Using food & alcohol as a comfort blanket

I thought the initial YYCDI posts I wrote, explaining my issues and what led me to start this blog, were difficult to write but this one certainly rivals those. To some, the content here will sound quite ludicrous. To others, it will resonate hugely. In short, for most of my adult life, food and alcohol have acted as comfort blankets, for different reasons, and I’ll address each in turn. I’d like to state here and now that I’m certainly no expert in the field. I have no significant background knowledge, nor have I conducted any in-depth analysis or research of the subject matter. These are purely my own opinions.

Firstly, food. Good old food. Something so important in our lives and yet so complex and utterly difficult to address. If you’ve read all my blog posts to date, you’ll know that I absolutely hate my physical appearance and need to lose a pound or two (more like a stone or four, actually). Pinpointing why though is really, really difficult.

I’m guessing I’m not in a minority by saying I love food. Food is a necessity within life but it’s also an absolute pleasure. Within our home, food is something to be enjoyed. I don’t particularly eat a lot of unhealthy food. Thankfully, my wife does most of the cooking in the house and most of the food we eat is delicious, home-made and nutritious. Yet I have an Achilles heel of epic proportions which leads me to seek junk food at the most inopportune times. My wife and daughter head to bed at around 9pm Great – I see that as an opportunity to raid the snack cupboards and eat unhealthy foods such as crisps and chocolate. Takeaways? I love them and could eat 3 or 4 per week (though thankfully, as a family, we stray well away from this). A Lancashire pasty and a meat and potato pie for lunch at the weekend? Every single week if I were in a position to do so. A sly (and much maligned) McDonalds breakfast rather than a bowl of porridge? Show me the way to the glorious temptations of the hash brown and the sausage and egg McMuffin…

I know I shouldn’t be indulging in any of the above but, at various times, I succumb to all of these temptations. Quite why is a difficult issue to explain. I suppose ultimately, it’s because doing so always offers some degree of comfort, even if it’s only ‘in the moment’ for a few seconds. I know if I grab a couple of packets of crisps late at night (showing restraint right there as I could genuinely do 5 or 6 bags in a single sitting), I’ll feel like absolute crap when I wake up in the morning. Yet I still do it. I know if I plough through a McDonalds breakfast, I’ll feel bloated and crap for the rest of the day. Yet I still so it. I know exactly what I should and shouldn’t be eating, yet I still choose the bad options on an alarmingly frequently basis. Why do I do this? I can only offer one explanation – it feels good in the moment. So good. So Heavenly good. It provides instant gratification. Being lost in the moment of indulging in ridiculously pleasurable food, even if only for a split second, transcends all other feelings. There is nothing better. It just works. To hell with the inevitable feeling of being bloated; of experiencing a minor sugar rush; of feeling drowsy and lethargic – for a few blissful, wonderous seconds, it feels like a high unlike any other. It’s like taking a step away from real life. And then, the reality kicks in. The food sinks into the stomach; it sits there like a ship’s anchor, refusing to budge; it gently whispers in my ear ‘you need me, though I don’t need you; you are my slave; you have no choice but to succumb’. It eats into my brain, reminding me that I am weak, vulnerable and easily led.

So here’s a really fundamental question – why do I continually do it when I know how bad it will make me feel? For me, it’s one of two reasons: a) it’s the instant gratification / feelgood factor; and b) it’s the force of habit. I’m quite often sat alone downstairs at 9.30 – 10.00pm, so I raid the cupboard. Not necessarily because I’m hungry (quite the opposite, actually), but because I know I can, I have previously done so on many occasions, and it just feels right. I sit and watch my gut overhang my jeans whilst I devour a Kit-Kat. I polish off a couple of bags of crisps whilst uploading recent phone pictures to my laptop and recoil in horror at the hideous photos in which I feature. Yet still I do it, because I can, and because the positives (at that exact moment in time) far outweigh the negatives. It’s ludicrous, it’s embarrassing, and, for me, it’s a huge sign of weakness. Yet I continually do it. There are periods of a week or two during which I knuckle down and avoid all tempations, though I always end up reverting back to old habits. They haunt me. I just can’t shake them.

Secondly, alcohol. For me, alcohol is far, far worse than food. I’m aware of how this may sound to the casual reader so I’d just like to state that I’m certainly not an alcoholic – far from it (though my friends from the infamous 2017 Marbella 40th trip may disagree, but that’s a story for another day…!). But therein lies what is for me a really significant issue – many of us who use alcohol as a comfort blanket aren’t alcoholics – we just get caught in a trap. A quote from one of my heroes – the great Ozzy Osbourne – has always resonated with me. Ozzy, a man who pretty much wrote the book on doing things to excess, always claimed that alcohol was/is the most addictive drug of all, primarily due to its availability and acceptance within society. It is part of culture, especially British culture, and it’s everywhere. For me, there are 2 problems with alcohol. The first is that I really like a drink, and not just any particular drink. I have a wide and varied palette when it comes to food and the same applies to alcohol. Lager, bitter, real ale, cider, red wine, gin, whisky, rum – dependent on my mood, I like all of these drinks. Alluding back to a previous YYCDI post, the key thing for me is that I feel like a different person after a few drinks. More confident, less self-analytical, more open and willing to engage with others. Alcohol loosens me up, it removes my anxieties (to a degree) and it makes me feel a whole lot more comfortable than normal. As I get older, I find that an alcoholic drink can pep me up when I’m feeling tired. There are many week nights when I find cracking open a beer is much more satisfying than making a cup of tea (though I really do strive to avoid this these days). Alcohol is a crutch – it supports me when I need holding up; it makes me feel more like the person I like to believe I need to be; it provides me with the confident, cocksure persona I believe I need and want to be on a daily basis. Yet, conversely, it robs me of so much. It takes away my sense of creativity and my will to use my time productively. It leaves me lethargic and uninspired. On extreme occasions, it turns me into a person I don’t necessarily like becoming. The short-term highs can be amazing, yet it the come-down consistently leads me to question my own worth and reduces my confidence much more than normal. Time and time again, I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help but continue to indulge…

This isn’t really leading to anywhere other than to help me determine just what I need to do to combat these issues. I have good spells where I can go weeks on end without indulging in food and alcohol. These occasions are hugely beneficial – I always, without doubt, feel better, more enthused and more confident. I know that if I can conquer this, it would make a seismic difference to my quality of life and wellbeing. Yet I always hit a point where I stumble back into old habits. I know that, in theory it shouldn’t be difficult making the required changes to allow me to conquer this and take giant strides to becoming a better person. Yet I always hit a point where I struggle and revert to what is now, unfortunately, the norm.

To summarise, I don’t have the answers. I really wish I could wrap up this post by saying ‘and here’s what worked an absolute treat for me…’, but I can’t. I know the positives far outweigh the negatives, but I just can’t quite get there. I go on holiday in a few weeks and fully intend to spend some time lying on the beach considering just how I beat this. I may need to conduct some further reading. I may just need to give myself a huge kick up the backside to sort this. I may need to share experiences with others (and please do let me know if you identify with the issues I’m discussing here and have conquered them somehow). But ultimately, I need to do something, and fast. I read somewhere once that sharing a problem / personal objective somehow makes us more accountable – that putting it in the public eye strengthens our resolve and will to achieve. So here’s my ‘putting it in the public eye’ moment – I need to shed quite significant amounts of body fat and I bloody well will do it. I’m just not sure quite how yet – I’d welcome your thoughts on this. The old adage of hauling my fat ass off the couch and simply eating less and exercising more is an absolute gold-medal winning idea – it’s just far, far easier saying it than actually doing it.

Thanks again for taking the time to read this – I really do appreciate it. Take care and keep on fighting the good fight.

Until next time.

Best wishes,

Mick

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