Today I am going to be talking about food addiction. It is something that I’ve battled with and I see other fighting with every single day. I hope that it helps bring some insight into a very real and common problem.
Yesterday I got 2 e-mails that left me completely puzzled. And to tell you the truth, I’ve been almost at burnout in trying to figure out how to help some people. Not all people, it’s just that sometimes I wish I knew the right thing to say, the magic word, the one thing that will make someone say “OH! I got it! Tell me how to prepare kale!”.
(by the way if you want to e-mail me that exact phrase, I’d totally be happy)
So back to the e-mails. A few times a week I get an e-mail like the following (this is edited a bit and used with permission)
Reader: “Hi, I’m wondering if you might be able to help me and my family out. A friend of mine suggested your blog, and I’ve been reading some of your past posts. My daughter is 16 and was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, she is over 300 pounds and has high cholesterol and some other health issues. My family is all pretty unhealthy to be honest, we’re all overweight and my husband and I both have health problems. I am worried for my daughter and our family. But I just don’t know if it is worth changing our diet, or trying. We really like the food we eat, and I don’t think anyone wants to eat healthy food. I am wondering if you think it’s worth looking into or trying? “
2nd e-mail (exchange)
reader: “I am 34 just was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, I have about 40 pounds to lose, can you tell me how you were able to reverse your diabetes and what books I can read?”
me: “Sure! Definitely get “Dr. Neal Barnard’s Program for Reversing Diabetes” and “The China Study” by Dr. T. Collin Campbell to start. For me, and 1000’s of others it’s pretty simple, a very high nutrient dense eating plan, all whole foods. I pretty much eat vegetables, fruit, beans, very little amounts of seeds and occasionally grains and sometimes I’ll throw in tofu. But more or less – all whole foods (no processed grains, sugar or oil at all)
reader: “GREAT! Just ordered every thing on Amazon, and I got rid of everything in my kitchen that wasn’t a whole food! Thanks for the advice.”
So in scenario one I have someone who has a daughter who was diagnosed with a terminal disease that will more than likely cause amputation, blindness, heart attacks, strokes and more. And she asks me is changing the diet worth it.
I think many of you would be shocked to know how many e-mails I get like this. I had a woman e-mail me about her husband who had a ‘mild heart attack’ and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to give up bacon. I’ve talked to diabetics who get repeat infections in their legs, some who have had to be hospitalized who tell me that changing their diet is just too hard, or not worth it, or they will do it when things get worse. I talk to people who have histories of disease in their family, who have read all of the science about preventing those diseases and the foods they should not consume, and they tell me they just aren’t up for changing or doing anything about it, at least right now, but perhaps when they get the disease they will change.
And I’ve had countless people tell me just that – when they get diabetes or heart disease or something else that could have been prevented, they will think about changing the way they eat, and then (and only then) will they stop eating the foods that caused the disease in the first place.
On the flip side, I have people who e-mail me, ask me what to do, what books to read and I get an e-mail saying “DONE!” and that’s it, that’s all they need. Bacon cheeseburgers one day, kale salads the next, and they e-mail me months later still going strong.
So my question is, what makes the difference. How can person A have a daughter suffering with a life ending disease question if changing their diet is worth it and person B throw away every thing in the kitchen to start new the next day?
What I’m left to think, is that the most powerful key to good health and wellness is the addiction factor. There are mounds of evidence about what consuming a healthy plant based diet will do for someone. I don’t think many people would argue against that (except for people who benefit from the bad foods themselves).
Truth be told, I was one of those people in the first category. I remember reading my first book on truly reversing diabetes and telling my husband I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it. There I was, with an infection in my leg that doctors were afraid would lead to a partial amputation, I was severely depressed, morbidly obese, on tons of medications and I was questioning if I wanted to give up some foods, that potentially would fix every thing.
Why was it hard? Addiction. My rule is that if you think you could not give something up, it means you should give it up. If the thought of giving up cheese puts you in a panic, you are addicted. The truth is, you know that cheese does nothing but harm your body, you know that it causes all sorts of sickness, so why would you eat something that will cause you to suffer at some point? Addiction. It’s why smokers, smoke and alcoholics drink. You might not understand why a smoker can not stop smoking, but if someone tells you to give up sugar FOR GOOD, all of a sudden you are talking about moderation and how it’s ok every so often, and you can’t just not enjoy life, and you are not trying to be extreme or anything! And people (like I used to do) make tons of excuses of why they can not get rid of all of the bad in their diets, why they can not make the switch, why they can not go in 100%, and what do all of those excuses boil down to? “I’m addicted.”
Addiction is a very real and serious problem. There is tons of evidence that shows us why and how we become addicted to certain foods. If you have not read the book “The Pleasure Trap” it is a MUST read, perhaps more important than any other book you will read on health, especially if you don’t think you can give up a certain food. We now know that dairy has addictive properties, we know that sugar is addictive and high fat foods. And we live in a country in which companies play to our addictions. It is no accident that many companies added fat and sugar to foods for NO reason except to get people addicted and hooked on their product. And it should come as no surprise that some of the major tobacco companies have purchased some of the major food companies in the US, they are all in the same business after all – getting people addicted to their product, and they are doing an amazing job.
We live in a country where our children are getting preventable life altering diseases, where we boast about our horrible eating practices, where it is celebrated to consume things like high fat foods. And it’s not just having an impact on individuals (which some addicts will claim). As a nation we’re spending BILLIONS on type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other preventable diseases. We are spending billions on food subsidies that go entirely to the very foods making us sick. Our life expectancy is decreasing, and we are getting diseases earlier. We are a country out of control and full of addicts.
Many will tell me they are not addicted to food. And, for some that is true. I can tell some people to just eat whole foods and nothing else and they will. But for the majority the thought of giving up a certain food is terrifying. And, if you are angry just by reading this or by me suggesting giving up junk foods – I hate to break it to you, you are probably a addicted.
I wish that I knew exactly how to take the addiction side of all of this away for people. And, it’s not just the overwhelming health evidence. If you are vegan and you’ve watched one of the many films on animal slaughter, you might not understand why people cannot see what you see. There are thousands who have watched Earthlings, and still continue to consume animals. This might not make sense to you, how anyone could do such a thing – but it makes sense to me, because I understand the world of food addiction.
Smokers can watch videos on smoking, they can be told over and over all of the harm it does to themselves and others. Most will not tell you they believe it is healthy – yet with all of that, they will still smoke. Many have tried to stop, but the addiction still is strong and it feels impossible.
I can tell you that the same is true for food. Food is a different thing all together, because we need to eat to survive, it is everywhere; it’s not looked down upon by most of society if we go through a drive-thru. We are a society of addicts.
From the top of government down, I think we have set up a society in which a majority of us are addicted to not just certain foods, but the food lifestyle that surrounds them. The office worker is afraid to order salad out of fear of what their co-workers will say. The Mom is afraid what her friends will think when she doesn’t bring her daughter to the birthday party at McDonalds. The former high school quarterback is afraid what his friends will think when he no longer is the king of BBQ. We are not just addicted to food, but the lifestyle and the labels that come along with what we do or do not eat.
We are a society of comfort. We, even though we like to think we don’t, like to conform, not rock the boat, and we become so used to it, so trapped, it becomes habit, and at some point we just can’t see another way to live. We are not just addicted to our food, but our lifestyles, our labels and our rolls in society.
In order to change our diets, for some at least, there needs to be monumental change. For some not consuming dairy anymore is just as horrifying as an alcoholic who stops drinking. Many do not understand the power food addiction has on someone; many will look down on someone who just can’t give up certain foods (for ethical reasons or for health reasons). But what most do not understand is what they are asking someone to give up is not just a food, it’s a part of who they are, a part of a lifestyle, a part of how they cope with the world, with their emotions, with stress, with their family issues, with their boss. When you tell someone about changing the way they eat, you might be telling someone to change who they think they are, and that should not be taken lightly.
Understand that if you talk to someone about changing his or her diet, you could be talking to someone who has a serious food addiction. I find that most (like 85%) of people I speak to are extremely fragile and afraid. They often express this with anger or defensive comments or sarcasm. I know this feeling, because I have been there. It is a hard thing to admit and an even harder thing to conquer. I wish that I could give you the exact feeling of food addiction, for those of you who might not understand. It doesn’t have to be people with weight issues, it might not be a person with a disease caused by food, MOST people are battling food addictions, it might just come out differently for different folks. Some can manage their addictions, and you will only discover they might have an addiction when they become defensive or upset by the information you provide.
Know that talking about a plant-based healthy diet OR Veganism is NOT offensive. There is nothing offensive about talking about better health or a more peaceful way of living. It would be downright illogical for anyone to not listen and conclude the same things you have concluded. The Vegan argument and the health argument are air-tight (despite people who are addicted say otherwise). The reason that you might not get anywhere with someone, the reason they might learn it all, and still go and eat a horrible meal, is not because they are not intelligent, or they are just jerks – the reason MOST of the time is that they are addicted. The sooner we learn about addiction, the sooner we understand how it works, and treat people in a way that we would treat any other addiction, the sooner we will be able to do more good in this movement.
People are afraid of what we have to say as a whole – because what we are saying is to give up every thing they might very well have strong addictions to – even if they do not want to admit to that (and many do not know they are suffering.)
The next time you are met with hostility in discussing someone’s food choices, please know that you could be talking to someone who is addicted to the very things you threaten to take away. Please learn about food addiction, start with “The Pleasure Trap” , Breaking the Food Seduction and “The End of Overeating” and after that, I’ll give you some more book recommendations. Food addiction is real, and it will benefit all of us to understand that aspect of people’s lives a little bit more, so that we can have a little bit more understanding.