How do you deal with stress?

Stress? How do you deal with stress?

They say it’s the biggest cause of heart disease and does the most long term damage to our health. I feel as though it’s also the biggest catalyst to our long term addictions.

When stressed, we all turn to something to make us feel better. To remove the gray cloud that hangs over us for whatever reason.

Whatever the issue is, we look for that “something” to make us feel better. Some turn to drugs, some alcohol and some gamble, shop or even become addicted to sex. Breaking up marriages and destroying lives.

What if you became addicted to something that you needed to survive? All of the things I just listed you could turn away from.

Although hard and seemingly impossible to some, what if you could not stop or you would die?

Three years ago as my mother was lying in hospice. I had a very bad afternoon planning her final days.

In that stressful moment, as one could imagine, I was walking through the hospital lobby on my way to gather my thoughts and saw candy at the gift shop. I hadn’t eaten candy in three years. Without even thinking about it, I opened a candy bar in the gift shop and starting eating it, paid for another and left the gift shop.

My head spinning with many other thoughts centering around life and death, food addiction was just not one of those thoughts.

I got in the car and started feeling dizzy. My sugar reaction from surgery is very much the same as a diabetic. I was having a paralyzing episode of what is known as dumping. My addiction had taken over my mental awareness and I was headed for an even worse evening of being sick.

Once able to drive, I thought about two things. Stress had triggered my addiction to the point I was unaware of what I was even doing. I had never felt that way before.

I’m happy to say at 41 years old I’m completely drug free (always have been), only drink socially and don’t gamble. I have no sex addiction and I shop to resell and make a profit. This was the only time I was consumed by an uncontrollable addiction.

It took a long time for me to accept the word addiction as it relates to food. Food addiction has a lot of controversy wrapped around it.

For me, the most important and hardest part of dealing with food addiction is the fact that we can’t put it down. We can’t walk away from it. It’s necessary to live.

What I have been learning in my treatment is to walk away from sugar and trigger foods.

I’ll discuss that more in next month’s column.

Stress takes over and our addictions are triggered. Therefore, stress management is vital to our success and health. Not just for the obvious reasons, but also as part of addiction recovery.

I’ve also realized that when you are self aware and you know you could be triggered by stress and then turn to your addiction, your mind will say “No. No, I will not go there.”

An honest and brave effort is put forward by every addict.

What will replace the addiction however is another story. It’s referred to as transfer addiction. I became addicted to losing weight, counting calories , and seeing the number on the scale go down in 2010 after surgery.

At that time, food was no longer an option the way it once was. I replaced food with a control over eating mothing or as little as possible.

Then my addiction became life threatening and ultimately I went back to food, on doctor’s orders.

You see anything can be an addiction.

What we do when the stress of life causes that addiction to take over, that’s where we fail or succeed. You need a person, a place, a pet, someone, anyone that you can say to, “Hey I’m in trouble, help.”

When I ate that candy in that gift shop, I had never felt so alone or so scared before in my life. I was saddled with the stress of being told my mother was dying— in fact within a few days at best I had five siblings to call, children to tell, a hospice to locate, transportation arrangements to make, funeral services to plan, an estate to settle, and 30 days to spend with my mother until she was gone forever.

A candy bar was not the answer.

But for just a few short moments while I enjoyed the sweet smooth chocolate, crunchy peanuts, and creamy caramel, I forgot about those daunting tasks and life altering moments ahead of me.

I don’t know why it was food for me but alcohol for my grandfather, shopping for my mother, and work for my brother. Is addiction or the susceptibility to it genetic? Some think so. I try to live by the quote from Maya Angelou “When we know better, we do better.”

I keep a stash of sugar free go-to items in my desk at work and on a shelf in my room. When I’m feeling stressed and looking for a snack or might reach for something unaware, at least it’s sugar free.

I use social media as a way to get support. I have friends in the weight loss community who understand and can relate to these struggles. I no longer have a cynical attitude towards those suffering from addictions.

Our society, mainly the commercially driven news and advertisers, runs0 campaigns that make gambling, shopping , eating, drinking and yes, even sex, seem to be never enough. They are always tempting us to want more. They take no responsibility for making our society addicted to over-consuming things that affect and destroy our lives.

We must take back control.

We must first realize the triggers that affect us and cause us to turn to these symptoms and addictions.

For me, stress is definitely one of them.

What is it that triggers you to return to addictive behaviors? When you recognize the triggers, then you can hopefully take control and not fall victim to the addiction. Turn your attention to something more positive. More uplifting, until that trigger has passed. It’s much easily said than done, but it’s the first step to overcoming addictive behavior.

I have to mentally tell myself “No, do not eat those Oreos, eat a salad” and I have to make the conscious decision that I’m feeding my body fuel with a salad. The Oreos are just poison that’s trying to cover up something else—boredom, stress, or worry. That’s a conversation my brain has every single time I’m faced with an addictive sugar and carb loaded food.

Let it be said I’m not a doctor. I have no medical background whatsoever .All I know is what I’ve learned what I’ve heard when I’ve listened to what the experts have told me. I’ve been to many conferences. I’ve met with many doctors, heard many opinions, and read many books. This column is  all solely based on my experiences and the experiences of other weight loss surgery patients I’ve met across the country.

Patricia Miller is a weight loss surgery patient, advocate, and life coach, WLSFA Supporter, and volunteer health columnist and blogger (