By Dr. Mercola
Food addiction is a pervasive challenge, and one that can prevent you from implementing strategies you know would benefit your health.
In the featured interview, Dr. Mark Hyman discusses his new book, The 10-Day Detox Diet, a New York Times bestseller, which focuses on detoxing from sugar and eliminating food addictions.
From Toxic Mess to Optimal Health—A Doctor's Personal Journey
Although he'd been very interested in health, nutrition, and exercise for many years, he went into medical school, where he got "sucked in, and brainwashed" by the conventional medical system. After working as a family doctor for many years in a small town in Idaho, Dr. Hyman went on to work in an emergency room (ER) for a few years.
During this time, his health started deteriorating from stress and overwork. This was followed by a year-long stint in China, where he got mercury poisoning from the air pollution, caused by the burning of coal.
"I went from riding a 100 miles a day on my bike to not being able to walk up the stairs, to having my digestion completely break down, to having immune dysregulation," he says.
"I had rashes and sores on my tongue. My white [blood cell] count went down, my autoimmune antibodies went up, my liver function test [and] muscle enzymes went up. Yet no one could give me a diagnosis."
Refusing his doctor's recommendation to just take Prozac, he delved into the research, trying to sort out why his body was failing. This was when he discovered the work of Jeffrey Bland, known as the father of functional medicine. Functional medicine is really a paradigm. It treats the root cause of disease. It's medicine by cause, not by symptom.
"I listened to him speak and I thought, 'This guy, either he's a genius or he's crazy. I better figure it out because if he's right, the whole paradigm of medicine is wrong,'" Dr. Hyman says.
"I needed to rethink it for myself and for my patients. I began to try it on myself, try it with my patients at Canyon Ranch, and I began to find that it worked. I was shocked that people would get better from things that I was not able to treat with conventional care.
Now I'm super healthy. I'm 54, and I feel better than I did when I was 25. I run, I ride my bike, and I write. I've written eight New York Times bestsellers. I've been pretty prolific. I could barely think or function before; now I feel like I got my life back."
Dr. Hyman then worked at the Canyon Ranch1 Resort for nearly a decade, and set up their functional medicine program. Nearly 10 years ago, he left Canyon Ranch and started his own practice, the UltraWellness Center2 in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Treating Food Addiction Through Functional Medicine
Insulin and leptin resistance drives and promotes fat storage in your body by promoting hunger and slowing down your metabolism. Dr. Hyman wrote a book called The Blood Sugar Solution, which addresses this.
Since then, he's become increasingly aware of food addictions, caused by the addictive nature of sugar, refined carbs, salt, and trans fats. These substances act just like heroin or cocaine,3 giving you pleasure by triggering an innate process in your brain via dopamine and opioid signals. Casein and gluten (a major component of wheat) also have addictive properties.
Your brain essentially becomes addicted to stimulating the release of its own opioids. The food industry has cashed in on this effect,4 deliberately hijacking your tastebuds, your brain chemistry, and your metabolism. As Dr. Hyman notes, the food industry has created an entire nation of people addicted to processed junk foods.
Americans eat about 152 pounds of sugar per person per year. The average American also eats an additional 146 pounds of refined flour per year, and flour has a higher glycemic index than table sugar.
Added sugars (processed fructose in particular) and refined flour are the two primary drivers of food addiction. Dr. Hyman places monosodium glutamate (MSG) in third place. MSG is hidden in many processed foods under a wide variety of names. It's a flavor enhancer, but it's also highly addictive, and helps drive up your insulin.
"That's what's driving so much of the metabolic derangement that makes it very difficult for people to stop eating," he says. "We have this culture where we blame the fat person.
We go, 'If you just exercised more and ate less, everything would be better.' It's just about 'calories in, calories out' energy balance. That's the message from the government. That's the message from the food industry. 'It's just about moderation.
There are no good and bad foods.' I realized that that was fundamentally not true," he says. "I realized we need to reframe the story, and we need to put people on a medical sugar detox to get them to reset...
[Food] is information. It gives instructions that turn on/off genes, that regulate hormones, and that regulate immune system function. If you put in the right healing foods and take out the foods that are harmful – your body will actually reset very quickly."
Food-Based Medicine for Weight Loss and Healing
No matter what disease you're trying to conquer, you have to address the basics of diet. Many symptoms will disappear without any other special intervention. Dr. Hyman's detox diet revolves around replacing processed foods with real foods for 10 days.
"We get them eating real food – fish, chicken, good-quality meats, nuts and seeds, good-quality fruit, and lots of vegetables. It's mostly a plant-based diet," he says. "When you take out all the junk, your body resets very quickly. You go maybe a day through withdrawal. All the cravings stop. Your energy comes up. You drop tons of fluid—some people lost 25 pounds [of water weight] in 10 days.
But people do lose fat, too. You can quickly shift from fat storage to fat burning. When you have a very low-glycemic diet, your body switches very quickly from fat storage to fat burning even on the same calorie amount. It's not a calorie-restricted diet. It's not a volume-restricted diet. What I realize is that people can't control how much they eat, but they can control what they eat. If you change what you eat, automatically your body changes, automatically you regulate your appetite, and automatically you've changed how much you eat without having to think about it."
Intermittent Fasting—One of the Best Ways to Eliminate Sugar Cravings
Taking Dr. Hyman's approach one step further, I suggest implementing an intermittent fasting program. This is truly one of the most effective ways I know of to eliminate sugar cravings and shed unwanted weight, as it really speeds up your body's ability to reset and start burning fat instead of sugar as its primary fuel. When your body no longer uses sugar as primary fuel, the sugar cravings disappear like magic.
There are many different variations of intermittent fasting. If you are like 85 percent of the population and have insulin resistance, my personal recommendation is to fast every day by simply scheduling your eating into a narrower window of approximately eight hours every day. For example, you could restrict your eating to the hours of 11am and 7pm. Essentially, you're just skipping breakfast and making lunch your first meal of the day instead. This equates to a daily fasting of 16 hours—twice the minimum required to deplete your glycogen stores and start shifting into fat burning mode.
I find this method to be easier than fasting for a full 24 hours or more, twice a week. Once you are at your ideal body weight, and do not have diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal cholesterol levels, you can be less rigid with your fasting. However, it is probably best to resume some type of scheduled eating regimen once in a while, to make sure you don't slip back into old habits.
High Intensity Exercise Boosts Your Metabolism
Like myself, Dr. Hyman incorporates high intensity interval training (HIIT) in his fitness program, which has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most effective and efficient ways to exercise—especially if you want to lose weight. Studies show that with HIIT, you can spend less time exercising and get more benefits, lose more weight, and burn more calories while you sleep, and achieve a greater level of fitness.
"I love to play. I really hate to exercise," he says. "You won't find me in a gym very often. But I love to play so I don't have to. In the summer, I'm riding my bike all over the hills and the Berkshires. I play tennis. I play basketball with my son. I go running in the woods with my dog. I do a lot of varied exercises. I do a lot of yoga. I find that really helpful for sort of many, many different reasons.
I do some high-intensity interval training (HIIT), where I'll do 7- or 10-minute high-intensity bursts of interval training with lots of the calisthenics-type stuff, many push-ups and chin-ups. That is really effective in actually speeding up my metabolism. I'm 54, and I'm leaner, fitter, and more muscular than I was 10 years ago, which is fascinating to see, by just changing my diet and changing my routine a little bit. It's not even a lot. I'm super busy. If I can do it, anybody can do it."
Getting Smart About Where You Eat
It's one thing to change your diet when you're eating at home. It's another to maintain the same standards when you're invited out for dinner, or going to an event. Dr. Hyman offers the following suggestions to stay in control and not be "forced" into a situation where you have no option but to eat processed foods:
- CleanPlates.com5 can help you find sustainable, organic, non-GMO restaurants. They also offer a smartphone app
- Zagat6 is another healthy restaurant guide you can use
- If you're going to an event, either eat before you go, and/or bring some healthy snacks. Dr. Hyman typically stuffs nut butters and other healthy items in his suit jacket
- When traveling, be sure to bring some "emergency" foods. Dr. Hyman has a blog post titled "Don't Ever Be in a Food Emergency Again," which offers suggestions for what to put in your emergency food pack7
Taking Healthy Eating to Your Community
Dr. Hyman works with Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, and has helped them create The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life. The plan includes a cookbook, The Daniel Plan cookbook, a healthy eating guide, and a 40-day long video curriculum. The program is designed to be given to religious leaders, and provides them with the tools to help their congregation achieve better health. In his 10-Day Detox Diet book, Dr. Hyman also offers strategies you can put to use to build similar structures in your own community.
"It really is a wonderful plan that allows you to follow the principles of healthy living and doing it together. They're called the 5 principles – faith (which is your motivation), fuel (which is food and where we get what we have to eat), fitness (which is obvious), focus (which is really about your mind, your thoughts, and stress), and then friends (which is powerful). I call it 'friend power,' not willpower."
Natural medicine is truly the future of medicine. Fortunately, conventional medicine is slowly but surely starting to shift, and more resources are becoming available. For example, the Cleveland Clinic is planning to add a functional medicine institute, where they will conduct research and train doctors in functional medicine. Dr. Hyman is helping to catalyze that process by his many appearances on national media and involvement in the political process.
Dr. Hyman's book The 10-Day Detox Diet is available on Amazon, and on 10DayDetoxDiet.com. You can also find more information about Dr. Hyman, his wellness center, and his books, on DrHyman.com. "It's not about deprivation; it's about fun, easy, and delicious food, where you basically take back your body from the food industry," he says.
At the end of the day, it's all about making choices—for yourself and for your life. Are you satisfied with the way you're feeling now, or are you ready to feel better? Do you want to be vibrantly healthy, and feel connected to the things that matter in life? "I think that's really what people have to figure out," he says. "What's your purpose? What matters to you? Does it matter to have that cookie and feel good for two minutes? Or does it matter to have the energy to be able to work and fulfill your purpose in life? What really is it that matters?"