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. It consumes me”. She knew she had an obsessive compulsive dysfunctional relationship with food but didn’t know how to fix it. No matter how many times she tried. 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 caused by low calorie dieting. Of course low fat diets sometimes do feel like starvation diets. 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 physiologically, and every time she started another diet, it was harder to lose the weight.
Bad Advice -The advice we were given has failed. We were offered a food pyramid, most recently the “plate”, 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.This advice, to increase carbs and replace healthy fat with processed oils, has an accumulative effect on the body, our population, and here we are 50 years later. We are sicker and fatter than ever. More people are pre-diabetic/diabetic than not. I grew up in the 70s, and it seemed the majority of people were of “normal weight”. Roughly 13% were obese compared to 33% today, 45% in some Southern States. Nearly 70% of people in the USA are obese/overweight. In school, there was usually only one token fat kid. Now 18% of our children are obese, the fastest growing sector. Plus, yes, we had bread, potatoes and rice, even KFC, soda and packaged foods, but it wasn’t everyday, several times a day, It wasn’t a Vente Mocha triple everything smoothies and “coffee” drinks. It was 3 square homemade meals most of the time, maybe a cookie or two after school or when visiting Grandma once a month. Sugar was used in moderation not a quick fix for everything in life. Fast food and soda were special treats, exclusively used while camping or on Friday night. Now 70% of the American diet consists of processed foods. 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 general health. And if it were simply “genetics”, this dramatic increase in obesity and chronic disease would not have occurred in so little time, essentially one generation.
Fasting vs. Calorie Reduction Diets– The only thing that ever really worked for my mother was not eating, essentially what is now called intermittent fasting, IF. She knew it was the quickest way to lose weight, and it worked, temporarily. She would fast all day or sometimes all week, before her weekly Weight Watchers weigh-in, and then she would come home and eat. Binge really. 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 the fast was over. Se didn’t come home and binge on avocado salad and steak. 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. A couple hours after the meal, blood sugar drops, causing more cravings and hunger. It is an endless up and down 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 bone broth initially, than adding healthy fats and protein, like an omelette, or a large salad with olive oil dressing, salmon, avocados. She would have remained full much longer, her blood sugars and insulin would have remained fairly steady, producing 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 more we eat, the more we want to eat and the worse we feel. The problem is not necessarily the emotions, events or even the traumas, the problem is the neurochemical effect these foods have on our brains.
Is it 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 sardines. 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. Everybody is different but the only way some people can truly regain stability is by giving up the foods that are most addicting, those that highjack our brains, cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin, more cravings, and eventually lead to dysfunction of every cell in our body.
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. Every time we put food in our mouths, blood sugar and the hormone insulin go up. Insulin blocks fat burning. Avoid snacking and the frequent spikes in insulin that accompany it, burn fat. It sounds simple, but food is everywhere. It’s at the tire store, the mini marts, in the pantry. 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. When we constantly eat, particularly food in the form of glucose, we are unable to access our fat stores. Glucose is always used to fuel first so if you constantly have food (glucose) in your system, you will never burn 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 all day, sometimes for days. Feast or famine. Our ancestors were forced to fast and their bodies naturally became more efficient, turning to their fat stores for energy. They survived because they relied on this fat for energy, and fat is a very efficient fuel. In today’s modern society, there is plenty of this stored fat to use, even in a person of average weight, there can be up to 90,000 calories of fat available for energy, compared to about 2,000 calories stored as glucose. Our brains and bodies thrive on fat, our metabolisms adapt well to a feast or famine approach, it’s how were were built, it’s how we survived for centuries, and it’s how we should still eat today. We need to train our bodies to burn fat again.
What to Eat – So what, and when, do we eat? Whole food. Real food. Foods without labels. Foods that don’t spike blood sugar and insulin levels. These might include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, healthy fats like olives, avocado, nuts, coconut, butter, ghee, lard and non-starchy vegetables. What do we need to eliminate? Snacking. Processed carbohydrates, grains, flour and sugars, vegetable seed oils, fruit juice and some of the high sugar fruits.
This is Not Easy – If giving up processed food was easy, everyone would be lean and healthy, like we were in the 50s or even the 70s, when I was a kid. The overabundance of processed carbohydrates, vegetable seed oils and refined sugars will continue to lead to a very real pandemic of obesity and chronic disease. The food industry is not going to change the way they market and produce foods. We need to change. Our habits. Our approach. We also need to change emotional regulation, the way we respond to and manage stress. We also have the potential to change our appetite regulation by eating differently – increasing fat, decreasing carbohydrates and eliminating snacking. We have the ability to change our relationship with food. The rewards of doing so are endless. I can give you options, help you make the changes to improve your health, long term. I can help you overcome your struggles with sugar and processed food addiction.