Why Transformation Must be Permanent
“What a transformation!”
You’ve heard this refrain. It echoes off weight-loss shows like The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover. Even Marie Osmond proclaims on 3am infomercials how The Zone “transformed” her life. But how accurate is that word?
Listening to a recent episode of the Plant Yourself podcast with Howard Jacobson, he laid out his 3 criteria for transformation. I was struck most as he stated that transformation must be permanent. Beyond just a simple shift or a minor change, he iterated that there is no regression after a true transformation. Think of a caterpillar: It transforms into a butterfly without any possibility of returning to its slow-crawling caterpillar body.
If only the same could work for humans. We could just crawl into our little Transformation Cocoons, hibernate for a few days, and emerge as beautiful, never-overweight-again butterflies. For the record, my Transformation Cocoon would be a warm whole wheat pita pocket.
But it’s not that easy.
Why Addiction is to Blame
Look at the New York Times story about how many Biggest Loser contestants have since regained much (or even more) of the weight they lost while on the show. Their six month, life-changing opportunity landed them back in the same unhealthy lifestyle that got them in trouble in the first place. They relied on the simple math of calories in vs. calories out. Basic biology makes it sound easy: restrict the calories coming in and exercise compulsively to increase the calories being burned. Yet this simple equation did not work. Why not?
I can only speculate what may have caused their regressions. They may not have done the emotional work to examine why they would rely on food as a form of comfort. They may not have dug into how eating can substitute emotional expression. They may have not been ready to embrace all of the radical changes that their new lifestyle imposed – from new friends at the gym to new recipes at the dinner table. I can only speculate on their experiences as don’t know any of them personally. Yet I can look at my own history of yo-yo weightloss for insight. It points to the trap of addictive foods. While I could banish these from my plate for a short period of time, inevitably the call of fat and sugar would pull me back.
Just as basic biology points to the ratio of calories in vs. calories out, it also is constructed to seek out calorie-dense foods like fat, sugar, and refined flour. We crave these foods with ravishing hunger that can long outlast willpower. It is a mistake to blame our mind’s determination for the basic human nature that drives us to overeat.
Much of what I learned about food addiction came while I worked with the medical team from Forks Over Knives. The doctors and dieticians behind the message of plant-based eating taught me that my yogurt and burger cravings were beyond my logical explanations of calcium and iron. In fact, the casein in cheese has been shown to release the same endorphins (in smaller doses) as heroin. Researchers have even used the same drugs to block cheese cravings that they use for drug overdoses.
Red meat has been shown to have the same addictive qualities as caffeine. Sugar, refined flours, and other junk food at the core of the Standard American Diet have created what Dr. Joel Fuhrman calls “toxic hunger”. We have insatiable addictions for these foods: as they release dopamine in our brains we crave more. They leave toxic substances in our bodies, making withdrawal a brutal process. In fact, while caffeine withdrawal may only last a couple of days, a detox from unhealthy foods can take up to 14 days. You might feel great on day 3 of your vegan diet, but feel like a train wreck 2 weeks in. Your body is still trying to get rid of all of the toxins from your animal products and processed foods
Breaking the Addiction
So what do we do?
We could try fighting our bodies, arming ourselves with mantras of calorie restriction and portion control.
Or, we can work with our bodies. We can use our body’s natural ability to regulate hunger. We can feed it whole, unrefined plant-based foods. We can switch from calorie-dense to nutrient-dense. It’s not about restriction. It’s about swapping out the addictions for healthier alternatives.
It’s about Cashew “Parm” instead of cow’s milk Parmesan. It’s about Veggie Burgers instead of beef burgers. It’s about Nacho Geez! Instead of nacho cheese.
Transformation involves permanent change.
Shed the old, addictive foods to fight cravings and embrace a new you.
Healthy, Plant-Based Vegan Recipes for Transformation:
Motivation to Staying On Track
Further Reading and Resources:
On Motivation and Transformation, Howard Jacobsen Plant Yourself podcast: http://plantyourself.com/pyp-156-howard-jacobson-motivation-transformation/
After ‘The Biggest Loser,’ Their Bodies Fought to Regain Weight, by GINA KOLATA. MAY 2, 2016 of the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/02/health/biggest-loser-weight-loss.html?_r=0
7 Ways Milk and Dairy Products Are Making You Sick, by Sofia Pineda Ochoa, MD. March 19, 2016. Forks Over Knives: http://www.forksoverknives.com/7-ways-milk-and-dairy-products-are-making-you-sick/?mc_cid=fdd5d0e8b3&mc_eid=3d9b4a0251
6 Foods That Behave Like Addictive Drugs In Your Body, by Dr. Joel Kahn. July 8, 2014: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-14423/6-foods-that-behave-like-addictive-drugs-in-your-body.html
Unhealthy food triggers addiction leading to weight gain by Dr. Joel Fuhrman: https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/70/unhealthy-food-triggers-addiction-leading-to-weight-gai