(This first ran in the Concord Journal in 2013.)
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, family physician and a four-time New York Times bestselling author, we’re battling a “diabesity” epidemic. Diabesity, he says, is when our bodies move from balanced blood sugar to insulin resistance (the state when our cells become numb to the effects of insulin and need increasing amounts of it), to full blown diabetes and obesity.
Diabesity occurs, Dr. Hyman says because we’ve drugged our cells with too much sugar and starch (yes, this is an oversimplification on my part…).
But what if we can’t stop eating carbs and sugar? What if we can’t resist that big bowl of pasta? What if eating cake is routine instead of an occasional indulgence?
I recently read a book published in 1999, called The Diet Cure: feel better in 24 hours, naturally, by Julia Ross, M.A., which encourages us to stop dieting, to balance the body’s chemistry so we don’t have the cravings in the first place. The book says that dieting, therapy and pep talks won’t help when what we need is a biochemical overhaul.
According to Ross, amino acids (isolated protein fragments) are the key to getting off the treadmill. Amino acids are, she says, stronger than willpower. A brain that has these nutrients has no need for a sugar high, she claims.
My own personal experience bears this out. I found that within 48 hours after taking specific amino acids, food cravings were manageable. Was it placebo affect? I don’t think so.
The question, then, is, are we sliding down the continuum towards diabesity not because we’re weak willed, but because we’re low in certain brain chemicals that our body craves? And why is our body deficient in these brain chemicals to begin with?
This is a complex subject, and I certainly don’t have the answers. It could be what we eat. Are we eating too many drug-like foods? Refined sugar, refined flours and alcohol, for instance, can unbalance things and create cravings. (So, it seems, can certain medications.)
Deficiencies might occur because we inherited them from a mom who lived on chocolate bars when she was pregnant. Deficiencies happen when we’ve been under too much stress, because stress does a number on us.
If we’re eating too little protein, the food source of amino acids, we can’t make the mood-enhancing chemicals we need.
How much protein is recommended to make those mood-enhancing chemicals and stabilize blood sugar? The current advice says to eat three eggs, a chicken breast, or a fish or tofu steak at each meal (of course with a multitude of fresh veggies and other good foods too). Or lentils or beans.
Interestingly, The Diet Cure says that sugar is almost identical to alcohol biochemically because it’s instantly absorbed and doesn’t need digestion. It raises blood sugar levels, and then allows them to plummet. It makes us moody, unstable, full of cravings.
And it’s interesting that Dr. Joan Mathews Larson, author of the book, Seven Weeks to Sobriety, suggests using amino acids to feed the addicted brain. Amino acids in protein fill up empty
mood-chemical sites in the brain. Forrest Tennant, MD, says that alcohol is the ultimate carbohydrate drug, and that one eventually needs more and more to get that “good feeling.” He has found that fish oil and another essential fatty acid called GLA, found primarily in borage oil, may lessen interest in alcohol.
For most of us, sweet and starch act like drugs to temporarily lift mood and then deplete our natural chemistry. Using amino acids can have immediate and dramatic effects.
Where can you find amino acids? There are 22 of them, and fish, eggs, chicken and beef contain all 22, including the 9 that are considered essential. However, even foods like avocados have protein, as do, of course, nuts and seeds, beans and whole grains. If you’re vegetarian, some say we need to combine different vegetarian sources of protein to make sure we’re getting all 9 essential amino acids, others say the body does a pretty good job banking what we eat and doing the combining itself.
While there’s no room here for the protocol in The Diet Cure, I found the amino acid L-glutamine, the most abundant amino acid in our bodies, does seem to curb sugar and carb cravings. I followed the recommendations in the book: two 500 mg tablets 3 times a day between meals.
I ate plenty of the good fats – fats are not the enemy with regard to diabesity. Remember the word “good” with regard to fats (fake foods like margarine are not good fats!) Every cell in our body has a coating of fat because fat acts as a barrier to keep out harmful microbes. Our brain is 60% fat. Fats regulate all body functions at the cellular level, and fat is required for production of serotonin to elevate mood and promote good sleep too.
If adding the right amount of protein to your diet doesn’t correct imbalances for you, your solution might be as simple as balancing body chemistry by taking a specific amino acid for a short time. Check out The Diet Cure, try l-glutamine as suggested above. Come to one of the talks this month on food and weight control.
The body is a wonder and lets us know it’s time to take action. We just have to listen. Here’s to balance, to eating better, to having more energy and less belly fat in 2016 and for the rest of our lives! No more sliding down the continuum towards diabesity.