I’ve been able to make some positive changes and get past a lot of the gimmicks and pseudo-science (I still don’t drink that Enviga stuff, for example). On the other hand, every chocolatey bite goes down with a nice smack of “you should know better” shame and hypocrisy.
So what do I do now? I’m not completely sure, but the first step to solving a problem is being able to admit you have one. I may no longer eat pigs, but I still eat like one, and a lot more often than I wish I did. I hope that I will undergo an authentic change of character and cease to desire junk foods the way I don’t desire things like meat or cigarettes. Most likely, there are some other anxiety issues below the surface that I need to work on. I don’t know, but I sure would like to get back to normal, back to a state of balance where food is no longer a substitute for entertainment or comfort but just a source of nourishment—and not a source of anxiety.