Life changes for the... difficult brain.
August 15, 2014 3:52 PM   Subscribe

I'm not happy with the way I look or feel. I haven't been for a long time. I'm severely overweight, have high blood pressure with a family history of heart disease and diabetes, wake up with back pain every morning, have zero energy if it doesn't come in the form of an energy drink or shot, and just generally look like hell. What can I do to lose over 80 lbs and get myself to a healthy BMI for a 24yo 5'8' male when my brain acts like it really, really just wants to have me die of a heart attack by 35? Snowstorm inside.

The weight gain that began early in college (I was never a skinny kid, but sudddenly began to binge to a pathological degree) has had its peaks and troughs, but lately I've been ballooning at an alarming clip. My main problem: A truly cocaine-like addiction to sugar, carbs and variation in texture.

It's actually pretty scary to see what my brain does when I'm deprived of these for more than a few hours at a time. That is, whenever I've tried to lose weight and focused on smaller portions and "real food", I would always start to get incredibly irritable, obsessive, physically hyper to an uncomfortable degree and took on an annoying tunnel vision. That tunnel, needless to say, led straight to food. I could never sit with these feelings. They were so incredibly uncomfortable that putting say, a Dunkin Donuts muffin in my mouth actually felt like a release; like someone had just injected me with a sedative and all was right with the world again. It would be inaccurate for me to say that I use food as anything other than a drug. I need help, or I'm going to die.

Not an excuse, but my circumstances haven't been of much help.

*I'm disabled and live with my parents for the time being.
* I can't yet find work and they're on an incredibly limited budget.
* They're both overweight and mildly depressed and though we were never the type to consider pizza a vegetable or be fine with having Pop Tarts for dinner every morning, my mom does make a lot of the heavier dishes found in Israeli and Eastern European cuisine. and my dad can't help himself when it comes to buying prepared food, salty meats and cheeses or going out to restaurants. These aren't things I'll ever get them to change.
*I've tried asking them for help in preparing healthier meals, but they're always either too busy, too tired or don't believe in the philosophy behind my diet-of-the-week ( I don't blame them at this point).
* I haven't the foggiest idea of what to do at a gym given that I'm in a chair ( the only one I can afford right now is Planet Fitness and they don't seem very willing to work with me)
*My depression and chronic pain don't allow for me to follow through on plans myself either. I can't stand at a kitchen counter for very long and get tired easily. I'm always SO tired and foggy. That's where the evil that is 5-hour energy comes into my life. ( No CFS, far as I know)

I've tried everything. I mean it- everything.
-Portion control ( Nutrisystem and on my own)
-Juicing ( the program based on Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead seemed like it would be my answer and I was crushed when it fell through)
- Supplements ( 5-HTP, L-Tyrosine, L-theanine, GABA, B-vitamins, etc etc)
-Medications ( Prozac, Klonopin, Wellbutrin.... all for depression, but all of these made me gain rather than lose weight)
-Talk therapy and CBT
-Frozen meals from Jenny Craig, Lean Cusine, etc

I don't have Cushing's, Addison's, diabetes, or any other red flag, at least according to blood tests. No sleep apnea ( how, I don't know).

What do I do to take control of my mind and my life?

TL;DR: Help an ADHD, depressed, food-addicted young adult who has very little control over the circumstances in his life and has tried everything lose weight and feel okay again.

Thanks all.
posted by marsbar77 to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Just to hammer home the addiction analogy.... I will take a 40 minute bus ride to Trader Joe's just for their cookies, hide things in my room, or spend half of my tiny monthly food budget on bread and sweets. I'm so done living this way.
posted by marsbar77 at 3:59 PM on August 15, 2014

Best answer: I would consider trying out a much less restrictive meal plan, and forget about losing weight for now. I personally find that if I don't eat enough, I am MUCH more likely to snap and eat something like cookies/candy.

I'd start with just one goal - sit down at the table to eat breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and evening snack every day. You should portion out your food before you eat (no eating out of a bag of chips), but it's fine to go back for seconds or thirds. You can eat anything you want, in any quantity. You can snack between meals if you want (though you won't snack as much if you're eating 5x a day). You can read or play with your phone/computer at the table. You are not trying to lose weight, not yet - you are starting to regulate meal time.

After you get in the habit of eating regularly at the table, the next steps are things like increasing vegetables - getting MORE of the healthy stuff rather than restricting sweets. All of the diets you have tried are restrictive; it sounds like trying something non-restrictive is worth a shot.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:11 PM on August 15, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I've struggled with my weight since childhood and have gone through some pretty major ups and downs. I've done a lot of different diets and had some major successes with some, but the weight always came back. Luckily, I was reading Metafilter on a day when I was thinking pretty deeply about making some major lifestyle changes and someone here mentioned that they had been very successful with a ketogenic diet (high fat, moderate protein, very low carb). They suggested reading up on it on Reddit's /r/keto boards, which are full of great information and people who have been on the diet for 10+ years are active there and help with advice and pep talks.

It's been life changing for me. It's not a corporate program, so you just teach yourself how to do it and then go for it. I've lost 50 lbs in 6 months and I feel fantastic. I'm eating healthy, whole foods and my blood work is the best it's been in 6+ years. I have tons of energy, sleep great, and I have no more brain fog ever. The most amazing changes for me have been mental/emotional. I have fixed my old emotional eating habits and no longer use food to soothe myself and I don't eat out of boredom. It's an adjustment in the beginning, but I've never felt deprived or hungry and I find that it's fairly easy to make adjustments so that I can eat out, etc. I promised myself that I would try it for 3 months with no cheating and see where I ended up and I highly recommend that approach. It helped me stick with the diet psychologically because there was a finish line.
posted by quince at 4:12 PM on August 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Investigate the idea that you have an eating disorder just as serious and threatening to your health as anorexia - hiding food, desperation/uncontrollable compulsion to eat, and the self-loathing all suggest compulsive binge eating. The drug addiction analogy is useful, but eating disorders are notoriously hard to treat partially because you can't exactly practice complete abstinence from food.

I know you already said therapy did not work for you, but I think you will be most successful with a good therapist specializing in eating disorders by your side. He or she will help you work out the complex web of thought patterns, behaviors, and habits going on, help you figure out other ways to cope, and learn new habits. You could also check out support groups like Overeaters Anonymous if you're not ready to go back to therapy yet.

Stop beating yourself up for not being able to do this on your own - people find it incredibly difficult to lose weight under the best of circumstances. A little help will go a long way.
posted by peachfuzz at 4:26 PM on August 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Aww, I feel for you. I know that kind of panic when your eating feels out of control and the scale keeps creeping up. I would hit 8 p.m. and the sugar cravings were so bad I would have stepped over my own grandmother for a package of Ding Dongs. I don't have a whole solution for you, but your idea about changing your diet may be the place to start for energy and pain.

Portion control blows, and is evil. It seems like if we're hungry, we should eat. The only "diet" that's worked for me in terms of fitting into my actual life and not leaving me feel tortured with hunger is a modification of the Paleo diet. Similarly to what quince says above about keto, for me this involves protein, fats, and mostly veggies and some fruits and fermented things. I started my "clean slate" with something called a whole 30, which you can read about online. I was pretty hungry and confused in that first month, because I couldn't get the soothing bloat/sugar hit of a pastry, so I confess I was a nut butter abuser that first month. Then I got less "OMG starving what is happening with my body??" and began to stabilize and feel GOOD. I identified some pretty bad food intolerances this way, and lost some chronic pain. Check out Your Personal Paleo Code by Kessler, or there's a lot of good stuff on Reddit, for sure.

I eat when I need to, but usually at mealtimes, I am at a stable weight, and I don't have sugar crashes like I used to. Or cravings. I feel MUCH better than I did a few years ago. I feel in control and like I am taking better, proactive care of my body. And also as quince says, this is something I had to figure out for myself through piecing info together. I don't believe a prepackaged meal plan would work for me or counting points...but this seems much easier and healthier in the long run.

I won't bore you with my diet, but this post gives a pretty good idea of what I shoot for, as far as balancing food groups.

I know Americans have a tendency to turn food into magical medicine nowadays, but it's worth a try to see if something you're eating just doesn't agree with you. If not, chuck that out and try something else. Or maybe it will be a partial fix and you can move forward from there. Personally, eating the right food fixes about 80% of my pain (YAY, worth it), and medicine needs to take it from there.
posted by Lardmitten at 4:30 PM on August 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Don't diet. Just eat whatever you can, intuitively. Don't be hungry, but don't eat if you're not hungry.

Here's a book, Intuitive Eating. It's insightful.

Here are some ideas for exercises you can do in your chair.

Slow and steady is the best way to approach this.

I would see if you could join a local YMCA, one with a pool. They may be able to work with you on your disability payments, and offer you a reduced rate.

Don't talk about food with your parents. It gets old after a while.

Check out an Overeater's Anonymous meeting. It's a 12-step program, and since you used Addiction a bit in your Ask, it might be worth your while to see if it's useful to you. The fellowship alone might help you feel less helpless and isolated.

It's hard, I've accepted that I'm overweight and I do the best I can with what I've got. Don't blame yourself or hate yourself. It's pointless and destroys your self-esteem. It sounds like you got dealt a shitty hand physically in life. I'm sorry about that. But you're young and you can get through this and live a wonderful life!

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:35 PM on August 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you can, find a physical activity that is either fun, or is something you'd like to get really good at - enough to be motivated to practice it long-term, building skill over years.

The gym probably feels like a chore. You want something that you'll want to do, so it can become a welcome part of your life, permanently.

I don't really know the details of your life, but maybe there is a hobby that fits the bill? Outdoor photography in a manual wheelchair, meaning you'll roam and explore and get tired but still be focused on getting better shots? Or maybe playing Ingress on a smartphone?
posted by anonymisc at 4:40 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing some form of low carb. I'm losing weight and feeling terrific on a low-carb diet. Nothing fancy, or restrictive, aside from "no refined carbs, low complex carbs, mostly meat, fish, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds." The cravings were beyond awful the first week or so and then faded away.

It sounds like you may also be using food to self-medicate. You are depressed and stuck living at home - maybe food is filling a void for you. Geneen Roth's Breaking Free From Emotional Eating is geared toward women but you might really benefit from it.

You also sound like you are eating to combat fatigue. Is your doctor taking your fatigue seriously? It could be depression, it could very well be sleep apnea since you are overweight, it could even be chronic fatigue syndrome. Insist on a sleep test - apnea causes fatigue and foggy-headedness; I have severe sleep apnea and getting a CPAP has given me more mental clarity and energy than anything else. If your doctor can't or won't help you, see if you can get a referral to specialists who might be able to.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:45 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I came in here to say "maybe look into a keto diet" but quince beat me to it so I'll just back that comment up! My husband is too stressed out with work to stick to any kind of exercise but last year he lost 25 lbs in six weeks simply doing keto (yes, check out /r/keto) so in my mind it would be a good diet to try if you have physical limitations. Also it works for heavier diets since you can eat a lot of meat and fats.

I find, for myself, I lose weight and feel a lot healthier when I eat low-carb in general; and I personally do really bad with pure calorie-counting/frequent small meals types of diets. Low-carb/paleo/keto diets are, in my experience, all good to try for dealing with sugar addictions & binging behaviour. As well, they seem to produce visible results fast, which is quite motivating.

Re: depression, if you are finding pharmaceuticals are not working well for you, it's worth looking into supplementing. Here is a previous AskMeFi answer I made about how I supplement to deal with depression (plus other things I do to deal with it). I agree with others above that finding a hobby or activity you enjoy would definitely help on both the exercise & mental health fronts!
posted by flex at 5:44 PM on August 15, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the wonderful advice so far. I have a lot to look into. The problem remains though... what do I do during those (very much prolonged) moments of obsessive anxiety that have meant the death knell for every change I've tried to make so far? What do I do while in the fire? Is this even a real issue for other people? How do people who've quit harder drugs or cigarettes deal with this? The ketogenic diet sounds great, as does everything else, but I need to stop the madness first...
posted by marsbar77 at 7:28 PM on August 15, 2014

Response by poster: Also, just to clarify... a (poorly done because I was up most of the night) sleep test showed no sleep apnea. Not saying it wasn't a false negative but for now let's assume that's been ruled out.
posted by marsbar77 at 7:31 PM on August 15, 2014

If you have trouble with diets (and they are hard) try giving up some of your worst eating habits. One step at a time.

I bet the most bang for your buck would be giving up soda and "energy" drinks. Drink water, or if you can't bear water almost anything else. If you can give these up it will make a health difference.

Next would be pastry type snacks. That might be too big of a step at once, so maybe just one thing that has a lot of calories but isn't your favorite treat.

Lather, rinse, repeat. If you can make little changes and make them stick, in time you'll be eating much healthier. You can try other diets alongside this plan. Just don't backslide on your core improvements.

I'm wondering if you can get outside and just wheel around your neighborhood on a "walk" (using hand propulsion, not a motor, if this is possible for you). If that doesn't work maybe you can get transportation to a mall? I like walking as an exercise and I think it's a good place to start for people who aren't very fit, maybe you can adapt the idea.

I'm not crazy about gyms in general. I'd look for things you can do at home or at a friend's house. Dumbbells? Stretch bands? I would bet $20, sight unseen, that there is an existing internet community about exercising from a wheelchair. Maybe you can't do all the stuff but you can probably do some of it. Also, if you can find a workout buddy that will help a lot with motivation. It's hard to sustain an exercise routine on your own. If you are doing it solo, start slow (like 5-10 minutes a day). The important thing is to find something you can stick with.
posted by mattu at 7:40 PM on August 15, 2014

Stopping the "fire" for me was a one day at a time thing. I kept telling myself "I will do a good job today." I didn't look way down the line. I deliberately distracted myself at times, by putting myself in environments where I didn't engage in bad habits (the library, the park). And I picked up new fiddling habits instead of eating, like learning to shuffle cards like a Vegas dealer, crossstitching, flash games. Pick a book on something new from the library? Magic? Home canning? Anything new. They say it takes 3 weeks to build a habit. Give something new a try?
posted by Lardmitten at 7:54 PM on August 15, 2014

1st, focus on getting a little healthier. Join an exercise class through the Y, or Adult Ed., or anyplace that isn't a gym full of people who might intimidate you. Build new habits 1 step at a time. Park further away/ get off the bus a stop early, walk at least a little bit every day. Music helps me exercise when nothing else works, so load up your phone or get a cheap mp3 player and the best dance music you will enjoy.

Improve your nutrition. Whole grain bread, pasta, brown rice, add vegetables to lunch and dinner. Start by adding the healthier foods rather than restricting the foods you crave, but have the broccoli 1st. Increase it so you have lots of vegetables in your meals, real vegetables, not just a few shreds of lettuce in your sandwich or a couple carrot slices in rice pilaf. Have a glass of OJ with breakfast, a few dried apricots, a handful of almonds. Have some fresh fruit for dessert, even if you follow it with cake.

Drink water. This one's hard for me, but a glass of water before a meal will help you feel full.

Weight loss is a terrific goal, but getting regular exercise and good nutrition will really help your health. Once you've gotten into a regular exercise habit, it will help your ADHD, will help with any depression, and you may have more energy to put towards reducing the carbs and sugar.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 PM on August 15, 2014

This is a risky suggestion, but fasting (eating nothing) is the quickest way to lose weight. Eat nothing, but drink as much water as you want. Black coffee (just water and grounds) is OK too. It sounds like eating makes you hungrier (sugar does) and causes eating until it's physically painful to eat more. Like a drug, a little bit (even "healthy" food) can lead to more. Just don't have that first bit. Anecdotally, fasting is hardest at day 3, and easier after that. I've never done this. I have tried to lose weight with exercise alone (it doesn't work; I just eat more) and with exercise plus eating a lot less (it worked well; wrestling team provided the motivation).

Eating nothing is risky for a few reasons:
- anorexic people would lose too much weight and could die
- prolonged fasting (months, weeks in some people) may cause someone to run low on salt, causing muscle weakness and eventually a heart attack and death (nerves need salt to send electrical signals)
- feelings of low energy and mood swings are common
- looks like an eating disorder
- I'm not a doctor so I don't know what else could go wrong

But, if someone has 75+ pounds to lose, not eating at all might be slightly less harmful than not changing anything. So, this option is to not eat (because eating even a little bit makes you hungrier), and to find absorbing projects to do to fill the time / make you feel good the way cookies do now. Not eating forces you to find things other than food to do for fun. And, transition to a normal diet once you reach a normal weight. Again, this is a risky idea and I can't recommend it.
posted by sninctown at 9:04 PM on August 15, 2014

I truly think that sugar is addicting if you eat a lot of it. Although I didn't have a weight issue, when I was around your age I ate a minimum of 1-1.5 pints of Hagen-Daz a day, plus 3-4 candy bars. I felt like shit. I decided to just cut out ice cream and candy (not gradually, I failed at that) and for a week or so felt even worse: major headaches, cranky, etc. I am coming to the good part of the story, so stay with me! After the bad period, the craving just... stopped. I really didn't cared if I had sugar. And now? I've had a quart of ice cream in my freezer for a month that I keep forgetting about. I have dessert every once in a while, but it's not the mad cravings I used to have.

You can do it! Part of it is switching up your routines. For example, I would eat the candy at work and get ice cream at a convenience store when I was driving home. I changed my route so I didn't drive past it anymore. Are there any routines you could change to knock yourself loose from the sugar habit?
posted by sfkiddo at 9:13 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do not keep any sweets in the house. I have a terrible sweet tooth and I make it a point that the only things in my fridge are eggs, butter, condiments, and leftovers. I don't have ANY candy, cakes, though I do have a jar of sugar for the occasional cup of tea.

Also, don't feel like you have to go from eating really crap to doing some sort of low-carb paleo meal overnight. Take baby steps and don't beat yourself up when you slip up. Start small. Tell yourself, this week, no more Pop Tarts. Then next week, add Trader Joe's cookies on the list. Then no cakes. Then no ice cream for snacks. The trick to eating healthier really isn't saying NO to everything. Unless you have godly amounts of self-control, that's a recipe for disaster.

On another note, do you have a really good friend who eats better than you who you can rope into this? A close friend of mine has had a terrible sugar addiction. She wanted me to call her out whenever she pigged out on sugar so she sent me everything she ate for a month. Everything. My Whatsapp conversation with her consists mainly of food pictures right now. Heck, if you want to send me everything you eat to help (this will also be an eye opener of just what exactly you eat), let me know. I'd be more than happy to help.

When the coaches at my gym put me on a ridiculously restrictive diet (unlimited green vegetables + 1 portion of white meat a day), I had a few moments of absolute panic in the first few days. Luckily, I was quite busy during the day at work so I didn't give myself the time to panic. But in the evenings whenever I would get this uncontrollable urge to leave my apartment, go to 7/11 and guzzle down all their soda, I just laid in bed and went to sleep. Sleeping really did help the cravings go away.
posted by astapasta24 at 9:18 PM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ideally, you want to get to a place where you eat when you're hungry and stop when you're done. But in reality, if food is more than just food for you, this needs to be an end point and not a starting point. Also, to actually lose weight, you have to eat less which means shrinking your stomach, etc. and that is difficult if you are already struggling to have a healthy attitude towards food. I would imagine that if try to restrict your food intake, you get hungry, and after a few days you slip, and that leads to giving up the restrictions entirely.

You also have an added difficulty: living with people who have unhealthy eating habits. This may be the hardest thing - if you are struggling to eat healthy in an environment where others are not supportive, it really weighs on your will power.

I think the advice some have given about paying attention to what you eat is important. Make a log, written or mental. Then gradually start to structure your food intake (like others have said - only meal times, only at the table, etc). Then, start to cut things slowly and very gradually. You are looking to make changes you can sustain for ever, not dieting (which is why I think fasting, crash dieting, juicing, etc. is not a great idea).

Pick one of your bad food habits and only eliminate that one. (I would recommend trying to eliminate refined sugar first, as it seems that you might have an actual addiction to that). Then move on to another. Don't try to "eat clean" immediately. If you slip, CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK. If say you've gotten to the point where you aren't keeping food in your room anymore and you only eat at meal times - if you slip and have a cookie or a candy bar while in your room, don't give up and run out to the nearest Trader Joe's. Some days will be bad. Forget that day and move on.

Perhaps trying an approach that is not so drastic will help with the anxiety. Or perhaps your anxiety needs to be treated medically. If you are using food to medicate your anxiety, that may be worth looking into.
posted by microcarpetus at 9:24 PM on August 15, 2014

Different approaches work for different people. You sound a little bit like me, so I'll add my experience - I cannot do baby steps or gradual changes with a diet. If I have one bite of a piece of cake I want to eat the whole thing. If I say it's ok to have one sweet thing per day it just turns into eating whatever sweet things I want, because I'll make exceptions for all the other ones. I also find having any sweets or other unhealthy foods around makes it nearly impossible for me to avoid eating them. I just think about whatever it is all the time until at some point in the middle of the night I'll just eat the whole box or bag of whatever it is "just to get rid of it."

People don't tell cocaine addicts to gradually cut down their cocaine use so they're using less and less cocaine every day. So I'm not going to tell you to gradually try to cut down the sugar in your diet because I suspect you'd act like me, or like a cocaine addict would - always intending to quit, never quitting, actually getting worse and worse.

I'm actually a normal weight, but I'm sure with a different metabolism and different health fortunes I could be in your position. This is how I do diets:
- I clear everything that isn't part of the diet out of the house. Either I eat it, or I give it away to other people, or whatever, I make sure it is no longer readily available.
- I go shopping to fill the pantry and fridge up with food that is acceptable on my diet. I make sure to buy lots of stuff that would actually appeal to me that's part of the diet, for example, if I'm not going to be eating grains/refined carbs/sugar, I stock up big time on fruits and dairy and anything I like that could be used as snacks (I hate nuts, so I know I would never eat those as a healthy snack, and carrots are OK but I won't actually enjoy them - non-grain/refined carb/sugar snacks that I actually enjoy eating would be like cream cheese rolled up in ham, or string cheese sticks, or plain yogurt mixed with strawberries and blueberries).
- I tell my friends and family what I'm doing and ask for support. If I know my friends and family are expecting me to be on a specific diet and may notice if I eat the wrong thing, it helps keep me on track, because I feel obligated to eat the right foods when I eat with them (which is most of the time).

What I do when I start getting cravings for food that I shouldn't be eating in these situations:
- I NEVER allow myself to "just have a little bit". That would be a path to certain ruin.
- I try to do something else immediately that I would see as a fun reward and distraction but that is not food related. Not sure what that would be for you, for me it might be going to a yoga class or going out for a walk on a beautiful day or something. Playing a game might be an option.
- I let myself eat as much as I want to of something that is allowed on the diet that I enjoy. I don't follow a super strict low carb diet because I'd be miserable, so one example of a relatively low carb thing would be that I'll have is I slice up strawberries or take raspberries and whip up heavy cream and eat the berries mixed with whipped cream (no sugar in the whipped cream, just cream). Another variation is pineapple with whipped cream I make from coconut milk (again, no added sugar in the coconut milk, full fat coconut milk). Both of these 'desserts' are very sweet tasting and very heavy but have no added sugar. To reiterate - I can eat as much as I want of these. But because they don't have refined carbs/added sugar, I never find that I eat the entire container of whipped cream or something, like I would if it were a milkshake. Sometimes I'll have no-sugar-added peanut butter (i.e. made only from peanuts) with semi-dark chocolate for 'dessert' at times like these. This probably wouldn't work if I really loved plain chocolate, but since I don't, it's something that tastes sweet and very filling (how much straight peanut butter can one really eat in one sitting?) that I enjoy but don't want to eat a lot more of.

So in summary, I think the keys are: have a good support network. If you can't find one in real life, get one online. Get rid of the food you need to avoid completely, at least for now, and have only the foods you can eat on hand. When you're feeling tempted - immediately reward yourself with other things that you actually enjoy. Not sure if that philosophy sounds helpful to you, but it's something that works pretty well for me.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:20 AM on August 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think one of the main things is learning to not give up when you fall off the wagon.

Plan ahead for the times when you crave sugar. Get yourself a bag of mixed nuts or wasabi peas or something else to snack on. Steal your dad's cheeses. Eat food that feels luxurious, with lots of fat and/or flavor. Focus on how much you're enjoying the salt or spices or whatever. Make getting sugar require you to leave the house (if that's possible, given that you live with other people.) If you really can't concentrate on anything but sugar, tell yourself that's nice, you'll consider the issue after you've eaten a cheese omelet and watched a movie. And should you cave at any point, don't give up.
posted by egg drop at 2:04 AM on August 16, 2014

Adopting a low-carb diet magically gave me the ability to eat food like a "normal" person -- I.e., I am sometimes hungry so I eat, and then I'm not hungry so I don't. A diet full of grains and sugar made me eat all the time, no matter what.

It was a huge change in overall diet and, I would even say, lifestyle. But so, so worth it. And I can't even imagine eating like I used to anymore.

I really feel for you about your anxiety and feelings of not being in control of these cravings. You can find an immense feeling of relief and power by OPTING OUT OF THE DAMN CYCLE. Sugar makes you feel like that? Take it out of your diet. It's not your friend. You're clearly really sensitive to its effects. But you have the choice not to engage.

It's easy to say and much harder to do. You're unhappy right now, which is the first step in WANTING to make a change, which will lead you to the strength to be able to make it, even if it all feels impossible right now.

Good luck!
posted by jeweled accumulation at 7:10 AM on August 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I see that you've been tested for various things already, but did that include testing for a vitamin D deficiency? If not, get tested for that ASAP, since you may need prescription-strength vitamin D supplements to catch up.

Regarding eating, the weight and volume of the food in our stomachs have more to do with feeling full than the amount of calories consumed. So focus on eating low-calorie-density foods.

Even if you don't have the energy, money, or parental moral support to prepare healthy meals from scratch, you can still get started by eating low-calorie canned soups for most of your meals. Read the labels because the calorie counts vary wildly from soup to soup (stay away from cream-based soups). Experiment with how much extra water you can add to soup before it tastes too watery for you -- adding water to foods (instead of simply drinking water with meals) is a great way to make meals more filling without adding calories.

Of course, you should still be drinking lots and lots of water, starting with a big glass immediately upon waking (a lot of morning fatigue and crankiness is due to simple dehydration). Follow the "don't drink calories" rule -- no energy drinks, juice, milk, alcohol, non-diet soda, etc. If plain water bores you, try adding a splash of lemon or lime juice (the calories in those juices are negligible) for flavor.

Replace your energy drinks and other current caffeine sources with unsweetened or stevia-sweetened green tea that you brew yourself at home (not the bottled green teas at the store, as almost all of those have added sugar). Not only is it good for your health, but at a typical supermarket price of 5-to-20 cents per bag, switching to green tea should also save you a lot of money.

If being around your parents' food continues to be a problem, you might consider getting your own microwave (for heating soup) and electric kettle (for making tea) for your room. Keep your food and a meal's worth of clean dishes in your room as well. That way you won't see their food while you're hungry and will only have to go to the kitchen to do the dishes once you're already full.

So, to summarize:
1) Get tested for vitamin D deficiency
2) Start eating low-calorie canned soups for most of your meals
3) Stop drinking calories
4) Drink water and home-brewed green tea instead
5) Optional: start preparing your meals in your room

While the above suggested changes won't solve all your problems, I think they are the ones that will give you the most immediate benefit for the amount of effort required. Later, after you've started feeling a bit better, you'll have the energy to tackle larger lifestyle changes.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:10 AM on August 16, 2014

what do I do during those (very much prolonged) moments of obsessive anxiety that have meant the death knell for every change I've tried to make so far? What do I do while in the fire? Is this even a real issue for other people? How do people who've quit harder drugs or cigarettes deal with this?

"This too shall pass." Keep reminding yourself that the bad feelings are temporary, so you just have to wait them out.

On the days when the anxiety and physical withdrawal symptoms are really bad, distract yourself with some fun non-food-based activities like playing video games or marathoning an engrossing TV show.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:13 AM on August 16, 2014

Things to do when you have the cravings:

Distractions. Plan in advance what you are going to do so you are ready when it happens. Knit a cap for a hospital infant; wheel around the block x times; write all your mad thoughts into an online journal; clean a closet or drawer; watch a ridiculous exercise video (Richard Simmons' Sweatin to the Oldies) and do chair exercises as you watch; meditate; pray; immerse yourself in heavy metal music; play an instrument; ??? If you can figure out something to do which is a benefit to someone else, that could help you feel more obligated to do it.

Celebrate success: pick one or two small goals for the day and put big gold stars or silly stickers on a wall calendar when you succeed (make the goals super easy to begin with). Plan treats that don't involve food for weekly success or milestones.

Change negative thinking: Set a specific hour each day in which you only make positive statements about yourself. Write these down and review them during the crisis.

Time challenges: so far, you are thinking that you can not make it through a crisis and you always fail. Going forward, measure the amount of time that you resist and write that down. Each crisis, challenge yourself to go one more minute than you did the last time (change your crisis activity if you want, or use that last minute to plan (see below)). Celebrate your progress with stickers.

Reduce the impact of your failure: using the time challenge above, when you are ready to give in, don't binge on everything in sight but plan for one specific super delicious thing. Use your crisis time to think and plan what that will be, how it will taste, how it will feel in your mouth. When you eat it, do it slowly and savor every single miniscule bite. Force yourself to be satisfied with that one thing. (I was going to suggest that it be a small thing like a single square of dark chocolate, but be realistic and plan for something that you know will really satisfy you regardless of the calories. We're trying to break habits, not diet.)

Find a support community: lots of online forums have lots of people in your situation and sharing the challenges and successes is very helpful. I like SparkPeople. You'll get other suggestions. Choose one that resonates with you and be an active member, encouraging others, posting your successes and failures and asking for help.
posted by CathyG at 8:25 AM on August 16, 2014

c/p from Wikipedia

Signs and Symptoms of Insulin Resistance:
Brain fogginess and inability to focus.
High blood sugar.
Intestinal bloating – most intestinal gas is produced from carbohydrates in the diet, mostly those that humans cannot digest and absorb.
Sleepiness, especially after meals.
Weight gain, fat storage, difficulty losing weight – for most people, excess weight is from high fat storage; the fat in IR is generally stored in and around abdominal organs in both males and females. It is currently suspected that hormones produced in that fat are a precipitating cause of insulin resistance.
Increased blood triglyceride levels.
Increased blood pressure. Many people with hypertension are either diabetic or pre-diabetic and have elevated insulin levels due to insulin resistance. One of insulin's effects is to control arterial wall tension throughout the body.
Increased pro-inflammatory cytokines associated with cardiovascular disease.
Depression. Due to the deranged metabolism resulting from insulin resistance, psychological effects, including depression, are not uncommon.
Acanthosis nigricans.
Increased hunger.
posted by Metafilter Username at 8:31 AM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You sound dehydrated. Don't juice though, it's too much sugar without the fiber.
posted by serena15221 at 11:41 AM on August 16, 2014

You can white knuckle the anxiety. Know that it's temporary and have some soothing things to do ride it out. Read your favorite books, physically exhaust yourself, perhaps wheeling yourself around the block, get all up into Big Fish Casino, take a hot shower or bath. With fancy bath foam. Divert your attention.

You can discuss anti-anxiety drugs with your GP, it may help. It helps me.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:20 PM on August 16, 2014

I have known several people get lots out of intermittent fasting, where you eat nothing or very little on two days of the week. I think it may suit you because it sounds like your appetite has become totally decoupled from your nutritional needs, so any kind of nuanced cutting back is going to require heroic levels of willpower. Whole day fasting (but make sure to drink lots of unsweetened fluids, of course) may well be torture for you, but at least it will be a torture which you know has a reprieve coming up.

If you choose not to do intermittent fasting, or even if you do choose to (and I'm thinking you really, really should give it a go), my digestion, which is troublesome in different ways to yours, has an amazing reaction to kimchi, if you can find it. This is a Korean fermented cabbage product, like sauerkraut but spicier. Make sure you get fermented kimchi, as it's the fermentation that makes it so good for your digestion. My hypothesis is that the fermentation bacteria in the kimchi make the bacteria in your gut better at digesting vegetables. It really does make a huge difference to my appetite, making me feel much hungrier for healthy food and less hungry for sugary things, and of course being cabbage it's got hardly any calories of its own.
posted by ambrosen at 2:46 PM on August 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

SO I know what you mean when you are experiencing these moments of obsessing and making bad decisions that set you back. I kind of have a two-prong approach to these moments.

First, try to delay the bad decision. I can have whatever I want, sure, just maybe wait until it is not a 40 minute bus ride away. I can definitely have it, and if it is "worth" the inconvenience to me I generally let myself have it. But first I try to delay it. This minimizes the incidents overall.

Second, I accept that these things are going to happen. They do not need to be the death knell of any life changes. I bet that if you make healthy choices like starting a new diet etc, you will be healthier even with these moments of insanity, than in giving up after the insane moment. Accept that the moments will exist. You will make some bad choices. Everyone does. BUT the CRUCIAL thing is to go back to making good decisions afterwards. Some progress is better than absolute progress.

So. First, try to delay making insane bad decisions. Then, accept that you will make insane bad decisions and move on from them,
posted by hepta at 3:46 PM on August 16, 2014

I just saw this article in The New Yorker about Soylent and thought of you.
posted by cleroy at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2014

I'm really sorry that you are struggling.

You already have many good suggestions above, but I thought I'd bring your attention to the following book: The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet. It is basically a low carb diet with a designated "carb time" built in. While it may not work for you, I thought I'd offer it as a possibility since it helped a family member who was dealing with a similar issue. It is an older book, but I can report at least one person who had good results.
posted by girl flaneur at 12:03 AM on August 17, 2014

It doesn't seem like you have anyone to share your goals and successes with.
How about finding a similar wheeled partner to act as a workout buddy?
Many of us need a 'witness' or support person. Maybe you'd set up a schedule to meet at the gym at 9:00 am 3x per week, and then you'll feel obligated to get your ass to the gym to support that person.
Your gym, Planet Fitness, may be one resource able to help you find a partner. (But I'll bet we can help you can find other ways if that's not a good one).
posted by artdrectr at 12:17 AM on August 17, 2014

Strongly seconding Keto. That kind of eating has had a profound effect on my mood and my ability to think and keep improving. It was a surprising side-effect, no less surprising than the fact that it seemingly cut my epileptic seizure frequency by about 80%. The Reddit Keto page is very, very helpful. Caveat: I was not aiming to lose weight with this method of eating, but I absolutely did.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 7:01 AM on August 17, 2014

There's a MeFi team on Health Month that's really awesome. Come join us. We'll all cheer you on. :)
posted by kathrynm at 9:39 AM on August 17, 2014

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