471: Healing Processed Food Addiction with Dr. Joan Ifland Using Neuroscience, Mirror Neurons
Ashley James And Dr. Joan Ifland
- What is food addiction
- How do you get food addiction
- Processed foods attack cell function in eight different ways
- Processed foods impair major frontal lobe functions
- What are mirror neurons
- 11 behaviors in addiction diagnosis
Dr. Joan Ifland is a food addiction expert and the lead editor and author of the textbook, Processed Food Addiction: Foundations, Assessment, and Recovery. She has helped thousands of people overcome their food addiction and recover from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, fatigue, isolation, and obesity. In this episode, Joan explains what food addiction is, how it affects people's lives with food addiction, and what you can do to overcome it.
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[00:02:24] Ashley James: Welcome to the Learn True Health podcast. I’m your host, Ashley James. This is episode 471. I'm so excited for today's guest. We have Dr. Joan Ifland on the show who has groundbreaking research in how to recover from food addiction. She's designed a program that helps people with severe processed food addiction overcome that. What I really like, Joan, is that you mentioned that those who have food addiction have been severely disrespected in the media, even from certain therapies. It's a not well-understood addiction, it has a really negative stigma, and people feel a lot of shame and guilt about their food addiction. I'm really excited for you today to unpack what is food addiction.
It's such a strange thing to me because we have to eat, right? You don't have to drink alcohol. You don't have to smoke cigarettes. You don't have to do heroin, but we have to eat. To have such day-to-day, moment-to-moment struggle with the internal desire for food, that hunger that never goes away, and all the body shame around that really eats the person alive. And then to feel like they can't get any help because there's such a stigma around it.
I love the work that you do. You're making such headway in this field, and I’m looking forward today for you to share some tools and for us to dive into this. I think that there are degrees of food addiction and there are degrees of recovery. And so I hope that for all listeners who have caught themselves realizing that for whatever part of the spectrum they're on in their recovery or in food addiction, that they're able to gain a foothold, some healing today, and some tools that they can take away and continue to grow. So welcome to the show.
[00:05:00] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yay. Thank you. Wow, that was the best introduction. Well done. You're very clear on the issues and the context in which these issues have developed. Well done. Well done.
[00:05:16] Ashley James: I want to start by saying that this topic is no stranger to me. I watched my father struggle with food addiction. I watched my mother and I don't know what flavor of food addiction she had, but she definitely had body shame, body issues. She was always dieting. It was like the last 15 pounds to lose. My mother was never overweight, but there was a lot of control around food. Then she would binge red jujubes and that was her secret. She would eat almost nothing. She would have almost nothing and then she would maybe eat handfuls of red jujubes.
She believed low fat, so she bought into, okay, I'm going to grill a chicken breast and I'm going to have half a cup of broccoli and that's my lunch. She believed that any starch was really unhealthy, so she would yell at me if we were at a restaurant and I ordered a fish with a side of rice. She did this one. She stood up at the restaurant and yelled at me. I was about 12 and she shamed me and yelled at me because I ordered rice. I mean, in her mind, she was so afraid that if you ate starch that you would get fat.
So I grew up in this very controlling, food was very controlled, and she had a lot of emotion and upset around it. And then my dad on the other hand, snuck food and was always up and down 100 pounds and just yo-yoing. And then for me, I really have seen that food, and I don't gravitate towards processed food because I've learned it's so not healthy for me and for anyone, but for me, I have worked on the emotions around food, around binge eating, overeating, and food addiction. I've been working on that for years.
I've seen people who are sort of worse off than me and people who are better off, and like I said, that's what I feel it's a spectrum. I feel that even someone who seemingly looks healthy could have a food addiction. Just like any addiction, in my experience—I'd love for you to fill in the details—we go towards an addiction, for that dopamine, for that sense of control, and that sense of relief. It's a stress relief that dopamine in the brain. It is a coping mechanism, but it's also like our blanket, our Binky, something that comforts us when we're in high stress and it gives us that relief.
What I'd love to dive in and find out, what starts food addiction? Why do some people go towards heroin and don't have a food addiction and other people have food addiction? What is it about the people that end up with food addiction, why didn't they end up with heroin addiction? It's such a different thing.
[00:08:48] Dr. Joan Ifland: This is a really, really great way to start the interview. I do want to say I'm sorry for the modeling and the behavior of your parents. But it does answer your opening question, which is how the heck do we get this? You got it from your parents, the processed food industry, the health industry, and the diet industry. They all contribute to the development of processed food addiction in different ways.
But let me start out with mechanics. So what is actually going on in the brain? This is a great gift that brain imaging technology has given us is an understanding of what's going on in the brain. Because prior to a clear understanding of the mechanics, these brain cells are hyperactive, these brain cells are not active. Prior to that, people made up stories about addictions. This person was weak-willed. If they just had more willpower, they'd be able to conquer it. They don't like themselves, they lack self-control, or they're even immoral.
So all these stories about addicted people have sprung up, and none of them are true. None of them are true at all. It's simple in concept and thousands of complexities in implementation for recovery, but the concept is quite simple, and it happens in stages.
So step one is the reward system brain cells are taught through Pavlovian conditioning to explode with feel-good neurotransmitters. How do you teach a cell to explode with feel-good neurotransmitters? You ingest substances that cause those cells to explode. Literally flood the brain with enough craving neurotransmitters to control behavior, and that is the key to everything. Once we have addicted brain cells and they are putting out this flood of neurotransmitters, that alone is capable of controlling behavior.
So those neurotransmitters go over to the motion center, the behavior center in the brain, latch on to the behavior of brain cells, and you are going to get the substance. So here's what is not happening is the frontal lobe which is where rational thought lives—
[00:12:03] Ashley James: Yeah, where’s the frontal lobe in any of this?
[00:12:07] Dr. Joan Ifland: So the blood flow has been pulled off to the addicted brain cells and the frontal lobe is not firing. It's literally not firing, so all the good things that you've learned, the determinations, all that stuff is not available. It's like that part of your computer has crashed. There’s no data in, there's no data out, and there's certainly no control.
Well, here's the next step then. Anything associated with those substances is actually more powerful in being able to trigger the addicted brain cells. Maybe you have a friend and you go and you get addictive substances with that friend. That friend is now what's called an associative cue, an associative trigger. That just seeing that friend can set those addicted brain cells off to creating this flood of cravings.
In the case of processed foods, there are so many different substances that all four of the major feel-good reward pathways have become addicted. So that's dopamine, serotonin, opiate, and cannabinoid. This is one of the reasons why this particular addiction is so hard to give up.
And then the other piece of it is that the processed food industry was really taken over by big tobacco in the mid-1980s. They have an addiction business model. They deliberately train those feel-good pathways to become reactive to cueing, so you associate processed foods with everything because they're everywhere. They're at your school, they're at your faith organization, they're at your workplace. They're all over your house. Hopefully not anymore, but they're on the road. They're on TV. They're everywhere.
You are constantly, by association, being stimulated to release those craving brain chemicals. If they build up enough, they will get control of behavior. That's how you get an addiction. This substance is ingested, the substance causes this eruption, and then you begin to get the cued eruption. You're not using the substance, but you have an association with it, and that starts setting off this flood that controls behavior. Let me just stop there. Does that help?
[00:15:15] Ashley James: That's great and I have questions. When you said there's an associated person, but that's like the Pavlovian trigger, the anchor. It could also be a location. It could be smells. It can be marketing like you see the brands, you see the logo, or the box. o for me, location. I think back to a location where I would have ingested a substance that causes all of the feel-good or chemicals to go off. Then just even thinking about being back in that location for me.
It could be music if music was playing at the time of the heightened—so maybe not everyone knows what the Pavlovian response is. It's when you're at a heightened emotional state and there's another stimulus around, your brain will then anchor those two together. A song is playing when you're in a heightened state, the next time that song plays it will trigger that heightened state, not as much but it will trigger it enough for you to think back and maybe start wanting that again.
My husband said something very interesting. He goes, the first time you do—I'm just going to say substance because it could be drugs, alcohol. Whatever the substance is, the first time you do it is not as good as the next time or the time after. He did a substance, let's say it's a chocolate chip cookie or whatever the substance was, he did it and he loved it so much. Then he did it 20 more times throughout a few months trying to chase that high and he said it was never as good as the first time.
Can you explain why is it that the first time is amazing and then we tend to try to chase that high of maybe in our memory it feels like it's so amazing and then we get disappointed? I ate a chocolate chip cookie and it's like, wow, this wasn't as good as that other time. I'm going to keep trying to find the chocolate cookie that brings back that first time.
[00:17:38] Dr. Joan Ifland: You're asking a super excellent question. Let me elaborate on the first part of what you just said, and then I'll go into the kind of diminishing return. Why is it that the brain so easily picks up these associative cues? People, places, things, time of year, time of day? Why?
It's because if you believe in evolution, every time a human for 7 million years found food, the brain would mark every, every, every, every detail of that moment because a year later with no ability to record anything, just relying on memory, that human would have to find that place again at that time of year and maybe even at that time of day. If for example it was maybe an egg and you needed to go up and get the eggs when the parent birds were off foraging.
The brain timestamps every, every, every detail, and this is also true for addictions because these foods are not food. The sugar, flour, gluten, excessive salt, dairy, processed fats, caffeine, food additives, the brain is not registering those as food. They're registering them as addictive drugs, but addictive drugs timestamping works the same way.
If you were a human a million years ago and you found food, your brain would timestamp every, every detail of that moment. The weather, the plants, the mountains, the path, the location of the stream, the time of day, who's with you, the terrain, the soil, every, every detail so that you could find it again in a year with no ability to record any detail of it. So it's every detail.
I mean, you may think, oh, it could be a color, it could be anything, the brain will just look at every, every detail. And then, of course, the food industry exploits that by putting those associative cues in front of people all the time. Okay, so I just wanted to reinforce exactly what you were saying.
Now, why are there diminishing returns? This is called tolerance or progression. There are two easy things to understand. One is when the brain has had a big an over like an abnormal amount of anything, there is a counteracting emotion. When the feel-good pathways have had this extraordinary flood, the counteracting motion is for the stress pathway to release stress.
It's called the corticotropin-releasing factor pathway, and it sends messages to the adrenal glands to release cortisol, create some stress, and put the brain back into balance. That part of the brain also gets trained to respond, and it will respond sooner and sooner and sooner as it picks up the Pavlovian conditioning. That's one reason why there is a diminishing return.
The other reason is that the way two neurons, two brain cells communicate is across a gap called a synapse. The way it works is cell number one releases the neurotransmitter. Cell number two has a receptor. In the case of the reward pathways, the receptor is a C-shaped receptor, so the neurotransmitter actually hits like a ball into a C.
What happens over time because those receptors are not designed to maintain that level of bombardment, the first time it happens, all of the neurotransmitters hit the receptors and the pleasure is transmitted through the nervous system. But the second time, the body is saying no, no, no, no, we cannot tolerate this amount of excitement, pleasure. We're not designed to do that.
The brain will start to shut down receptors to prevent that surge. Over time, it just shuts down more and more and more and more. This is why you don't get the pleasure from it, but you continue to pursue it because if you stop, then only the stress pathways are active and it hurts. It hurts to stop. That is withdrawal. That's how we know that this is drugs.
People continue to use processed foods. This could take months or years. At some point, you're not getting any pleasure out of it at all. There are so many receptors that are shut down. We actually see this on PET scans, Positron Emission Tomography scans, where a healthy person has these bright red dopamine receptor fields. Obese people don't have them and cocaine-addicted people don't have them. It's one of our strongest pieces of evidence that this is drug addiction, and it doesn't really have anything to do with eating.
Just like the tobacco industry hid nicotine in cigarettes and addicted people by hiding the addictive substance. Once tobacco came into processed foods, they hired a consultant, Howard Moskowitz, to hide the maximum amount of sugar, fat, and salt in foods before people could detect it. It’s just diabolical, but none of it was our fault.
In the progression, you feel worse and worse and worse, the depression and anxiety are increasing, but it's increasing in response to the substances, to the mechanical almost like an allergic reaction now. You have this big flood of neurochemicals being released. There are fewer and fewer neurotransmitter receptors to send the message and you're still having this stress reaction. So people's emotional profiles just fall apart.
[00:24:43] Ashley James: A few years ago I was reading a study that talked about these PET scans. The TLDR was people who are not obese don't think about food, they don't really get pleasure from thinking about food or planning it, but when they eat, they actually receive pleasure. Those who had obesity or food addiction spent a lot of time thinking about and planning their next meal and planning their next snack and really getting stimulated. The pleasure center’s getting stimulated over thinking about it. But then when they went to eat, it was so disappointing.
Kind of like porn addiction, fantasy is better than reality and I thought that was fascinating. Is there a way to reverse it? Is there a way to reverse it so that those who have a food addiction and also cocaine addiction that those centers of the brain aren't lighting up anymore? Is there a way to heal the brain and come back from this?
[00:25:55] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yes. What you have to do is give the whole system a big rest. You have to stop stimulating it. Now if for alcohol or cocaine addiction, you avoid the cues. So you avoid the people that you used with and you don't drive past the crack house, find another way. This is part of the complexity of recovering from processed food addiction is it's everywhere.
You have two pathways. One is to avoid the cueing and two is to neutralize cues. You can rewire the brain to associate the substances with pain and people are more driven by pain aversion than they are by pleasure-seeking. This is great research coming out of the economics field.
In our programs, we encourage people to come into the program and talk about a lapse so that they can then immediately associate the pain with it. There's a lot of pain from processed foods—physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral. It's quite destructive. It's just as destructive. It looks very different, but it's just as destructive as any drug addiction.
The name of the game is to train the brain that when you think about that food you think about the headaches, stomachache, screaming at your children, fatigue, not able to sleep, racing thoughts, intense cravings, breaking out of the skin, stomach ache, asthma, inflammatory properties, infections, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Processed foods attack cell function in eight different ways. There are 144 conditions associated by research with processed foods. It’s not hard to come up with a very long list of things that go haywire when you eat processed foods.
Let me go back to something that you started out saying, Ashley, we have to eat. That would be saying to an alcoholic, well, figure out how to use alcohol because you have to drink. No. We all know how to divide the world of beverages into safe and alcoholic, non-alcoholic and alcohol, and then there's really a third category, which is the druggie sugared beverages.
We do the same thing with food. We have safe unprocessed foods and then we have addictive processed foods. It is the processing that concentrates natural endorphins in the food to the point where they're strong enough to train these reward centers to release craving neurotransmitters.
[00:29:13] Ashley James: Is there a particular diet that helps us heal the brain faster or the fastest diet that doesn't overstimulate the pleasure centers?
[00:29:30] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yeah. If it's okay if I mention a website.
[00:29:35] Ashley James: Sure.
[00:29:36] Dr. Joan Ifland: Processedfoodaddiction.com and just sign up for the free information and you will get to two lists. One is the excluded food list. This is based on research. I wrote and edited the textbook for the field, Processed Food Addiction: Foundations, Assessment, and Recovery. I wrote the whole food plan chapter in that textbook. It’s based on 250 studies. We know—the research is clear—that there's a whole range of addictive substances that have been added to our food or just presented through advertising that they are food. They're not food, they’re drugs.
It's just like the tobacco industry was able to persuade us that cigarettes are sexy. Cigarettes are disgusting and repulsive. Cigarettes are rebellious. No, they're killing you. Or that they're sophisticated, they're modern, or any of those things. They're none of those things. So these are fantasies that the tobacco companies created in order to get people to use the addictive substances often enough to create the conditioning of the reward centers.
They've done exactly the same thing with these drugs. They've created the delusion that they are food. They're not food. They're just not food. We do have the excluded list, and then we have the clean list. Now inside our programs, we teach people a rotation method to figure out which foods on the unprocessed list are harmful to that individual.
There's not a food plan. My food plan is completely different from anybody else's food plan. I'm 70 years old. When I was 44 almost 26 years ago, I had a completely different food plan. The commonality from all these food plans is a highly individualized personalized food plan is they don't have drugs in them.
Step one is to get the drugs out of your food and step two is to use a rotation method to see if you're allergic to any of the unprocessed foods. I can't eat the nightshade group, I can't eat the citrus group, and I can't eat the gourds—the melons, zucchini, and squash. I can't. Those are just three groups. I have had lifelong asthma and they kick up my asthma, so I don't eat them.
[00:32:34] Ashley James: And for others, the symptoms might be not as obvious. Figuring out your food sensitivities is a fun game. You could benefit from working with an experienced naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner. There's also evidence that suggest that leaky gut syndrome, which of course we can definitely develop from eating processed foods and particularly gluten, grains, barley, wheat, rye, and even oats, which contain gliadin similar to gluten. That causes leaky gut syndrome, which increases food sensitivities and the body overreacts to certain foods.
Healing the gut and also the microbiome, and I have several episodes on that. Listeners could go to learntruehealth.com and use the search function to find them, but several interviews on healing the microbiome of the gut and healing leaky gut syndrome. There are ways to support the body in overcoming some food sensitivities, but then others are baked into the cake like for you, you've noticed that nightshades do not complement your physiology and so you avoid them.
I think it's really important to also listen to the body because problems with sleep, problems with concentration, mood swings, and even skin problems all can be from foods that we're having sensitivities towards. But my big thing is whole foods. If it came from the ground or if it's the whole form it's not processed, and therefore, it's much more likely to not trigger the hyper response that processed foods are designed to like designer drugs, right?
[00:34:30] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yes, exactly, exactly, exactly. This is a business model that is used by alcohol, marijuana, vaping, tobacco, and processed foods. Even the pharmaceutical industry used it to start the opioid epidemic. The way they marketed it to doctors, very deceptive, were hidden addictive properties to the product, which they did not tell the doctors about so the doctors prescribed it freely and people became very addicted. It's very, very sad. It's very sad. Our government just stands by and lets it happen.
[00:35:13] Ashley James: No, the government actually invests in it but through food subsidies. We're subsidizing crops that directly benefit the processed food industry. Not only that, the processed food industry lobbies so that these foods are fed to prisoners and to children in schools. I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around when you look at what public school children are fed, the amount of processed food they are fed, the amount of sugar, and then they're given drugs for ADHD. It is just like the perfect storm.
Big food and big pharma got together and said, let's both work together to lobby to increase our profits. Let's fill children with sugar and with artificial dyes, and then we'll create a drug that they need because they're going to be so hyper off the wall because their brains are being put on a barbecue. They're putting them in the deep fryer, basically. Their brains are so hopped up on all these excitotoxins and all the neurotransmitters that are so hyped up it's like they're on cocaine and then we're going to have to give them drugs.
When I was a kid, in a classroom of 30 kids, there'd be one kid with ADHD. One kid was on Ritalin, and now it is so much more common. These children's brains are still developing and to put them on these drugs will affect them for the rest of their lives. The long-term devastating effects of being put on Ritalin or Adderall is incredibly harmful to a growing child. Food is the main culprit.
[00:37:06] Dr. Joan Ifland: Processed foods.
[00:37:07] Ashley James: The processed foods, I apologize. Yes, processed foods are the culprit that is creating this. I have several episodes on ADHD and overcoming it, healing the brain, healing the body, and correcting the diet for ADHD. We have to get the 30,000-foot view and we have to study the history of the last 100 years to really understand the amount of marketing, the creation of what we live in today.
I've said this on the show before, so I grew up in the ‘80s. I was born in 1980. I'm 41 years old, and I grew up in Canada. So a little bit different than the states, but not much. I remember watching Kellogg's commercial, “Milk does a body good,” watching Tony the Tiger, and all these different childlike characters for all the different cereals and it made me feel good. Now, I never ate any of these cereals because my mom wouldn’t let any sugar in the house. My mom was very controlling of our food. It did have its benefits.
Once a year, on my birthday, I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted and you bet I ate cereal. I ate Honeycomb even though it tore my mouth up. I remember that. But once a year I was allowed to have Pizza Pops and whatever junk food, but the rest of the year there was no junk food. That's a good thing. It's a good thing, but I think that there needs to be a balance to teach a child how to make their own choices so they don't rebel when they're older like I did.
I remember watching the marketing and then going into the grocery store and seeing it on the shelves. You know what it instilled in me although I never ate them? It instilled in me a sense of safety. I remember because I grew up with all this marketing and then I walk past all these cereal boxes. Oh, the familiar faces. Look, there's that rooster. There's that little ghost character. There's Tony the Tiger. It was like all these familiar faces, the branding.
You see these companies, the tobacco companies, they don't just mark it for the next 5 or 10 years. They are generational marketing. They plan on paying for marketing so that a four-year-old will buy their products when they're 40. When you said that we have to take ourselves away from the stimulant and choose foods that aren't going to create that stimulant but also just walk into a grocery store alone, you're bombarded by all the logos even from your childhood.
[00:40:04] Dr. Joan Ifland: We have innovated a very, very new approach to this particular addiction. We get it deep, deep, deep down on the inside to spend three years full-time developing, editing, writing, and researching the textbook. There are two things I got out of doing that. One, we've never had such a severe addiction on the face of the earth because there are so many different substances, because we're being bombarded with cueing because the illnesses to develop are so debilitating.
But you hit on the thing that's never really happened before. Once high fructose corn syrup was introduced to the market, the drugs could be cheap enough to be marketed heavily to children. So if you are born to parents using processed foods, the very first DNA replication will be of an addicted DNA strand, and you'd never have one minute. If your mother's eating sugar, the sugar’s coming through the breast milk. If they’re not, then the baby formula industry has loaded sugar into baby formula, so it starts at a very young age.
There are many complications of that. The blood flow is being pulled to the addicted brain cells and away from their frontal lobe. So all the major frontal lobe functions are now impaired, and that includes being able to pay attention, learn, make decisions, control impulses, and remember. So you see these epidemics of impairment in those areas.
[00:41:54] Ashley James: Can we pause for a second? Can you go back? I think that just really is something that needs to be underlined. What are the functions of the brain that are impaired?
[00:42:05] Dr. Joan Ifland: The whole frontal lobe is not getting blood flow. The very highly specialized cells in the frontal lobe that distinguish us from animals are things like the ability to pay attention to something for a long time. That's not getting any blood flow. That's an attention deficit. Learning is in the frontal lobe. This is very different from just mechanical Pavlovian conditioning of the midbrain or the primitive brain, so you have learning difficulties.
Here's the thing, if I'm going to assert that this is a very, very widespread addiction, then you have to show things. You have to show an agent who's creating the addiction. Okay, we have the processed food industry and we have the complicity of the government. You're absolutely right if you say big pharm. You have the blood flow being pulled away from the frontal lobe where you have attention paying. You have decision-making, and this is different from the reflexive behaviors that come out of the midbrain.
The frontal lobe is able to create conscious behavior if those cells have blood flow, but in the addicted brain, the blood flow is going back into the addicted brain cells, the stress pathways, and the locomotion pathways.
If you don't have good decision-making, which we see rampantly, you don't have impulse control and you don't have memory. Those are all frontal lobe functions, so you have an epidemic of Alzheimer's and you have an epidemic of poor impulse control. I know I went into kind of the “online basement” of the US Department of Agriculture to write. Our research team published the first description of refined foods in addiction in the Academic Press. We got to name the disease.
But for that article, I said, I've got to show exactly which substances were increased in use through the obesity epidemic. I think I went to like 1970 and 1997, and these substances that were increased in use were high fructose corn syrup, gluten-containing flour, high-fat dairy, and potatoes, so frozen potatoes, french fries, fried potatoes. Beans did not increase, red meat did not increase, none of those real foods increased.
They're always trying to point, oh, see, carbs are bad or red meat is bad. No, no, the consumption of those did not increase in between those two years. If I'm going to say that processed food addiction is behind these cognitive impairments, this mental impairment, I've got to make all those pieces fit together and they do. The research is just incredibly consistent. If you say, well, these foods are causing the problems, then you better be pointing at epidemics of those problems.
At that point, in 1997, people were eating a pound per person per day of sugars, gluten-containing flour, high fat dairy, and fried potatoes. That was then. As we were just talking, the progression, the tolerance eating more of the substances over time, that data is from 20 years ago. Now we have new research actually coming out of Canada, showing that adolescents are eating 67% of their calories in these processed foods, and that probably doesn't include dairy. People don't know to include dairy in the category of processed foods.
If you're going to say that processed foods caused these problems, then you're going to have to point to epidemics of those problems at that consumption level, and there they are. There are the epidemics—diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, Alzheimer's, dementia, learning disabilities, attention span, poor decision making, poor impulse control, memory loss, and then all the rest of them you would have to see gut disorders. You would have to see inflammatory diseases, and they're all there. They're all epidemics.
[00:47:34] Ashley James: Everything that you mentioned makes them feel worse. This is the catch 22; this is the cycle, right? They feel bad because they have those conditions, and then they need that pick me up because they feel bad, so then they reach for one of these foods.
[00:47:52] Dr. Joan Ifland: It's the insanity. It’s the mental illness aspect of it. You also have all the emotional disorders because of the downregulated—it's called downregulated when those feel-good receptors start collapsing. They look like the head of a dead [inaudible 00:48:13]. Now you cannot process quick feelings. You see this very minuscule but very disturbing not yet statistically significant increase in suicides across all ages but among children.
[00:48:33] Ashley James: Yes. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among children today.
[00:48:39] Dr. Joan Ifland: It's because their world, all the pathways in the brain that would bring reasons for optimism or some kind of future, has collapsed. It's a mechanical problem, and so you have depression. Now you have all this extra adrenaline because remember, the stress pathways are compensating for these surges of euphoria. You have extra adrenaline, which is anger and anxiety. I got into this field 26 years ago because I got off of sugars and flours to solve a weight problem and my raging went away. I wasn't expecting that.
The sinus infection went away. The bloating went away. The weight was coming off easily. The cravings went away. The brain fog went away. All that stuff went away and I was thrilled. The allergies went away, fatigue. It was amazing. It was like I was winning the lottery every day. But when I got to the third week of that program, I realized that I hadn't raged at my husband or children. I hadn't yelled, I hadn't criticized, I hadn't found anything wrong with them. I got a new career.
I was a Stanford MBA. I had a corporate career, which I had to let go of because I was too sick, too allergic to go back to work, too tired, too brain fog. But instead of going back into the corporate world, I began looking for research. That was 26 years ago. The impact on the personality of these drugs is horrifying.
[00:50:28] Ashley James: Sorry to interrupt, you describe my mom. Ninety percent of the time she ate so strictly because she had to keep her figure. But then she would sneak these jujubes, she'd sneak these chocolates, and then she'd just rage at us, just snapped.
Like I said, she stood up in a restaurant and started yelling at me because I ordered a dish that had a side of rice with steamed vegetables and a grilled fillet of fish. I purposely made this really conscious effort. I really wanted to impress her with making a good choice on the menu and then she just stood up and screamed at me. She would throw things. She would just snap and start raging. That does really describe that.
She had huge problems concentrating. I remember she couldn't follow movies. She was wonderful as a businesswoman. She owned her own business. It was incredibly successful, so she had a lot on her mind. She admitted that when we went to plays or musicals, she couldn't follow the plot. We watched movies, she didn't really follow the plot, and she read all the time. I found her to be incredibly intelligent, but her concentration and her raging, I mean, I wonder if that was linked to her own food addiction.
[00:51:55] Dr. Joan Ifland: Totally. These are drugs. These are characteristic behaviors of people with cocaine addiction or alcoholism, these really vast mood swings. On top of the elevated adrenaline, these processed carbohydrates particularly get into the bloodstream all at once. They're pre-digested, there's no breaking down process. So you get these glucose highs, and then the pancreas can be conditioned to anticipate this surge of glucose in the bloodstream, which is deadly by the way.
If your glucose is too high, your brain goes out, so it's deadly. The pancreas is on red hot alert, oh, it's coming, It's coming, it's coming. It'll start releasing insulin before the glucose even gets there so you constantly have these highs. And then in the crash, it's the adrenal gland that goes back over to the fat cells and pulls glucose out so that you don't die from low blood sugar.
There are two danger zones—the high blood sugar and the low blood sugar—and then there's the safety zone in between. So when you are crashing, the insulin has been released and your blood sugar is falling, you totally lose control of behavior. Eighty percent of violent offenders in prison have hypoglycemia, not enough, so it's unstable blood glucose. And then on top of that, you lay on the caffeine.
Caffeine works by blocking a calmness function on the nervous system. The part of the nervous system that is designed to emit messages of calmness, peacefulness, contentment, caffeine blocks that function. You can't feel calm. Caffeine doesn't work because you're more alert. Caffeine works because you're less calm. It's a nasty combination.
[00:54:15] Ashley James: It blocks the part of the brain that tells you you're tired. So your body is tired, but your brain’s not going to tell you you're tired. It's blocking the tiredness. I mean, that is just such a great example of our entire food industry, our entire processed food industry. It's like, we're going to jack you up. You wake up and you're tired.
Okay. Dr. Molly Niedermeyer is a naturopathic physician. She was the Dean of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. I think she was one of the first deans. She's been practicing for well over 30 years. I had her on the show and she said a 5% reduction in hydration leads to a 25% reduction in energy production. ATP can’t be created as well if we don't have enough water. So we wake up dehydrated and what do we do?
We're tired, we're cranky because we had a bad night's sleep because we're rolling on the sugar highs and lows and all the stimulants from the processed foods, and so then we reach for caffeine. Caffeine dehydrates us further and blocks the ability for us to even recognize and get in touch with our body and feel that we're that tired. Then what you said is it blocks the calmness in the brain, so now we're more agitated, then add sugar to that and we rage.
[00:55:46] Dr. Joan Ifland: Exactly. It impairs, it just makes painfully dysfunctional every system in the body.
[00:56:01] Ashley James: We don't have access to the logic centers of our brain anymore, so we can't think critically. And then we go around our life reacting to things instead of planning and controlling our behaviors. If we control our behaviors, we control our outcomes in life. If we don't have control of our behaviors, we don't have control of our outcomes, we feel out of control, and then we reach towards substances that allow us to, at the moment, feel like we have control, which furthers the cycle.
[00:56:28] Dr. Joan Ifland: Feelings drive the whole thing and feelings are now being controlled by the substances. But can I offer your listeners a ray of hope?
[00:56:38] Ashley James: Yes. I'm glad we've painted the picture though. I think it's really important to really understand that someone who is involved in food addiction and possibly even their parents, their grandparents, this could be generational. It's not because, like you said, they're weak-willed, they don't love themselves enough, or there's something wrong, bad, and shameful about them. Their brain chemistry has been hijacked by an industry, for some people, since birth.
[00:57:07] Dr. Joan Ifland: Since conception. There's one system in the brain in the body which works no matter what. No matter what else is going on, this one system continues to work, and the fact that it continues to work will either kill you or save you. I am talking about mirror neurons.
They're quite a recent discovery. It was discovered in a monkey lab in Italy. What they do is they copy. They copy the behavior of the people they see the most. They’re the second most powerful system in the brain. The most powerful system in the brain is the autonomic system, which is making our heartbeat and our blood flow. Then there is, under one particular circumstance, the fear of famine brain, the food-seeking brain will become more and more powerful than mirror neurons. There has to be a pretty severe famine going on for it to take precedence over mirror neurons.
So mirror neurons are the second most powerful system in the brain for a very good reason. For seven million years of human evolution, if you were accepted into a tribe of 7 to 12 other humans, you lived, you survived because they could find food, find shelter, protect your children, and protect you from predators. If you're the kind of person who likes wandering off by yourself, well, the predators were waiting for you.
The evidence on this is kind of shocking. But in prehistoric hyena caves, anthropologists and archeologists have found human bones in the bone piles. So we know that at least hyenas ate humans. In evolution, if you had really good mirror neurons you would live. So in the evolution of humans, mirror neurons take just increasing precedence in the hierarchy of the brain.
Now, the food industry knows this tragically well, and this is why you will see commercials on TV that feature people sitting on sofas watching TV. When you see one of those commercials, your mirror neuron says, oh yeah, that's my tribe. I'm going to the kitchen because I need something to eat.
The opportunity to get free of all of the brain malfunctions, all the brain dysfunction is to find a tribe of 7 to 12 people that you are going to spend most of your time with. This is the breakthrough that we have incorporated into our online community. We offer 15 hours a day of live programming. There is a real trained person on that Zoom screen. Because you can just pop in, you can pop in for five minutes, you can pop in for an hour, you can pop in for all 15 hours, and then you can fill in the gaps through the day with videos from our video library that we have made ourselves. And it's pretty cool. I mean, it's just so cool.
So hopeful is what a short period of time it takes for mirror neurons to swing away from the unhealthy people in our lives over to the healthy people. We are seeing that screens work perfectly well. Only 2% of the brain is the frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is teensy, teensy, teensy tiny. The frontal lobe cannot win in any kind of competition with any other nodules, nodes, cortexes in the brain. It’s too tiny. It's way too tiny. But what the frontal lobe can do is it can control the messaging that reaches the other 98% of the brain, and that's the hope of the world.
[01:01:53] Ashley James: Fascinating. So throughout the day, if someone is struggling or catching themselves in the middle of a food choice, they could login. What does that look like? They log into the group video chat. What does that look like?
[01:02:13] Dr. Joan Ifland: It's a Zoom Room. We have a Zoom Room for those 15 hours. One of those hours is a conference call because then we can record the conference call. We don't record anything on Zoom for confidentiality, but we do record the conference call. They can listen to that conference call then any time of day.
The idea for this came from writing the textbook. There are 11 specific signs for addiction and I wrote a full chapter on how present those signs are in overeaters. There are 11 chapters in the textbook describing each one of those diagnostic criteria as they manifest in overeating. They are criteria that are adapted from diagnosing the existence of alcoholism, so they're adapted to overeating. That's also on the processedfoodaddiction.com website.
Once I got that, oh, it's a severe addiction. Oh my gosh. And people are severely traumatized by having had it, the addiction itself alone would be traumatizing. It creates so much pain. But then you get all this insanity out of the health industry. The diet industry is working away to wake up your fear of famine brain. Now you have fear of famine on top of the addiction. It's another reason why it's so severe. Well, I'm in the middle of researching what do you do for severe addiction?
You go to residential treatment for a couple of years. You go for a fully committed year and then you go maybe on a work-release program where you go to work during the day and then come back to the facility at night. And then maybe you go to a halfway house for another couple of years. We're not doing that for the hundreds of millions of people who are addicted to processed foods.
The next level of treatment is something called intensive outpatient (IOP). Well, hospitals don't have a clue and hospitals are profiting from this, so they don't want to fix it either. I mean, they do, but the pharmaceutical industry has got their claws into the medical community. They're trained to believe anything outside of the pharmaceutical is quackery, so they're not going to be supporting this.
But right at that time, Zoom came along. Literally, I turned in the manuscript for the textbook in May of 2017. I was already doing a daily phone call, which wasn't working. A daily phone call was not nearly enough to rewire 100 billion brain cells. I mean, I'm serious, you need to rewire every friggin’ brain cell, and there are 100 billion of them. Zoom came along and I thought, wow, I wonder if this would work.
We did a beta the first week of January 2018. These were people who had been on my daily phone call and they were all eating clean by the end of the week. They had not been able to get to eating clean going through withdrawal from all these different substances, maintaining the elimination of these. They hadn't been able to do it with a daily phone call for two years. But boom, within one week, they were all eating clean.
I had scheduled a pay the public week the following week, same thing, same friggin’ thing. Even at the end of day one, everybody from the outside—so we had the people from the beta who were on and that. I didn't know about mirror neurons at this point, but the fact that there were people eating clean from the week before, you need at least five people to fully engage brain cells. The more similarities between the people the better this works. But by the end of the first day, I think we had 7 or 10 people from the outside, they were all eating clean. I was shocked.
Ashley, at that point, I had spent 22 years looking for a reliable method. I'm going to start tearing up here. Twenty-two years looking for a reliable way to get people off of processed foods. I mean, I started out with a handout. I'm sure that once people know they should eat this and all that they'll just do it. No, no, no. I went through 14 different really highly committed efforts to get people off of processed foods, and there it was. It was probably January 7 or January 8, 2018. There it was. After 22 years of looking, there it was, the mirror neuron engagement.
[01:07:24] Ashley James: So the mirror neurons don’t engage when it was just auditory, it needs to be visual as well?
[01:07:31] Dr. Joan Ifland: So you can get some mirror neuron engagement from auditory, but getting the visual, the eye-to-eye. When you think about how these brain cells developed over seven million years. For 7 million years until humans developed language capabilities, everything they saw was true, so that's why in 98% of the brain, there is no filter. The brain absorbs messaging and files it away as if it were true.
This is how the food industry has made—they kill a million Americans every two years. A million Americans die of diet-related diseases every two years. The epidemic of COVID would not have happened unless it was coming in on top of processed food addiction with compromised immune systems.
How is the food industry able to do that? How was it able to persuade those reward system brain cells to accept this messaging? It's because only this little tiny frontal lobe, 2% of the brain, has the ability to tell the difference between something true and something not true. The only reason that capability developed is because language developed. Until you had language, there was no way to lie or deceive another person.
Once you stop bombarding the addictive brain cells and the blood flow stops being taken up by the addicted and stress pathways, it will return to the frontal lobe. It's the coolest thing. I mean, people think losing weight is the coolest thing, no. Getting your frontal lobe online is really cool.
People have been told, for example, that they're stupid. They've been told that they're slow. They've been told that they're dumb. Boom, the frontal lobe starts getting blood flow and they're brilliant. These are the kinds of very, very cool fun things. This is why it is worth it. It is worth it to get off the processed foods and get off the messaging. Get off the cueing, get off the triggering. Train the brain to go to the pain rather than the deceptive pleasure. Retrain the brain.
It's like learning a language, and it takes years. This quick weight loss thing, all it does is to fire up the fear of famine brain.
[01:10:25] Ashley James: Right. They certainly know how to market us to keep us cycling through this endless loop. We really need to step back from the dieting industry, the food industry, and all of the marketing and messaging. I think it's so good to go back actually closer to 150 years. Go back and really understand the history of modern medicine and understand the amount of marketing and it’s generational marketing. Understand Edward Bernays and the history of propaganda. Since your grandparents, it has been in place and it's a machine. It really is akin to The Matrix, isn't it?
We are plugged in, you are doped up, and you are plugged into a matrix where it is designed to keep us as cattle. We are fighting amongst ourselves. When I came from Canada to the United States and saw the difference in our political systems, I'm not saying that a parliamentary system is any better or any worse, but I am saying that is just a new perspective as an adult coming into the United States going, oh, okay, two parties. That's interesting. Two is not a choice. Two is a dilemma. When you're only given two, it's a dilemma, right?
What I really clearly saw was that the way they set up the two-party system is it’s moral- and value-based arguments so that they keep us, the 99%, fighting amongst ourselves because how do you control a population when there's less than 1% of the people controlling us? You keep fighting amongst ourselves. How do you control the cattle? If they constantly keep up abortion, and I'm not saying these issues aren't legitimate issues. But the way the politicians fight on camera and then go behind the scenes and shake hands and they're all buddy, buddy behind the scenes, it's professional wrestling.
We need to use that very small 2% of our critical faculty of our frontal brain and we need to get the 30,000-foot view of how the entire society is set up to control you, to suck money out of your wallet, and to keep you sick and suffering. Not to do that to depress you but to free you. When you see the matrix you can free yourself from it.
Another point is you touched on the autonomic nervous system, and one thing that happens when our body goes into fight or flight, which is a sympathetic response, is that it shunts blood away from the logic centers of the brain. We think, oh, well, I'm not in fight or flight.
I had a client once tell me, because repeatedly she would do all my homework except do the homework that surrounded calming her nervous system, getting her out of fight or flight. She wouldn't do that homework. I thought it was really interesting. She’d eat a pound of broccoli, but she wouldn't take five deep breaths, go for a walk, meditate, or whatever.
After five sessions I said, there's a lot of stress in your life. Why aren't you doing this homework? She said, I don't feel stressed. At the time, her mom was dying of cancer, she had a very busy job as a manager, then she came home and she had a daughter and a husband to cook and clean for, and there's a lot of symptoms that she was expressing were unmanaged stress-related. Physical stress, her body was in the sympathetic nervous system response.
I said, I'm glad you said that because stress isn't an emotion. Your physiology is switched over into emergency mode. Certain enzymatic processes stop happening so your body is not healing. Your body shunts resources. The analogy I like because I'm a big sci-fi fan, if you've ever watched Star Trek, Captain Picard will say when they're under a Borg attack they're really losing, that he needs to shut down the floors that are in use and divert all energy to the shields. That's what this is.
So being in stress mode, your body is shutting down anti-cancer properties, immune properties, healing the lining of your stomach and your intestines. All these properties that aren't essential for immediate survival get suppressed.
[01:15:36] Dr. Joan Ifland: They're deprived of blood flow. The blood flow is going to the muscles.
[01:15:41] Ashley James: Yes, so that you can fight, flee, or survive in some way. The problem is people think, well, I wasn't in any “stressful situation” today. I wasn’t in a car crash, I didn't fight a bear. Yet what people don't know is that you could be sitting here listening to this podcast and already be in fight or flight because your thoughts can trigger it, the processed foods you eat can trigger it. There are so many things. You don't actually have to do anything external to trigger your ancient mechanism of survival.
[01:16:22] Dr. Joan Ifland: It can be habitual.
[01:16:25] Ashley James: Yes, habituated to it. Right.
[01:16:26] Dr. Joan Ifland: All your glands and organs are trained to be in that state and you might not even be aware of it. But it’s just what you're saying.
[01:16:37] Ashley James: What do you do to help turn that off, get us out of sympathetic nervous system response, get us back into parasympathetic nervous system response of rest and digest, and get the blood flow going back into the frontal lobe so that we can begin to really make behaviors consciously?
[01:17:04] Dr. Joan Ifland: The big thing about our program is called the Addiction Reset Community. The very first stressor that is vastly relieved by coming into the program is isolation. You immediately get oxytocin releases, so those systems in the brain, that feel-good systems in the brain aren't working too well. But being among a community releases oxytocin, and oxytocin will help the dopamine system start to work again.
Immediately, the fear of being eaten by a predator, which has been instilled for over seven million years, is gone because you now have people around you, and 98% of the brain doesn't know that those people aren't right there. Ninety-eight percent of the brain does not understand screens.
It really does believe that those people are right in the next room or they're right in front of us, but they're in our house. They're a couple of feet away. So immediately, the stress of isolation, and not just physical isolation, but processed foods cut off our ability to connect to other people. We have brain fog, we have cravings, we have shame, and we have a body shape that people are eyeballing disdainfully. We are raging, we are anxious, we are making up stories about how they don't like us. We’re not connecting.
You come into the ARC, the Addiction Reset Community, and people in the ARC, the managers are trained to let the members know that we understand what's going on with them. We also have been through periods where we have lost control over food, where we have this deep depression. Just almost immediately, that mirror neuron engagement, oh, this person is like me. They understand me. They're not telling me to push back from the table for heaven's sakes.
Now, why is that so important? Go back. Go back to the 7 million years of evolution and if you were able to communicate to another person, if you could look them in the eyes and make enough sounds to say there is a tiger behind that bush you would live. If you went to that person and you signaled with your eyes and your fingers that there was something wrong there and that person just said, oh, calm down. Let's see. Oh, you have hyperexcitability. Let's give you some medication for that, then you would die because the tiger would pounce.
The ability for another person to see exactly what is going on with you, acknowledge it, affirm it, and agree that it is a huge relief.
From there then you get into the complexities of changing your food. What we've learned over these 26 years is that there may be other problems that have to be solved before you can start eating in a different way.
You might have emotional, mental, or physical abuse going on in the household. You may have to work on relationship boundaries before you can even begin to go grocery shopping. You may be subjected to cueing, you might be working in a food environment, you may have a saboteur at home, or you may be too tired or brain fogged and it may be that somebody else is going to have to get on and order some groceries for you. You may have to start with sleep because fatigue and sleep deprivation are huge cues.
You may have to start with turning off screens earlier and earlier in the evening before you can have enough mental clarity—because screens are there to also scramble your brains—that you could actually put in a chicken breast and some broccoli. We give people the option to use starches or not just to make a meal. Get a couple of scrambled eggs going. You may have to solve other problems before you can even start on the food.
But the thing that's so cool is no matter how deep the cognitive impairment, the brain fog, the confused thinking, and the cravings, mirror neurons will take you there. The whole rest of the brain can be just so badly addicted and the cognitive impairment can be so severe you cannot think. Inflammation because these foods are inflammatory and they inflame the brain. The inflammation cuts off the ability to think. But through all that mess, through all that fog, mirror neurons are working.
People would just be so surprised. I ordered groceries and I made clean meals. I have been trying to do that for 20 years. I did it today. I've only been in here two or three days but I did it today. I made clean meals today. I've been trying to do this for 20 years. What happened? Oh, see, you were on the Zoom. You were on the ARC all day Monday and Tuesday and so Wednesday you made clean meals. It's just so incredible.
It's like you've been swimming in these rough cold seas for your entire life. And finally, the lifeboat came along and threw you a life preserver and somebody on the boat instructed you to grab onto the life preserver. When you got dragged over to the side of the boat you decided to get in. It's so incredible, Ashley, now I'm crying here but it's amazing to be able to get somebody to safety in just a few days.
[01:23:51] Ashley James: Yes. I've heard this quote several times from different people so I don't know who came up with it originally, but whoever it is, mirror neurons describe it. You are the summary of the five people you spend the most time with.
[01:24:08] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yes, that’s exactly right.
[01:24:10] Ashley James: JLD is a podcaster, Entrepreneur on Fire, and he was one of the people I modeled learning different technical things about podcasting and editing. It was about six years ago when I was studying. It was six years ago so it's December, so it has been six years. I started studying how to do podcasts and I looked to him as well as Andrew Warner of Mixergy. Those are my two biggest models. JLD, with almost every episode, would say, you are the summary of the top five people you spend time with, meaning it can also include the podcast you listen to, it can also include the content you are consuming, right?
As I've been listening to you, I've been thinking about reflecting on the last few years of my life because as I said in the intro, I'm on my own journey of overcoming my negative relationship with food and healing my body. I’ve healed my body from a lot of things. I used to have type 2 diabetes, chronic adrenal fatigue, chronic infections for which I was on constant antibiotics for, and I had polycystic ovarian syndrome. I was told by an endocrinologist after a battery of tests that I would never have kids, that I've conceived naturally twice. I don't have diabetes anymore and don't have chronic adrenal fatigue anymore.
For the last several years, I do not have polycystic ovarian syndrome, but I just got my blood work again because I do that bloodwork once or twice a year with my naturopath. Sure enough, there's zero evidence of polycystic ovarian syndrome and yet it plagued me for over 20 years. If you go to an MD or an endocrinologist, they'll say you have it for the rest of your life. It's a falsehood just like diabetes, you don't have to have those things.
What I've been working on is weight loss and my problem has been my liver. I couldn't figure out why every time I went to do—I have done over 30 diets my entire life, and I've shared this on the podcast before. That has definitely negatively impacted my body and I've learned from that and learned about how it harms the metabolism, the body goes into freak-out mode.
But even with healthy diets, when I started to lose weight healthfully, my liver would become inflamed and would stick out and become distended. You could actually see it pushing out. I went and got ultrasounds. What I finally figured out is that my phase two of liver detox is so gummed up, I have some genetic SNPs like MTHFR. So for me, in the last three or four years, I've been really working on heavy metal detoxification and lots of interviews about it.
But since I started the podcast, my mirror neurons have really benefited from these interviews. They're not video interviews, but I have found myself after an interview about food addiction or about healthful eating, eating to nurture the body, and eating to bring stability and balance to hormones or to emotions, I've always found myself making better and better choices and then celebrating those choices.
What really also helped me, because I'm just seeing this now, is that I did take a yearlong health coach training program through IIN, Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where it was videos but they were recorded videos of the audience and of the lecturer. Then they would break out and they would show the audience. I always felt like I was in the audience. I’d cry with everyone, I'd laugh with everyone. I felt like I was in the community and they were recorded videos.
My food choices and my health choices like going to sleep at a better time or removing certain things that were not healthy, adding certain things that gave me vibrance, joy, and health, and activities that improved my health. All these little steps, every baby step I felt like was definitely easier. I felt like I was celebrating it with this community as I'm watching this video.
It makes so much sense that your Zoom calls live would create that sense. I can feel this warmness in my stomach, I can feel it even now in my body.
[01:29:07] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yes. You're getting an oxytocin release.
[01:29:10] Ashley James: Right. Last year we had such a hard time, everyone did with COVID, but we have a child who is such an extrovert. He craves other children's attention, and so I found a small community of moms—like-minded, very holistic. I called us crunchy moms with very holistic organic eaters, gluten-free, and all that kind of stuff. They all have kids and they all wanted to create a community where the kids can play freely in the parks.
We've been doing that together for a year and a half now and I noticed that I'm almost addicted to going to the park and doing our weekly meetups because I feel so good in their presence. We just gab about whatever, give each other ideas, and share with each other.
But that sense of that oxytocin, that sense of community, there's nothing like it. It's just wonderful. I can totally see why your Zoom calls would be so quick to help people start to make better and better choices.
Okay, so they step into the Zoom call, their mirror neurons are firing. It really does help them overcome the withdrawal, the physical withdrawal. Can you walk us through more of the biochemical or what's happening in the brain when someone is stepping into these Zoom calls?
[01:30:38] Dr. Joan Ifland: So the dopamine is working better. Oxytocin actually works by supporting the dopamine system. If your dopamine system isn't working at all, you get an oxytocin release that you will feel better for sure. Withdrawal avoidance is one of the reasons why people can't get off particularly of the refined carbohydrates.
But one thing I hope all of your listeners know is that withdrawal from refined carbohydrates—so sugars, flours, and sweeteners—is four to eight days. People will get to day three and maybe their cravings intensify. Day four, their cravings are still just unbearable. Hang on because that is going to go away. We also encourage people to take that list very slowly. It might take a couple of years to get off of the seven major categories of addictive substances because they are affecting four different pathways.
The other thing to remember is that it only takes about three weeks for the dopamine receptors to open up again. People feel better within a couple of days because the pancreas is no longer pumping out vast amounts of insulin which is driving down blood sugar, which is releasing the adrenaline. So the anxiety levels start going down and getting better within a day or two or three or four. So people do start feeling calmer. They'll say that. They'll come on day two and say, wow, I can't believe this just happened and I didn't blow up. They begin to like themselves more. There's a lot of self-hatred, self-blame, self-stigmatization.
We use a lot of science to explain to people what happened to them and disengage them from the mythology that the recovery industry, the therapeutic industry has created. Because when therapists can't get on top of this addiction in their patients because they're not giving the patient enough immersion recovery. I think there are 167 hours in a week. One hour versus 167 hours, you are not going to retrain 100 billion brain cells by that approach. You need hours and hours and hours per day. You need a residential level of recovery.
Mirror neurons are watching other people get off of sugars and flours. We do have a pretty sophisticated method for managing the headache, the lethargy, the depression, the anxiety that comes with withdrawal. We know how to manage those and make it not quite so painful. It's very important that withdrawal not be painful.
[01:33:57] Ashley James: Right, then you're training the brain to not like it, to not like being off of those things like you said earlier. That makes so much sense.
[01:34:04] Dr. Joan Ifland: The cueing is so intense and the addictive brain cells are so sensitive, if you have a lapse, you want to be able to go straight back into withdrawal. You don't want that lapse to drag on for days or even years. You want to have a lot of confidence, okay, I'm really good at managing withdrawal. I'm going to put the rest of this down the disposal and get back into withdrawal.
So yeah, it's part of the training. I feel like the Addiction Recovery Community is a training community. What happens when children are born addicted is that they're trying to get life skills through an addicted brain—an inflamed brain, a craving brain, a brain that’s impaired cognitively, and it just doesn't happen.
I remember I said, oh, you know what, I'm going to start trying to describe all the skills that we teach in this community. The spreadsheet got longer and longer and longer. Finally, I sat back and I said why? Oh, it's because it is one of the tenets of addiction that when the addiction starts, personality development stops. So if you started drinking at age 13, you have a different recovery than somebody who starts drinking heavily in their late 20s. You've just missed 15 years of personality development. Well, we never get any.
I've been in New York now for four years. I have a very, very traumatic upbringing. I had that raging mother, I had a raging father. I had a raging older sister. This is in the 1950s and already women were being positioned, oh, modern women use convenience foods. We had Crisco, cake mixes, Tang, juice concentrates, jelly, white bread, and Velveeta cheese. We had all those processed foods already in the 1950s. Now, we were skinny as rails because we didn't have the 15-pound packages of potato chips in our house, but we had personality disorders. We were always fighting, all five of us.
I didn't get life skills. Now, in the ARC, we lead with compassion. We lead with gentleness. We never tell our members what to do. We're using a form of communication called motivational interviewing where we are listening carefully to the person's strengths, the member’s strengths, and then we're really discussing in detail their strengths.
What's happening there is you are literally rewiring the part of the brain that says I can't do this. You're rewiring that part of the brain that says I can do this. Look, everybody around me is doing this. I can do this of course, and you've got the cooperation and the collaboration of the mirror neurons to do that. It works like gangbusters. It is shocking how well it works.
Four years later, I've thrown off I don't know what percentage of my parent's' negativity because their own self-confidence, self-esteem were so low they were using caffeine, sugar, processed foods, alcohol, and cigarettes every day—typical 1950s. He was a corporate executive, a Ph.D. biochemist, and a commander in the Navy, so he was a very authoritarian person. And then my mother was always drinking caffeine and sugar and she had that totally wacko emotional profile where you never knew—she could go from calm to belting you in 60 seconds.
So growing up in that kind of a traumatic household, I was carrying a tremendous amount of fear, self-loathing, and self-doubt. But over four years of being in the ARC, we do a lot of what we call ARC exercises where we rewire a brain and it's so simple. It's so incredibly simple.
So an example would be what we call the because card. Because of ___ I used to ___, but now because of ___I ___. So when you say because of ___ I used to ___, you are opening up the synapse between two memory cells. And when you do that, you can put new information in there so that if the memory comes up, it doesn't control behavior anymore. The new information controls behavior.
So if I say because I was addicted to processed foods I used to rage, but now that I have eliminated processed foods, toxic media, toxic behaviors, and toxic people I am calm in all circumstances. So if something should happen to trigger a memory of raging, instead of being pulled back into raging, no, there's new information there. I am calm in all circumstances. It works. It's incredible. It's so simple.
None of us are therapists. We're not providing any therapy. We're providing peer support, a structure, an environment, and a community in which people can get back in touch with how wonderful they are.
So the way advertising works is it wants to persuade us that we have a pain, there's something wrong with us, and we need to buy a product to fix it. None of that is true. We are incredible. We're spectacular. We have incredible resources inside of us. We need very little. We need shelter, transportation, clean food, and good company. It just works, but that is how you do it. We have members all over the world. It's a 24 hour a day operation. That 15 hours of live programming is extended over 24 hours.
[01:40:47] Ashley James: I love it. Oh, it's so exciting that you're having these results. The question that's been on my mind is because we talked about your recent work and all the work that led up to these breakthroughs. I'm really curious though, what was your thesis when you earned your Ph.D. in addictive nutrition?
[01:41:05] Dr. Joan Ifland: So it was to validate the DSM, that’s the Diagnostic Manual for Mental Illness. Addictions are considered a mental illness. It was to validate the DSM for diagnostic criteria for alcoholism, for overeating, and we did it right out of the box and went to go with a really small sample. I’m teary because I remember, I had to go to school for new fields to get that Ph.D. I went to Union Institute & University in Cincinnati. The way it works is you have to collect faculty from other schools because you're in a new field so there's no existing faculty.
I got the greatest people to work with me. Yeah, it was only 64 people. We got statistical significance, no problem. These characteristics of alcoholism are running rampant in overeaters.
[01:42:16] Ashley James: Where would the food addiction field be if it wasn't for your work?
[01:42:26] Dr. Joan Ifland: Oh, Ashley. Oh, dear. It would still be in the dark ages. I have to tell you this little story if you don't mind.
[01:42:41] Ashley James: I'd love to hear it.
[01:42:46] Dr. Joan Ifland: I have to think about how old I was, but mid-60s, how in the world do I carve out three years full time to research and write? The textbook is 240,000 words. It's built on 2000 studies. I wrote 70% of it and I persuaded other scientists to write the other 30% and I edited the other 30%. I persuaded food addiction practitioners to co-write the chapters on behaviors. It was just such a confluence of factors.
My dad died in 2014, the same year that CRC Press came to me and asked me to write the textbook. One of my failed attempts to get other people to recover was a prepared meal company. There I was in Houston spending my divorce settlement to run this company. I thought, just give people clean food. They'll feel so great they’ll want to continue, which is like saying to an alcoholic, oh listen, I'm just going to give you this nice clean water. Just drink this water in place of the alcohol, you'll see how great you feel, and then you'll just want to do it.
[01:44:10] Ashley James: I love your intentions, though. I think they were the best of intentions, but like you've outlined, it's not that simple. It's not a matter of just making good food choices. I mean, that’s like saying to all the people that have a food addiction, why don’t you just eat healthy? You know what to eat, just eat fruits and vegetables. Just go eat healthier.
[01:44:32] Dr. Joan Ifland: Why didn’t I think of that?
[01:44:34] Ashley James: There's so much, like you said, stigma and shame around it.
[01:44:41] Dr. Joan Ifland: There’s all this mythology.
[01:44:42] Ashley James: Mythology, yes.
[01:44:44] Dr. Joan Ifland: All this insanity, this confusion. People have made up stories about what's going on for they're not—I'm not going to say this. I was going to say for their profit. But I know my daughter, my MD daughter, I have a daughter who’s an MD. She's also an MBA, fortunately, because she finally said to me one day, mom, I cannot fix people in an eight-minute office visit, and I'm not going to spend the rest of my life trying. She has now left practice. She's now a full-time consultant. She's a well-intentioned person, and she left behind in her clinic well-intentioned doctors. The whole system is set up so that the only thing that doctor can do is be a marketing person for the pharmaceutical industry.
[01:45:40] Ashley James: They're trained drug dealers, and like you said, MDs are not bad people. Inherently, they’re good people. The system is corrupt that it has been since its birth, and that's why it's so good to go back and study the history of the modern medical system and see that from day one, the universities that teach the medical schools, the pharmaceutical companies have been funding them and have been controlling what they can do.
All of that is designed to keep out real cures. Doctors who've come up with systems that have actually cured cancer more successfully than the cut, burn, and poison method have been run off to other countries basically time and time again.
You're not allowed to have a cure. One of my mentors, he's in his late 80s. I'm not sure how old exactly, but I think it's 86. Thirty-five, 40 years ago, around then, he worked at Yerkes Primate Research Institute. He has multiple degrees. He's a pathologist. He's a veterinarian. He's a naturopathic physician now, but he started out as a large animal vet and then was into the research. He's written many papers.
He discovered by accident the cause and cure for cystic fibrosis. Other pathologists confirm his findings. He brought it to the Yerkes Primate Research Institute, and they fired him and blacklisted him from the research field. He went back to his alma mater and was going to be a professor. He was unpacking and the dean came in and showed him a letter that said that the university would lose all their funding if he would remain there because he discovered a cure that basically, in one generation, we could completely stop and never again have cystic fibrosis.
Get this, it's a selenium deficiency in utero, just like neural tube defects are caused by folate. Well, we know that. He also discovered, at the moment of conception, zinc deficiency causes Down syndrome, and selenium deficiency can also cause muscular dystrophy, it depends. It causes one or the other. A lot of his research was around nutrient deficiency in utero and the diseases it causes, but all of it was completely suppressed. He fought and fought and fought and fought and all the doors were closed because that would have cost the pharmaceutical companies billions.
Now, your daughter, the MD, is not taught this. She's taught how to prescribe drugs. She's not taught that there's a cure and that there's a way to prevent these illnesses in the first place because MDs are not trained in this.
[01:48:39] Dr. Joan Ifland: She's taught that everything you've just described is quackery. It's very bad out there. Well, anyway, my dad died and CRC Press appeared at the same time, and he left me enough income. My stepmom was living in Cincinnati, so I moved from Houston back to Cincinnati to get her through the end of her life. I walked into the first apartment I looked at—a beautiful little tiny apartment overlooking the Ohio River.
Three years, I turned in the manuscript and my stepmother died, and I moved out here in Seattle. But it was just like the universe cleared out three years of my life where I could sit full time and write and edit that textbook.
Today, anybody who says, oh, it’s so controversial. They are lying. You just open the textbook and there are 2000 citations. Why is there so much research on this? It's because of the amount of research on obesity, eating disorders, and drug addiction. We have brain imaging technology, we know exactly what an addicted brain looks like. Overeaters’ brains are addicted brains. All that obesity and eating disorder research is actually describing aspects of the addiction diagnosis.
The addiction diagnosis is 11 behaviors. Its unintended use, failure to cut back, time spent, cravings, unfulfilled roles, relationship problems, activities given up, hazardous use, use despite knowledge of consequences, tolerance or progression, and its withdrawal. All of those things are used to diagnose alcoholism and they are all rife. They're everywhere in overeating.
[01:50:51] Ashley James: One thing I'd like to clarify because we use the term overeating. Like you said, you guys were skinny when you grew up, but it would have been considered food addiction. Some people overeat and are obese, but my mother was never obese. Sometimes she'd say she's 15 pounds overweight. I think she was five. She’d point to her tummy and she had a little tiny pooch that could not have been more than the size of a kitten. She was always a size six, just a very, very fit woman. She did step classes. She was kind of addicted to exercise and really controlling food. And then, like I said, she then had these side projects of sugar that she had to dig into secretly.
And then there was alcohol every night socially. My parents would split a bottle or two of wine. So there were these things, which also leads to the sugar going up and down. A lot of times, there are similarities between bipolar and sugar spiker. It’s really important to understand oneself and also one's partner in life.
My husband, and I've said this on the show before, he gave me permission to say this. We noticed that every single argument we've ever had—I mean, I'm not perfect. In arguments where he's being irrational and I'm calm and he's freaking out, I'm like, why are you doing this? We figured out it was low blood sugar. That's when we really started to dig into—this is 2014.
I said, okay, but at the time, he had chosen to be a vegan. He's now a vegan, but back then, so let me scramble you some eggs and then let's talk in 20 minutes. He’d eat some eggs and two minutes later and he’s like, I don't know why. He said to me, I feel like Jekyll and Hyde. I'm watching myself and I can't even control myself being that way, being so nasty, and he's not nasty. He's a very sweet and loving person, but when he's low blood sugar, watch out.
[01:53:01] Dr. Joan Ifland: That's exactly why I got into this field 26 years ago. It’s personality.
[01:53:09] Ashley James: I think the term overeating is people go, well, I don't overeat. I don't overeat at all. I'm not fat. Maybe you could just distinguish the difference between overeating, emotional eating. There’s binge eating, right? There’s binging, but they all fall into the category of food addiction, is that correct?
[01:53:33] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yes. I think the American Psychiatric Association, which is the author, of course, of this Diagnostic Manual, they cannot get their brains wrapped around the idea that processed food addiction exists, so they've tried to describe other syndromes.
Let's just take binge eating disorder. It's very interesting but binging is not a requirement. The word binging does not appear in any of the diagnostic criteria for addictions for any kind of addiction. How did the American Psychiatric Association decide how to diagnose an addiction? It's through behaviors.
So when you don't have your frontal lobe and the addicted brain cells are controlling behavior, very specific things happen. You have relationship problems. You start dropping activities because you'd rather go home and use. You have relationship problems for the reasons that you just described. You have this Jekyll and Hyde personality. You can't fulfill your roles because you're too tired, drunked, drugged up, or passed out from processed foods, so you have behaviors.
As it turns out, the first four criteria are things that are going on inside the person. You have a plan to use a certain amount and you don't follow the plan. That's unintended use. You've tried to cut back, and this is again where you see prevalence. So over 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. They don't want to be that way. They've tried to cut back and failed. This is something else you would have to see. We'd have to see really widespread prevalence.
Time spent. They might stop at three fast food places on their way home from work. And then when they do get home, they might go back out in the evening and get more grocery items. Cravings, everybody has cravings. Cravings are so prevalent that people don't even know that it's possible to not have them. You have it starting inside the person with those first four, and then in the next three, you have it affecting their behaviors—failure to fulfill roles, relationship problems, and activities given up.
And then the last four are measuring progression. It's getting worse. You are getting sick from it. You use in spite of knowledge of consequences is a very common manifestation of addiction. You know you shouldn't be. You start to say it, I know I shouldn't, but, and then you go and use it. That's a sign of an addiction. Eating more of a substance, you see that over the years and the manufacturers are just making larger and larger containers of these substances.
And then withdrawal. You'll see people using processed foods, not because they're hungry, it's because they're tired, they're irritable, they're anxious, they're depressed, or they're foggy. Those are withdrawal avoidance. They have a headache, they have a stomachache, they're lethargic, they're bored, or they can't think. Those are withdrawal avoidance.
This is how you decide, and you're right, I say overeaters, but they're people who are using processed foods in those 11 ways. You're right, 20% of diabetics are not overweight. Twenty percent of people accumulate fat around their organs and not under their skin, you can’t see it. But the way the American Psychiatric Association trains psychiatrists and therapists of all varieties to tell whether the person in front of them is suffering under an addiction, they ask those 11 questions. That's how you know, and it's not a weight issue.
In fact, thin people who have food addiction are more traumatized in some ways because they have sought help from the health professionals and the doctors or whoever just look at them and say, you don't have a problem. Get out of here. They are being traumatized right in front of their very eyes.
I don't know if your listeners would relate to this phenomenon, but I call it the robot. The remote control robot phenomenon where your frontal lobe is screaming, no, no, no, no. But the addicted brain cells in the midbrain have control over behavior. Like a robot or like a zombie, you are walking to the kitchen, out to the car to go for fast food. You're two different people. It's terrifying to have that experience, and thin people have that experience.
[01:59:24] Ashley James: I'm so excited about your program. The more I think about how someone could plug themselves in and get those mirror neurons firing, get the oxytocin of community firing to their advantage to help them overcome it is amazing.
Little things that I've seen work for me is I order my grocery. Now, I love going to the grocery store like picking up my own fresh produce. It’s not that I don’t like going to the grocery store. But what I noticed is I'll add a bunch of stuff to my cart online, then I'll stare at the cart, and I'll ask myself with each item, do I really need this? I get to slow down. I kind of have that internal dialogue. Because what you described that robot, for me it's more like a possession, right? It's like an entity, like a satanic possession trying to force you, overcoming your own consciousness to do bad to you.
So I look at that list of foods and I'm like, okay, I've got my vegetables there, and then, oh, wait, okay. I'm going to say cookies. I don't add cookies, but I can't think of something bad at the moment. Okay, there are those cookies there. I'm like, do I need that? Do I really need that? How am I going to feel after I eat that? Does that really serve me? Does that really help me and my family? Because whatever I'm buying everyone's eating. And then I hit the delete button.
Then there'll be that, no, wait, you'll… And then the fear of missing out, that FOMO kicks like, you'll feel bad if you don't. You'll regret not having it in your cart. You'll regret it. It's like a conversation I have with myself.
[02:01:08] Dr. Joan Ifland: It’s a battle.
[02:01:09] Ashley James: It is, it’s a battle.
[02:01:10] Dr. Joan Ifland: It is a battle between the addicted brain cells and the frontal lobe. People don't realize that different cortices of the brain can battle each other. And that addicted cortex, it does not want to give up control, and it'll keep coming back. It sleeps with one eye open, and it will never go away. That programming is there permanently. This is something that we have to protect ourselves against for the rest of our lives.
The thing is, it's not just food addiction, it's screen addiction, and it's porno addiction. The addiction will happily slide over to some other source—shopping, addiction, gambling, whether it's a behavior addiction like a process addiction or whether it's a substance abuse like alcohol, prescription drugs, or any of the other recreational drugs, it'll happily slide around. This is something else that we're very aware of in our community. We are creating a very fundamental foundation of self-regard, self-respect, and from that self-caring, self-likings, self-loving. From that comes the urge to protect ourselves. So we're starting in the right place.
[02:02:27] Ashley James: Your work is tremendous. If it wasn't for you, we would be in the dark ages still, like you said, with understanding food addiction and understanding what's going on in the brain and really acknowledging it, and taking the stigma away. There are so many people needlessly suffering.
We need not look farther than the statistics of disease. In the United States alone and every other country tends to follow. We're the worst in the United States. We really are, it’s unfortunate. The United States spends the most money in the world on “healthcare” and yet it's the worst for many outcomes.
We have to acknowledge that this system is broken and we need to take ownership of our health. That's why you're listening. Anyone who's listening is taking ownership of their health, not waiting to get sick, and then go to a doctor to be given a drug. They're taking ownership of their health. If it wasn't for you, we would still be stuck in the dark ages when it comes to understanding how processed food, there is an addiction. It is designed to be addictive like cigarettes.
Literally, the cigarette companies went, well, how are we going to use addiction in other places, right? It's just phenomenal. So thank you for the work that you do. Thank you for the groundbreaking work that you do. I'm so excited for our listeners to check out foodaddictionresources.com, which is your website. It provides free evidence-based handouts, and then you have foodaddictionbooks.com as well.
[02:04:13] Dr. Joan Ifland: Hang on. The best place to go is processedfoodaddiction.com. That's the hub of all of our other websites. Go there, take the self-quiz to see if you're experiencing the signs of processed food addiction, then sign up for the free information, and just get on our email list. Then you can start to consider the programs that we have.
[02:04:41] Ashley James: Awesome. I'd love to have you back on the show at some point to continue sharing. It sounds like you’re constantly learning. You're tapped into the research when it comes to the brain and all the latest research. Your community, which started in 2018 and it's just taken off, and you're seeing that people, within three days of being in the community, are able to finally start to cook healthy foods. Just that oxytocin in that community is helping them overcome the four- to eight-day withdrawal period. So I'm very excited about that. It's processedfoodaddiction.com. Everything that Dr. Joan Ifland does is going to be the show notes of today's podcast at learntruehealth.com. Is there anything you'd like to say to wrap up today's interview?
[02:05:33] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yes. This is not your fault. These are things that were done to you for profit. This is not your fault, not the weight regain, not the loss of control, not the hiding, not the binging, not the weight, not the diet-related disease, none of this is your fault. It requires a lot of skill-building and training to get out of it, but it's not your fault. It's not because of your child's issues. It's because you have an addiction to substances.
[02:06:11] Ashley James: And through Joan’s program, I'm very excited that she's getting results, and you can get results too. I love that there's a supportive community that can help you. I'm excited to check it out as well.
I like to say, keep your mind so open your brain can fall out, right? I'm an open-minded skeptic. Try everything. Try everything. Obviously, you have to go but try everything. I'm all about growing. It sounds like your community helps people to learn new life skills. If I can figure out where my personality stopped developing because of addiction, I don't know what age. I've seen it in others, but we have blinders to our own self, right? So it's easy to see in others, we can't see it ourselves. But if I could learn more new life skills to grow, I'm all for it. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
[02:07:06] Dr. Joan Ifland: Thanks for having me. This was amazing. Truly amazing, Ashley. You're a gifted podcaster.
[02:07:13] Ashley James: Thank you. I really appreciate that and I can't wait to have you back.
[02:07:16] Dr. Joan Ifland: All right, take care.
[02:07:18] Ashley James: Awesome. That's a wrap. How do you feel it went?
[02:07:21] Dr. Joan Ifland: Oh my God. This might be the best interview I've ever done. I don't cry very often during interviews, but there's something about your understanding and your own knowledge that made it safe for me to feel my emotions in this situation. We are saving lives.
[02:07:44] Ashley James: You're saving lives. You are saving lives.
[02:07:47] Dr. Joan Ifland: Yeah. And saving people from really, really painful lives. We're not just preventing them from dying. We're also preventing them from missing out on their lives.
[02:08:02] Ashley James: Do you feel like you're missing something? Are you searching for the right answers to solve your health issues? Do you feel like you should have more energy and mental clarity? With everything you're doing for your health, you may be missing one key component. Our body needs 90 essential nutrients every day to function optimally—60 minerals, 12 amino acids, 2 fatty acids, and 16 vitamins each and every day. Because of the farming practices over the last 100 years, most of our food has 60% fewer vitamins and minerals compared to just 50 years ago.
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Health Coach, Podcast Creator, Homeschooling Mom, Passionate About God & Healing
Ashley James is a Holistic Health Coach, Podcaster, Rapid Anxiety Cessation Expert, and avid Whole Food Plant-Based Home Chef. Since 2005 Ashley has worked with clients to transform their lives as a Master Practitioner and Trainer of Neuro-linguistic Programming.
Her health struggles led her to study under the world’s top holistic doctors, where she reversed her type 2 diabetes, PCOS, infertility, chronic infections, and debilitating adrenal fatigue.
In 2016, Ashley launched her podcast Learn True Health with Ashley James to spread the TRUTH about health and healing. You no longer need to suffer; your body CAN and WILL heal itself when we give it what it needs and stop what is harming it!
The Learn True Health Podcast has been celebrated as one of the top holistic health shows today because of Ashley’s passion for extracting the right information from leading experts and doctors of holistic health and Naturopathic medicine
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