Diets. I hate the D word. They started in high school. I went on my first antidepressant my sophomore year and gained 30 pounds in under two years. It was devastating and embarrassing. I used food to cope with unhealthy emotions. Once I could drive, I hopped in my 1990 baby blue Chevy Caprice and hit up Sonic happy hour for cheddar peppers and slushes. I stocked up on sour watermelon candy at Target and late night Whataburger taquitos. I never felt full, but I loved the dopamine high the food would give me. I knew food had a pull on me I couldn’t escape.
So I tried South Beach, the Zone, and finally, Atkins. The latter helped me lose the “Zoloft weight” and gave me new confidence. But restriction made me bitter. I developed PTSD from salads. I made the act of eating a moral decision – there are good foods and bad foods. Fattening and non. Healthy or not. And I let the shame of indulgence give me value, just as I allowed my size or the number on the tag of my jeans give me value.
I was weak if I caved in. I didn’t have enough willpower.
I believed this for years. At one point I actually started smoking because I thought it would keep me from eating so much. In my mid-twenties I joined a recovery group and started working on my heart health. I addressed the emotions that caused me to overeat and abuse food. Not only did I learn about the emotional components of my lifelong food and diet abuse, but I learned that my brain actually felt better when I ate real food, not the processed garbage my dopamine transmitters were urging me toward.
Today, I know that it was never my lack of willpower that caused me to overeat. Aside from the emotional and mental well-being influences, there were biological forces against me as well. My gut microbiome (the millions and trillions of bacteria in my body) WANTED me to eat things that would make the bad bacteria thrive and alter my good gut flora. And when that happened, it affected my brain and overall cognitive functioning. Being on medication that depleted my body of nutrients and that caused weight gain as a side effect was a factor as well. There is also a hormone called leptin that tells me when I’m full or not. Thanks to years of yo-yo dieting and eating as a coping tool, leptin malfunctioned on me over and over again.
Sure, my emotions still want me to eat a cupcake when I am stressed or overwhelmed. And sometimes, I eat a cupcake. Food shaming myself is NOT healthy, nor is food as a way to regulate negative emotions (more on that here). However, the desire to overindulge has abated with time.
I thought I would be addicted to junk food forever. I also thought I’d be on antidepressants and mood stabilizers my entire life as well. But I’m not. Gut health changed that, too.
Science tells us that the changing microbiome is at the root of a host of preventable chronic illnesses. So many of us have insulin resistance and leptin resistance from the barrage of sweets that our bodies were never created to break down. For many of us, when we are constantly stressed and living a fast-paced lifestyle, we feed our bodies with things that stimulate dopamine and as a result, cortisol, which only increases our issues with blood sugar.
It isn’t your fault you can’t stick to a diet. It isn’t a lack of willpower. It IS possible that there may be other forces seemingly out of your control that work against you. But you have a choice – you can keep running on the hamster wheel, hoping to get somewhere, or you can address the root. It’s simple.
My favorite probiotic contains 5 strains of beneficial bacteria, digestive enzymes to tackle yeast overgrowth, and grape seed extract, a powerful antioxidant. Find it here.
My favorite way to work on my glucose metabolism is with this drink. It contains three ingredients to target blood sugar, a prebiotic to feed my gut what I need for the good gut bugs to flourish, and it is my favorite way to start the day!
Then the most underrated of all my favorite supplements is this guy. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, and it has been proven to improve insulin resistance. 9 out of 10 of us are deficient, because we’re not getting it in our food, and it’s so important that it even acts as a precursor for neurotransmitters like serotonin!
Taking a quality multivitamin with the most bioavailable vitamins and minerals is also key to overall function. So many of us have B vitamin deficiency thanks to years of medications, and our adrenals MUST have a steady supply of Bs to keep us fueled. Stay away from ANYTHING with folic acid. It takes an extra conversion process for your body to use it as folate, and 40-60% of us have a genetic mutation that prevents that conversion from even taking place.
I encourage you to rethink diets. Think about giving your body what it lacks from our modern diet, instead of focusing on restriction and deprivation. It can make a world of difference, just like it did for me.