A Substance Problem or a Living Problem?

September 9, 2010

Apologies for the summer absence. I’ve been focused on my screenplay. I’ve loved every minute of the process and am excited to be finished with a solid draft. With all the adrenaline that has come with the process, I’ve had a few nights of insomnia and haven’t been as balanced. Returning to my blog is a step in restoring balance to my writing and my life. Looking forward to your comments on my latest entry.

(or) Overheard at Alcoholics Anonymous

“What’s really helped me,” the man said to kick off the A.A. meeting, is to consume small amounts of alcohol throughout the day. It’s the grazing concept.” This touched off a big debate before an Ayurveda expert took the floor and explained the importance of not mixing alcohol for proper digestion. He showed chart after chart of medical research proving that it’s best to allow six hours in between drinks and to never drink before bed. Then, a woman stood up and said everyone was missing the point. The question wasn’t when but what, and said that as long as the alcohol was local and organic, how much one consumed didn’t matter. The topic then shifted to liver detox, and a fasting expert (a woman after my own heart) said that the key to metabolizing alcohol is to detox the liver through a rigid three-day procedure once a month. As long as this is done, alcohol will be assimilated better and one will have more freedom to drink what one wants.

Have I made my point?

In truth, (though I’m an infrequent drinker) I did attend an A.A. meeting with my friend Neil. He said the simplest thing, yet it hit me like a ton of bricks. “I don’t have a drinking problem,” he said. “I have a living problem.”

Neil was self-aware and honest enough to realize that his “living problem” led him to drink. Yet unlike most of the people with living problems that lead them to eat, Neil chose to attack the problem (the living) and not the symptom (the drinking). Granted, the obvious difference between alcohol/drugs and food is that food is necessary for survival, but I do think many of us with food-related issues (myself included) focus on the symptom (eating) and not the problem (living).

That’s why at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition, school founder Joshua Rosenthal talks mostly about “primary food”—relationships, exercise, career, and spirituality.  Rosenthal says, “All that we consider today as nutrition is really just a secondary source of energy.” As Health Coaches, we are trained to look for “living” problems that manifest themselves into food issues before we recommend what you should eat for breakfast.  This idea led me to write the column “What Are You Hungry For.”

It’s no wonder that treating symptoms not only doesn’t solve the underlying problem, but perpetuates addictive behavior. If you have a headache because you’re dehydrated, taking an aspirin is a temporary solution—and one that you’ll likely keep repeating–until you take the less expensive, smarter, healthier step of replenishing your fluids and minerals. The bookstores are lined with books on diet and nutrition yet the obesity rate keeps climbing. Could it be because these books are missing the point?

When someone eats a gallon of ice cream at midnight, we’re not seeing the big picture if we start talking about carbs versus protein, why it’s better to eat early in the day, or how dairy causes mucus. I’m all for nutritional information and I’m not ready to throw out the baby with the bath water. What, when and how we eat plays a role in our ability to feel satiated and make healthy choices regarding food. But let’s also not forget that most substance issues are really living issues and the solutions are not likely to be found in a diet book.

If you have a substance problem, take a page from Neil and focus on the problem not the symptom. It takes self-awareness and honesty to get to the core of your living problem, but the reward is that when you do, your “substance” problems likely will vanish. After all, when someone drinks a fifth of whiskey, no one ever says “it must have been because you were thirsty.”

Drink Your Problems Away or Think Them Away? Or Neither?

June 17, 2010

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