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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Man vs. Food Part I - Chocoholics Anonymous

This is a Thursday Timeline entry that I absolutely have to write...because I think that once I have it out in the open, it will give me no excuse to do anything else other than make my life better. And for the first time in the history of the blog, this will be a two parter! Part II will be posted Friday, January 18.

January 17, 2013

I have a bit of a confession to make. And, here's the thing. Most of you who know me probably know this to be common knowledge anyway. It won't come across as a really huge secret to those who know me best. But, it's something that I really need to get out there in the open so that I can see the truth and do something about it.

My name is Matthew...and I am a chocoholic.

I know, it's such a shameful secret to possess. I admit it. But, it's true.

Sure, some people might be chuckling in the stands, and I do get your point. It isn't like I just confessed to having an addiction to liquor, painkillers, cigarettes, or other drugs. And, I'm certainly not addicted to love, because let's face it, I am no Robert Palmer.

How can anyone be addicted to chocolate and other sweets?

It's easy. I am. And, it's an addiction that I have struggled with for the majority of my life. An addiction that I wish I could kick once and for all.

But I'll be the first one to admit that kicking my addiction to sweets has not always been easy.

For one, the temptation seems to be everywhere you look. I can't turn on the television without seeing an ad for the Dairy Queen Blizzard of the Month, or an innovation on an already tasty candy bar that made it even more delectable. I can't go through a checkout line at any supermarket or drug store without standing next to the candy counter filled with chocolate bars and sweet delicious candies and feeling a need to buy something. Even in a place as calm (well, depending on the people inside of it) as the employee break room at work isn't always safe, as there are always vending machines and baked treats inside screaming “TRY ME!”

In fact, there's a lot of times in which I'll randomly grab something that is dipped in chocolate and caramel and eat it without thinking...and then when I see the empty wrapper sitting beside me, I just feel disgusted with myself for letting the addiction take hold once again. It's that easy to do, and I'll admit that in my moments of weakness, I succumb to the sweet charms of candy.

Even when I was on the straight and narrow and lost a ton of weight, I didn't give up eating chocolate. I merely cut down on my consumption. But recently, I have had more moments of weakness than I can even count. At first I thought that it was related to the surgery that I had almost two years ago. I had read that one of the possible side effects of having your gall bladder out was slight weight gain, and since my surgery, I have gained about 30 pounds back. It's not like I went completely backwards and am not back to my old weight...but my clothes are feeling a little big snug, and I want to nip this chocolate addiction in the bud before that happens.

I guess I just need a little bit of help.

Before I explain what I need to have happen, I should explain how I came to develop my addiction to chocolate and other types of candy.

Believe it or not, I never really had that much of a problem with weight when I was a young boy. I mean, yes, I was quite tall as a kid (and at 6'2”, I'm still considered tall), but looking at old pictures of myself that were taken back in the early 1980s when I was toddler aged, I was rail thin. Yeah, I was built larger than other kids my age, but I wasn't considered unhealthy at all. Sure, I ate the occasional M&M, and I distinctly remember having a McDonald's Happy Meal like once a month or so, but that wasn't overly bad. The rest of the meals I ate as a kid were healthy and wholesome.

In fact...if I had to look back on my childhood, if there were any foods that I had to have back when I was a kid, it was V8 Vegetable Juice. I can't imagine how many cans of V8 I drank as a's a wonder that my skin didn't glow a bright shade of red! I also remember vague memories of opening up the fridge, grabbing a head of lettuce and ripping off lettuce leaves and eating them! It sounds really bizarre, but that's what I was drawn to as a kid when it came to snacks.

Then school happened.

Before I continue, I should probably explain something. Nowadays, many schools promote healthy living and healthy snack options, and you see a lot more fruit and milk being consumed.

This was NOT the case in the late 1980s.

Schools back then often had junk food at everyone's disposal. Heck, the French classroom in elementary school which doubled as our canteen during lunch hours sold snacks such as chocolate bars, Doritos, and ketchup-flavoured potato chips.

(Yeah, ketchup chips is a Canadian delicacy.)

Anyway, the temptation to eat unhealthy snacks in school was always present, and rather than not feel left out, I ditched the V8 and downed sugary soft drinks.

And, you know what? I shoulda stuck with the V8.

It didn't take long for the kids in the class to notice that I was filling out a little. Again, at the time, I didn't have that much of a weight problem, and my parents just chalked it up to me having a few growth spurts, is all. But kids weren't necessarily as understanding as adults could be. In fact, there was one group of boys that were in my second and third grade classes that completely made my life a living hell by poking fun at my size and my weight. They called me all sorts of derogatory names, they were telling everyone that I weighed 100 pounds (which granted, for a 7-year-old, was quite huge, but absolutely untrue). One kid even tried to act smart by lecturing me on how I should lay off the potato chips. Never mind the fact that he was built sort of similar to how I was...apparently HE was an expert on MY body. Sheesh.

Of course, that's how I feel now. When I was seven, comments like that really stung. So, when I went home, I was in the frame of mind where I was like, “I'll show that 'J' (I use initials to disguise their identity because I don't believe in slander)...I'll eat an entire bag of potato chips and show him that I didn't need his advice. And, had I just stopped with the one bag that one day, I likely would have made my point quite nicely.

Instead, I got used to filling up on potato chips every day after school. It actually got to the point where I couldn't function unless I had potato chips to eat every day after school. It was almost like a form of kiddie crack or something. The more nasty comments that were tossed my way, the more potato chips I had to have.

What was really frustrating was that after fourth grade, all the nasty boys who used to pick on me transferred to a French immersion school. So, feasibly speaking, I could have kicked the junk food habit in the fifth grade, right?

Unfortunately, that was the time that another group of bratty boys started to bully me as well. And, these guys were much, much worse than the last crew that I got rid of. Not only did they make every effort to make my junior high school years a complete misery, but they teamed up with a group of mean girls who also used to make me feel terrible about myself. Making comments about how I would kill them if I ever sat on them, or telling me that I ate a VW Beetle, or making up a rhyme like “Matty Matty 2x4, can't fit through the patio door”.

(Which actually showed their stupidity, as a 2x4 is a rail thin plank of wood, come to think of it.)

Regardless, my junk food cravings increased tenfold. Instead of having a single snack size bag of potato chips, I was eating a family size portion in one sitting...along with dip made from Philadelphia cream cheese, and at least three cans of soda. Not the diet soda either...I'm talking Pepsi and Coca-Cola here. And, when it came to dinner, I made some foolish choices as well, opting for take-out cuisine over home-cooked meals. What could I say, it made me feel better eating the foods that I liked.

Remember that point for later.

When I entered high school, I was hit with a real double whammy when my “new” group of bullies met up with the group of bullies who used to terrorize me about my size in the second and third grade. And would you know it, they all befriended each other and suddenly my pool of haters doubled.

Is it any wonder why I despised high school so much?

And, when I was in high school, that's when my food addiction switched solely to chocolate and sweets. I don't really remember eating a whole lot of sweets as a kid, but when I was a teenager, I couldn't get out of bed without having some form of chocolate.

I'm telling you, my chocolate addiction was out of control during my teen years. I would buy bags of Hershey Kisses and eat the whole bag in one sitting. I would pour half a can of chocolate syrup onto a dish of vanilla ice cream in order to make it extremely chocolatey. In fact, I'm kind of ashamed to admit this, but I secretly stole chocolate chips out of my mom's baking pantry to satisfy my chocolate cravings.

Not my finest moment for sure, but at least I'm copping to it now.

But, why would I let something as simple as chocolate make me go absolutely crazy?

Well, it comes back to a statement I made earlier. I ate chocolate and other junk food during my saddest times to feel happier. To feel like I wasn't empty. To feel something other than being alone and friendless.

In many ways, the chocolate worked like an anti-depressant of sorts. Because I felt so horrible about myself, I didn't feel like it was worth trying to impress people who didn't care. To me, no matter what I did, people still wouldn't want to be around me. They were happy in their own little groups, and I was always the outsider looking in.

I ended up developing an inferiority complex. Because people didn't want to know me, or worse, abused me emotionally, I couldn't count on them. But chocolate and other tasty treats were always there whenever I needed them. They wouldn't hurt me. They would fill me up with their caramel centers and nougat filling, and make me feel not as empty anymore. Or at least until the next craving came along, in which I would eat more chocolate to feel better about myself. Calories and nutritional value didn't matter to me. What mattered was having the feeling of happiness inside of me, even if it came in chocolate covered sponge toffee.

Which could explain why by the time I graduated high school, I weighed 300 pounds.

I was shocked at that number, and I told myself that I had no idea how I had let myself go. I also had a tendency to lie to myself a lot back in those days. I knew very well how I ballooned up to that weight. It was my dependence on chocolate and sweets that made the weight gain possible. Sure, the sugar buzz might have made me feel good for a little while...but knowing that all that chocolate was transformed into fat made me feel disgusted about myself...which in turn prompted me to grab some more junk food in order to take away the disgust and replace it with happiness once more.

You see the vicious cycle here?

It really wasn't until a few years ago that I decided that I would make a positive change about myself and my battles with the bulge. That was the year I decided to join a weight loss contest at work.

You want to know something? I ended up losing the second highest amount of weight in the whole contest. And, you want to know what helped me?

Compassion and support.

Seriously, my co-workers were incredibly supportive of me. They cheered right along with me as the pounds melted away. They also were quite annoying as they checked on me to make sure I wasn't sneaking chocolate behind their backs.

In fact, here's a confession. The whole contest lasted through Easter...and I still ended up losing weight that week despite the chocolate temptations. Mind you, it was only half a pound, but a loss is a loss, right?

So, what made the weight come off quickly during a three month period when I had close to thirteen, fourteen years and I couldn't lose an ounce?

Simple. Positive reinforcement.

Those mean boys who used to pick on me...they may have thought in their own warped train of thought that they were helping me, but they weren't. Of course, I can only take the blame for eating all the junk in the first place, but they weren't entirely blameless either. Of course, now that I have it all out here in the open, I suppose I can forgive them for the maelstrom of terror they unleashed on me. After all, it's not like I'll ever see any of them ever again, right?

I lost the weight because I had a support system who truly cared about me and my well-being. And, I have to admit that it was something that I really had to adjust to, because nobody had ever had my back like that before. It was something that I just wanted to grab onto and never let go of. You see, in some ways, I was doing so well with the weight loss program because I didn't want them to feel disappointed in me. I wanted them all to be proud of me. I'm sure that looking back on it, they would have been happy even if I had lost a few pounds. And, that was cool. As I said, it was rare for me to have real, genuine friendship and love shown to me, and it touched me.

And, you know...that love and support tastes so much better than the sweetest chocolate.

That said, I want to go back to that person I was four years ago. I want to feel good about myself again, and not sink back to those levels of despair. I want to get back out in the world and feel like I belong.

These past couple of years have been rough for me. I had a serious surgery, and within a year, I lost one of my best online friends, as well as the co-worker who was in many ways my biggest cheerleader (though if he were still alive, he would KILL me for calling him that). Those losses really hit me hard, and it made me feel like I had lost a huge part of the success that I had achieved. And, Christmas was one of those holidays where I overindulged on my one weakness, and paid the price for it later on.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I want to get healthy again. I may never be a 32-inch waist, but I want to look at the mirror again and like what I see, I'm okay with what I see now, but I want to feel better on the inside again.

I just need to surround myself with positivity. And, sometimes to find the positivity, you have to make peace with the bad.  But, they say that admitting that you have a problem is the right start...and as much as I don't want to admit it...I still have a problem resisting chocolate and junk food.

I'm on the right track though.  With me admitting it, I have no excuses tying me down any longer.  I'm sure all of you reading this won't let me forget my admission either now that I have it out there.  But hey, with my dislike of Valentine's Day, staying away from heart shaped chocolates has never been easier.

That's all for now.

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