This blog follows on from last week’s about the desire to blame our illnesses etc on our genes. This blog is dealing with addiction. The relevant part of the you tube clip starts at 7 min 20 secs.
Dr Gabor Maté says that addiction is any behaviour do to with a craving for temporary relief that brings long term negative consequences. This behaviour is accompanied by impairment of control, so that the addict who wishes to give up finds it difficult to do so. To fully follow his argument, the video needs to be watched. However he says that addicitve behaviour goes way beyond that of drug addiction and includes big corporation’s addiction to ever greater acquisition and profits and no matter what cost to the environment or mankind. Furthermore this addiction is seen as good -it is almost the case that the more destructive the addiction, the more it is honoured and encouraged. Within Dr Maté’s definition, addiction includes drug taking, gambling, alcoholism, workaholism, addiction to shopping, the internet. From my practice I would add to that fattening carbohydrates. After all, we are encouraged to eat a carb based diet with reduced fat intake and not so much protein. When meeting me for the first time I am clearly very healthy and I am asked if I am a vegetarian; it seems good health is equated to vegetarianism.
As far as my aims in my practice are concerned, it is this addiction to carbs that causes me most problems when it comes to helping clients lose weight permanently. I find that people can give up the fattening carbs for a little while – but then they start eating them again and regain any weight lost. A class member of mine summed it up. She said she gave up wheat for a while, felt very much better, lost a lot of weight. But is now eating it again. And this is a story I have had repeated to me a depressing number of times. Not only with wheat but also with other carbs. There is no shadow of doubt in my mind. Carbs are highly addictive, and this gets worse with age and increasing waistline. The carbohydrates concerned are things like biscuits, sweets, crisps and sweet drinks, including fruit juices, but also all forms of starchy carbs: rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lentils, pasta, bread etc. The addiction works in different ways; the wheat based carbs are on a par with morphine. Click on link to The Story with Wheat for an explanation. Another cause of addiction to these carbs is to the blood sugar surge which temporarily makes us feel very good. This surge is followed by a crash and the need for a further fix from something with a high carb content. It is how the brain itself has to survive this way of eating1. So sugar itself is highly addictive, separate blog to follow. A third cause of the addiction is that the modern diet, with the emphasis on processed foods, degraded soils from years of agro-chemicals, poor digestive function, appalling quality fats – transfats etc – means that most people are actually suffering from malnutrition. Their cell walls become stiff and they cannot digest protein properly. This leaves a more natural diet unable to provide the quick easy energy they are now dependant on, so they are driven to eat the easily digestible carbohydrates. See the page Why Weight Loss is so difficult for a more detailed explanation. A final major cause of carb addiction is the reaction to stress being comfort eating – reaching for the Hobnobs or downing a large bag of crisps because we feel as if we need a treat. Not everybody comfort eats as a result of stress and I’m not saying that everybody is addicted to carbs. But if we have more than a few pounds of fat to lose, have attempted several diets unsuccesfully and any of the above rings true, then maybe addiction is a problem.
What is difficult in all this is that if dealing with accepted forms of addiction, like drug abuse, then it is recommended to stay away from the friends and places associated with the addiction. And it takes serious determination to really kick the habit. However with carbs it is utterly impossible to avoid overweight carb abusers since they are everywhere – and carbs are advertised everywhere, and government and nutritionists recommend we eat them daily. Giant food corporations are driven by profit, and whether this is seen as Maté’s addiction or not, they do everything in their power to make their processed foods appealing. And so the nation gets fatter and fatter and fatter. Addiction is any behaviour do to with craving bringing temporary relief, with long term negative consequences, along with impairment of control, so that the person wishes to give up or promises to do so but can’t follow through. People wish to lose weight, but can’t follow through with giving up the temporary relief brought by the carbs, despite the risk of developing diabetes, heart attacks or cancer by eating this way. After all, the huge majority of people know that biscuits and crisps are not very good for you. And if we need to lose weight, they are forbidden foods. This statement will make some rush off to eat a whole packet of biscuits, just as a smoker would smoke a whole packet of cigarettes. This is my point. Added into all this is denial of the problem. Ways of de-stressing other than eating simply have to be found to help us relax. The imbalance in the brain leading to addictions have to be addressed with things other than anti-depressants. The body has to be healed with things other than a course of steroids, for example.
I repeat, this problem with carbs is what makes weight loss so difficult to keep up. If we are slim and healthy, then we can add carbs into our diet without causing weight gain, so they form part of our diet but are eaten normally and not compulsively.
- In order to work properly, the brain needs a steady supply of blood sugar. When starchy or sugary carbs are eaten, blood sugar surges up which, if unchecked, damages the brain, so blood sugar lowering hormones such as insulin are released from the pancreas. Insulin is good at its job, and successfully lowers blood sugar – but then the blood sugar gets too low, which again is bad for the brain, so another hormone, glucagon, is cued to raise the appetite to eat something that will rapidly raise the blood sugar again – and this something is sweet and/or starchy – like fruit juice and biscuits. OK, it is very complex and, as usual, argued about – but this is essentially how it works. Low blood sugar hunger cannot be denied – we feel quite dreadful; shaky, bad tempered, unable to concentrate properly for example. [↩]