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Identifying habits that are undermining your health
The problem with moderation
Need for total abstinence
An "habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice that is beyond voluntary control."
It is critical that many habits have addictive components and dealing with the habit as an addiction is likely to meet with
success where other approaches have failed.
Addiction can serve us well once we recognize that substance abuse is a way to obscure honest, peaceful, self-discovery.
Use of any addictive substance, gives us the temporary illusion of control, excitement and perfection.
In recovery we discover, often to our great relief, that we're not perfect, that we need intimacy, and that integrity is
more appealing than denial.
The addict is self-obsessed; living for the next "fix."
The addict is crisis oriented; using panic as a way of feeling alive while avoiding meaningful contact with others.
In recovery we let go of our need to control in favour of serenity and clarity.
Scientists from different schools of thought have attempted to explain addiction.
Some say the culprit is a genetic lack of the feel-good, sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin.
Others say early brain cell damage begets lack of feedback inhibition for normal cravings, driving them out of balance.
For example, non-addictive persons who eat some sugar will be satisfied (in terms of simple carbohydrates) for several hours.
The addictive person, by contrast, will crave even more sugar after consuming a moderate serving.
This may be due, in addicts, to a lack of endorphin stimulation when a healthy physiologic craving is satisfied.
Other researchers and physicians contend that addiction is largely a response to depression.
Addiction is major problem in this country, whatever the cause.
Sugar addiction is perhaps the most insidious because the substance is so cheap, so available and so universally
regarded as a "treat."
The most important aspect of an addiction is the loss of control.
This element of compulsion is the most critical aspect of addictive behaviours.
For example, a person who decides to eat just one chocolate in a box but ends up eating half the box is likely
demonstrating an addiction to chocolate based on this probable evidence of compulsive eating.
True, the person may not go through a withdrawal syndrome if the use of chocolate is stopped; there may be no signs
of desiring progressively larger amounts of chocolate--yet, the critical compulsive element is there.
The same could be true of ice cream addicts or those who compulsively watch television.
Of course, those who are addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or drugs will fit the classic addiction definitions more strictly.
However, the truth is that any habit in your life that is not totally under your voluntary control displays an addictive element--whether or not it is called an addiction.
If you ingest white sugar daily, or drink alcohol daily or have an immediate family member who is alcoholic, or frequently
feels depressed you may have a problem with addiction without realizing it.
Please take a good look; the crucial initiation of breaking free from addiction is recognizing the substance abuse and
seeking help to maintain the commitment to quit.
Identifying habits that are undermining your health
I would challenge you to look seriously at your lifestyle and the habits that are undermining your health.
You may identify areas where abrupt changes need to be made in your life, yet you have no desire to make such
drastic changes. Your lack of desire may be related to the pleasure that the habit gives, or your fear of failure.
Changing even your most cherished habits will actually give you more pleasure in the long run.
Address areas that need changing in your life and the root causes of your problems.
Let me illustrate with an example.
Let us say that you have two problems: overeating and lack of exercise.
As you analyze these problems, you find there is a third addiction that is the root cause which is contributing to
the other two. You realize that you are one of the individuals whose biggest obstacle between you and a regular exercise
program is the time spent with television.
You also recognize that the TV provides the setting for your biggest problem with overeating junk food.
Your lifestyle goal then may be to address your television addiction.
If you are in complete control of your viewing habits, it may be a matter of setting some specific guidelines as to when,
what, and how much you will watch.
However, if TV has taken the role of an addiction in your life, a firm and complete break may be necessary.
It would allow you time for daily exercise and destroy the setting for overeating.
Do not underestimate the addictive elements of television viewing.
Those who are addicted may or may not be aware of the addiction.
Television viewing is linked to many bad habits and deleterious behaviours, including violence.
Television is also a "time-robber."
Many individuals cannot control their television viewing sufficiently to allow time for other areas of lifestyle that
need to be addressed.
For those, an uncompromising break with TV is in order.
For some individuals, simply recognizing the need to completely discontinue a lifestyle habit is all the insight they need.
Once they embrace this concept and put it into action, success is ensured.
However, addictions and other habits often hold enormous control over us.
Many feel powerless to stop them although they know that it is necessary.
The problem with moderation:
Many people never break free of their most ingrained habits because of the fallacy of "moderation."
I find this true especially in the area of problem foods.
Consider the example of the person who could not control the consumption of chocolate.
Many health educators would say it is fine to use chocolate--if it is used in moderation.
This advice misses an important point; that is, an individual who has a compulsive relationship to a food can no more use it moderately than an alcoholic can return to "moderate" drinking or a nicotine addict can return to "moderate" smoking.
In dealing with any addictive habit, total abstinence for life is necessary.
Need for total abstinence:
Some may think that this is a cruel and narrow-minded approach.
In the short run, this may be a difficult concept to embrace.
But if you have an addictive habit and really want success, you will need to make a clean break with it.
The amazing thing is that in the long run, committing to an immediate change is actually the easiest approach.
We actually have the capacity to choose what we will enjoy.
If we habitually engage in certain behaviours, especially if they give us some reward (such as better health or increased
feelings of satisfaction), we will tend to develop an enjoyment for those new habits; that is, we free ourselves to develop
new enjoyments and new behaviours.
If, however, we "reward" ourselves with the "bad habit" periodically, as some people advocate, we undermine our ability
to develop enjoyment for a lifestyle that is free of that agent.
Let us draw another lesson from the person with a chocolate addiction.
That individual may break free from daily use of chocolate and experience a loss in weight, better control of blood sugar,
and may feel better as a result.
However, if a "reward" of chocolate is taken once a month, the stage is set for a downfall.
Although the individual may still lose weight and improve diabetes control on the once-a-month chocolate regimen,
freedom from the addiction of chocolate has not been attained.
The desire for chocolate is being kept alive--and may even be increased, giving rise to feelings of a deep, distressing
sense of deprivation.
In most cases, sooner or later this individual will be back to the former level of consumption--or worse.
If, however, chocolate is permanently abandoned and the thoughts directed toward the joy of being free of the substance,
the chocolate element in life would not be missed.
The taste buds actually become re-educated and the desire is gone.
Even if you are not dealing with an addictive substance, a complete rejection of it is the best strategy.
Maybe your worst habit is overeating--surely, you reason, you cannot stop this habit suddenly.
In problems like this, I recommend that you look carefully at your lifestyle and make a change in some aspect of the behaviour.
For example, the overeater may have no problem with overeating at breakfast or overeating vegetables at lunch or supper.
He may have a problem, however, with desserts after supper.
Perhaps a complete break should be made with desserts.
The premise of this is that we need to take a lesson from classic addictions and apply it not only to the obvious addictions in
our lives but to other habits that need changing.
Those who are dealing with smoking, alcohol, caffeine, or addictive drugs are probably well aware that they need to stop
these habits entirely.
However, the same applies to other areas of addiction and habit--accepting the need to make a clean break can free you
from the cycle of making and breaking your firmest resolutions once and for all.
Addiction results from a multifactorial network of choices; the treatment approach must address not only the physical,
but the mental and emotional (spiritual) as well.
One reason the 12-Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Spenders Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, etc.) are so successful is that they are free of charge and thus require only the commitment of the participant for attendance.
Sometimes people need stronger measures to kick their habit at the beginning.
But quitting per se is not so difficult; the trick is staying quit.
Many addicts have incurred so many physical and mental changes that they need to get their fix merely to sustain homeostasis.
In other words withdrawal can be very rough.
And the better prepared we are for withdrawal, whether it be from inhaled crack or chocolate, the better we will be able to
handle the rocky road back to recovery.
The basic parameters for recovery are the same as for any rehabilitation; good high fibre, high fresh veggie, plenty of pure
water diet; regular adequate sleep; daily exercise; heartfelt participation in group activities.
Don't isolate yourself. The more people know you're trying to quit, the more help will be spontaneously offered, and the
more comfortable you'll be with asking for help and taking baby-steps towards your new reality.
Breaking free of addictive habits is a blessed opportunity to engage in the ultimate purpose of life -- to know thyself.
Meanwhile, there are a few natural support mechanisms that may help.
1) Vitamin C, preferably the powdered form (1/4 tsp = 1 gram). Vitamin C is the single most potent free radical scavenger
and will help cleanse and oxygenate the tissues.
It will also help to keep the bowels moving; a very important component of getting clean and sober.
2) The amino acid Glutamine, useful in detox, as well as acting as an excitatory neurotransmitter.
Glutamine, will stimulate the body's natural opiates, the endorphins and enkephalins, to help us through the cravings.
3) Essential fatty acids (preferably Flax oil) in combination with the sulphur proteins (foods with cysteine or methionine,
such as yoghurt, eggs, codfish, sesame paste, garlic and onions) will render fat soluble toxins water soluble, allowing all
the toxic wastes, which are preferentially stored in the body's fat cells, to be flushed out via the kidneys and sweat glands.
4) Anything to enhance perspiration; rigorous exercise, Turkish wet steam, or Finnish style dry heat sauna.
Make sure to scrub down with a high-fat soap (such as Neutrogena) after sweating, to emulsify the fatty secretions and
prevent their re-absorption.
5) Chromium is extremely helpful in reducing sugar cravings.
This is because the trivalent mineral chromium is the central molecule in the Glucose Tolerance Factor, which allows insulin to deliver glucose from the blood stream into the cells.
Without chromium, the insulin cannot do its job and sugar will build up in high levels in the blood, then flood precipitously into
the cells causing the dramatic roller coaster ride of "sugar blues."
6) There are a number of natural substances to help with sleep and depression, including the amino acids tyrosine,
phenylalanine, tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin) and the vitamin niacinamide.
From the botanical pharmacy we have Valerian, Scutellaria (Skullcap), Passiflora (Passion lower), Chamomile and
Acupuncture detox clinics using a simple "5 needle protocol" in specific acupoints
(Spirit Gate, Lung, Liver, Kidney and Parasympathetic) in both ears are so successful
that state governments have become involved.
Whether you go the route of stimulate the natural endorphins or 12-step meetings, the bottom line is commitment to self. tell your friends; locate support groups in your area; stock up the pantry with fresh healthy snacks; invest in a consultation or two with your local holistic health practitioner to get some high quality supplements.
Ask your doctor or therapist to help guide you through a visualization of a shiny clean new you.
No one is pretending it's easy; but it's certainly worth it.
Please be advised: This information is provided for personal interest.
As every individual case is different, it is essential that a certified health professional be consulted before initiating
any treatment regime.
Should you wish to discuss the specifics of your case you can contact Dr. Comas (416) 515-8493
or e-mail: Dr-Comas@NaturalMedicineSolutions.com