My mother used to compare her addictive relationship with food to others’ with alcohol, but she thought alcoholics had it easier. “It’s not like I can give up food all together” she would say “I still have to eat to survive, food is everywhere and every day I have to decide what to eat”. She knew she had an obsessive compulsive dysfunctional relationship with food but didn’t know how to fix it. She wished she could simply go “cold turkey” like alcoholics. I wonder, if she actually had eliminated those specific foods she was most addicted to, if she would have been able to overcome her 60 year battle with food.
Yo-Yo-Dieting -The Biggest Loser was a very popular show a few years back. It was certainly very effective, with the average amount of weight lost at 127 pounds. Trouble was, most of the participants regained all the weight back, and then some. Low calorie, low fat diets combined with hours of exercise is simply not sustainable. Other than the general lifestyle barriers of trying to fit in hours of exercise every day, the main reason these diets fail long term is due to metabolic changes. Our bodies see a calorie reduced diet as a threat. The average decrease in basal metabolic rate (BMR) for the Biggest Loser was 789 calories per day and it remained that way for years. My mother was no different, she lost and gained 100 pounds multiple times, it took a toll on her mentally and physically, and every time she started another diet, it was harder to lose the weight because of her inefficient metabolism.
Bad Advice -The advice we were given has failed. We were offered a food pyramid, told to avoid saturated fat and add carbohydrates. Over the past 50 years, we have changed our diets from 20% carbohydrates to 65-80%, following these recommended guidelines. We we told to replace lard and butter with Canola oil, margarine, Crisco and other vegetable seed oils. Yet we are sicker and fatter than ever. More people are pre-diabetic/diabetic than not. The diseases of modern civilization – heart disease, cancer, ADHD, liver disease and Alzheimers to name a few, are increasing, not decreasing. Low fat, calorie reduction diets don’t work for weight loss or generally health.
Fasting vs. Calorie Reduction Diets– The only thing that ever really worked for my mother was not eating, essentially what is now being called IF, intermittent fasting. She knew it was the fastest way to lose weight, and it worked, temporarily. She would fast all week, before her weekly Weight Watchers weigh-in, and then she would come home and eat. My mom instinctively knew that fasting had amazing potential, that it was mentally and physically easier for her than calorie reduction diets, but the problem was that she didn’t know how to eat after her fast, and how to avoid the hunger and cravings. The problem was she didn’t come home and binge on avocado salad and pork chops. She turned to the carbohydrates, usually in the form of pasta, her drug of choice, and the cycle began again. She was hooked all over again. This is what the insulin roller coaster looks like- eat sugar/carbohydrates, raise blood glucose and insulin, block fat burning, increase fat storage. Then a couple hours later, blood sugar goes down, causing more cravings and hunger. It is an endless cycle. Sugar laden carbohydrates have no satiety, no feed back system that tell us when to stop eating, like protein and fat do. A better option for her to break her fast might have been healthy fats and protein, like eggs and bacon, or a large salad with olive oil dressing and a side of steak. She would have remained full much longer, with less cravings and hunger. Since she was following the ridiculous low-fat, low-calorie, high carbohydrate advice, she constantly felt deprived, hungry, and beat herself up for not having enough “willpower” again.
Emotional Regulation -Refined sugars (sucrose, fructose), and vegetable seed oils were absent in the diet of most people until very recently in human history. Today overconsumption of diets rich in readily available sugars and processed oils has contributed significantly to the current obesity epidemic, with an estimated 80% of Americans overweight or obese. We have come to rely on these foods to cope with the increasing stressors of modern life. We use food to calm anxiety, depression. loneliness. The cycle is never ending and the calming effects only temporary. And the more we eat, the more we want to eat. The problem is not the emotions or the trauma, the problem is the food. The only way we can truly regain emotional stability is by giving up the foods we are addicted to, those that cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin, cravings, and cause dysfunction of every cell in our body – the processed carbohydrates, seed oils and refined sugars.
The Addiction – Overconsumption of sugar-dense foods or beverages is often compared to a drug addiction because there are many biological similarities. Processed carbohydrates and sugars provide a reward signal in the brain, similar to drugs like cocaine, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms that can lead to addiction. In a study conducted on rats, in 94% of the cases, the rats preferentially chose the sweetness of sucrose and saccharin over that of cocaine. The food industry knows this. Like any other addiction, we crave more to have the same effect. We don’t come home after a hard day at work and go straight for the cauliflower or rib-eye. We choose the sugary, mind-numbing, immediate endorphin releasing comfort food products like muffins, brownies, bread, pastas and candy. Choosing these foods, however, only makes us want more. If my mom came home after her week-long fast and Weight Watchers meeting and ate a rib-eye and a large salad with avocado and olive oil dressing, it is possible her meal would have stopped there. But instead, she binged on pasta, top ramen, chocolate bars and chips and couldn’t stop.
Snacking Society – It is estimated that most Americans are eating or snacking on something 10-16 times a day, so we have a constant supply of the drug, glucose, in our system. What we are snacking on, and how often we are snacking, is a central problem. Food is everywhere. It’s at the tire store, the mini marts, at home. We have mid-morning school snacks, after school snacks, food is in our break rooms at work, at our athletic events, before and after practice. Food is used to celebrate. When we constantly eat, have food in the form of glucose in our bodies, we are unable to access fat. Our ancestors, the hunter/gatherers, and even as recently as our grandparents, didn’t eat 5, 6… 16 times a day, they ate 2 or 3 times a day. Sometimes, they didn’t have food for days. Feast or famine. They were forced to fast and their bodies naturally turned to their fat stores for energy. They survived because they relied on this fat for energy, and fat is a very efficient fuel. For most of us in today’s society, there is plenty of stored fat to use, an average of 90,000 calories, compared to about 2,000 calories stored as glucose. Our brains and bodies thrive on fat, it’s how were were built, and it’s how we should still eat today.
What to Eat – So what do we need to eat instead? Healthy fats from animals like high fat dairy, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and healthy oils like olive, avocado, nut, palm, coconut, and non-starchy vegetables. What do we need to eliminate? Processed carbohydrates, flour and sugars, vegetable seed oils, and some of the higher glycemic fruits.
This is Not Easy – If giving up processed food was easy, everyone would be lean and healthy. We need to change our habits. We need to change the way we respond to stress in our lives and manage our emotions in a healthy way. We need to change our appetite regulation. We need to change our relationship with food and our food choices. The rewards are endless. I can help you make these changes. I can help you overcome your struggles with sugar and processed food addiction.