Addictions are complicated, I was taught that at some level we are all addicted to something in our lives and that knowledge has never left me. I know the thought that standing in a coffee shop waiting for your daily hit, may seem pretty innocuous in comparison to some addictions but how much would you fight to keep it in your life?
So addiction is complex, and there is rarely a straight forward answer to why it’s happening. But unfortunately increasingly I’m seeing people addicted to things in their lives that they are not considering is an addiction. They are addicted to over working, alcohol, chocolate, crisps, emotional drama, coffee, sweets, biscuits, buns and cakes, exercising, coffee, tea, sugar, computer games, their phone, staying up late, social media, food restriction, self harming, and of course drugs. The list goes on to be honest, because as individuals we are all unique so how our addictions manifest are different.
Our addictions can be linked with our relationships with those who surround us, of those we interact with, they can be connected to our environment, how we set up our environment, what is considered normal in our environment, our social life, our emotions, our genetics, they all play a factor in what we become addicted to. For some of us we will never consider them to be an addiction, they are just a habit we have, when I met a famous marathon runner in his late 80’s he told me he had never missed a days 9 mile run for over 60+ years. Is that a good habit or an addiction to exercise? I recently spoke to someone who can’t go without their afternoon block of chocolate, is it an addiction to or just a nod to self care? I have clients who are Swiss, French and Spanish and taking away their morning coffee is like asking them to remove an arm, is this an addiction or a social norm in their environment? At what point does the balance tip?
It’s different for everyone.
Addiction is complicated because one man’s meat is another man’s poison, what feels balance for one person is the start of the slippery slope to obsession for another. I don’t think our labelling everything is helping us out of this situation. So many people now come telling me they are following a specific diet trend, we’ve got so many labels around nutritional diets that even I’m almost lost within them. But what is clear is that these specific labels aren’t helping people to become intuitive, instead they are giving them a set of rules and restrictions and adding to the problem when they can’t stick to them completely. This leaves some of my clients feeling that if they are not keeping to these rules that they are out of control with what they are doing, no matter how small the transgression. Moving the behaviour away from keeping to a diet that suits them, to a set of controlling measures which cam for some become a recipe for overall disaster. It’s all OK until it’s not OK and it’s going wrong.
This then starts to shift our brain chemistry, addictions just take over, this is what in the end makes us all addicts of something in our lives. We are all looking for the hit that makes us feel good.
Often when people come to me about their diet being out of control, I’m looking for the emotional trigger in their lives, it’s rarely about the food, it’s more often about another factor that is or isn’t happening. Our behaviours are often driven by social, relationship or environmental factors, so looking at these is key to understanding more often than not what is happening with the food.
So how do I address some of the things that are unhelpful in my clients lives?
Adjusting routines can be very helpful in changing dietary issues.
Swapping less healthy items for better choices can be a great first step.
Just changing one small thing at a time, focus on what you want instead and the steps to get there rather than what you don’t want to happen.
Emotional eating tends to happen more in the evenings, looking at your eating across the day can help you to see if this is a lack of balance in your diet earlier in the day, leaving your blood sugar imbalanced. This can leave you with increased anxiety or behaviours in the evening where you are struggling to gain control over your eating.
Change what you are doing in the evening, and make it harder to get the foods you are drawn to.
Look at your sleeping patterns, sleep has a massive impact on how we are feeling and poor sleep will impact on choices and performance the following day or days.
Self control and willpower are difficult to keep to and over time tend to become whittled away, so changing things around you to support the choices you are making can make it a whole lot easier.
Remove perfect, good and bad from your vocabulary of food, live with intention and mindfulness.
Addictions can leave us feeling rather irrational about even the smallest of things we do, realising this means that sometimes you have to take it one small step at a time. Timing of change is as important as the change you are making, it may not be the right time to be tackling the issue.
The addictions we have in our lives are often masking an emotional issue that we either don’t realise we have, or are ignoring because we don’t know what to do about it. Sometimes our values are the driver and we don’t realise this, and so we are living against our value system without realising it. This can then drive decisions that may feel like they are going against our will, particularly when we are dieting is where this can often become more apparent. But in reality these decisions are just reflective of the values we hold. This doesn’t make you weak, out of control or lacking in willpower, this just means you don’t realise why you are making the decisions you are making. At that point most willpower and control decisions are going to fail at some point, which is reflective of why so many people yo yo diet.
Our addictions are therefore more often than not coping mechanisms, that help us get through our lives, in some cases hiding emotions that we can’t deal with, suppressing the feelings we just don’t want to understand. I refer regularly to the dashboard of the body, and they are just a light coming on, which more often than not we find a way of continuing to drive with.
I find the more our life has addictive behaviours happening within it, the smaller our world outside of them gets as we focus increasingly on them either being bad or good, or being a key driver in our lives. But our lives are about change, we live in an ever changing environment, and we have to give the life we live purpose and meaning so that we can create the change we want to experience. A life that reflects our values because we understand them, a life that reflects our priorities because we’ve set them with intention is one where we have habits that support us in this goal rather than addictions that don’t.