Does everyone have a vice?
June 30, 2014 4:34 AM   Subscribe

Are there people with no vices? Is it possible to switch one vice for another?

I've been struggling with food for some years now, and this year I've been focusing on eating when I'm hungry and stopping when I'm full which seems to be working well! I've been a lot more positive and happy because of it. But a couple times a month it still affects me, and I'm wondering if this is something that may stay with me forever? I've heard that everyone has an addiction, and I thought maybe I could try to find a new addiction when I get tired or upset instead of turning to food. Having a bath doesn't help which seems to be what most people recommend, but painting really helps even though it isn't something I crave like food..
So do you think this is something I just have to deal with, or can I try to get a new addiction to replace this one? Thank you
posted by aivilo91 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
People commonly replace food, cigarettes and alcohol with exercise. Exercise isn't seen as an addiction because it's perceived as healthy but without doubt there are people who have the same relationship with running or biking that others of us have with Doritos and gin.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:47 AM on June 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

I imagine there are people who cope with their emotions 100% effectively but I've never met one. Even the most emotionally stable people I know still like their Friday glass of wine.

I think you can train yourself to a new coping method. You just need to identify when you are feeling bothered early enough to consciously reach for something else.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:05 AM on June 30, 2014

This thing you're going through right now is your brain trying to get you back to doing what it likes. It's a very common thing in recovery: "Oh, this sucks, I'm never going to be able to be completely free of these feelings, so fuck it, I might as well go back to overeating / smoking / drinking..."

But to answer your question: No, not everyone has an addiction. For one thing, "addiction" isn't "thing a person likes to do a lot"; it's "thing someone does to the detriment of the rest of one's life."

Do people often trade a "thing they do to the detriment of the rest of their life" for, say, an intense hobby? Sure. It definitely helps some people, especially in the early days when it's as much a matter of changing a habit or filling time ("I used to spend three hours a day at the bar; now I spend three hours a day building model airplanes!").

The real question is what will work for you. So keep looking. If painting stops working, try walking around the block. If that doesn't work, try playing a game on your phone. If that doesn't work, try something else. Try a bunch of different things. You aren't pulling the Food Addiction module out of your head and replacing it with one other thing.

And yes, there's a good chance your struggles with food will stay with you forever. And sometimes you'll slip, and that sucks, but you can right the ship.
posted by Etrigan at 5:05 AM on June 30, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have heard stories of people's food obsession being lifted forever and that they no longer overeat or think about overeating.

I agree with Etrigan, you may always be obsessed with food and something you will always deal with. You may be able to go weeks, months, years without obsessing, but you may see it creep up again. Take it one day at a time, one meal at a time.
posted by Fairchild at 5:36 AM on June 30, 2014

So do you think this is something I just have to deal with, or can I try to get a new addiction to replace this one?

Okay. To answer your first question, I don't think that everyone has a vice.

I, however, do. Maybe a few actually.

I tend to abuse alcohol.

To deal with it I set myself strict limits, and am constantly re-working with myself what is acceptable. ie- if I fail one week, I just try again the next.

It no longer rules my life. I have a job I love, I work out, I have good friends. I feel, that in many ways, I have tamed most of my demons.

Sometimes if I am craving a drink to soothe my anxiety, and if I know that I am heading down the Misspony-is-about-to-go-on-a-bender track- then I will pop a Valium or an anti-histamine and just go to bed. It breaks the habit cycle.

Funny enough, I have never been tempted to abuse Valium.

But a few years ago I went on a huge cocaine bender- I had never done coke before and a boyfriend introduced me to it, and so began about 3 months of intense cocaine use. It ended when we broke up and I never did it again. Its been 6 years since I touched the stuff- but every once in a blue moon, when I am in a certain kind of mood, I would do anything for a bump. Luckily, I don't keep those types of friends anymore, and the desire is usually gone in a few hours. But I will tell you what. The craving I have for it is VERY strong at the time.

I say that because I think it shows how a brain can be triggered to desire something- whether or not it is a long term habit or not. ie- you may always crave a bearclaw doughnut, if the circumstances are right.... even if you only ever had a few ever in your life.

Anyway, my days of true benders seem to be well and truly over.

But I am always a little tempted.

So my point is, I think you can replace your addiction with something else, or get a new one, but I am not sure it would bring you peace. I am, frankly, just happy if I can keep the happy medium- for me that is a victory in itself. I can screw up a little, but since screwing up a little is such a massive improvement, I am okay with that.
posted by misspony at 5:59 AM on June 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are there people with no vices? Is it possible to switch one vice for another?

Yes. And yes, but it's usually better to trade a vice for a good habit.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:28 AM on June 30, 2014

I used to have a seriously addictive relationship with food with consequences for my health. Over the course of 5-10 years I've mostly grown out of that through a combination of conscious dieting/fasting and feeling more connected to with GI system and what and how much I'm putting in it. Over time my mind changed and now I find junk/sugary food sort of disgusting and degrading, like smoking cigarettes or drinking a 40 of malt liquor.

I've still got an addictive personality and I can still gorge on junk food every so often without any real repercussions. Getting the the point where I mostly unconsciously don't want to has made it easier.
posted by crayz at 6:36 AM on June 30, 2014

DarlingBri has it right with exercise. Someone I know somewhat formerly had a sedentary life and a health scare in middle age. Seventeen years later he is a fitness instructor and has about zero body fat and has no other interests -- doesn't read, doesn't watch movies or tv or listen to music, but spends every waking non-working minute running marathons or biking 200k or browbeating his girlfriend into eating only the balanced meals he ordains and spending seven nights a a week at the gym. In no sense is it not a vice (albeit a healthier one than many people have).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:22 AM on June 30, 2014

NB.: I have no training or experience in this area at all.

1. I wonder if it's helpful to use the judgmental word vice. Perhaps a neutral word like behavior would be better. After all, you'd want to switch to a non-vice...

2. I suspect that the straight answer to your question is no, mostly people don't substitute one harmful behavior for another. Adding promiscuity to the mix doesn't cause drinkers to give up the bottle.

3. Each person needs to find what works for him. The range runs from steely determination through strait jackets and padded rooms.

4. Methods that work often have a short-term focus (one day at a time), and tying in some other person who you don't want to dissapoint.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:22 AM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the distinction that Etrigan and others make is important. There's a difference between an addiction and a habit. Yes, you could try to "switch" addictions, but what benefit would that have? Your issues with eating aren't necessarily going to be replaced by your new issues with whatever; heck, they may even end up reinforcing each other. And the newly acquired "vice" will just bring a different brand of misery. (I will note, with a dark chuckle, that if you get into chronic/terminal territory with alcohol or powders, you will probably stop eating.)

I eat for emotional reasons/comfort, on rare occasions, but I've never considered food to be one of the many substances that I've abused. So, from my perspective, I could see eating as a behavior that could be modified; e.g. generally kept under control, with an occasional splurge for enjoyment's sake. My guess would be that this would be a very difficult addiction to have and control, because you can't just stop eating (unlike addictions that can be tackled with abstinence). This sounds like a pernicious addiction to wrestle with, and you have my respect for doing so.

Nthing exercise as being probably the best possible habit to exchange for a food addiction. It gives you something to do with your body, floods your brain with feel-good chemicals, and could even -- over time -- alter your metabolism (thus changing the amount and types of food desired). I, and most of the addictive people I know, have incorporated regular exercise into their recovery routines. Other than whatever 12 step work or therapy/counseling we've done, exercise has been the second most important tool.
posted by credible hulk at 8:19 AM on June 30, 2014

Food and alcohol addictions are compounded by metabolic dysfunction, namely insulin intolerance, which makes them more of a physical addiction. Other addictions, such as exercise and work, seem to satisfy a strictly emotional need. I am not sure how easy it would be to replace an eating addiction with an addiction that is not linked to your metablism, I would think you would still have some food cravings that are not wholly satisfied by exercise. Food cravings are going to be linked to blood sugar, so maybe becoming more prone to treating your blood sugar imbalance will help stave off the cravings. I recommend becoming "addicted" to low carb eating. I've seen this do wonders for former food addicts. There are web sites devoted to this, so you will likely never run out of reading material and research, which is also considered an addiction.
posted by waving at 9:12 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are there people with no vices?

I haven't met anyone, who could honestly admit that. It doesn't mean they aren't there, I guess. But if you give any religious view of morality any credence, almost all of them say in one way or another that we are not perfect when it comes to vices, but we should strive to do the best we can.

Don't beat yourself up about it. Perfectionism is an aim. No one is perfect, certainly not anyone I ever met.

Change takes time and prolonged effort. Do the best you can today and tomorrow try it again.

Work with your emotions - especially if that is what is driving the overeating. Keep a note book of what you are feeling before and after you eat. Talk with someone about your feelings, professional or otherwise. If its the emotions driving the eating exercise isn't going to fix it, its just another distraction.

Is it possible to switch one vice for another?

Its called replacement therapy and it is a type of additions counseling that is pretty wide spread. I'm sure you can learn about it or find a therapist who works with it in your area fairly easy.
posted by jeffe at 9:19 AM on June 30, 2014

Thank you for your replies so far. Exercise seems like the best solution, but by replacing it would that mean exercising everyday? I'm not sure if the normal 3 times a week would be enough but I suppose I'd have to try and see.
posted by aivilo91 at 9:28 AM on June 30, 2014

A man without vice is addicted to righteousness.

Yes, it's certainly possible to switch one vice for another; whether or not that's a good idea depends on a whole raft of interacting factors. I Am Not A Therapist, I Am Not Your Therapist, I Could Never Be Licensed As A Therapist etc, but I've found following a few basic lines of enquiry highly effective for my own (non-food related) purposes.
  • What is motivating the unwanted action? It's worth having a good dig around inside yourself and identifying underlying patterns. For example:
      behaviour:        - home delivery for dinner
      justification:    - I'm in a bad mood because of work
      belief:           - delicious food cheers me up
      real motivation:  - bad mood prompted by a sense of disempowerment across multiple contexts including work
                           - subconscious conflation of disempowerment with others not trusting you
                              - worry that projected lack of trust is justified
                              - unexamined association of 'being trusted' with being responsible
                              - emotional 'truth' that lack of trust = rejection
      reward model:	    - choosing not to cook frees you of a personally-assigned responsibility
                           - which creates a context of choice and self-determination for not measuring up to who you 'should' be
                        - spending money gives you a sense of control (rejecting disempowerment in safe/self-framed context)
                        - spending money increases sense of self-worth (money as evidence of externally acknowledged worth)
                           - bonus points: irresponsible spending increases sense of self-determination, control
                              - rejection of others' imagined/projected judgement increases sense of own authority
                                 - reinforces 'rightness' of other choices
    ...etc etc etc. In this case, working from the surface justification/belief pairing might put an end the unwanted behaviour within the context of work bad -> food, but not relationship bad -> food, or food -> weight gain bad -> food.
  • Is the behaviour self-limiting or self-reinforcing? This one's pretty simple - if indulging scratches the itch, go ahead find a replacement scratcher that you can enjoy in the same way without making things worse. Conversely, if indulging has a tendency to make the itch intensify, replace the vice with a disruptive behaviour that offers a totally different reward model (e.g. the classic AA model of calling your sponsor and instead of having a drink). Sure, you can theoretically dismantle the underlying mechanisms that gives your vice power, but ignoring something that has power over you generally leads to it amassing a lot more power, and all the while you're busy not noticing it, and dismissing any compensatory behaviours that spring up in its wake, and (classic!) shifting the blame for your unhappiness and general discomfort onto other people's behaviour. So don't do that.
  • Does the substituted reward sufficiently mirror/disrupt the current model? I could never replace comfort eating with a bath, because I can't take a bath while I'm working at my desk. I couldn't replace comfort eating with a chew toy, because a chew toy doesn't involve sufficient sensory rewards, or require taking a break from the task at hand, or involve anticipatory fantasising. I could potentially replace comfort eating with healthy snacking (sufficient flavour, trading off intensity of sensation and reactive self-determination for the twin joys of feeling healthier and moral superiority).
  • Is the cure worse than the disease? Common sense says what? Don't make your life measurably worse in the process.

posted by not the fingers, not the fingers at 9:28 AM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

You can absolutely exercise more than 3x a week. Maybe not at first, it's best to move into it slowly, but I've been doing intense exercise (Crossfit) 4-5x a week for years now, and before that was biking/going to the gym even more often. It hasn't made me svelte yet, but I am now to the point of craving exercise for the mental health benefits.

That said, as noted above, I still experience the desire to eat in disordered ways. It's just a lot less frequent and tends to be much less of a vicious cycle when I exercise most days of the week. As I jokingly say (in my own head) about exercise, "C'mon, it feeeeels good".
posted by ldthomps at 10:17 AM on June 30, 2014

My dad has no vices. Seriously. He used to drink, smoke, overeat, not exercise and spend money unwisely. Then he joined a particular church, and that church had AA-type groups for drinking, smoking, overeating, spending, and a ton of other things. He rides his bike to church everyday and attends one of those groups and has completely eliminated those vices from his behavior, if not from his mind.

Is going to AA-type groups a vice? I don't think they are, but those that do would disagree that my dad is vice-free.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:45 PM on June 30, 2014

Exercise seems like the best solution, but by replacing it would that mean exercising everyday?

I'm someone who has replaced addiction(s) with exercise. I don't exercise every day. My healthy habits do however largely dominate my life (i.e. even on the days I don't exercise, I'll know when I next will, what I need to work on, how I need to eat to prepare for it etc).
I think you'll find tho that exercise generally improves your mindset / level of contentedness so you won't find it/life so hard.

That said, I still go on moderate (food) binges fairly often (like right now! *munches M&Ms*). But food was just one of my problems, and the others were less healthy. I have no alcohol or cigarette cravings at all anymore.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:11 PM on June 30, 2014

« Older Air conditioners allow fresh outside air into the...   |   grain-free make-ahead salads? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.