Potatoes Not Prozac
Introduction (Revised from the 2008 Edition)
Before you start reading the third edition of Potatoes Not Prozac, let me give you some background on my program for healing sugar sensitivity. It helps to have context when deciding to trust a healing program. How can you know whether this program works? Science, as well as twenty years of lived experience, has the answer. It is credible, mature, and tested, and works like nothing else.
Science is an exciting and valuable tool in helping you understand your body. Thousands of men and women are toiling in laboratories all across the world to answer questions about how it works. Each set of their experiments requires careful thought, as scientists must design studies to clearly test hypotheses and develop trustworthy answers. Each publication of a result in a professional journal adds another small piece of the puzzle to the emerging story of how your body works.
The strength of this process comes from rigorous testing and the scientific dialogue over time. However, one of the constraints of the process is that it uses data rather than real people living complex, messy lives. Scientists often look at one thing at a time. Field clinicians, on the other hand, work with the “mess” of everyday life.
When I started this program, I was a clinician in the field of addiction. I brought years of listening to the table. I had worked in mental health, nutrition, and public policy. I had started and managed an addiction treatment center and had worked with thousands and thousands of clients.
Then I started the process of looking into the science behind sugar addiction.
My educational training was nontraditional and interdisciplinary. Rather than entering a field, I wanted to create one. Rather than narrowing my scholarly work to one question, I wanted to find answers to several. I came to the scientific literature from an outside-the-box perspective and started reading in many fields. I read the literature for addiction, psychology, nutrition, and neuroscience. Here are the facts I gathered and began writing about in the first edition of this book:
• The brains of alcoholics are different from other brains. This special configuration is inherited.
• There are people who are sensitive to carbohydrates and have a more powerful blood sugar response to eating them.
• When needed, the brain releases opioids, and these can affect your choices of what you eat.
• Sugar acts like an opioid drug (like morphine and heroin) in the brain.
• The kinds of foods you eat and the timing of your eating can affect your mood.
All of these facts had been established in the scientific literature by 1996, but the very nature of scientific research—which looks at one thing at a time—meant that the people conducting the alcohol studies were not looking at the nutrition findings, and the nutrition folks were not thinking about genetics. No one had made the leap to sugar as THE gateway drug for other addictive substances.
Because my clinical experience was based on listening to people’s stories about their complex, messy lives—which does not divide itself neatly into discrete scientific categories—I was able to conceptualize a theory that crossed all the relevant disciplines. My working hypothesis was:
There is an inherited biochemical condition called sugar sensitivity that has predictable and specific effects on the brain and on a person’s behavior. What foods a sugar sensitive person eats and when they eat them will affect them profoundly.
• Sugar has the same painkilling and euphoria-stimulating effect in the human body as opioid drugs do. These drug effects of sugar are heightened in sugar sensitive people. Sugar addiction, like drug addiction, is real and can open
the gate to other addictions.
• Changing what a sugar sensitive person eats and when they eat it can have a profound effect on their well-being and behavior.
Using this working model, I wrote Potatoes Not Prozac, which, despite the title, was really about treating sugar addiction and healing sugar sensitivity. Since the first edition of the book’s publication in 1998, a lot has changed. Science continued asking questions and finding answers. Early in 2000, Bartley G. Hoebel, a senior researcher at Princeton, heard about the hypothesis I had developed on sugar sensitivity and decided to test it in his laboratory. In 2002, Hoebel’s undergraduate student Carlo Colantuoni published a paper confirming sugar addiction in rats. It was titled “Evidence That Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake Causes Endogenous Opioid Dependence.” The following year Nicole Avena, one of Hoebel’s graduate students, began her career in looking at sugar addiction. She has since published more than seventy articles on the subject and is on the forefront of asking key questions about nutritional neuroscience. The studies continued. In 2005, Cyrilla Wideman, a professor at John Carroll University published the results of a study demonstrating that the effects of sugar addiction, sugar withdrawal, and sugar relapse are similar to drug addiction, withdrawal, and relapse. (The article was titled “Implications of an animal model of sugar addiction, withdrawal and relapse for human health.”) Not only is the term “sugar addiction” being used in peer-reviewed scientific journals, reference is now being made to sugar addiction in humans. A current literature review speaks of sugar addiction as a known fact
in both animal and human research; what’s more, it now explores the impact of sugar addiction on behavior.
In 2015, scientists were mapping genetic variations in mu opioid receptors and their relationship to heroin addiction. It turns out that heroin and sugar affect the same neurotransmitters.
Sugar affects the endogenous opioid system, the brain’s own painkillers that I referenced in the very first edition of this book. Candace Pert, the woman who first identified those receptors, said, “The day-to-day impact of Potatoes Not Prozac will be tested in the hearts and bodies of the people who identify with the profile Dr. DesMaisons has so powerfully outlined.” I coined the term “sugar sensitivity” in the first edition of Potatoes Not Prozac to describe those humans who are particularly sensitive to the effects of sugar. Sugar is a drug, and for those who are sensitive to it, it can be a deadly addiction.
While science was catching up, the first edition of Potatoes Not Prozac offered its readers a way to understand what was going on with their sugar sensitive bodies—and a way to heal themselves. People found the book and started to connect with me and with each other on my Radiant Recovery® website. The profound success I had seen with the alcoholics in my clinic was now happening with sugar addicts, binge eaters, yo-yo dieters, people with eating disorders, and people dealing with depression and a multitude of other diagnoses. These people were hugely comforted to discover that their sugar addiction was real and not just a “sweet tooth.” Just as when Alcoholics Anonymous redefined alcoholism as a disease, when I explained that sugar addiction is caused by a chemical imbalance, not a character defect, sugar sensitive individuals were suddenly free of societal (and self-) condemnation. But there was more to the story than just the science of it.
The lived experience of people doing this program has shown that sugar addiction is not just about nutrition; it impacts behavior in a profound way. The seven steps of the program are not just about changing your diet (such as eating sufficient protein at each meal); they are
about participating in a process that converts addictive behaviors into recovery skills. You will heal your unbalanced, sugar sensitive brain by following the program, but you will do much, much more. You will heal your addictive behavior and begin a life of radiant recovery.
Being born sugar sensitive means that pretty early on you get wacky. Even as a child, you can start being moody, impulsive, mouthy, withdrawn, stubborn, dramatic, or reactive. As your diet stays off-kilter, these early responses set in as behavior patterns. People think of this as your personality. You buy into this, and as you grow older, the behaviors expand to include all-or-nothing thinking, self-absorption, grandiosity, helplessness, and a deep feeling of being “less than,” despite outward appearances. You develop the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde dichotomy that I will talk about in Chapter 1.
Following the steps in Potatoes Not Prozac slowly, in order, and as outlined, creates a process that makes for behavioral change and biochemical healing. This is the path to recovery. You will learn to listen, to yourself as well as to others. You will learn to wait, to have patience, to plan, and to go slowly—all of which may be anathema to you now. You will learn to see the consequences of your choices; you will make connections between what you eat and what you feel. You will learn to ask for help; you will learn to let others guide you. You will move out of isolation and find that you are not the only one with this problem and that change is possible. What you thought was your personality is not who you are at all. It was a result of your sugar sensitive biochemistry, your imbalance, and your old way of eating.
Each of the seven steps builds on the one before it. The process is developmental. You are never given more than you can do. As you work with the steps, the process heals you. Your “personality” shifts. You will enjoy being smart, intuitive, compassionate, tenacious, funny, thoughtful, and really, really skilled. You will become someone you really like. And the other shoe does not drop. Life simply gets better and better.
The wonderful thing is that you do not have to work on all those behavioral things individually. You do not have to master your blood sugar and your serotonin and your beta-endorphin; you just “do the food.” When you “do the food,” your body takes care of the rest. In the
third edition of the book, we now have an extension of the impact of “doing the food” over a longer period of time. The “promise” of Step 7 in that first edition is now a documented reality. What started as an intuitive belief about what recovery could bring is now fully demonstrated by the years of experience that community members have had. They “did the food,” and they stuck around, and kept talking about how it changed their lives.
Originally, we defined Step 7 as “Creating a New Life.” We’ve learned that the developmental trajectory keeps expanding. We healed old and deep shame and we healed old wounding and trauma. We learned to live in joy; we learned to play. What we thought of as our deepest flaw—our uncontrolled sugar addiction—became the inspiration to lead from our strengths.
There is a part of you that has sensed this truth all along. It is why you respond so deeply to the content of the books I write. This new edition of Potatoes Not Prozac is more specific in its recommendations, and it has been expanded to reflect another ten years of experience with sugar sensitive people “doing the food” and following the program. We are no longer blazing a new trail: we are on a clearly marked path to success.