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Home » Nutrition » My Secret to Sobriety and Dieting (or maybe I should just say losing weight): No Magical Herbs or Pills Needed. Just Change the Tape.

My Secret to Sobriety and Dieting (or maybe I should just say losing weight): No Magical Herbs or Pills Needed. Just Change the Tape.

September 2015
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I have a tape that I play over in my head.  A lot of ex-drunks do/did, it’s quite common. Some people call them thoughts but I have an entire committee in my melon that I have to keep in order, to simplify that down to “thoughts” does the process injustice.  Also, and more importantly, people (myself included) often use the thought process to justify their actions or even succumb to that which haunts them. Now that I know better, the excuse just isn’t good enough.

To thine own self be true, but don’t try to bullshit me either.

I never ended up drunk at a bar stool, or worse – in a jail cell, especially toward the end, by accident or spontaneously.  Toward the end, I was in a veritable shit-ton of trouble and the last thing I needed was to get caught drunk again.  Yet that’s exactly what I did.

When I quit drinking, on November 18th, 1992, I began a process of changing the way in which I process thoughts.  See, there once was a time when I couldn’t maintain sway over the committee.  The ass-hat in the back who always wanted trouble ruled the roost, and the following is exactly how that worked.  I would swear off drinking, yet again for the umpteenth time and everything would go along just fine for twenty-four hours or so.  Sometimes less, sometimes more (I made it a whole two weeks; I almost bled out after bursting a blood vessel in my throat and then came closer to checking out Jimi Hendrix style from getting too “sick” during a rather impressive night on the town binge).  Then a thought would enter the gray matter between my ears…  “You need to relax, and a beer would help that immensely.”  The next thing I knew, I was being cuffed and hauled off to the drunk tank again…  But that’s not entirely how it went.  It only seemed that way because I wasn’t paying attention.  An “argument”, for the lack of a better term, had ensued prior to my stepping foot in the bar.  First there was, “No, that’s a lousy idea.  You have no idea how far that one beer will go.”  Followed by the miscreant’s, “But you need it.  Look at you, you’re shaking like a leaf, you’re sick to your stomach, you’re a nervous wreck…  We need this.”  I could hold off for a few go-rounds but inevitably I’d give in and end up plastered.  Once I got that first sip passed my lips, there was no telling how far down the toilet I’d go – and the interesting thing about all of that is you hear people say it’s the first drink that gets you…  That’s only partially true.  It’s being defenseless against the argument in the first place that gets me to the point where I have a beer in my hand.  That’s where I ran into problems…  Long before the first round was ever paid for, I lost the argument.

The problem is, figuring all of this out isn’t easy – especially when you’re sitting in that mess and can’t see a way out.

There’s a reason I meld diet into the alcoholism angle too.  When I make a change in eating, my thinking follows the exact same pattern.  Think about it…  “Oh, I can have this brownie, I was careful all day about what I ate…”  For some it stops at just one brownie but a craving is set off where tomorrow it’s a little harder to skip it.  For some, “one brownie” equals a brownie the size of a pie plate, with ice cream, whipped cream, salted caramel and a frickin’ cherry on top. For still others, that one brownie sets off a chain reaction that lasts until the final brownie crumb from a whole batch is washed down with a glass of milk.  Folks, that’s no different than what a practicing drunk does, all that changes is the severity of the consequences.  Have you ever tried to justify that pie plate brownie, as described above, as “a brownie”?  Remember, rigorous honesty is required if you’re to get better…

Say I eat twelve brownies, or better yet, instead of opting for a decent lunch I decide to go for the big Double Mega Artery Clogger Burger, Large Fries, Diet Coke and a six-piece Chicken Strips, with barbecue sauce of course…  Eventually I’m going to get big on a lunch like that – not even I, at 200+ miles a week, can outride that.  Over the next five years I get fat. Over the next ten I get old. Over the next five to ten… Well, it’s time to pay the piper.

On the other hand, if I head to the bar and drink twelve beers, I’m going to suffer through all kinds of marital, work, health and legal issues – its unavoidable and damned near immediate.  I’d give me two weeks before my first trip to jail.  Why, or better yet, how can I be so sure?  I am a two-fisted drinker.  One in each hand and the case between my legs.  I. Will. Not. Change.  Ever.  I’ve tried a hundred different ways and combinations.  I am what I am, so abstinence it is.  Rigorous honesty.

Still with me?  Now, there is a solution.  I have to change the tape that plays in my head – and this is exactly why I have an easy time losing weight…  When I quit eating crap, I change the tape. Right friggin’ now.  I can shut it down at one 2″x2″ piece of cake (literally folks, that’s a tiny piece of wedding cake) or a few kernels of chocolate covered popcorn (curse you Boy Scouts!) or I can avoid the garbage food trap altogether.  Once I’ve changed the tape from “I may as well give in” to, “This is brownie is going to wreck my happiness”, I can win the argument that goes on in my melon.

This takes a ton of practice, and because of that reality, a Higher Power of your understanding wouldn’t hurt (sure helps me), along with a friend I can call in a moment of indecision (or worse, poor decision).

In the end, diet works for me not because I have a prescription for some magic pill, or because I eat the equivalent of a field of some concoction of herbs and roots wrapped up in a neat little pill (all of that crap is hoo-ha by the way). I don’t need diet books or to eat only veggies… Nope, none of that. Because I’m an ex-drunk, I learned long ago I have to cease fighting. I have to give up to win.

To wrap this up, if you read to this point you may be scratching your head… I wrote about winning an argument with a committee member in my own freaking melon! How could that be “not fighting”!?

Very perceptive indeed! When I changed the tape, I got so good at countering that first thought with a positive second thought (or three), that I don’t have to fight anymore. The healthy, good, positive thought becomes natural. Enough practice and I don’t even have to contemplate how good that brownie would taste, I don’t have to entertain that first thought. I just discard it as I would a banana peel after eating the fruit. I learned how not to have the argument in the first place. I surrendered, and won. At the same time.

Try it, you’ll like it. Just remember, this takes practice.

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17 Comments

  1. wanderwolf says:

    So, um, I’m not comparing a sugar addiction to an alcohol addiction… yet all of what you wrote rang true (and I’m definitely the person who, once I say yes to one brownie, the rest of the pan follows suit). The committee in my head sometimes needs the one quiet, mellow person in the bottom of the right curve of the conference table to speak up and say his piece, and then a lot of debate follows. It’s good when the guy’s reason speaks, but lately it’s been a whole lot of talking over him. Need to work on getting that one voice stronger again.

  2. Tracey says:

    This is so awesome!!! My mother is an alcoholic and it is a tiring life to love an alcoholic. Every time she decides to try to stop drinking, I say, “Dad’s on vacation,” because sure enough, as the day is long, she’ll start drinking again. It’s just a matter of time. Reading this rings so true on so many levels. I can just hear myself when she starts with the excuses. I’ve recently lost 82 lbs, so for me the dialogue in my head is exactly what I needed to accomplish my fitness goals. Every time doubt crept in. Every time I wanted a hot fudge sundae. Every time… I had to tell my brain to shut up. Eventually the dialogue becomes easier and you begin to win.

    Just so you know, I copied a piece of your blog here and linked it to my Wonder Women Fitness group to share with them. I love your blog. Keep it up.

  3. Sue Slaght says:

    Jim I always admire your absolute honesty on your blog. Not too many people would dig that deep and share with such openness. I have a weird question. Do you think your success with losing weight was ‘easier’ because of your history of alcoholism? Did the skill transfer?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Absolutely, no doubt about it, 100% yes.

      Rigorous honesty, or alternately, the refusal to BS oneself is an absolute must when it comes to recovery. The willingness, not the ability, to be honest with myself is the single greatest thing recovery ever gave me.

      The second greatest thing is obviously the willingness to take positive action based on that honesty.

      Thank you Sue, I deeply appreciate it.

  4. isaac976 says:

    I am proud of you Jim, but I never thought you as one and never will, I like the way you look at life and how to tackle the situation. Not many have this kind of strive.

  5. bribikes says:

    Thanks for this post Jim. For a long time I let myself be the victim of the thoughts that rolled around in my melon and it wasn’t any fun. I still have times that I mess up, but I am learning how to change the tape and not allow the melon committee to run my life.

    I was making some progress before I started reading your blog, but the simple way you cut to the heart of the matter has really given me a much-needed boost. Thank you for the way you are willing to share your experience to help others 🙂

  6. jlouvar says:

    My name is Jackie and I am sober. Food for me is the same. Why have one cookie when I could have 12. It is the same for me except drinking caused me more problems. I like your blog. Thank you and you give me inspiration.

  7. tischcaylor says:

    Love the idea of changing the tape to shut down the melon committee. I have to keep reminding myself that the tape’s been changed, though. Still, periodic
    reminders beats the heck out of those committee arguments.

  8. Brent says:

    Jim,

    Thanks for this post. People who aren’t in this situation don’t understand that food addiction can be just as difficult as alcohol. I have three years sober, and that has been great — my life is a very different place than it was when I staggered into AA and did what they told me to do. But I finally realized that, after struggling with my weight, that food can be just as much of a drug as the drink in my hand.

    I remember a few years back living in Manhattan, waking up at 2:30 in the morning, getting dressed (hoping my girlfriend didn’t wake up as I did this), sneaking out of the apartment and going around the corner to a bodega, buying a pint of Haagen-Dazs and eating it as fast as I could in the hall outside my apartment, hoping nobody else on my floor was coming in late who would discover my secret, then staggering back into bed, passing out, and waking up the next morning feeling just as bad as if I had really tied one on.

    So it took me a while, even after getting sober, to realize that food is my main addiction. I’ve made a lot of progress, and I realize that it’s essential to change your thinking, just as you said. The trick is to reach for the tools that you know work right away, without giving all sorts of craziness time to take root in your head.

    The vision I had recently is of an airline pilot in a crisis. If you were in the cockpit when an engine explodes and falls off, you wouldn’t see the pilots look at each other, panic, ask what to do now, feel sorry for themselves, or wonder if they’re going to die. Their training takes over: they both reach back over their shoulders and grab the emergency manual that’s in a pocket on the back of their seats. They immediately open to the “engine exploded and fell off” checklist, which contains the procedures for engine disasters, and start following the checklist. In other words, the first thing they do is reach for the tools that people have put together which have the best chance of working properly, based on hundreds or thousands of similar emergencies in the past. They only “wing it” if none of the proven checklists work.

    Similarly, I have started in the last year to train myself to reach for the tools without thinking when I’m in danger of binge eating (and less so these days, in danger of taking a drink). It’s making all the difference in the world.

    Thanks again for your blog.

  9. […] may also be another way of visualizing what a blogger friend refers to when he says he “changes the tape” to shut down the voices in his head that try to sabotage sound dietary […]

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