Conquering Food Addictions With Dr. Neal Barnard

(by Kim Seelbrede, originally posted on urbanzen.org October 2010)

Urban Zen welcomed once again Neal Barnard, MD, to discuss the science behind food addictions and his solution of a plant-based (vegan) diet to control and reverse many chronic health problems. Winning Weight Battles And Conquering Cravings was the theme of the day as excited guests filled the gorgeous zen-like space on a crisp fall day. The six-hour workshop offered just the right balance of nutritional wisdom and delicious samples of the sweet and savory foods that promised to help heal our bodies. How tasty and rewarding can low fat, nutrition-dense food choices be? Very, I can say, and my fellow attendees would happily agree.

The breeze from the garden was invigorating as the indoor space filled with the aroma of culinary delights that included kale and pear smoothies, vegan quesadillas and lentil stew on a bed of quinoa. With such a diverse group of guests, it was inevitable that someone asked, “So what’s for dessert?” Not to disappoint, nutrition experts and chefs Christine Waltermyer, Jill Eckhart and Emily Richard served a raspberry chocolate mousse made with tofu. It was refreshing, (okay pretty amazing, and I’m not a tofu fan!).

The science part of the workshop was just as captivating as the food demonstrations. Why do we crave certain foods and how can we maintain healthy weight without resorting to diets which inevitably fail? Dr. Barnard, known for his ground-breaking research on reversing Diabetes through diet shared his three part nutritional approach: avoiding animal products, reducing fat intake and avoiding sugary, processed foods. Guests were surprised to learn that his approach to curbed cravings, disease reversal and permanent weight loss actually included healthy complex carbohydrates – quite comforting on a chilly day in the West Village.

Dr. Barnard’s keys to curbing cravings and losing weight includes eating grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes. Guests learned that chocolate, cheese, meat and sugar are physically addictive because these foods release opiate-like substances which in turn releasee dopamine, otherwise known as the “feel-good” chemical in the brain. Dr. Barnard compared what happens in the brain when ingesting these foods to the experiences of a heroin addict – and thus explained how the cycle of food cravings continue. The solution according to Dr. Barnard is to eliminate these foods from one’s diet. As a result, the insidious cycle of craving will resolve.  Dr. Barnard’s nutritional wisdom was easy to understand, and insightful. Dr. Barnard explained how, tragically, industry aided by government, exploits these natural cravings, pushing us to eat more and more unhealthy foods.

Neal Barnard is the founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) www.pcrm.org. You can find his work and new book The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook here at www.nealbarnard.org  and you can find samples of these body-loving recipes here at www.NutritionMD.org and www.CancerProject.org

Kim Seelbrede is a former Miss USA and a New York City psychotherapist, coach, consultant and EMDR therapist who specializes in celebrity mental health as well as anxiety, mood disorders, relationships, addictions and eating disorders. She received integrative therapy training with Donna Karan's Urban Zen Foundation.