Sep 21

Food Addiction: Includes Chocolate, Sugar, Carbs

Is there such a thing as food addiction?

Dr. Nora Volkow, psychiatrist, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, believes there is. She’s made it clear that it’s still a controversial notion, however.

Additionally, Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., an addiction researcher, notes the following (Psychology Today):

When you think about it, the notion isn’t far-fetched: Drug addicts continue to take drugs, in increasing amounts, even though they’d often like to stop (at some point) and in the face of negative consequences and the common loss of other important life functions (like family, work, etc.). Obese individuals are quite the same, eating more and more food regardless of their desire to adopt a healthier diet and in-spite of ridicule, low self-esteem, and decreased functioning that often accompanies extreme weight gain.

Well-known nutritional specialist Dr. Joel Fuhrman also believes that food shares with drugs the ability to get us hooked. Whether it’s “chocoholism” or sugar addiction or carb addiction or the umbrella term encompassing all of the above, food addiction, Fuhrman explains in “‘Just One Bite” of Junk Food Fuels Food Addiction and Obesity” how our brains can succumb:

The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods – those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.

Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us.

These concepts go way back. Dr. Andrew Weil co-authored From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs (1983; updated in 2004) with Winifred Rosen. The title says it all. Another book that addresses chocolate’s strong appeal is Dr. Neal D. Barnard‘s Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (2004). The Review capsulizes Barnard’s take: “…(C)hocolate triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain. It’s a drug ‘strong enough to keep us coming back for more’.”

Relatedly, the 2014 documentary Fed Updirected by Stephanie Soechtig, found the culprit of obesity-related illness to be sugar. Adds Michael O’SullivanWashington Post: “…(T)he real problem isn’t sugar, but sugar education. If consumers only knew that the stuff is not just addictive, but poisonous — one of the film’s experts calls it a ‘chronic, dose-dependent’ liver toxin — they might make better choices at the checkout counter.”

Do you have issues with food addiction? Psychologist and nutritional expert Sherry PagotoPh.D., outlines six possible signs to look for when considering whether or not you are addicted to food and then eight steps toward overcoming the addiction. Click on her Psychology Today article to assess your own eating tendencies.

Apr 27

“The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober”: Selected Quotes

The consumer reviews of Catherine Gray‘s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober (2018) have shown that her book is highly relatable among avid “quit lit” readers. Thus, the publisher seems to get it right: “Whether you’re a hopelessly devoted drinker, merely sober-curious, or you’ve already ditched the drink, you will love this book.”

Below are selected quotes from The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, many of which are Gray aptly quoting others.

As Annie Grace says, ‘We protect alcohol by blaming addiction on a person’s personality rather than on the addictive nature of alcohol…The concept of addictive personality lets us close our minds to the fact that alcohol is addictive, period. (Also see this Minding Therapy link.)

Nothing good ever happens in a blackout. I’ve never woken up and been like, “What is this Pilates mat doing out?” AMY SCHUMER

I didn’t have a drinking problem as such. I was great at drinking! It was the stopping. I had a stopping problem.

If I quit eating cake, would people make jokes about me ‘not being able to handle cake’? No. I don’t think so. If I quit imbibing cheese because I wanted to commit suicide after eating cheese, would people ask, ‘Can’t you just have a little bit of cheese? Just one piece of cheese?’ *Pleadingly offers up the cheese* HAVESOMECHEESE.

As much as we try to separate alcohol from other drugs by saying ‘alcohol and drugs’ (which makes no actual sense: it’s like saying ‘foxgloves and flowers’ or ‘BMWs and cars’), alcohol is a drug.

My top sober reads are: Unwasted: My Lush Sobriety by Sacha Z Scoblic, Blackout by Sarah Hepola, This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol by Annie Grace, Dry by Augusten Burroughs and Kick the Drink…Easily by Jason Vale. [See previous blog posts on Blackout and This Naked Mind.]

Everything is interconnected. Gratitude improves sleep. Sleep reduces pain. Reduced pain improves your mood. Improved mood reduces anxiety. It’s a daisy-chain of benefits.

The eternally epic Anne Lamott says, ‘There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job.’ (Watch Anne’s TED talk on the 12 truths she’s learned, it’s glorious.)

Addiction is now often regarded as a spectrum. ‘It isn’t an issue of “sensible drinker” and “dependent drinker”,’ says Dr. Julia Lewis. ‘People often don’t realize that everyone has their own “tipping point” along that spectrum, whereby the dependence will suddenly start running away with them.’

Mar 09

Harm Reduction Model and Movement: Three Books

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use…(A)lso a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.

As Stacy Mosel points out in her Harm Reduction Guide (American Addiction Centers):

Harm reduction programs exist for several types of drugs, including opioids, alcohol, stimulants, Ecstasy, and marijuana. They range from needle exchange sites to managed alcohol programs to drug-testing kits at music festivals. Studies have found many of these methods to be effective. But critics see the programs as encouraging drug use and keeping people addicted to drugs.

Go to the above link for specific tips and resources about this controversial method for addressing substance abuse and addiction.

Below are three books found by readers to be helpful: 1) a thorough guide for those concerned about their substance use, 2) a workbook for the same population, and 3) a history of harm reduction practices.

I. Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use, Second Edition by Patt Denning, Jeannie Little (2017)

Anne M. Fletcher, MS, RDN, author of Inside Rehab and Sober for Good“Denning and Little have long been at the forefront of the harm reduction movement, and they keep the momentum going and cover all the important bases with this updated edition. This book provides meaningful information and choices instead of one-size-fits-all advice.”

II.  Power Over Addiction: A Harm Reduction Workbook for Changing Your Relationship with Drugs by Jennifer Fernandez, PhD (2018) 

From the publisher:

uses evidence-based interventions from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness practices to help you understand the issues underlying addiction and stop problematic drug use.

III. Undoing Drugs: The Untold Story of Harm Reduction and the Future of Addiction by Maia Svalavitz (2021)  

Travis Lupick, Talking Drugs, quotes Svalavitz: “Harm reduction is the idea in drug policy that we should stop people from getting hurt, rather than stop them from getting high.”

Per the publisher:

In a spellbinding narrative rooted in an urgent call to action, Undoing Drugs tells the untold tale of a quirky political movement that has unexpectedly shaken the foundations of world drug policy. It illustrates how hard it can be to take on widely accepted conventional thinking—and what is necessary to overcome this resistance.

Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream: “One of the most inspiring and remarkable stories you will ever read. Small groups of stigmatized people all over the world pioneered a totally new approach to drugs and addiction—and they saved millions of lives. Their incredible story has not been told—until now . If everyone in the US read this book, the drug war and so many drug myths would end tomorrow.”

Feb 23

“The Urge”: Psychiatrist On Addiction, Past and Present

Addiction is a terrifying breakdown of reason. People struggling with addiction say they want to stop, but, even with the obliterated nasal passages, scarred livers, overdoses, court cases, lost jobs and lost families, they are confused, incredulous and, above all, afraid. They are afraid because they cannot seem to change, despite the fact that they so often watch themselves, clear-eyed, do the very things they don’t want to do. Carl Erik Fisher, The Urge

Addiction psychiatrist Carl Erik Fisher knows firsthand the topic of his new book, The Urge: Our History of Addiction. Not only did he come from a family with a history of addiction he once had a dependence on alcohol and Adderall. Unlike many with less privileged backgrounds, he points out, he was able to get the right kind of help.

Fisher doesn’t subscribe to the binary controversy over whether addiction is either 1) a choice or 2) a compulsion because he’s seen many struggle in an in-between state.  From a book excerpt in The Guardian:

By claiming that addictive behaviours are simply a kind of choice, people have justified punitive measures for centuries, from putting drunkards in the stocks to imprisoning people for drug possession. If their drug use is a free choice like any other, the argument goes, people should accept responsibility for their behaviour, including punishment. The opposite view, which these days is commonly presented as a compassionate counter-argument by neuroscientists and advocates, is that addictive behaviours are involuntary and uncontrollable compulsions, and thus people with addiction deserve compassion and treatment, rather than punishment.

Among other faults he finds with addiction care is the disease model and the related medical model of treatment. Jeevika Verma, NPR, interviewed Fisher, who stated the following:

…(T)he notion of disease can be misleading because it takes focus away from the forces of racism and other forms of oppression that are so often bound up in addiction. Initially, the word disease was introduced to try to force open the doors of hospitals and otherwise get medical treatment for people with addiction. That’s because the medical profession had largely abandoned its duty to take care of people with addiction. So those advocacy efforts were absolutely necessary. But people still struggle with getting access to care. People still struggle with stigma. People still struggle to get insurance benefits for problems with addiction. There is a useful version of the word ‘disease’ when talking about addiction that says therapy and medications can save lives. But the term is messy, and it also locates all of the causes in biology and overlooks some of the other determinants of people’s health…

For too long, medicine has been dominated by an abstinence-only model. Now, I myself am in an abstinence model. I don’t think I should drink or use again. And for many people, that’s necessary and lifesaving. But addiction is also profoundly diverse, and we have emerging evidence that there are some folks who can really improve their functioning even when they have a substance problem without totally cutting out use. Or they could be in a sort of partial abstinence when they stop using heroin.

How does the author of The Urge treat his own patients? “The bottom line…is — they’re in charge. The main insight that looking at the history and looking at the science behind addiction recovery has given me is a respect for the many different pathways there are for recovery.”

Jan 10

“Tiny Habits” by BJ Fogg: Baby Steps

Behavioral researcher BJ Fogg, PhD, authored 2019’s Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. In it he professes that “only 3 things will change your behavior in the long term“:

Option A:  Have an epiphany
Option B:  Change your environment
Option C:  Take baby steps

However. Spoiler Alert! Epiphanies are extremely hard to come by, so B and C are really your options. It’s all spelled out in Tiny Habits, but he also offers a free five-day program; just click on

Selected Quotes from Tiny Habits

How long does it take for habits to grow to their full expression? There is no universal answer. Any advice you hear about a habit taking twenty-one or sixty days to fully form is not entirely accurate. There is no magic number of days. (See my previous post on this topic.)

In order to design successful habits and change your behaviors, you should do three things. Stop judging yourself. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors. Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.

The essence of Tiny Habits is this: Take a behavior you want, make it tiny, find where it fits naturally in your life, and nurture its growth.

Big spikes of motivation are awesome for doing really hard things – once. Rescuing your child. Quitting your job. Throwing away all the junk food in your house. Sprinting through the airport to catch a flight. Attending your first  AA meeting. Writing a letter to the editor. Keeping all ten of your New Year’s resolutions…for a day. But high levels of motivation are both scattershot and unsustainable.

Doing three squats in the morning and rewarding yourself with a movie that evening won’t work. The squats and the good feelings you get from the movie are too far apart for dopamine to build a bridge between the two. The neurochemical reaction that you are trying to hack is not only time dependent, it’s also highly individualized. What causes one person to feel good may not work for everyone. Your boss may love the smell of coffee. When she enters a coffee shop and inhales, she feels good. And her immediate feeling builds her habit of visiting the coffee shop. But your coworker might not like the way coffee smells. His brain won’t react in the same way. A real reward — something that will actually create a habit — is a much narrower target to hit than most people think.

Celebration will one day be ranked alongside mindfulness and gratitude as daily practices that contribute most to our overall happiness and well-being. If you learn just one thing from my entire book, I hope it’s this: Celebrate your tiny successes. This one small shift in your life can have a massive impact even when you feel there is no way up or out of your situation. Celebration can be your lifeline.

Success leads to success. But here’s something that may surprise you. The size of the success doesn’t seem to matter very much. When you feel successful at something, even if it’s tiny, your confidence grows quickly, and your motivation increases to do that habit again and perform related behaviors. I call this success momentum.