A chat with the co-author of 'Potatoes Not Prozac'
(CNN) -- As Kathleen DesMaisons neared 240 pounds, she thought losing weight was simply a matter of willpower: develop enough discipline to keep the pounds off, and everything would be fine.
But as time went on and things didn't change, DesMaisons felt like "a slug who couldn't get it right."
Her work as the head of a treatment center for alcoholics and drug addicts caused her to realize she didn't just want to teach recovery--she wanted to have it.
She began to see her compulsive use of food, particularly sugars and carbohydrates, as an addiction. When DesMaisons lost weight through a friend's protein and vegetable diet--and kept it off--she returned to school, obtaining the first degree in Addictive Nutrition.
The following is an edited transcript of the live chat conducted on Tuesday March 9, 1999 with Kathleen DesMaisons, author of "Potatoes Not Prozac."
Chat Participant: Is your book based on insulin resistance?
Kathleen DesMaisons: No, the book is based on sugar sensitivity -- a slightly different story.
Chat Participant: Please explain the difference.
Kathleen DesMaisons: Insulin resistance is really geared to specific health issues and obesity. My book is about faulty brain chemistry that can be corrected with diet, the theory I designed to explain volatile blood sugar, low serotonin and low beta-endorphin.
Chat Participant: By eating potatoes, I presume.
Kathleen DesMaisons: Eating potatoes is a tiny part of the process. Eating breakfast is the way to start.
Chat Participant: Kathleen, I'm currently working on getting steps one and two down and I do well when I have a very structured day -- have to be at the office at a certain time and all that -- but am having a hard time with weekends. Any tips for sticking to the program though days like that?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Mostly, practice. I still had a hard time on the weekends, sometimes. If you start by focusing on breakfast, it may help. Be kind and gentle and go slowly. Many people rush to go off sugar, but that is really step six, not step one.
Chat Participant: Can you tell us a little about the beta-endorphin aspects of the sugar sensitive person?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Some people, especially children of alcoholics, are born with lower levels of beta-endorphin, the natural painkiller, making us more vulnerable to both physical and emotional pain.
Chat Participant: Do you recommend that all people cut sugar out of their diet or only those with a sensitivity to it?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Only after getting stable. Otherwise you will get either cuckoo or nasty and not be able to do it anyway. But, sugar will *prime* a person who is sugar sensitive because it evokes beta-endorphin and makes you feel better in the short run. A little makes you want more!
Chat Participant: Many people are using your program to lose weight, but you chose not to write the book as a diet. Why is that?
Kathleen DesMaisons: This is the story under the diet story. I hope to have people do this first and then think about losing weight.
Chat Participant: If I understand your theory, eating carbohydrate meals can boost your levels of certain brain chemicals that are "low" in some people?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Eating carbohydrates boosts serotonin. That's regular science.
Chat Participant: Dr., are you saying that if I come from a family history of alcoholism but do not drink myself, that sugar is taking the place of it?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Yes, that is exactly what I am saying.
Chat Participant: How does not eating the sweets help that?
Kathleen DesMaisons: It quiets the brain and stops cravings and makes you less depressed, cranky and sometimes nasty.
Chat Participant: Are there other foods to avoid or just sugars?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I usually recommend switching from white things to brown things from refined products to whole grain. Three meals a day with protein at each, brown stuff instead of white, a potato before bed and then going off of sugars and alcohol while doing meditation, prayer, exercise, etc.
Chat Participant: What is it about low blood sugar or hyper-insulinaism that makes you cranky?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Low blood sugar = starving brain = cranky.
Chat Participant: What about sugar substitutes?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Sugar substitutes will create sweet taste, which often makes you want more sweet stuff.
Chat Participant: Are alcoholism and bingeing related?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Alcoholism and bingeing have a similar neurochemical pathway.
Chat Participant: What are some (very) easy things I could eat, for say, breakfast, when starting out with this?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Many of our folks make a *power* shake without sugars and use oatmeal as the carbohydrate. It's very easy and quick.
Chat Participant: Doesn't the starch in potatoes, bread, etc., break down into sugar?
Kathleen DesMaisons: All starches whether bread or broccoli break down into sugars.
Chat Participant: When someone has been off sugars for a while, is there a greater effect from "natural" beta-endorphin producing activities than doing the same activities AND eating sugars?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Exactly, when you stop the *drug* i.e. the sugar, you get a bigger effect from things that evoke beta-endorphin (BE).
Chat Participant: Seven people in my family are alcoholics. Is that why I'm addicted to food instead?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Sounds like you caught the gene. There are positive benefits though; sensitivity, deeper compassion, tenderness, etc.
Chat Participant: What about the typical bachelor diet of pasta and rice. Is that over doing it if there isn't a good balance of protein and fat?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Typically for sugar sensitive will not be good, unless brown rice and whole grain.
Chat Participant: Will your book address the issues of the "gene" and overeating?
Kathleen DesMaisons: The book talks about the inherited stuff, also my own story. My dad was an alcoholic.
Chat Participant: What is your web site URL?
Kathleen DesMaisons: www.radiantrecovery.com.
Chat Participant: How do you know if you are sugar sensitive?
Kathleen DesMaisons: OK. Here is the test for everyone! If you go into the kitchen alone and there is a plate of WARM chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven (hey, this is VERY scientific!), what is your response to the cookies? People who aren't sugar sensitive, don't care. They say, "Am I hungry?" We know that hunger is not the issue with sugar sensitive people. It's the molecules awakening to the smell of cookies.
Chat Participant: So, if you are the type who asks "Am I hungry?", is there still an advantage to totally cutting sugar out of your diet?
Kathleen DesMaisons: If you are not sugar sensitive, sweet things in moderation are fine because you won't want more.
Chat Participant: When I eat red meat or drink a caffeinated beverage I crave sweets. Why is this?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Caffeine triggers a similar pathway. I am not sure about the red meat. Caffeine and chocolate do something called *potentiate* each other. That means the drug effect is bigger!
Chat Participant: I've heard some sugar sensitives are not hooked on sweets. Isn't that true?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Some sugar sensitive people go for alcohol or bread or cereal, popcorn, too, or, if you are like me, all of the above.
Chat Participant: Why is the word "Prozac" in the title of the book?
Kathleen DesMaisons: To get your attention. Also, because we can use food to alter brain chemistry in a big way. So, if you are depressed, or if your Prozac doesn't work anymore, food change may help in a big way!
Chat Participant: Does the "Zone" diet help with sugar cravings?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Actually, the Zone is dealing with insulin resistance and not brain chemistry. If you do the Zone really well, it can deplete your serotonin and get you in trouble with cravings and bingeing after a few weeks.
Chat Participant: Three years ago I was deathly ill with a kidney infection that would not go away. Lost like 30 pounds in three weeks, kept it off for 18 months (six months of that time I was still fighting the infection). Then all of a sudden -- boom!!
Kathleen DesMaisons: That happens to a lot of sugar sensitive people. Beta-endorphin, whether sugar or heroin or morphine, it's same neurochemistry. Sugar is a drug and for some people, bigger feel GOOD! and then feel BAD! It's withdrawal.
Chat Participant: I have a tremendous sugar habit, and sometimes I think I feel the skin on my arms "crawling." Is that real or an imaginary reaction? When the skin-on arm-effect is happening, what is best to do?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Have a protein and carbohydrate snack (apple/cheese) and go for a walk.
Chat Participant: Does anyone ever get it right for good?
Kathleen DesMaisons: It's a process not a product. We get better over time.
Chat Participant: Do sugar cravings recede after a certain period of "recovery"?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Yes, thankfully. Just like any other drug, there is recovery, but the bigger picture is to heal the brain and body problems that lead to the craziness.
Chat Participant: Can you 'train' yourself to crave healthier choices?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I am not sure about *train*. Most of us tried that for years. This is more about actually changing the brain chemistry.
Chat Participant: If starch is not good to eat, then why did you call your book "Potatoes not Prozac?"
Kathleen DesMaisons: I am not saying starch is bad, only that slower starches are better. The potato is a specific tool to raise serotonin. The starch in a potato with skin (brown) doesn't seem to trigger people.
Chat Participant: Do you think aspartame makes anything about sugar addiction worse/better/neutral?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I think aspartame makes it much worse. My new weight loss book will be on-line in a few weeks as a cyber-book and it addresses this issue.
Chat Participant: I love potatoes, rarely eat breads, but crave ice cream. I have to have it when it's available. It's hard to turn it down. Is that bad?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Each person sorts out whether his or her food is creating a problem in life.
Chat Participant: Did you discover that? Or how was that discovered, the thing with the potato?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Scientists learned that carbohydrates evoke a complicated serotonin response. I chose the potato as my tool. I am Irish and I think Mr. Spud does a good job!
Chat Participant: Will the weight loss book have different food options than the original book?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Yes, very different from the original book. It will have new information about weight loss.
Chat Participant: So, the effects you get from Paxil/Prozac can be obtained from the potato?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Not just the potato by itself, but the whole plan. But if you are suffering from serious depression, you should not go off your medication, just add the food.
Chat Participant: You do reach an age when the body does all sorts of strange things even if you are not sugar sensitive. Just ask me.
Kathleen DesMaisons: Yes. When you hit perimenopause there are big changes for sugar sensitive people!
Chat Participant: What kind of big changes does perimenopause cause?
Kathleen DesMaisons: You will get more vulnerable to what you are eating.
Chat Participant: Isn't some kind of sugar in almost all food?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Sugar is everywhere, especially in low fat foods!
Chat Participant: Is exercise a significant factor in your plan?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Yes. Exercise is wonderful because it builds beta-endorphin without spiking it and creating carvings.
Chat Participant: Do you think "Potatoes not Prozac" could help ease PMS?
Kathleen DesMaisons: "Potatoes not Prozac" has a huge positive effect on PMS.
Chat Participant: Any hints on weight loss before the book comes out?
Kathleen DesMaisons: The biggest hint is to do the boring old "Potatoes not Prozac" plan first.
Chat Participant: It seems if you follow the "Potatoes not Prozac" you'll lose the weight without trying.
Kathleen DesMaisons: It's often true that people lose weight. We have one person who just lost over 100 pounds. But sometimes the program takes an adjustment, which is why I am writing the weight loss information separately.
Chat Participant: Why do I have to write?
Kathleen DesMaisons: The food journal? The food journal connects you to your body and your process.
Chat Participant: I wonder if that's because with the journal and the plan, they have a heightened awareness of food anyway, leading to weight loss.
Kathleen DesMaisons: It all weaves together in a process.
Chat Participant: When is the weight loss book coming out? How much is it?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I don't know yet. Sorry.
Chat Participant: Do you recommend taking multi-vitamins?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I recommend a few, but mostly I encourage people to eat real food.
Chat Participant: Does sugar on an empty stomach (chocolate donuts for breakfast) have a greater effect than if they were eaten with real food??
Kathleen DesMaisons: You got it. It's just like alcohol on an empty stomach!
Chat Participant: Is there sugar in pistachios? I seem to be addicted. I can't stop eating them once I've started!
Kathleen DesMaisons: It's the fat in the nuts. It evokes beta-endorphin too!
Chat Participant: Am I addicted to exercising because I connect it to the fact that I need to do it because I eat sweets.
Kathleen DesMaisons: Exercise evokes beta-endorphin and if you are sugar sensitive you can get addicted and have withdrawal effects as well.
Chat Participant: So, if I don't eat the sweets I won't have to exercise, therefore getting rid of two addictions?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Exercise is good. It evokes beta-endorphin. You want to exercise some. Exercise, meditation, prayer, music, good sex, or all of the above will help restore your brain
Chat Participant: How is "Potatoes not Prozac" different from "Sugar Busters?"
Kathleen DesMaisons: I think "Sugar Busters" doesn't work if you are sugar sensitive.
Chat Participant: Why is it when I have eaten the sugar I've craved, I get the shakes?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Big sugar = big insulin = blood sugar drop = shakes!
Chat Participant: I was not sugar sensitive as a child. Is that unusual?
Kathleen DesMaisons: No. Some people develop it later.
Chat Participant: Do you think there will ever be a cure for sugar sensitivity?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I don't think we would want one. The up side is so wonderful. But, there is a solution. Try "Potatoes not Prozac."
Chat Participant: Do you ever cheat?
Kathleen DesMaisons: I had some cookies at Christmas, but it's rare. If I do it's usually by skipping a meal or something like that.
Chat Participant: Is this like a mild version of diabetes?
Kathleen DesMaisons: No, it's different from diabetes, although connected.
Chat Participant: I think I might be sugar sensitive. I figured sugar related mood swings were just a fact of life. :)
Kathleen DesMaisons: Nope. Mood swings can be fixed, a big plus for the plan.
Chat Participant: Are sugar sensitive people sometimes numb to emotions?
Kathleen DesMaisons: We sometimes use food to numb out pain.
Chat Participant: Aren't sugar sensitive more sensitive to emotions?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Absolutely! That's why we seek drugs to cut the pain.
Chat Participant: I've often suspected I was sugar sensitive, but I had a stable glucose tolerance test - no major spikes, no major valleys. Could I still be sugar sensitive?
Kathleen DesMaisons: Sugar sensitive people often come up normal on glucose tests.
Kathleen DesMaisons: I have had a great time, thank you! See you on the web site!
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