Six Degrees of Susan Peirce Thompson

[This post is part of an ongoing series of interviews with authors, bloggers, women entrepreneurs and home chefs whose work I enjoy and admire. If you’ve got someone in mind you’d like me to approach for an interview, please shoot me an email at ricki@rickiheller.com, or leave a comment here and let me know! And now, enjoy today’s installment!]

Susan Peirce Thompson

I don’t remember exactly where I  first learned about Susan Peirce Thompson and her New York Times bestselling book, Bright Line Eating, but I do remember that one day, she seemed to suddenly appear virtually everywhere. If you’ve seen Susan’s site or her videos, you know that she’s a trim, lively personality with a compelling, engaging and articulate speaking manner.

As most of you know, I don’t advocate an anti-candida diet for weight loss purposes (there are many easier ways to lose weight!). In general, my approach is to eat natural, organic whole foods that support an anti-candida lifestyle and good health, but I’m not into counting carbs, points, weighing your food or any of those kinds of approaches.

Nevertheless, I was fascinated by Susan’s information and approach to eating, particularly because of her background as a an Adjunct Associate Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester and an expert in the psychology of eating. When it comes to food addiction and what to do about it–well, this woman knows her stuff!

I saw some key parallels between Susan’s approach to overcome food addiction and the principles we talk about both in the Candida Kick-Start program and The Sweet Life, where people adopt an anti-candida lifestyle for life. Beating candida often means overcoming addictive eating and learning to eat a new way as well.

In this interview, I asked Susan about addictive eating, cravings and dealing with social situations when you adopt a healthier diet. I hope you enjoy it!

Bright Line Eating book

[Susan’s best-selling book–a great read for anyone interested in overeating and food addiction.]

Q. I found your story incredibly interesting and inspiring. Can you tell my readers a bit about you and how you came to do the work you currently do?

A. I got sober from drugs and alcohol at twenty years old, and went on to earn my PhD in brain and cognitive science, so I am clearly a determined, strong-willed person. But I could not stop eating, gaining more and more weight through my twenties, until I crossed the obesity threshold. There is such an accepted trope in our culture that overweight people just lack willpower, but I knew that wasn’t true of myself, and the brain scientist in me finally woke up one day and got curious. What is going on in the brain? What role does willpower play? Why can all these overweight people accomplish so much in life, but not this one thing? That was the beginning of my research.

Q. As someone who’s been a baker and sweets lover my whole life, I’ve always believed that sugar is addictive (and have been happy to see that confirmed by recent science). Many of my readers, especially those with candida, feel the same way based on their urges to eat sugar despite their best intentions. Can you share a bit about the addictive qualities of sugar and sugary foods, and how that relates to other kinds of addictions?

A. If you take any organic substance, a poppy, a coca leaf, a shaft of wheat, and you try to chew and swallow it, it will have minimal impact on your body or brain, other than being a lot of fiber. But you extract the essence of that item, refine and powderize it, and you have a drug. Sugar is no different. The brain scans of obese people actually show more damage to the pleasure receptors than the scans of those addicted to cocaine. Our brains were never designed to process the level of stimulation that we do today. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. Studies show you only have to do that for three weeks before you’ve rewired the brain for addiction.

Q. One of the tips I provide in my programs for people with candida as a way to deal with cravings is what I call, “No is easier than maybe.” In other words, a straight-up “NO” leaves no room for debate or fuzzy lines as does “maybe” (which could easily lead to “a bit more” and “a bit more. . . “). I think this is a similar concept to the idea of Bright Lines in Bright Line Eating. Can you elaborate a bit on why this approach is so effective for anyone addicted to sugar or flour?

A. If you are relentlessly hungry, have overpowering cravings and cannot stop eating too much, despite desperately wanting to, then your brain has been hijacked and the only way to recover it to get sober from sugar and flour. An alcoholic cannot drink occasionally, the use spirals out of control too quickly. The same is true for people whose brains have been re-wired to demand constant calories. Once you cut them out of your system for good we’re finding people lose all their excess weight and keep it off long-term.

Q. As with anyone cutting out sugar, many of the people on an anti-candida diet and in my Sweet Life club experience intense cravings (not just for sugar per se, but often in the guise of their old “favorite foods”). Do you have any advice for dealing with cravings so that we don’t succumb to them?

A. Cravings are a sure-fire sign that your brain has been hijacked by sugar and flour. Much of my program is devoted to giving people support to withstand them. The good news is they do abate. When I gave up sugar and flour I went from constant cravings to weekly to rare cravings. But when one does strike I have a few tricks in my arsenal. First I brush my teeth, because studies have shown the taste or smell of peppermint can kill a craving. Then I try to distract myself, but avoid commercial TV or magazines that might have food porn. And I make a gratitude list in my mind. It takes the focus from what you want to what you have.

Q. One of the challenges of eating “differently” from others is having to navigate social situations. I think this is equally true for those of us on an anti-candida diet as it is for anyone in your Bright Line Eating Boot Camp. What’s your best tip for people who may feel pressure in these situations to “just eat it”?

A. It is something I will always find fascinating. If I refuse a drink people immediately and respectfully offer me some Perrier. But if I refuse a cookie I get barraged with, “Oh come on, one won’t hurt you!” What I recommend saying is, “I’ve found out recently that I have some food allergies and I feel much better when I observe the guidelines laid out for me. I really appreciate your support.” That usually ends the conversation. But don’t give in to make other people feel comfortable! It’s not worth it!

Q. We all deal with stress on a daily basis, but for anyone on a “restricted” diet, stress can have an even stronger impact on health and willpower. Can you share a favorite method for dealing with stress?

This comes back full circle to the misperception of what willpower is. It’s not a dimension of character, it’s a cognitive function that has to do with self-regulation, and all of us have the same amount of it to draw down from, about fifteen minutes. Every time you keep your patience in traffic, on line at the grocery store, or putting your kids to bed, you are depleting that store. Which is why diets that rely on your willpower long-term to be successful will fail.

To combat stress, recognize that it will deplete you. And set up your life so that you’re never making food decisions when you’re coming right out of stressful situations. Bright Line Eating takes the burden off willpower by making sure you are never making a food choice on the fly. We choose what we are going to eat the night before and then commit to it. That way, however the day rolls out, the healthiest, most restored part of our brains made the best choices for us, now we just need to follow them today.

Thanks so much, Susan! 

Find out more about Susan on her website or the Bright Line Eating site

Connect with her on Facebook 

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