Notes from Jane: (1) I’m sponsoring a whole food, plant-based Jumpstart in January: Jumpstart Sign-up; (2) I’m also offering the first ever FLASH SALE of Discovering the Word of Wisdom (Kindle version) to celebrate the New Year! Now $2.99 through Tuesday (regularly $4.99). This is the cheapest Amazon will allow me to sell it. (ALL profits go toward spreading the message about the Word of Wisdom and whole food, plant-based nutrition!).
This post is the latest in a series by Duffy, who went whole food, plant-based late in 2013 with the goal of losing over 200+ pounds. To see previous posts, click Duffy Chronicles.
I recently received an email in my inbox from one of my favorite bloggers. He is incredibly sporadic in his blogging and more than once in the years that I’ve been following him he has gone for several months at a time with nothing, then sent two or three posts in a row, recommitting with the promise of more regular updates. The newest blog post was simply titled “#2,” and it followed a recommit post titled “#1” from the previous day. Last time he recommitted, I don’t think he got beyond two posts. But I still follow him because he’s a great blogger. I enjoy reading his work. And when I saw that second blog post in a row I found myself not only cheering him on in his recommitment, but having compassion for him. Because it is hard. Like really, really hard to put yourself out there in a public commitment and then let that public see you struggle and not live up to the expectations you had for yourself.
Lately when people ask me “How are you doing with your diet?” or “How is the whole food plant based diet working for you?” I feel like what they’re really asking is, “Why are you still obese?” or “If this is really the best diet for humans, why do you look so unhealthy?” or “If you’re actually eating just plants, why aren’t you making more progress?” In reality they may or may not be thinking any of those things. Those thoughts come first to my mind because they’re what I’m thinking, and therefore projecting.
I just looked at my last Duffy post from July of this year. I came within 6 lbs. of having lost 100 lbs. And I gained 20 lbs. back. So if weight loss is the only measure of my success, then I am a failure. I feel like a failure most of the time. My therapist reminded me though that one of the broader goals of the food addiction recovery program I’m part of (Lifestyle Transformation) is to expand the definition of success to include such things as making and strengthening connections with others, doing things that I’ve previously held myself back from doing because of my weight, and becoming more healthy.
There have been a lot of things that I have held myself back from doing because of my weight. One of them was attending the temple. I changed that last month. I haven’t yet sorted through all of this in my mind, but I sense that there is a powerful connection between the promises given in the Word of Wisdom and some of the sacred blessings pronounced and words given in the temple. Its one thing I hope to learn more about over time.
My food addiction recovery group came to an end in September and I re-joined with a new cohort in October.
There are some really different perspectives on food addiction, also sometimes known as eating addiction, available. Below, I will outline a few of what I view as key tenets of the Lifestyle Transformation program and of my understanding of what a prominent voice in the plant-based movement, Dr. Doug Lisle, has shared via McDougall webinars and through his website.
- Food addiction is not about food; it’s about pain management.
- Food addiction is characterized by addiction to the process of overeating.
- Food addiction is “the use of food to lessen pain or to enhance of intensify pleasure, by a person who has lost control of 1) how much food he or she eats, 2) how often he or she eats, and 3) how much time he or she spends eating or being involved in food-related activities/rituals.”
- The LT program teaches about the compulsive eating cycle and helps the compulsive overeater to identify how to exit the cycle by reaching out instead of reaching in.
- The LT program focuses on building capacity in 8 domains in order to meet the emotional, physical and spiritual needs that drive compulsive overeating. The domains are: mindfulness; connection; purposeful activity; healthy relationship with food; movement; service; music; play.
- There is no such thing as food addiction but there is addiction to food-like substances. I think by this he means that humans don’t become addicted to whole, natural foods but to processed foods.
- People do not eat for emotional reasons. They take drugs for emotional reasons.
- People do not overeat because of a flaw in their psychology or because of past or present emotional trauma. They overeat because they were not designed for the modern environment.
- In their natural history, human beings would never have had access to the type of highly processed and calorically dense food (or food-like substances) available today.
- It is only by eating the diet of our natural history that humans can achieve optimum health and live the life they deserve.
One of the big differences that I see in the Lifestyle Transformation approach versus that described by Dr. Lisle is where the emphasis lies. The LT program seems to emphasize that food addiction is about mismanaged emotional pain and that the key to recovery is in learning substitute behaviors to regulate one’s emotions. Dr. Lisle on the other hand, seems to be saying that the modern, highly processed food environment is at the root of food addiction and that recovery lies in abstinence from over-processed, highly palatable foods and in focusing on unrefined, whole plant foods.
Earlier this month I went with a group of friends to a concert called Cantico. It’s a Christmas tradition that includes eating out beforehand. Since I was able to pick the restaurant this year, I looked online at the menu options and found a place where I could stay on my food plan. I ordered a kale salad: kale, apples, golden raisins and walnuts. And I supplemented it with chunks of cold sweet potato and homemade Vegan Thousand Island dressing. (Yes, I’m that person. I bring my own food to restaurants. I do tip well, though.)
The meal was delicious, the company both uplifting and connecting, and the concert was lovely. It was a nice evening… an evening in which I couldn’t stop thinking about the bread roll that had been served with my salad. The following day I overate on kale and sweet potatoes—very healthy foods—as vehicles for more of the Vegan Thousand Island dressing. Even when my stomach was starting to protest from being uncomfortably full, I found myself unable to stop thinking about the dressing.
The dressing, which has tofu as its base, would be considered by some in the plant-based world to be a “rich food.” When no sugar, oil or flour was available in my environment, I fixated on the richest food available. My mind remembered where the higher calorie density food had come from and tagged it with dopamine. At other times I have abstained from tofu-based dressings but used salt on my food. I find the same principal at work. My thoughts return continually to eating more of any food—even broccoli—that can be used as a vehicle for salt.
This is not freedom.
There are probably as many ways to eat a plant-based diet, to live a Whole Food Plant Based lifestyle, as there are people who do it. I have my favorite authors and speakers in the plant-based movement, people whose opinions I respect such as Dr. McDougall, Dr. Esselstyn, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Dr. Lisle, Dr. Goldhamer and Chef AJ to name just a few.
Dr. McDougall and Dr. Goldhamer run two live-in plant-based programs in Santa Rosa, California. The McDougall program, which hosts a 10 day live-in program, allows the use of higher fat whole foods such as avocado, nuts and tofu as well as the use of sugar and salt as condiments in order to appeal to a wider segment of the population. True North Health Center, which is a water fasting treatment center, provides a stricter plant-based diet. It is SOS-free, which is to say free of all added salt, oil and sugar. According to Dr. Lisle, people won’t overeat on whole, natural foods that are unprocessed and SOS-free. They’re too boring. They don’t activate the pleasure centers of the brain.
My experience after the Cantico concert is only one recent example but is illustrative of my ongoing struggle with my relationship with food. Except for buying vegan (or non-vegan for that matter) treats, I don’t really struggle with oil. I don’t cook with it and when I encounter it at other people’s homes, I feel disgusted by the thick, slimy feel of it on my hands as I wash dishes and am very turned off by the way it coats my tongue and interferes with tasting food. This is not to say that I’m not tempted by fried foods. I just don’t find oil to be a temptation in and of itself. It is only in combination with flour, sugar or salt that it gets me. However any one of those—flour, sugar or salt, is indeed a temptation to me.
I’ve never gone completely SOS-free. And when I think about it, I go to a place of feeling deprived and like nothing will ever work, and I will never feel good again, and I dive into food to comfort and soothe myself.
Yet… here I am. It’s the end of 2016. I began this journey the last week of 2013. It’s been three years. And while I have sustained a not-insignificant amount of weight loss (about 76 pounds), I have not reached my weight loss or physical fitness goals. More importantly, I have not achieved freedom from the ravages of food addiction.
I don’t know what the next step in my journey is. A big part of me, after listening to so many of Dr. Lisle’s webinars and talks over the past week, believes that the answer is to eat more closely to the diet of man’s natural history… to eat SOS-free. I know that abstinence is entirely insufficient. In fact one of the quotes I most like goes: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” That’s where the Lifestyle Transformation program comes into play—the learning to identify and meet the needs that drive emotional eating.
Would being SOS-free be enough to free me from the constant drive to eat even after I’m full? Would it be enough if I were regularly practicing self-care and building the 8 Core domains? One of the things that is unique about food addiction as compared to other addictions like alcohol or drugs is that whereas alcoholics and drug addicts can put their tiger in a cage and keep it locked away, food addicts have to put that tiger on a leash and take it for a walk three times a day. So far the tiger has been walking me.
In closing, I want to give myself some credit. It’s a brave and a hard thing that I’m doing—sharing with you as I am. Admitting that I am still struggling. That I am a food addict. When I started this journey and agreed to let Jane post my story on her website, I anticipated swiftly losing weight and reaching my goals within about 18 months. If I had known that I would struggle as I have, I’m not sure I would have been as willing to share this journey so publicly.
This is real. This is me. This is my journey with food addiction.