My new thing is self-discipline. I am going to get better at it. I am nervous writing this, because I don't want to fail.

So this is the first thing I know: If you are really serious about doing something, it's painful to tell people, because fear of failure is so high. Once you decide that you really want something enough to shift your life to get it — at that point you want it so much that you will feel like your life is somehow incomplete if you don't get it. So it is scary just to talk about it.

This is how I'm feeling about sugar and bread. I think it only leads to bad things. I think it makes me crazy and I have googled a thousand different sites about addiction to sugar and bread, and I think it's true. Here's what I think:

1. Food acts like drugs, and some foods make us crave more and more and more like an addictive drug. Eating carbohydrates and sugar is totally unnatural to the human diet.

2. There is some sort of link between Asperger's and bread. I'm not sure what it is, but we tried taking my son off gluten when he was younger, because so many people say it makes a difference with autism. And while I couldn't really tell with him, I ate the same diet, and I could tell that I was more calm. Most people I know who have Asperger's also have an obsession with gluten. I'm not sure what this means except that I should stay away from it.

3. I definitely notice a difference when I stay off gluten. I have more energy and I lose weight effortlessly. I think this is because when I eat for emotional reasons I always choose wheat-based products.

4. When I take myself off bread, I start craving sugar. So I think I also have a problem with sugar. And, confession: I eat a lot of it. No soda or deserts, but tons of sugar in my coffee. All day long.

There is a lot that I want to change in my life:

More yoga
Less nervous eating
More weight lifting
Less yelling at kids
More leaving the house
Less acting like an agoraphobic
More blog posts
Less mindless email administrating

This is way too big a list, though. What I really want, if I boil it down, is to have more confidence in myself. Then I would believe I could have a good life and I'd do the things I think I need to do to have a good life.

Here's what happens, though. I say, “Oh. Forget it. I'll never stop eating sugar really.”And then I dump five spoonfuls into my coffee. You have to believe in yourself that you can create a good life in order to do the life you want.

Why is that so hard? I don't know. I mean, I have a pretty good track record for getting what I want. And still: Plagued by the bread crumbs left from last night's dinner.

So I am starting dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Actually, I started it a while ago but I thought I would sound like a crackpot on the blog if I wrote about it. But it's so cool, that I have to tell you.

First, I'm going to tell you my version of DBT, and it's sort of cultish, to be honest, so if you want to get an official version, click here.

I know you didn't click, though; of course my version will be more interesting.

The idea is that you identify a behavior you want to change, and then, each time you don't do the change, you write down everything you were feeling while you were deciding to not do the change.

It looks something like this:

I am on a conference call.

I feel frustrated that things are not more clear cut with a right path for my company.
(You have to always use feeling words.)

I feel anxious that I can’t help think of a solution.

Then I overreact to feeling powerless and I worry that I’ll be a terrible parent and I’ll never fix it. And maybe I’m terrible at everything.
(DBT makes you more in touch with how you feel.)

I tell myself don't go into the kitchen because you will eat bread. I tell myself to just be with the feelings.

Then I go in the kitchen anyway. I tell myself I can eat just one piece.
I don’t. I eat ten.

I feel a strong love for Wonderbread.

Not now. Then.

Okay. So you do this a million times for DBT, and what you end up seeing is a pattern—just as you start having strong feelings, you do your vice so you avoid experiencing the feelings.

So the only way to know your feelings and understand who you really are is to not do the thing that separates you from the feelings. It's actually a lot more persuasive to me to tell myself I will never have self-knowledge if I eat the bread.

That’s why this is a particularly inspiring message for me:

via Oh She Glows

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100 replies
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  1. Yvonne
    Yvonne says:

    My struggles are different from yours, but this quote has been a very useful touchstone:

    When you consider yourself valuable you will take care of yourself in all ways that are necessary. – M. Scott Peck

  2. Sandra Lee
    Sandra Lee says:

    You really have guts, Penelope. Your brazen vulnerability inspires me greatly. I love the idea of choosing one powerful word to be a guidepost for the new year. Sounds like “confidence” might be your one powerful word for 2011. Wishing you the best as the New Year unfolds.

  3. Tanya
    Tanya says:

    Penelope, thank you for sharing. You express with words so well, it helps crystalize things for many of us.

    Have you heard of Paul Ekman’s Emotions Revealed? This is the intro to the book

    I also want to do more yoga. Yoga helps me identify patterns in my thinking and emotions.

    As to the diet, I recently tried Ayurvedic cleanse for 2 weeks called kitchari cleanse, and it was so amazing. The spice mix used in it is so calming, and the food is very nourishing. It helped me reset my bad diet habits and I had no wheat cravings while on it (still had sugar cravings though). Best part is you can eat kitchari all you want during meal times and you’re never hungry on a kitchari diet. And it’s really simple to prepare.

  4. jenny
    jenny says:

    Ace. I like the sound of DBT.
    I prefer to keep my goals to myself, because I seem to subconsciously think I’ve done it by just talking about it. Somehow, motivation leaks when I tell people.

    Check out Food Addicts, a group that works the 12 step program, in relation to food addiction. Their plan is to not eat any white bread, sugar, white flour, pasta etc. They eat lots of vegies and fruit, protein etc. It’s very supportive, but rather strict.

  5. Rita
    Rita says:

    Penelope – you seem to write these posts with me in mind, right??? lol. I enjoy reading your blog posts. Majority of your blog posts hit home for me. Thank you.

  6. Rita
    Rita says:

    me again – does anyone know of a gluten free diet site or any resources? I like to read more about this.. Sounds very interesting.

    • Seadanes
      Seadanes says:

      Check out Elana’s Pantry – she has lots of gluten free recipes. If you Google Primal or Paleo recipes you also will get lots of gluten free recipes.

  7. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Can you try not having any gluten in the house? It’s actually not as difficult as it might sound. There are a ton of really delicious grains that substitute easily for gluten. For example, instead of oatmeal or box cereal in the morning, you can cook a breakfast cereal with amarinth. Try cooking amarinth in coconut milk and adding some chopped dates or figs and almonds. Delicious and healthy – you won’t be hungry after. If you crave sweet, add some honey or agave nectar, which are great sugar substitutes. Did you know it’s also green to avoid white sugar? Something about how hard it is to filter out of water. For lunches, you can also go with gluten-free grains. Brown rice and lentils mixed together make a complete protein that’s very filling – you can add vegetables, simple oils (olive, sesame) and herbs for a delicious meal, and the varieties are endless. Kasha is also a great gluten-free grain. If you want to learn to do gluten-free baking, try the Babycakes cookbook. Also, here’s a great book you might consider about how to relate to food. Given your explorations into meditation recently it might be right up your alley.

  8. Poul Andreassen
    Poul Andreassen says:

    The uniqueness of your article is indeed something that is influential in nature if probed deeply, it eventually got connected to self-discipline and I realized it in my instincts. Thanks for sharing it in such a sweetful manner..!

  9. karen
    karen says:

    The BEST WAY to get rid of excessive sugar and carb cravings is to eat more vegetables. They create a slow glucose release in your body. But, you probably know this. Try more salads, veg casseroles etc.

  10. Liz
    Liz says:

    On the “more yoga” front… There is a website called “yogaglo” that is so fucking great…(I don’t work for them, but I am a yoga teacher) It’s a studio in LA that videos all of their classes and puts them online. So for $18 a month its like having a yoga studio at home. They have a bunch of styles (I particularly love Anusara) lectures, meditation classes…great, great, great. I’ve never practiced so much. Ever.

  11. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    I agree with the Stevia comments. I get mine in a liquid form, it’s easier to measure drops.
    Thirty years ago I read a book about health for kids by Dr Lendon Smith. He made the same drug/food connection you talk about with the cravings for food that is bad for you. Sugar, wheat, corn, dairy products are all common allergens.
    How similar is DBT to Cognitive Therapy? Sounds very similar on the surface.

  12. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    I’m with you. I have a terrible addictiion to sugar and white flour products. I am 30 and have osteoarthritis, a terrible time losing weight, crushing fatigue, low grade anxiety that eventually boils over into depression and i just din’t fucking feel well. I eat veg and fruit but i finally have to admit that that is outweighed by my food addiction. I ate 4 samosas, 3 cookies and a cupcake the other day in one sitting and felt awful. It was temporarily easier to feel that badness of feeling fat and bloated than to grapple with the anxiety of my choice to go back to school, of money, of harder stuff. I’ve started just drinking green smoothies and eating a more raw diet and maybe eating fish and eggs instead of being vegan because it exacerbates my sugar and flour cravings. Ok, emotional spill over. Thanks for posting. I really relate annd am goin to try dbt. Lots of typos am on bus!

  13. Kat
    Kat says:

    If you can’t give up putting the sugar in your coffee, then consider giving up coffee alltogether. Without the coffee you won’t have the 5 spoons of sugar. You just have to pick an alternative drink which doesn’t include sugar. Good luck ;)

  14. Roy
    Roy says:

    Sounds very plausible. The Ketogenic diet (ie. Atkins) was developed with autistic kids in mind. And Asperger is a mild form of autism…

  15. Heather
    Heather says:

    Penelope – have you read Geneen Roth’s work about our relationship with food and how we use it as a way to not have to face our emotions? I think you might find benefit from her wonderful work.

    Good luck!

  16. Esther
    Esther says:

    I don’t have Asperger’s, but I have bipolar disorder (and synesthesia, which I mention because it may be involved and also because it’s interesting), and I have found significant relief from cutting gluten out of my diet. I used to get overstimulated very easily, similar to your experience — crying spontaneously, hiding in closets, avoiding crowds, etc. Off gluten, I feel insulated. Not dull, but also not prickly.

    As an aside, synesthesia (one or more senses duplicated in another — e.g., feeling and seeing what you hear) is a bonus, not a burden, and cutting out gluten hasn’t dampened it any. Thank goodness! But I think it did contribute to my overstimulation back when I was pricklier, and some of the experiences you describe drop my mouth open because they are so similar to mine.

    Gluten-free bread is getting better. Still takes adjustment, and I actually like it now. But without so many gluteny things to snack on, I’ve found myself — even 3 years post-gluten — indulging in things I never would’ve sought when gluten was available. Behavior is behavior!

    Even though I was never a sugar junkie, after gluten went, cutting out sugar was a struggle. When my self-discipline takes a slide, it (and never gluten) comes right back into my diet. Every time I cut sugar out, I go through extreme sugar cravings for a few days. I’ve found that eating dried fruit helps with the transition. Once you’re off sugar, the sweet things you used to love become gratuitous and without nuance and as long as you don’t eat enough of them to understand why you used to like them, they’re much easier to turn down. Also true with gluten — glazed donuts are my ex-lovers now!

    Hope this provides some encouragement!

  17. Rajiv Narayan
    Rajiv Narayan says:

    There’s a study out by neuroscientists interested in the reality of junk food addiction. One group of rats is allowed to eat as much junk food as it wants, and another group is on a control diet. Over time, the initial group eats more and more, in an effort to reach the same high from neuropathways triggered by junk food (not unlike heroin junkies who keep looking for a bigger hit to reach the same high). Even when electrical shocks are introduced to accompany the food release, the first group of rats refuses to pause their eating. The second group, faced with the shocks, ceases consumption immediately. The researchers concluded that junk foods are not that different from hard drugs in the realm of addiction.

  18. Carlee Mallard
    Carlee Mallard says:

    Haha it’s funny you say it’s sort of cult-ish because that’s exactly what I thought when I read the title of the post. I thought “ohhh Penelope’s in on the secret!”

    I haven’t tried it, but my dad started DBT when he started cheating on my mom with some girl my age and would have explosive angry outbursts as a way to cope with hiding the affair from all of us (ie blaming all his problems on his family). Anyways, my parents ended up getting divorced but at least my dad’s a little more in touch with his feelings and tried to convince me and my sister to try it for the longest time.

    Curious how it ends up working out for you!

  19. kateri
    kateri says:

    You described everything that i feel, every day of my life. The chaos of the mind’s voice making lists, blaming, promising then breaking the promise, starting and then losing discipline. I’ve learned through years of psychotherapy and through being an art teacher, then an art therapist that every thing I do that I perceive as “good and bad” on a daily basis all leads back to fear–fear of myself and what’s really in my heart and mind. The photo at the end “don’t be afraid of your mind” is a perfect reminder for me to just let it out and let it go. Why am I so afraid of attaining a goal or disciplining myself in regard to bread or art? What might I find if I do this?

  20. Irina I
    Irina I says:

    Thank you for writing about this. I think almost everyone struggles with this so it’s an important issue to discuss.

    I recommend coffee with milk and no sugar. It feels weird at first, but then you get used to it and then can’t imagine how you ever put sugar in coffee before. It’ll become blasphemy to do that.

    Also, when you eat refined sugars, it causes a spike in insulin which makes you crave more sugar. And then it’s a downward sugar-filled spiral from then on. I’ve made it a rule for myself to not eat sugar of any kind before lunch. So you can eat as much as you can after, but not before. Makes a huge difference in my day.

    Also check out Committed Impulse. You’ll love this method of dealing with your feelings.

  21. Zan
    Zan says:

    As others mentioned above, I cut out the white flour and sugar and it radically changed my life. It was absolute shit at first, but after a few weeks I was more calm and collected and almost all of my neurotic life anxiety has dissapated. Which sounds terrifying, sense neurotic life anxiety is a great motivator, but I don’t scream when I misplace my keys anymore and I don’t cry at inappropriate times.

  22. Anne Marie
    Anne Marie says:

    Hello Penelope.
    Glad to see that you are looking at your diet as a source of strain on your body and mind. Suggestion… do a google search of fructose malabsorption. It may be worth your getting tested. A lot of symptoms you have around mood swings, gluten sensitivity, etc. sound familiar. I have FM and when I altered my diet… everything changed for the better.

  23. Bute
    Bute says:

    If you are serious about wanting something it is difficult to tell people. However, if you are serious about getting something you want, do tell people. This commits you and you have a better chance of succeeding

  24. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    DBT helped me a lot. I went through the program twice. However, I have a hard time employing it with regards to food. Mindfulness of current emotion and radical acceptance often give way to wilfulness. Still trying though…

  25. AW
    AW says:

    Wondering if you cut sugar, wheat, carbs from your diet since 2010 and how that went?

    I’ve been having these same revelations and musings about carbs, sugar and avoidance of feelings. And reading a lot of Pema Chodron. I know if I don’t eat the wheat I have to sit with the feeling. Not ready to do that quite yet.

    When I was in my early teens I had a pastor that was a close friend of our family. One summer she decided to go off of sugar completely. I thought it would be fun so we did. I had never had water to drink with meals or during the day in my life. I hated water. We had sweet tea and “drinks” – Coke. Well, after the initial shock and withdrawal I went on to drink water and no soft drinks or tea for over ten years. Then they came out with caffiene free Coke. My demise…

  26. AW
    AW says:

    Wondering if I should read “Wheat Belly” but that is a little too hardcore for me right now. Still need the junk food fix but the grip is loosening. Let’s just start to get back to drinking water again…

  27. K
    K says:

    Because I love your blog and have gleaned so much from reading it, I would like to return the favor in a small way: replace white sugar with xylitol (google it) and replace bread with fruit–and eat as much of those replacement items as you want, with no guilt, because they are good for you.

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