Bonus: Vera Tarman – Addicted to Starches and Sweets


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This week we have the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Vera Tarman. Dr. Vera has been in the field of addictions medicine for the last 20 years and is the Medical Director for one the largest rehab centers in Ontario, Canada (Renascent) the proprietor of the wonderful website Addictions Unplugged, creator of a wonderful series of DVDs around addiction recovery, and is here to tell us that inSANE starches and sweets are unquestionably addictive and how to free ourselves and those we love from these deadly addictions.

Jonathan Bailor!/jonathanbailor

The Slim Is Non-Profit Nutrition Education Effort



Full Transcription

[Audio Starts 00:00]

Jonathan: Hey everyone, Jonathan Bailor here with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim podcast, and today, we’re going to talk about a subject that I think is only going to grow in importance over time. I really think we’re at a critical turning point in our understanding of food as opposed to calories, and part of the reason for that and part of the reason for my passion about talking about food instead of calories is there is so much more going on when we eat inSANE edible products and when we don’t eat food and when we think about calories, the most nefarious of which are some of the addictive properties of inSANE starches and sweets among other garbage things, and I have a special, special treat. We’ve got a special treat today. We have one of the foremost addiction experts in the world and one of the foremost food addiction experts, Dr. Vera Tarman joining us. Dr. Tarman is a medical director of one of the largest rehab centers in Ontario, Canada, worked heavily with Dr. Lustig, who we are all very familiar with and fond of, and is here to really explain to us and help drive home that, for example, Coke’s new advertising campaign that it’s only 140 calories misses the point entirely, because it’s not about the calories. It’s about the insanity from a metabolic and from a neurological perspective that these foods cause. So Dr. Tarman, thank you so much for joining us. Welcome.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah, thank you very much for asking me. I’m really looking forward to talking about this subject.

Jonathan: Well, Dr. Tarman, before we get into the science, let’s start a little bit more personally. Let’s start with your story, because I know this is a subject that has touched you personally as well as professionally.

Dr. Tarman: Okay, well, my interest in this area comes from my own personal experience. When I was a young person, in those days — this was in the 1970s — there were terms like eating disorder and bulimia and binging disorder just being formulated at that time, but it wasn’t really a medical diagnosis that was well-known. I’ve had eating behaviors that I would now classify as bulimic, and they were entirely life-engrossing. It was like an obsessive compulsive disorder but around food. I couldn’t focus on anything. This was a gradual thing that continued over time, and I went to psychiatrists, I went to doctors, and I just said, “you know, what is it about me that I can’t stop? If I’m not eating, I’m thinking about it all the time.” It’s just the obsession about eating or about calories or about food in some way, and it wasn’t until I would say maybe 15 years ago, when I started to get into the field of addictions per se, that I just saw the parallels in such a way that it was just staring me at the face. I said, I’ve go to start treating specific foods as drugs, and from the paradigm that I’m working in addictions, which is about abstinence, there is a whole range of treatment in addiction, and I’m on the end of abstinence. I just said I have to start treating particular foods as if they were drugs, and I have to start abstaining from them, and that was what made the huge difference for me. That would be the end of the story, except it’s not the end of the story. Story continues, and this is where my passion to speak out about this issue comes, in that I knew I have to stop eating mainly sugars and starches just like you mentioned in the intro. I have to stop eating these things, but I found that everywhere I went, it was in my face, as we know, and not only was it in my face, but I could not get the respect from people around me to let me follow my plan, because it wasn’t an acknowledged condition. People would just say, “Vera, you’re being rigid. You’re being over the top. You just have a couple and stop there.” When I would say I can’t because I have to treat this like a drug, people would just shrug and not understand and still offer me the food, which inevitably would lead to relapses at various points. So it wasn’t until I thought, I’m going to start talking about this, making this an issue so that when a recovering alcoholic says, “I can’t drink anymore,” usually people will back off and say, “Right, okay, no problem. I’m not going to offer you any alcohol,” or if you’re a cocaine addict, “We’re not going to offer you anything,” but we have that same kind of respect for somebody who said, “I’m a food addict, and I don’t want to eat this stuff.”

Jonathan: Dr. Tarman, that is such a profound point, and one of my missions in life is to help draw more and more parallels between these inSANE starches and sweet edible products and cigarettes, because not only are they addictive as we’ve talked about and not only do they cause damage which is not undone by exercise which we kind of get, but, for example, it is now appropriate in society if someone says, “Hey, would you like a cigarette?”, and you say, “No, I don’t smoke,” no one is thinking you are being like, “Oh, I’m better than you!” They don’t pass judgment on you. But if someone brings cupcakes to work, and you say, “I’m okay, thank you,” they’re like, “Oh, you’re too good for me. You’re too good for this,” and that’s so frustrating, isn’t it?

Dr. Tarman: Or they’ll say something like, “Well, I made it just for you, because it’s your birthday,” and then there’s the whole guilt trip. When I started to talking to people, interviewing them about this as I got more interested in this area, inevitably, people who got to the same places as I did, and they talked about their relapses, it was that guilt moment, or other people who would say, “I can’t say no to my grandmother. She’s Italian, and she wants to make me pasta. How can I say no to that?” That’s the piece where it’s really hard for people.

Jonathan: Well, it sounds like there’s almost two things we need to do here. One is we need to equip ourselves with strategies to help deal with these inSANE and addictive starches and sweets. But the other is, like you’re saying and like you’re doing with your wonderful work, is to drive awareness to people that these foods truly are addictive. That’s not even controversial at this point. I mean, that’s been demonstrated over and over and over again. Can you talk a little bit about the similarities between other opiate-type drugs — cocaine, morphine — and the sugar and starch ingestion?

Dr. Tarman: Okay, well, there is two ways to answer that question. There’s the biochemical way, and then there’s the clinical way and we’re seeing more and more in the literature. You must be aware that there’s a new book that’s just come out, or there’s Dr. Lustig’s book, which is fabulous by the way, called Fat Chance. Along with the food industry, he does talk about the biochemistry of addiction, and then now there’s another one that’s just come out, in this last week or two or last month, called Fat Sugar Salts.

Jonathan: Yeah, Michael Moss’s book, I believe.

Dr. Tarman: I’m actually reading it right now, and I’m loving it. He also covers the biochemistry, so you are right that this is now becoming almost not contested, but from the neurochemical point of view, everything that we take that makes us feel good does translate to the same neurochemicals. So whether it’s alcohol or cocaine or sugar, the brain doesn’t actually know that it’s one of those things. It can actually be gambling or sex, internet addiction. It doesn’t actually know what that is. It just reads, “Oh, I’m getting more dopamine,” or “I’m getting more endorphins. I’m getting more serotonin, and I’m getting a lot of it, and I like that!” That’s the addictive pull right there. It doesn’t really matter. Many, many roads lead to Rome, and one of those roads happens to be sugar. I think that it’s pretty well-known, like you said, that rats will choose not only sugar over cocaine, they’ll even choose the concept of sweet, in other words saccharin, like a sweetener, over cocaine. The rat brain doesn’t know, well, this is sugar, this is saccharin, and this is cocaine. It just knows extra dopamine.

Jonathan: Dr. Tarman, I think the key distinction that individuals need to understand is even in your experience — because there is food that is pleasurable and nonaddictive — what we’re not describing here — because I want to get into what I call the myth of moderation and that you cover in your work about “Oh, everything in moderation is fine”. We don’t actually say just cigarettes in moderation are fine. We don’t say cocaine in moderation is fine. We’ll get to that in a moment, but can you talk a little bit about it’s not all foods. It’s just primarily starches and sweets, and why is that?

Dr. Tarman: Well, it’s basically refined foods, so that can even be orange juice as opposed to oranges. I really like the real food movements, because you can eat sugar if it’s in one of those Granny Smith apples that are really tart, but when we’re talking about a candy bar, that doesn’t grow on a tree. That’s a refined product in the same way as you can eat a grape, even a fermented grape, and you might feel a bit — I don’t know, if you have enough of them — a bit of a buzz, but what we do with the alcohol is we refine the process by first of all fermenting it and then distilling it so that it becomes this potent substance which is not natural per se. It’s the same with the sugar. You could certainly eat honey, but if you thought about how could you eat honey safely, you could eat honey safely if you had to stick your hand in the bee hive and grab the honey yourself.

Jonathan: Yeah, we do.

Dr. Tarman: How much are you going to have? A drop if you’re lucky. Sure, that’s probably fine, but when we talk about moderation, usually people are saying moderation of refined products, and that’s not moderation anymore. It’s gone beyond what our brain is equipped to handle. We can handle a certain amount of euphoria like when you’re really hungry, you really want to have some Brussels sprouts, and then at a certain point when you’re full, the reward factor of that — we have natural ebbs and flows in the limbic system reward center of our brain that says, “Okay, this isn’t so tasty anymore. Stop!” Or like water, if you’re really thirsty, a cold glass of water is delicious, and then when you’ve had enough water, you don’t want any more, because the pain and the discomfort of having too much water grows, and the pleasure factor of having so much water decreases, and that would be the same with an orange. How many strawberries can a person eat? Maybe the first time they come out, yes, like on day one of summer, but after that, at a certain point, we would naturally regulate. But when you don’t naturally regulate anymore, there’s usually something refined, something that’s happened that’s overpowered our ability to say yes or no and essentially do moderation.

Jonathan: And Vera, that’s such a key point, because you mentioned this concept of we’re designed to automatically regulate, and that is really essential to my work as well. I mean, a body is designed to just maintain a homeostatic balance of sodium in our bloodstream. We all learned this in high school biology that biological organisms are homeostatically regulating systems, otherwise they would spend all their time consciously trying to regulate their basic biological functions and would get eaten.

Dr. Tarman: I’m really glad that you’re using that term, homeostasis, because that’s exactly what it is. An addiction is really anything that has overpowered our natural homeostasis. So it can be behavior, it can be food, it can be anything.

Jonathan: When we talk about this, this homeostatic system, what you mentioned about reaching in the beehive and that honeycomb, that system evolved in an environment and was designed to maintain homeostasis given that environment.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah.

Jonathan: So, correct me if I’m wrong, we generally don’t see people becoming addicted to starches and sweets via fruits or via wheat off the stalk.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan: But when you take it and you concentrate it down, just like when you take cocaine and turn it into this powerful potent substance…

Dr. Tarman: Exactly, yeah. If you’re still just eating cocoa leaves, I would think that there’s some people who are maybe more sensitive than others and may be more quickly addicted than somebody else, but probably a lot of us could do that, but it’s been refined in such a way that it’s overpowered, basically hijacked our homeostatic system.

Jonathan: Dr. Tarman, one thing that really bothers me, and I’d be curious to get your thoughts on how we can stem this, because a lot of this has to come from societal changes like we’ve seen with smoking. It’s not acceptable to smoke next to a child. People just would say, “I’m sorry, sir or ma’am, could you please put that cigarette out? There’s a three-year-old sitting next to you. That’s probably not a good call.” But for example, we still have advertisements which say things like, “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” and “There’s always room for ‘X'”, and “Treat yourself.” Imagine those same things as — let’s not go so far as to make an analogy to cocaine — I think that’s valid, some people may not — but smoking. Because smoking a hundred years ago, there was doctors on television saying smoking is fine for you.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah.

Jonathan: We don’t say smoke in moderation. We say smoking is bad for you, so the extents you can avoid it, you can. We don’t say, “Oh, it’s just a special treat!” How do we help people see that once you pop you can’t stop is actually somewhat sick? What do you think?

Dr. Tarman: Well, you have to change the paradigm, because we’re still operating under a paradigm that a Mars bar is normal or a muffin at Starbucks is normal. It’s not normal. We have to actually see that this is an abnormal refined product like tobacco in a carton of cigarettes. Once you see it that way, I’m not sure where to go with this other than to say that we just have to change our paradigm. We seem to be very reluctant to attach the label of addiction to this stuff. There’s a real stigma around that whole concept.

Jonathan: Dr. Tarman, I think you hit the nail on the head earlier when you said well, what in moderation, because it’s not that we’re saying all sugars should be avoided no matter what. We’re saying that food is fine. Food is good. It’s non-food, it’s edible products, and those in moderation are still bad for you. Filtered cigarettes are still bad for you.

Dr. Tarman: Yes.

Jonathan: Drinking less Coke is better than drinking more Coke, but it is no more good for you than smoking less is good for you, compared to smoking more.

Dr. Tarman: Yes, yes. I really think that the addiction paradigm adds a huge piece that went missing, but as I said, there’s this stigma around it, because first of all, it offers an obvious solution, which is abstinence. You stop the drug that’s causing the problem, but also it helps you to see — in the addiction world, we have a continuum of services, so on the one side, which is where I sit, that’s abstinence. You want to stop, stop. It’s obviously not that easy, but that’s the end solution. Then on the other end of the spectrum is what we call harm reduction, and that’s what you would probably term as moderation in the food world. Harm reduction is, well, it’s better to have yogurt with a fruit bottom than it is to have cheesecake. That’s true. It is better, and so that’s usually what we mean when we say moderation, but if you want to stop the cravings, if you want to have the serenity, that is actually possible, you have to actually stop the substance, and you don’t really see all of that until you attach the addiction label.

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely. I think it’s just also so critical to have this understanding that food is — what we’re talking about here isn’t actually food. When we ingest things, there’s so much more than when we think food/edible products, our society takes this reductionist theory and just says it’s about calories, but for example, we know that’s not true with when we inhale a gas. We understand that inhaling air that has pollution in it is bad, and we understand that inhaling a car exhaust is not the same as inhaling regular air. It’s not like breathing is breathing and air is air. We get that, but when we take things that you chew on or drink, and we just say, “Well, it’s just 140 calories,” or it has no calories in it, so clearly it’s just fine. We go down this path that’s like a funhouse where there’s mirrors distorting things. It just bears no resemblance to reality.

Dr. Tarman: That’s right. Absolutely, because first of all, it’s only looking at one of the side effects, which is obesity and weight gain, but it doesn’t touch the whole mental obsessional process. There’s a lot of people who are food addicts that might only be somewhat overweight or actually normal weight or even underweight, and it doesn’t touch that, either. You can be a food addict and be so focused on calorie counting that your weight is normal, but if that’s all you’re doing is thinking about food and calories, which was my story, that’s no way to live. It just isn’t. We would call that a dry drunk in my paradigm.

Jonathan: Well, and Dr. Tarman, so there’s no question that these inSANE processed starches and sweeteners are addictive. That’s been demonstrated clinically. It’s been demonstrated practically, and we’ve all experienced some level of it, but what now can we do as individuals to help free ourselves if we suffer from this addiction, or if we know others who suffer from it?

Dr. Tarman: Well, I’m just thinking. Okay. The most obvious thing is to try to identify what the trigger food is and stop eating it, and 99.9 percent — I would like to say 100 percent, but truthfully, I don’t know everything — I’m going to say sugar is top on the list. Of course refined starches, which are sugar in ten minutes according to the glycemic index. You would have to abstain from those, and that’s not something people want to hear. It’s a very hard thing to do. For at least a couple of weeks, it’s a very hard thing to do. So that would be my first suggestion, and I’m going to be the first to say it, it’s not easy to do.

Jonathan: And not only is it not easy to do, but I think it’s also fair to say you will go through withdrawal. Literally you will, for 21 to 28 days, maybe a little bit shorter depending on the severity. You may have headaches. You may have trouble sleeping, because you are literally going through withdrawal, and while that can be seen — certainly no one enjoys that experience — but if you want to prove to yourself just how addictive these things are, it doesn’t take anything more than trying to give them up. You will prove to yourself that they’re addictive.

Dr. Tarman: One of the things to show you how addictive it is is just the craving itself. The obsessional thinking about it itself and what happens with addiction, and again, if you use the paradigm, it becomes so obvious. One of the things a person does when they are in a craving addictive mode is any kind of rationale sounds perfectly normal, like the “Okay, I’m just going to have the big sugar crash party today, because tomorrow I’m going to stop.” And then if you do stop the next day, well, you’ll find some other rationale, some other justification to have it again the next day, and it’s going to feel totally rational and normal and reasonable at the time. That’s very typical of addictive thinking.

Jonathan: One of the other things I want to try to equip our readers with, and I would even appreciate this for my own personal experience, because I still to this day experience the following, and it’s the social pressures. It exists for any addictive substance. If you ‘re around a group of individuals, and you choose not to drink alcohol, and they’re all drinking alcohol, they may be like, “Well, why don’t you drink?” or “Come on, just have a drink, it’s going to be fun.” What can we do in our workplace or in our social setting when someone is attempting to be kind in their own way but is offering us one of the these addictive substances? How would you recommend we handle that?

Dr. Tarman: Well, there’s a couple of things that I do. If I go to a party, first I have to take care of myself, and then I have to take care of the social pressure. So the way to take of myself is to make sure that I’m not hungry when I go, and I don’t start nibbling on something. I’m pretty regimented in what I eat. I know exactly what I’m going to eat that day in the morning, and I don’t stray from that very often. I’m not perfect, but I don’t stray, and sometimes at a party, I will go full and just make the decision I’m not going to eat at all, because if I start, the temptation then to nibble on something else and the whole avalanche can begin. That doesn’t look very nice, but what I do when I’m in that circumstance is I’ll take a plate of something, and then people are not actually watching. They’re watching if you’re not doing anything. I’ll take a plate of something and then just casually put it to my side and say to whoever it is that I’m eating with, “I’m going to have this a little bit later.” I just frankly lie or whatever and then later, nobody is noticing, because they’re onto doing something else, and then I just put it away.

Jonathan: Well, that’s a brilliant strategy. That actually reminds me of that I personally don’t drink alcohol. It’s not because I think it’s evil or bad. It’s just never something that I got into, and I’m old enough now where I’m like, “Well, I’ve gone this long. I might as well keep it up!” But when I was in social settings, I would always have a glass of something, because you don’t want to be the person saying “Oh, let me get you something,” but what you’re saying is also well, have something if you’re in a situation where everyone has got some hors d’oeuvres. Get something, so you’re not the odd person out.

Dr. Tarman: That’s right, so I might have something that I am willing to eat, or I’ll have something in my hand, and then I just put it aside, but my most common thing is when people have actually made me something is that I’ll say thank you, I’m going to have that later. That is usually good enough, because it is obviously the acknowledgment of what they’ve done, and I’ve given them that acknowledgment. As long as they don’t see that I’m trying to avoid it. I appreciate that it’s lying. It’s not being totally and rigorously honest, but under the circumstances, it’s the lesser of the two evils.

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, and Dr. Tarman, I want to switch back quickly to a few clinical examples and a little bit of science, because I think if people are hearing this, they, again, might just be thinking at the back of their head very reasonably because of the way we’ve been conditioned by society, like “Okay, come on, Jonathan and Dr. Tarman, just in moderation,” because we’ve heard that so much. So let’s go back to some clinical examples, because you have clinical examples of a substitution phenomena of alcohol or cocaine to sugar and then relapse back. Can you talk to that a little bit?

Dr. Tarman: Well, I wanted to speak out about this publicly because of my own personal experience, and then when I started working exclusively addictions and started to see this on a regular daily basis with men and women, it just felt like this is just negligence to not say something, and I think frankly it’s negligence to offer sugar to somebody who’s trying to quit alcohol or something like that, which unfortunately happens all the time. I’ll give you an example of somebody that was a cocaine addict, went into treatment, got off of cocaine, and then within the period of five years or something like that, had gained like 80 pounds and came to me and said, “This is just not acceptable.” By the way, women will not let it go that long. Some of them, anyway. I’ve had people say to me, “You know what, if it’s this versus my cocaine or crack use, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m going back to my drug of choice!” I’ve seen people do that, but I want to just give you this story. So this is a fellow who gained about 80 pounds, and I was doing a talk on food addiction, so he said, “Okay, I’m going to follow your thing,” and he listened more and more and more, and I think at some point, there came that moment when he thoght, “Yes, I have to quit sugar.” He literally had a panic attack, and he came up to me later and said, “If you’re telling me I have to stop tonight,” because he had a pattern of watching TV late at night and having chips or whatever that is that he had, “I can’t do that tonight. I am fearful that I will relapse on my cocaine again.” He actually left in a semi-panic attack, and so I thought okay, well, I lost him, but a number of months later, his partner emailed me and said he really took it in, and he’s okay. He’s actually stopped both now. He didn’t go back to the cocaine, because he kept eating, but he finally got around to it and stopped, and he was able to stop both of them, and I think he’s doing quite well. But he’s unusual. More people will either stick with the food and get — I’m sorry to say it, but more obese, or they’ll just go back to drinking or using a drug. It’s very common.

Jonathan: It’s just a replacement of one addictive substance for another.

Dr. Tarman: Yes, because what I have people say — because I know to ask the questions now, I do — whenever I talk about drug addiction in my classes with my patients, I’ll say to them, “How many of you are eating three or four chocolate bars a day before, and before you didn’t even have a sweet tooth, but now you do?” I’m going to say half of the guys will put up their hand, and you can certainly see people just eating way more, and then they say, “I can’t believe I’m eating this much. I didn’t eat this much before.” It’s not just because they’re off the drug and are now getting their nutrition back. It’s because they’re substituting a drug, because they say, “I’m thinking about it all the time, I’m obsessing. I wish I could stop, but I can’t. I’m full, but I’m still eating.”

Jonathan: That’s the exact one. That’s the big thing there is the difference between feeling full and feeling satisfied, and when the only way you can feel satisfied is by administering yourself with a deadly addictive substance, that’s no way to live.

Dr. Tarman: Oh, it just makes the itch bigger. You’re scratching, and the itch just gets bigger. That’s really another definition of addiction as far as I’m concerned.

Jonathan: Absolutely. Well, Dr. Tarman, again, we’re not saying avoid all food. We’re not saying all food is addictive at all. In fact, the right kinds of foods are probably the best antidote to this, because if you can just enjoy a lot of real, whole, nutrient-rich foods, your mouth will be too full to fit anything in it for lack of better terms.

Dr. Tarman: I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, Jonathan. I bet you have, but you’ve had nutritionists say to you, you have to do moderation and you can’t be so restrictive about your food, because it’s just going to induce a further eating disorder. Have you had them say that to you?

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely. Again, it’s this myth of moderation where if you try to avoid anything processed, it’s thought of almost being neurotic.

Dr. Tarman: Exactly, or in eating disorder term, it’s pathological, and it’s possibly even anorexic-like behavior, but I want to say that eating proper food is not about calorie restriction by any means. This is about calorie choosing. Choosing what you’re eating specifically, not cutting down on food at all. When you follow this kind of diet, not only will you lose weight if you’ve been eating sugar all the time, but you will not be hungry, and the bonus is you won’t have the cravings anymore. This is actually what we call food serenity if you can get over on the other side.

Jonathan: Oh, absolutely, Dr. Tarman. The subtitle of my first book is Eat More and Exercise Less, But Do That Smarter, and that’s really what we’re talking about here is it’s the opposite of being neurotic. It’s being selective, and this might be a stretch from an analogy perspective, but if you had an individual who was in a loving, monogamous relationship, you would not say, well, you’re just being neurotic about being selective of who you are intimate with.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. That’s very apt. I like that.

Jonathan: Not at all. Or someone who doesn’t smoke, well, you’re being neurotic about what you inhale into your body, like why don’t you just huff this aerosol container. It’s just a little bit, but our definition of food has changed so much that it’s like you’ve eliminated ninety percent of the grocery store. That’s true. Ninety percent of the grocery store isn’t food. That’s not neurotic. That’s common sense.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah. Yes, yes, and that’s where these latest two books are very informative, but you’re right. We’re talking about vegetables. We’re talking about proteins We’re talking about fruits, but not the fruits that have been engineered to be huge and potently sweet, but we’re talking about basically real foods. Stuff that’s on the outside of the aisles.

Jonathan: Exactly, well, and Dr. Tarman, you enjoy the taste of sweet. Again, correct me if I’m wrong — we’re not saying you can’t ever eat anything sweet. There’s low-fructose fruits, and what are your thoughts about natural, lower-caloric sweeteners or non-caloric sweeteners such as Stevia or xylitol or an erythritol or things like that?

Dr. Tarman: Well, okay, when we talk about food addiction, if you buy into the concept, which I obviously do, I think everybody, as you alluded to before, is compelled to eat sweet foods. We all want that, and if you’re not a true food addict, you can probably get away with that, just like a social drinker can have one or two drinks, and they’re good, and they can have moderation. It is possible, even though alcohol has been distilled and refined and whatnot that some people’s receptors are not so highly sensitized — what we call in the addiction world allergic — when you are allergic to alcohol, you’re not really allergic, but you’re highly sensitized to this substance — so that you get [indiscernible 32:33] reward factor more so than somebody else. So if you’re not one of those people, you can probably get away with Stevia and all these more sweetener aspects, but if you’re an actual food addict, that’s only going to trigger the sweet impulse so that the anticipation of sweet can cause a trigger for you then to actually want the sweet. So you might have to determine what stage of food addiction you are in or just even if you are a food addict or what we would call a social eater.

Jonathan: Fascinating, fascinating, and I’m curious — one thing I’ve noticed — so I’ve come from a family who if there’s a gene for sugar addiction, I probably have it, because we just have sweet tooths across the board, and one thing I’ve noticed just in my personal experience is natural whole food fats such as cocoa, unrefined, raw cocoa, or coconut, unsweetened coconut, and cinnamon — when I’m craving “sweets,” if I consume cocoa, coconut and/or cinnamon, with other things of course, my “sweet tooth” goes away, even though what I ate was not necessarily sweet.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah, well, I don’t know what to say about that from a biochemical point of view, because I’m not knowledgeable about that specifically, but what I would say to that just in a general way is that because you’re not eating sweets, otherwise that stuff wouldn’t even touch you, right? And because you’re not eating sweets, you’re able to appreciate the more natural sweetness of something like coconut or cocoa, especially if it has coconut in it. So I’m guessing there’s a point at which you would stop eating those two, because the satiety of that would stop you at some point, I’m guessing, and if it doesn’t, then I would then think okay, that’s become a trigger food for some reason, because you can become a food addict with just celery. Volume can be an issue too.

Jonathan: That makes a lot of sense, and one of the things that I’ve noticed as well is that we just have to be sensitive about when and how we use food, because if we use it as a reward system, that also, I can imagine, becomes a trigger for this potentially unhealthy behavior.

Dr. Tarman: Yes, that’s right. So a lot of it depends on where are you. When we talk about treating food addiction –which officially doesn’t exist, because the diagnosis doesn’t officially exist — we talk, first of all, about getting rid of the obvious culprits like sugar and refined starches, and then you want to narrow down to the specific person, because some people can get away with eating sweeteners. Some people can’t. Some people can’t eat fruit at all; other people can. Some people can’t eat nuts, and other people can. You can then start to refine it down, because what you are trying to do then is isolate what the trigger foods are. Trigger foods could be actual biochemically that is something that we don’t understand or specific about the person, or it could be learned behavior from childhood or something like that. You try to find out what those are, knock them off as well or do something with those as well so that you end up having an individual program. Your program is going to be different than mine. See?

Jonathan: Let’s set ourselves and our loved ones up to have a healthy program, because I don’t think any of us come into this world craving Snickers bars, but I think if we’re constantly given Snickers bars and then asked to eat fruits and vegetables, well, we say, “Well, these foods are disgusting,” relative to that Snickers bar. Just like if you take crack, and then you don’t take crack, you’ll be like, “Well, this is not nearly as pleasant as taking crack,” which is true, but it also kills you. So if we could maybe help our loved ones, potentially our children, by not desensitizing them to these experiences such that they have to eat these potent substances to get the same “pleasure” that a whole foods individual may get from eating a carrot, which is actually really sweet once you get off of all the other stuff.

Dr. Tarman: Exactly, that’s right, which is why you can probably be, in terms of volume, a food addict just by volume. But one of the things you mentioned earlier that I think we should touch on is the genetic propensity to being an addict doesn’t exist. You said something about you have a family history of having a sweet tooth, and there isn’t an actual food addict gene, but there is, in the addiction field, one of the genetic abnormalities that we keep seeing over and over again is with the dopamine 2 receptors. Not exactly sure what the abnormality is, but it exists, and we see that that’s the case with alcohol and with cocaine and with sugar. For example, now we’re also seeing it with obesity as well, so that people who are morbidly obese, over a BMI of 30, will have something wrong with their dopamine 2 receptors, and actually, the more obese the person becomes, the more that becomes altered. So if a person can be born with this genetic abnormality or you can actually do it to ourselves.

Jonathan: Would this be an example of epigenetic, like we change the way our genes are expressing themselves, or is there something else going on here?

Dr. Tarman: No, I don’t want to say it’s new research, because we’ve known about this for a while. It just hasn’t progressed very far, but the idea of dopamine 2 receptors is something we’ve known about with alcohol for maybe twenty years. With obesity, I think that’s in the last five or ten years, and then the concept of epigenetics, that hasn’t actually been discovered, but I think it’s a very, very useful explanation that will probably be shown, but it hasn’t yet. Not in this field, just because we’re not there yet.

Jonathan: I think when we talk about this field, I truly believe in my heart of hearts that twenty to thirty years down the road, hopefully sooner, we’re going to look back, and the idea that eating — which a lot of people do — a 1200 calorie diet — because it’s just 1200 calories, so there you go, moderation — but basically filling that 1200 calories with whatever you want, whatever edible products you want, as long as it’s 1200 calories, and you’re eating less, and you exercise regularly, is a fine approach to a healthy lifestyle. That we’ll look back to that the same way now we look at, “Oh, but we put filters on cigarettes! So clearly, they’re good for you now!” It’s not. It’s just not.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah. Well, here’s the other thing that happens when people are eating addictively, is their mood becomes immensely unstable. Look at the whole depression epidemic that we have here. Everybody and their grandmother is on antidepressants, which by the way only makes your sugar cravings worse. The whole phenomena of bipolar disorder; it’s being diagnosed left, right, and center in the addictions field. I’d say sixty to seventy percent of people have that diagnosis along with their addiction, and how much of that is actually real? Maybe a lot of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair amount of that is just coming off of the drug, including sugar or introducing yet another drug sugar. It really does a number on our mood. The up and the down and the…

Jonathan: Well, I don’t even think that we understand at this point what — like normal. We’ve already agreed that the definition of normal food has gone out the window. What’s normal? But also normal mood has potentially gone out the window.

Dr. Tarman: It sure has, yeah.

Jonathan: And people, I would just encourage all of our listeners. If you haven’t tried to give yourself the gift of this dietary or nutritional serenity as Dr. Tarman called it, which again, if someone is going to come at you and be like, “Oh, moderation, blah-blah-blah.” Yes, that’s one way to pitch it, and it’s a great marketing approach, because then you can sell anything to anyone as long as you make the serving size small enough and call it a snack pack.

Dr. Tarman: Yes.

Jonathan: But I love what you said. et’s call it nutritional and body image and mood serenity, meaning that you don’t even think about this anymore. You can spend your time and energy living your life rather than thinking about what you’re going to put into your mouth next. That doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy food. Just like imagine you meet the person of your dreams. It’s not that now it’s so sad because you don’t get to go on dates and have multiple partners, it’s — you’ve achieved your bliss. You’ve achieved serenity. You’ve found your perfect match, and now you can move on and walk and dance together throughout life. What if you could have that relationship with what you eat, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t mean that you’re never going to think about food. It’s a natural thing when you’re hungry to think about food, and since we’re advocating a diet where you’re not hungry, if you’re not hungry, you’re not going to be thinking about food, and if you’re not addicted, you’re not going to be thinking about food until it’s time to eat, and then you’ll think about food, and you’ll eat, and it’s all good.

Jonathan: And you’ll enjoy it immensely, because if you haven’t eaten real food recently, real food actually does taste really good.

Dr. Tarman: Yeah, that’s right.

Jonathan: Well, Dr. Tarman, thank you so much for joining us. This is literally life-changing information, and folks, if you want to get more information, which I would highly encourage you to do, please check out Dr. Tarman’s work which can be found at She also has a wonderful DVD, because in the Netflix age, sometimes we all like to kick back and watch a little bit. It’s called Dangerous Liaisons Comfort and Food. Both highly recommended. Again that’s addictionsunplugged, Dangerous Liaisons Comfort and Food. The woman and the life-changing researcher and clinician in my book, Dr. Vera Tarman, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Tarman: Thank you very much.

Jonathan: Well, listeners, I hope you enjoyed that, and please, please remember this week, as we talked about with Dr. Tarman today, eat more, but do that smarter and also exercise less, but do that smarter. Talk to you soon.

Wait, wait, don’t stop listening yet. You can get fabulous free SANE recipes over at and don’t forget your 100 percent free eating and exercise quick start program as well as free fun daily tips delivered right into your inbox at

[Audio Ends 43:45]

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