A lot of us are guilty of food addiction. We usually either think it’s hard to do or ineffective for achieving weight loss or gaining your health back. But that’s not true. That’s why I’m so excited to have Chef AJ who’ll teach us some tips and tricks in kicking our food addiction forever.
Chef AJ’s eating habits during childhood were the standard Jewish diet. It was high in fat and animal protein. In a way, she describes her environment as belonging to a family of emotional eaters surrounded by food. As a result, her family members suffered from all sorts of diseases.
” Born in 1960, I became fat at the age of 5. One of every three children under the age of 18 is overweight. It’s never fun being overweight especially as a child,” recalls Chef AJ. “Because it led me to do what I do now. I don’t want people to have to go through the pain shame and humiliation.”
Chef AJ had two older brothers who told her back then that guys are not going to date fat girls. And they were right. Because during her senior prom, Chef AJ didn’t have a date. So, thinking about her childhood, it makes Chef AJ sad.
Growing Up Years
Chef AJ’s family moved back to California from Chicago when she was 11 years old. She was not even 5 feet tall and yet she weighed 160 pounds. That is childhood obesity.
When Chef AJ was in her 20s, she weighed up to 200 pounds. Nobody was offering any suggestions. It took an offhand remark from an uncle who happened to be a doctor for Chef AJ to want to change.
Her uncle told Chef AJ she could probably go a week without eating and it wouldn’t hurt her one bit. So, Chef AJ tried not to eat, and she indeed lost weight. But in the next seven years, Chef AJ became anorexic. Putting her health at risk, Chef AJ developed liver damage, then her fingernails and hair fell out.
“Anorexia is not sustainable. I don’t recommend it for weight loss or dietary control. Because eventually, you get so hungry,” said Chef AJ. “When you haven’t eaten very much for many years, you end up becoming bulimic like me.”
She adds, “It’s worse in some ways. Because with bulimia, you have the energy to do things. You’re eating, but you’re eating a lot. And getting rid of food by exercising or in my case smoking and purging. I remember getting depressed and even thought of suicide in my 20s.”
Chef AJ also recalls that back then, they treat bulimia like a mental disease and lock you up in a psychiatric hospital. The funny thing was, for most of that time, Chef AJ was vegan. She became a vegan at a very young age for ethical reasons at age 17 when she attended the University of Pennsylvania.
But Chef AJ was what she calls herself a “fat” vegan. Because she didn’t eat many of the healthy foods that she eats today. She had her food addiction — candies, cakes, cookies and ice cream. Plus, a lot of caffeine and sugar.
Effort To Change
By the age of 43 and had eaten almost no fruits and vegetables her entire life, Chef AJ soon found had what books call a pre-cancer stage. It wasn’t until Chef AJ was in her early 40s that she learned food had something to do with how we look, feel or what diseases she could get or reverse.
“I always thought it was genetic. Genetics are important to a certain extent. But it’s our diet and lifestyle that pulls the trigger,” said Chef AJ.
Optimum Health Insitute
It wasn’t long before Chef AJ found this magazine featuring a place near San Diego, California called the Optimum Health Institute. Chef AJ first went there on July 6, 2003, and found that although there were no medical doctors, there were chiropractors, nurses, and health professionals. That was also the first time she ever had a conversation on food and how it affects us.
Chef AJ stuck to her prescribed diet for two years. Six months after, she went back to her old doctor who asked Chef AJ if she went to surgery because her colon was now clean. That’s where Chef AJ’s life changed.
After The Program
After going through her program at the Optimum Health Institute, Chef AJ realized she wasn’t going to be able to stay on this diet unless the food started tasting a lot better. Generally, she believes people can do anything short-term. And the way they teach eating at Optimum is more for healing and detox.
There may be people who eat that way long-term, but it’s mostly salad without dressing plus fruit and juices. That’s why Chef AJ enrolled in culinary school and signed up for an intensive 30-day program.
But the cooking school they used a lot of sugar, salt, and oil even on raw foods. So, Chef AJ was on the brink of going back to her old habits. Despite that, it was a great learning experience because Chef AJ learned kitchen confidence. Soon after, she became a professional chef for five years.
“I wasn’t consuming caffeine, white sugar or flour so I was doing a lot better. Then I soon got a job as a pastry chef,” Chef AJ said. “Then in 2008, I took a 1-year program called the wisdom course.”
The Wisdom course was a lot about play and fun. It was a creative course where Chef AJ was given weekly homework.
“So, I decided to go on a diet for a few weeks to change my palate. Filling the ref with fruits and veggies, I initially felt irritable, anxious, shaky, sad in a way. But that was when I became aware that foods for some people have effects,” said Chef AJ.
To help people overcome food addiction and jumpstart their weight loss journey, Chef AJ created some recipes and had some friends sample it. Her friends found it delicious and encouraged her to share her recipes with people who need help in gaining their health back.
One memorable person who greatly benefited from her recipes is former actor Don Grady. He passed away from bone cancer, but before that, Chef AJ was instrumental in extending his life by five years just by incorporating her recipes into his diet.
Chef AJ’s Books
Chef AJ’s road to better health and kicking out food addiction let her write her book called Unprocessed. According to her, processed food is not food. It may be readily available, socially acceptable, easily affordable but it’s not food.
She also explains that especially for kids, children have different sensitivities. Chef AJ cites people in prisons, schools, hospitals are fed the worse possible food. She says even the United States Armed forces.
“The people that could benefit the most from eating the best nutrition are getting the worse nutrition,” said Chef AJ.
Chef AJ’s newest book is called The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss. It’s a new approach to teach you how to overcome food cravings and food addiction aside from losing weight without starving yourself.
Chef AJ hosted a TV show called Healthy Living with Chef AJ which aired on Foody TV. It was a cooking show and a lifestyle show as well because she interviewed some cool people who gave valuable information about food. She’s currently working on the funding to air it for another season hopefully.
Chef AJ says that people are going to have to learn some basic cooking techniques if they want to be successful or get somebody else to do it for them. But it doesn’t mean you have to go to culinary school. One has to be willing to devote a few hours every week to do some batch cooking.
“I have videos on Youtube showing people how to do this. Because if you always have healthy food ready, then it’s not hard to assemble a healthy meal especially if you want to eat more simply,” assures Chef AJ.
One of Chef AJ’s favorite quick fix is getting some Japanese sweet potatoes, cut it in half, put some blueberries, fresh mint and fruit flavored balsamic vinegar on top. Other quick fixes can be anything from whole grains, quinoa or beans.
She also advises to let children choose their vegetables. Because generally, people love customizing. Another excellent food resource is the products of the Healing Movement. Their products are raw cultured vegetables, which has the richest probiotics in the market. Plus, it’s dairy-free.
“It can take a while for food that is less stimulating to taste good. Salt is the hardest. It takes a good 30 days to get through,” said Chef AJ.
She adds, “As for oil, people don’t miss the oil. They may miss the fat. So I recommend the whole food fat over oil. But sugar is a whole another story. If you suffer from food addiction, that might be something you want to cut out no matter what your dietary pattern is.”
One tool Chef AJ loves in making her food is a pressure cooker. But other tools really can help you get healthy food on the table fast.
“There’s nothing magical about oil unless you deep fry. You need a good pan and learn to dry saute, or steam fry the food. You can also add a teaspoon of water or broth,” said Chef AJ. “It does not make the food taste better. Oil coats the food, so you end up having to use more salt.”
Chef AJ stresses the importance of cleaning up your environment. Because whatever health, lifestyle or behavioral change you’re trying to make, you have to have your environment support you.
“Your environment either supports your food addiction or supports your recovery. It can’t be both,” Chef AJ said. “Your environment is going to be critical to your success, especially your home environment. So control your home environment because it will make a critical difference.”
Signs Of Food Addiction
Are you now wondering if you have a food addiction? Chef AJ recommends that you ask yourself these questions, which is a quiz in her book:
- Do you have to consume it daily or several times a day?
- Do you feel bad when you are unable to get your fix?
- Do you think about it often and can’t wait until you can consume it again even if you just had it?
- Is it difficult for you to moderate your use of it?
- Do you tend to use more of it than you intended to?
- Do you often feel shamed or regret after consuming it?
- Do you have physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms when you try to abstain from it?
- Is it difficult for you to get through even a single day without consuming this substance?
- Does abstaining result in emotional or physical discomfort?
- Does the mere thought of abstaining from it bring on strong emotions, like anxiety, sadness, anger or grief?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, Chef AJ says you may indeed be suffering from food addiction.
“I want people to know this is a difficult journey. But it is possible and doable. Eventually, they will learn actually to prefer the taste of whole natural food. Any which way they get there, it is possible. It just takes time,” said Chef AJ.
Chef AJ has been devoted to a plant-based diet for almost 40 years. She is the host of the television series Healthy Living with CHEF AJ which airs on Foody TV. With her comedy background, she has made appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with David Letterman and more.
A chef, culinary instructor and professional speaker, Chef AJ is the author of the popular book Unprocessed: How to Achieve Vibrant Health and Your Ideal Weight, which chronicles her journey from a junk-food vegan faced with a diagnosis of pre-cancerous polyps, to learning how to create foods that nourish and heal the body.
Chef AJ’s new book The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss: A Revolutionary Approach to Conquer Cravings, Overcome Food Addiction and Lose Weight Without Going Hungry has received glowing endorsement by many luminaries in the plant-based movement.
Based in Los Angeles, Chef AJ teaches a monthly sold-out seminar featuring cooking instruction, nutritional science, and song parodies, all delivered with comedic panache. Never content to leave her audience with mere “just do it” advice, she teaches how to create meals to transform their health, how to deal with cravings and food addiction and addresses the emotional side of eating.
Chef AJ is the creator of the Ultimate Weight Loss Program, which has helped hundreds of people achieve the health and the body that they deserve. She was the Executive Pastry Chef at Santé Restaurant in Los Angeles where she was famous for her sugar, oil, salt and gluten-free desserts which use the fruit, the whole fruit and nothing but the whole fruit.
Chef AJ is also the creator of Healthy Taste of LA and the YouTube cooking show The Chef and the Dietitian and is proud to say that her IQ is higher than her cholesterol. She holds a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University and is a member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.