My guest this week is Dr Vera Tarman who is a specialist in addiction behaviour and treatment.
Dr. Vera is internationally recognized for her education in and publications on various areas of addiction and more specifically food addiction.
She’s had her own issues with alcohol but when she stopped drinking she started eating until her weight rose to 250lbs. It was the eating addiction that “brought her down” as she puts it.
In this Episode
- Vera had a difficult childhood. Her mother was an alcoholic who died when Vera was just 15 – and her relationship with her father was not good so she left home at 17
- She was “floored” by the speed of her mother’s decline and vowed that she would never drink
- However, she did take drugs – she mentioned LSD and pot but also stresses that this was back in the ’70s when drugs were not as toxic as they are today
- By the age of 19, she had switched from drugs to alcohol in spite of the vow she had made
- Within a couple of years, the alcohol had taken hold and she would always drink to get solidly drunk
- She stopped drinking to get through college but when she stopped drinking … she started eating – and it was the food that “brought her down” as she puts it
- Her eating had nothing to do with enjoyment – she was making herself numb, eating and purging – she described it as “frantic” and with hindsight can see that her addiction to alcohol had simply transferred to her eating habits … there is so much sugar in alcohol of course
- Dr Vera describes alcohol as sugar on steroids!
- In her 20’s she was stuck in the dieting yo-yo – losing the weight and then gaining it back – eventually gaining 100 pounds – she was bulimic
- She reintroduced alcohol to her diet and tried to control it – as she says back then she had no idea of the peace of mind she could gain by ditching it altogether
- Steadily her weight increased to 240 lbs – she kept losing weight and regaining it and it wasn’t until her late 40’s that she had a breakthrough …
- That was when she accepted that ‘treat’ sugar was an addiction – she couldn’t have a little now and again, she would have to quit completely…
- Over the course of the next few years, she went on to lose 60 or 70 lbs
- After the sugar, she quit flour (bread muffins pizza etc) and lost another 80 lbs and finally, she quit grains and lost the rest of her excess weight – never gaining it back
- She describes losing the weight as a great relief as it had been making her miserable in so many ways and she never felt healthy or well
- In fact, these days she stresses that addicts mustn’t fear living a life of deprivation … you are living a life of deprivation now … so reach out and get help and find freedom
- We talked about the fact that with alcoholism we can quit alcohol completely but obviously, we have to eat some food – Vera made the very interesting point that she hasn’t quit food but she does quit food products – processed food
- Vera’s approach of gradually shutting out various food groups is an interesting one – when I asked her what she DID eat she listed some of them – yoghourt, cheese, salmon, meat, vegetables
- She spoke of her pleasure in eating these foods and doesn’t feel at all deprived – as she put it she doesn’t have to eat bread or sugar any more, she can enjoy real food instead – her palate has switched from craving sugar and carbs to appreciating healthy foods
- Vera is not a cook but stresses that its quite easy to eat well – as an example, yoghourt is easy to make and so are roasted veg
- I explained that we give our community advice to eat fresh fruit rather than candy if they are craving sweet things in early sobriety
- If you’d like more info on the science behind this advice then listen to Tribe Sober podcast episode 31 from January 2021 to hear nutritionist Mary Ann Shearer
- Vera described addiction as “a craving which leads to an obsession that then becomes difficult or impossible to stop”
- We should ask ourselves “Am I obsessed with something that is affecting my life negatively?”
- She explained how we could go from enjoying a gentle buzz to wanting a drink to needing a drink – needing more and more to get the same result
- Continual use of alcohol can “flatten” our dopamine receptors so we eventually need alcohol just to feel normal
- Dr Vera explained that some people get a more intense buzz of pleasure when they begin to drink and that…
- If your dopamine receptors are naturally “flat” you may need something to feel ok
- I asked Dr Vera how we can boost our dopamine naturally – before addiction our dopamine is “built-in” – it’s about anticipation and looking forward to the next thing
- We all have a natural curiosity that makes us want to try new things – that’s why we encourage Tribe members to get a project to keep the dopamine triggered
- We agreed that social support was essential in early sobriety– we can’t just isolate and watch tv – we have to connect with others and keep that dopamine perking!
- That’s why a project that connects you with other people works so well
- We talked about using sugar and alcohol to numb our feelings and the fact that..
- Junk food and alcohol will release endorphins which block pain and that’s why it can numb our feelings
- Sleep – Vera says alcohol destroys our sleep structure and it can take as long as a year for normal sleep patterns to resume
- We talked about menopause which Vera described as a storm of hormones (like being a teenager again)
- She also said that it’s a time when many women put on weight – they become very sensitive to carbohydrates and even if they were controlling their weight when they were younger it’s like a switch has been flipped
- We are more prone to weight gain when we hit menopause – especially if we are drinking!
- We talked about bariatric surgery and the fact that many people do become addicted to alcohol when they have addressed their weight issue with this surgery
- Vera explained that one glass of wine will be equivalent to 3 after this surgery so it’s not difficult to become dependent
- There are a lot of negative side effects to this surgery so it should only be used if the weight has become life-threatening – far better to tackle the eating
- We talked about the fact that alcohol is now linked to 7 different types of cancer and also Alzheimer’s – sugar and alcohol are also linked to Alzheimer’s
- Vera’s Advice is to accept that you have a condition, something has happened in your brain to cause this addiction – it’s not your fault – educate yourself – books, podcasts – accept you’ll have to stop – whatever you’ve been trying hasn’t worked so get some help
- You heard her stressing the essential need to join a community so please check out Tribe Sober – we’ve got the tools and the group support to get you on track … And more importantly to keep you on track – just go to tribesober.com and hit join our tribe
- Vera wanted to stress that whatever the addiction there is hope – and in fact, we both know so many people who have succeeded in overcoming both alcohol and food addiction
- Learn more about Dr Vera via her:
Book Food Junkies
Facebook Group I am sweet enough, sugar-free for life
Also Food Junkies podcast
YouTube Channel is Vera Tarman
This episode is sponsored by the Tribe Sober Membership Program. If you want to change your relationship with alcohol then sign up today
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