On Carb Addiction
I’m a fan of the American rock band Alice In Chains. The original lead singer of this band was Layne Staley until his death from substance abuse in 2002. While Staley stayed a virtual recluse during the final years of his life, he was not shy about describing the effects his long-term drug use had on his body and the regrets he had about his addiction. When he appeared for what would prove to be his final interview, he had lost several teeth, was pale and severely emaciated. He claimed that he knew he was dying. He said his liver no longer functioned, was throwing up all the time and had lost bowel continence. He claimed to be experiencing an entire body pain that was the worst pain in the world.1 Yet, through all his body’s degradation, pain and suffering, he carried on doping. Ironically, he was no longer using drugs for enjoyment so much as to simply endure; equating his heroine use to the insulin a diabetic needs to survive.2
I often wonder what it must have been like for Layne to know his body was shutting down, to be constantly reminded of its failure and yet unable to stop indulging in the source of his destruction. How helpless and hopeless he must have felt.
And then I realized – I do know what that feels like. I’m going through a severe and destructive addiction myself.
I’m sure I’ve pissed off someone by equating eating disorders to drug addiction but there you have it. While society might be generally more accepting of the idea that our reactions to some foods can be similar to that of the “high” from taking drugs, I still feel the majority believes eating disorders are a lack of willpower, effort or just plain gluttonous.
As I write this, I just awoke from an impromptu nap brought on by surging blood sugar levels resulting from a small, carb-laden meal I ate about 30 minutes prior. I seem to suffer from some sort of post-prandial reactive hyperinsulinemia. For me, the cycle goes like this: Eat carbs –> sugar spikes –> pass out –> wake up –> feel guilty and regretful –> lather, rinse, repeat. It’s the passing out that is the worst. To paraphrase Edgar Allen Poe: Naps, these little slices of death, how I loathe them. No matter how well slept and alert I am pre-prandially, I will inevitably slip into a brief period of unconsciousness if I eat more than 100 grams of carbohydrates in a single meal.
Without providing TMI, the night prior to this, I spent several late hours, aroused from fitful sleep, running to the bathroom suffering from what itsthewooo termed an intermittent shitting disorder. I can only assume this annoying and acutely painful attempt of my colon to over-through the rest of my body had been brought on by the consumption of a small (10”) pizza – which happened to be my only carb indulgence of the day but was made of dough that for some reason seems to trigger this reaction. I know this because I’ve eaten this pizza several times before and had very nearly the same reaction each time. Why do I continue to eat it then, you may ask. The truth is, it tastes good and makes me feel good, for a time…
While my teeth haven’t fallen out and my liver hasn’t shut down, my blood pressure is higher than it’s ever been. My weight is higher than it’s ever been. My blood glucose is now striding directly into the diabetic range on a near constant basis. My mood sucks, my mental concentration comes in difficult to control, ever-shortening spans and I am rapidly running out of clothes that fit me. I can already safely assume (from my pre-LC life blood lab results) that I’m loaded with oxidizing cholesterol. My irritable intestines and various unfamiliar aches in places that have never ached before assures me I’m rife with inflammatory proteins.
I refuse to get my blood chemistry done to confirm these assumptions because I don’t want to face the irrefutable evidence that the results will give me. I don’t want to see just how far I moved the pendulum in the other direction. It is, to me, akin to admitting defeat.
Despite all that I know and all that I’ve learned about carbohydrates, grains and how badly my body metabolizes them, regardless of all the effects that I (painfully) feel, I’m obsessed over getting my next carb “fix”. I no longer “eat to live”. Carbs controls me. It’s unnerving. I’ve never had cravings like this. Since being LC/HF, I’ve always been able to put the fork down, to walk away from what others saw as temptation but this is no longer true.
Tell me this isn’t addiction.
Tell me it isn’t equally destructive (albeit much more slowly – although being at the point of advancing middle age, maybe not as slow as I think? People in their 40’s die, too).
I think what confuses and frustrates me most right now is my inability to stop sabotaging myself each time I attempt to regain control of my eating. When I first went LC in 2013, I was able to reduce my carb intake to 40 grams or less a day virtually overnight and nearly effortlessly. This was after years of being a dedicated Weight Watchers member and eating lots fruit (zero points!) and highly-processed, low-fat foods (read lots o’carbs). You would think that coming down off that long-term use of fructose and other carbs would have resulted in at least some cravings/binges but I don’t recall that it did. I can’t even remember having even a minor bought of the ever popular “keto-flu”.
I try to remember what could account for the zeal with which I initially embraced LC. Perhaps it was the novelty of a new eating style or learning to cook with fats and oils I’d long ago eschewed or my fixation with trying to register ketonic on a ketostix (before I learned not everyone can) or even the nearly daily drop in weight that distracted me for the 66 days that appears to be the average time one needs to create a new habit. Whatever it was, it’s lost to me now. I will need to create new motivation, new focus and this appears to be my falling down point.
I started re-reading the foundational materials I initially read to learn about the Carbohydrate-Insulin Hypothesis. I do feel a small flicker of inspiration, as I mentally recall those initial “ah-ha” moments that so well described the effects I was experiencing eating a “heart-healthy”, low-fat diet. However, I can’t fool myself into thinking that is enough.
I look for some support in the scientific community but grow increasing disappointed at the amount of focused studies seemingly designed to consistently prove that food addiction should not be viewed as addictive behavior but should instead be viewed as the psychological processes of ambivalence and attribution. The former being the ever familiar craving of the forbidden doughnut and the latter being a moreish inability to restrain consumption. Hopefully there will be more objective studies done in the future that can prove otherwise.
My mother commented just the other day that I was looking rather large; this coming from an elderly, obese, diabetic woman who knows well that I’m doing everything possible to avoid her metabolic fate. Talk about your wake up calls.
I’m about to begin a new week. Perhaps I can somehow start anew. Maybe I can stay away from carbohydrates long enough to reap some small benefits that will be enough to motivate me to continue. I have plenty of LC food available. I have ideas for what to cook and prepare. I have snacks for when I feel week. However, I worry that this coming week is already too similar to the week before it; that I won’t be able to shake the specter of my addiction. Deep down I fear more than anything else that this regression has irreparably broken me somehow. That simply reverting back to a LC/HF lifestyle won’t be enough. That it’s somehow too late.