Thursday, October 27, 2016

One Year Post Chips

My kitchen counter not too long ago.


It must be going well when the anniversary of giving up an addiction goes by and I don't even notice.

I meant to publish this on the anniversary, but it's a couple days late.

October 25, 2015, is when I stopped my bag-a-day habit of eating chips. I gave away the 4-5 bags I had in the house and said, "I'm not doing this, anymore." 

I probably averaged at least 5 big bags of chips each week, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if I were 7 or more. There were often several bags of varying sizes in various stages of consumption in various locations (car, work, house) at any given moment. Saying it was "a bag a day" habit seems entirely fair.

I would eat exceptionally healthy meals, except for the fact that one meal every single day (if not more) was just chips.

I wrote about this at the nine-month mark, so I figured I needed to write a follow up at the one-year mark.

How did I do?

In short, I basically don't each chips anymore.  I can put a period at the end of at that sentence and stop there.

There were a couple of exceptions and room for growth in the future. The fact that they are so few tells its own story.

Exceptions

To start, I gave up chips without a lot of confidence in my ability to succeed. I had tried so many times in the past. In fact, I was always in a state of quitting only to snap back like a rubber band a day or two later.

It took almost two months after giving up chips before my resolve built up enough that I was ready to make my commitment absolute. In those first two months, I basically gave up chips but indulged a couple times--a significant achievement, despite that. I remember gorging myself on some corn puffs and such at a work gathering in early November. I was lacking in energy and that's all that was available, so I justified it. I think there was one other time, but I can't recall the particulars. It was mid-December when I told myself that those kinds of exceptions had to stop. 

Using food as a crutch in general had to stop. Losing about 15 pounds this year also made a big difference. I basically severed an over-dependence on food in that process. Yes, I can survive without constantly stuffing myself. I can even do quite well in "fasting mode." I can run leaner and tighter. Breaking that psychological barrier helped immensely.

Mexican Restaurant Exception (MRE)

I have also been allowing myself to eat corn chips whenever visiting a Mexican restaurant. My rationale has been that the salsa is just so nutritionally wonderful that it would be a sin to skip out on it just to avoid the accompanying chips. In retrospect, I am not sure that argument holds up very well. I can just put the salsa on top of my meal and avoid the chips entirely. It's great mixed into beans & rice or on top off a burrito, for example.

I previously figured that the MRE was not a problem for these reasons:

1. It was in the context of a meal.
2. It didn't seem to stir up chip cravings.
3. I wasn't going to Mexican restaurants solely to indulge in chips.
4. It was only about once a week.
5. Plain corn chips were never high on my list of cravings, anyway.

That was fine for a while, but lately I do feel those chip cravings stirring.

I believe the MRE is unnecessary and crosses a line, so to begin my second year without chips, my commitment is to scratch this clause. 

Focus

Avoiding chips is much easier when I focus on that goal. Recently, I have taken my eye off that ball, and it's easy to find myself on slippery slopes. Avoiding chips is just part of life now, and I don't need to think about it as constantly as I did several months ago. The problem is that this lack of focus makes it easier to make mistakes. I have found myself almost unconsciously grabbing for chips at a social gathering a time or two. I was once at another work-related gathering, and I saw some corn chips on the counter with some hummus and other dips. It seemed like the MRE scenario, so I had one. The chip clearly had some kind of a Dorito-like flavoring and that crossed a line, but before I could collect my resolve, I had another. Then I stopped.

It is exhausting to be constantly on the watch, but I think it is important to keep it up. Sometimes it feels like I'm holding my breath and it would be good to just let go, but I'm not quite ready for that, if ever.

I find that if I limit my overall carb intake and especially avoid fast food, it is much, much easier to avoid chips. Regular carb consumption as well as all the chemicals put into fast foods make me want to reach for chips all the more. Eating fast food and then expecting to kick a junk food habit is not smart. You're either setting yourself up for failure or at least working severely against the grain. I recently had an Arby's sandwich and had to fight cravings for the next day or so.

In summation, the fact that I can list so few problem areas is a great sign. You have got to understand that I used to plow through a entire large-sized bags of chips on an almost nightly basis. I would plan my days around chips. I made sure they were stockpiled in my car and home. It's like I needed them for my very survival.

Incremental

Struggling with an addiction involves walking a fine line. It's important to make it black-and-white.  You've got to be strict. It's serious--even the slightest exception can bring a crack in the wall, setting the stage for a dam burst later. 

At the same time, mistakes can and do happen. If you beat yourself up so badly if a mistake happens, you can make it impossible to get on the horse and try again. Basically, you've got to make it a positive experience, not one crouched in negativity, guilt and shaming of yourself.

My way of dealing with this is to see it as a process. I am deepening my commitment over time and strengthening my resolve. If this were a graph, I need to see the line going up and to the right. A dip or two isn't a big deal if that's all it is.

I used a similar process when I lost weight. I'm also using a similar process now fasting from unnecessary purchases to better manage money. I start with a modest but significant commitment, and as I gain momentum, confidence and experience, I tighten up going forward.

Going Forward

Sometimes I wonder--what would it hurt to have a few chips? They do taste good and I've clearly overcome this addiction in profound ways. That I have gone a full year without them would have been unthinkable not too long ago. There are times it would seem natural to have a few. However, I still think it's too soon, if ever. The paradox is that I could probably have them again at the moment I no longer want them.

Even one year later, I am continually amazed that I still experience cravings on a fairly regular basis. There are other times when the last chip seems like it was 90 years ago, and it's hard to believe I ever indulged like that, as if it were just a figment of my imagination.

I should not be so over-confident to think that a few chips at a gathering is harmless. I don't need to open that door. I resent the power they once had over me, and I no longer need or want something to have that role in my life. I have found that it's important to set clear boundaries with myself.  Wrestling with those internal demons has been a huge factor here. Opening the door just a little can generate an internal tug-of-war which is not smart--if you wrestle with yourself, you'll lose half the time, since you're equally matched. No, the adult me is in charge, calm and confident, and I like it like that.

I'm not sure how to end this post. I don't think it needs one. Hopefully, there will come a time when avoiding chips is completely second-nature, and for the most part it is already.  But I do have to keep that focus, at least a little bit on some back burner of my mind, at least for now.

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