Saturday, May 7, 2011

On addiction

There are those of us, and we know who we are, who are easily addicted. For some, the addiction is texting on our cell phones or obsessively checking email. It might be cocaine or heroin.

I’ll cop to the email fixation and salty snacks.

I quit smoking 21 years ago but I know I can never have another puff. Not that I want to, but my point is that if I lit up just once, I’d be right back at the corner store every day.

The drug that I struggled with most recently is the gluten monster. It’s permeated my favourite society: cookies, sourdough bread, pumpkin pie…. Gluten isn’t evil in itself – it does wonderful things for waffles – but many people have a hellish reaction that translates a turnover into a gut-wrenching experience.

That’s never been my problem, thank goodness. No, my relationship with gluten is less painful but more insidious.

Medical studies over the last few years have found that for a certain segment of the gluten-intolerant population, it’s our brains rather than our bowels that react.

Within a couple of days of biting a bun I feel lethargic, can’t find the right words, have trouble making decisions because the gluten has made its way into my head, where the protein molecules lock on to opiate receptors.

That’s right, I get stoned on bread.

So couple that with the short-term endorphin rush that most of us get when easy-access carbs like bread, pasta, rice and potatoes trigger a release of insulin which kick-starts a short-term rise in feel-good endorphins  in the brain…. Well, you can see how easy it is for me to get hooked on whole wheat.

Fodder is also an addictive type. He butted out his last cigarette almost twenty years ago, but he held onto the peanut butter habit. Until recently.

When he went cold turkey on Kraft Crunchy at the beginning of our weight-loss program, he turned a corner but kept his eye on the goal: ditch the weight without dumping favourites – and peanut butter was definitely a favourite.

He’s a determined guy, though, and left the lid firmly screwed on the jar which stayed in the fridge next to the unlamented jam.

When Vicki announced, at the beginning of Week Six, that we could add nut butters back into the regime, Fodder’s eyes once again glowed. Or was that glistened?

So four months after we started the program, when our new lifestyle was basically entrenched, I was surprised when he said, “I’m not eating peanut butter any more.”

My head whipped around.

“I haven’t had it in the house for months.”

“But–“ I felt like the Earth was tilting the wrong way on its axis. “Who are you and what have you done with my Fodder?” I demanded.

He simply shrugged. 

“If it’s around, I’ll eat it,” he explained.

Vicki had warned us of this when she’d announced we could have a slice of sprouted bread three times a week.

If you can’t stick to that limit, she warned, don’t even have it in the house.

Unlike my relationship with cookies, I don’t think Fodder gets high on peanut butter, but I know that without its tempting presence he has managed to keep tightening his belt.

He had to make a choice: feed the yammering addict-voice in his head, or starve it until it had no choice but to retreat into a deep cave and shut up.

Fodder misses the nuts but they’re not worth the trade-off: now that he’s packing fewer pounds and putting less strain on his heart, he can run up the stairs to the rowing machine at the gym. 

And that gives him more of a thrill than he ever got from peanut butter.

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