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Elective 4 / Lesson 6

Depression and Anxiety Induced Weight Gain

Carrie: Welcome to the Smarter Science of Slim. This is Carrie Brown and a giggling Jonathon Bailor.

Jonathon: I like the welcome to the smarter science — the inflection. I think you try to vary it up.

Carrie: Are you mocking me, Bailor?

Jonathon: I think it’s like the Simpsons back in the day, where every episode of the Simpsons would start with kind of a new thing. I feel like every time you introduce the show, you try to do it slightly differently.

Carrie: Yes. Variety is the spice of life.

Jonathon: And some of them work out better than others, shall we say. Fair?

Carrie: I don’t know.

Jonathon: I neither confirm nor deny. Carrie, we have a bit more of a serious subject to cover this week, but that’s okay, because we are about helping people to live optimally and sometimes, there are dark spots as well as light spots.

Carrie: Frankly, Mr. Bailor, I think that health is an incredibly serious thing.

Jonathon: That is absolutely true.

Carrie: There, see? Explain yourself, man.

Jonathon: Sometimes, for example, talking about ice cream is much different than the topic we’re going to cover this week.

Carrie: Well, I don’t know, because it’s very serious. If you can eat ice cream that makes you bust fat, that’s very serious.

Jonathon: Folks, Carrie is hemming and hawing here, because we are going to broach a bit more of a serious subject today. Don’t let that scare you off because, again, not everything in life is going to be lollipops and rainbows.

Carrie: Or unicorns.

Jonathon: It doesn’t mean it won’t get better, and we just want to keep our eyes on the prize. Carrie, why don’t you introduce today’s topic.

Carrie: I’m not sure I know what it is.

Jonathon: It is the …

Carrie: Oh, I know — emotional eating.

Jonathon: But like, emotional, emotional eating.

Carrie: Yes.

Jonathon: So define what we mean by emotional, emotional eating.

Carrie: For me, emotional eating is when — struggling to explain myself. It’s those times when I feel compelled to eat something that I know at the same time is damaging to my health.

Jonathon: Yes, and this is the — I think that’s a key distinction. There’s emotional eating, meaning like I have this stressful day at work, and I just want to come home and chillax with some delicious SANE food. Then there’s I’m hurting, and I turn to food like people would sometimes turn to alcohol or sex or drugs. We’re talking you’re in a bad place, and you use food versus some of these other things to try to ameliorate the hurting. Am I taking it too far, or is that kind of where we’re at?

Carrie: No, I think for different people, it will be a different thing. But I think generally, we know what we’re talking about. It will manifest itself in different ways for different people, and it will be different substances. For some people, it’s going to be ice cream. For some people, it’s going to be pasta. For me, currently, it’s Pringles.

Jonathon: Again, Carrie, I do want to disambiguate, because I think, for example, we had — in previous podcasts, we talked about emotional eating, and emotional eating in a more casual way. Like, I had a hard day at work. This is like when I said I think emotional eating is unavoidable. It’s really not bad. We just need to make sure we’re smart when we eat emotionally. I think the emotional eating we’re talking about here — let’s call it severe emotional eating. It will never take place on a bowl of fresh sugar snap peas.

Carrie: No.

Jonathon: Never, ever.

Carrie: No, because when I get into these times when my brain is compelling me to eat something, it will be very specific, and it is always something inSANE. For me, that’s typically not sweet. It’s typically starch. That’s what my brain just overwhelms me with cravings. I have to use that word because I don’t know how else to describe a compulsion other than a craving. It’s starch. It’s bread or it’s Pringles. I don’t know where that came from, because I didn’t grow up on the things. Or a potato — it’s the starch that when my brain just will not stop until I feed it.

I know for some people it’s sugar. It’s different things for different people but for me, that’s where my brain goes. When I’m talking about a craving, I mean that your brain just will not stop. It doesn’t matter what you do. I can be busy. I can be in the middle of writing a book. I can be actively engaged in cooking something. I can be actively engaged, so it’s not boredom when your brain takes over and says, “If you don’t do this for me, I refuse to think about anything else until you feed this craving.” That’s what I’m talking about.

Jonathon: For individuals who may be fortunate enough to have never experienced something like this, to put it in perspective — Carrie, tell me if this is a fair comparison — imagine you had to go to the bathroom really, really bad. At some point, it’s not just ignore it. You need to go to the bathroom. There are certain biological functions where it’s not just exert more willpower. Sometimes, willpower is not enough.

Carrie: No. What I’m talking about are those times where willpower just doesn’t even come into it, where my brain is driving me so crazy that it refuses to think about anything else other than getting whatever starch it is that it’s currently telling me I need to calm myself down. I will get dressed. I will be in my PJs in the evening, and I’ll be writing. I’ll be actively engaged in something. I’m not just talking about being bored, watching TV, anything like that. I will be actively engaged in something, and my brain will compel me. I will get up. I will get dressed. I will get in the car, drive to the store, buy a tube of Pringles, drive back home, eat them, and I’m all right again.

It’s maddening. Maddening. It’s the lack of — feeling being out of control drives me crazy. Clearly, that’s not willpower, because willpower doesn’t make you get dressed, get the car out of the garage, drive to the store. Willpower is when they’re there, and you can’t not eat them. Willpower is just easy. This is not easy. This is compelling behavior.

Jonathon: I’m so appreciative that you’re willing to share this with us, Carrie, because I know that you are not the only person who has feelings like this. To be able to explore this shows us two things at least, and I’m sure there are many more. But two things that I want to unpack here is, one, I could imagine folks saying, “Okay, what do I do? How do I stay sane in these,” — I guess we could call it “insane” in lower case, “circumstances?” I’ll give you my answer to that.

The second one is, listeners, if you’ve ever experienced this, I believe it is quite universal that when these episodes happen, you are not getting out of your PJs, getting dressed and going to the store to buy a bunch of eggplants or to buy a bunch of steaks or a bunch of salmon. It’s always sugar or starch, and there’s a reason for that.

Part of the reason this happens is because we get in a state of emotional distress. If you look at the other things people sometimes do when they’re in a state of emotional distress, they’re things that really affect the brain — alcohol, sex, drugs, right? They’re huge stimulants, and they enable such a counteractive experience that it can mitigate the pain we’re currently going through.

If you had any doubts that sugar and starch should be thought of more as drugs that have the opportunity to be abused, again, we can look to the science all we want and in addition, you could look to your personal experience. When you are in a state that drives some people to use drugs such as alcohol or drugs such as whatever — cocaine, heroin — some people choose to use food, but they predictably choose the same foods because those foods trigger the same opiate receptors in the brain as things like heroin and cocaine. That’s been proven in laboratory studies, but we’ve all also experienced it.

It’s just, I think, an interesting example, Carrie, of a state in which we’re not being rational, but our brain is taking over and it craves drug-like substances. It again proves the point that some of these inSANE foods are better classified as drug-like substances rather than foods we should be recommending to our children.

Carrie: So now, I’m really going to open the kimono, but why not? Here we are.

Jonathon: I talked about my manscaping, so I think the kimono is fully open and, may I say, well groomed.

Carrie: Years ago, I remember reading something, and I was reading a book about sugar addiction. One of the things that it said in there is that — don’t quote me because I’m not remembering exactly, so I’m paraphrasing. But the point was that it is very, very common for alcoholics or ex-alcoholics to be addicted to sugar. So what Jonathon is saying is absolutely true. You’re triggering the same parts of your brain.

So where the kimono comes open is that I was alcoholic. It is therefore no surprise that I now, at times, struggle with this chemical addiction, if you like, but now the way my brain is comforted is with starch. Occasionally, it’s sugar, but 95 percent of the time, it’s starch. I haven’t had a drink in I don’t know how long, 22 years — a very, very, very long time, and I don’t drink now and I don’t have a problem with it. If you sat me here with a bottle of wine, that’s gone (??), but it isn’t surprising that I have that — my body is wired to be addicted to something.

Jonathon: It is just amazing. The more references we can find in our own lives and the lives of those who we love and care about, where we start to see, again, a calorie is not a calorie. No one is craving vegetable calories to dull their pain when they’re in a state of severe emotional distress. That tells us that the calories we get from those inSANE starches and sweets are very, very different.

I think the follow-up question, Carrie, is we talked about when we’re not emotional, emotional eating but rather just like the less severe state. There are strategies we can take, because we still have the more conscious control of what we do at that point. Tell me what you think about this, Carrie. I don’t actually think there is a way to avoid insanity in these circumstances, just like drinking a light beer would never really give an alcoholic what they’re looking for.

The “solution” would be to try to find a way to eliminate the stimulus that causes the emotional stress that put you in this situation to begin with. Because I personally — when someone’s in, again — if kids are listening, you might want to turn it off at this point. There has been a lot of research done on why people don’t use condoms. The reason is — everyone knows they’re supposed to use condoms when you just sit down and talk with them. But that’s in what’s called a cold state, like people are cold; they’re rationally thinking. You get someone in a situation where they’re about to have intercourse, the mind does not work the same way. So you can’t be like, “Oh, in my non-emotional state, yeah, I’d do this.” No, no, no. That’s not what happens when you lose control of your mind, so the only solution is to not have your mind get in that state in the first place. Does that make sense?

Carrie: Yes, it does, and I completely forgot what I was going to say.

Jonathon: This is why a lot of — one of the areas that we will continue to try to work on here at the Smarter Science of Slim, but certainly there are people who do wonderful work in this area already. For those of us who are seven cans of Pringles later and three pints of Haagen-Dazs, that’s usually — again, we’re not doing that because we’re weak or lazy. Most often, people who are doing that are doing that for the same reason that people — people abuse inSANE food-like products for the same reason people abuse alcohol or sex or drugs. There is some stimulus that is hurting them so badly that this is the way they deal with it.

The solution, again, is not to tell an alcoholic, “Just drink less. What’s your problem?” “Hey, heroin addict, just take less heroin. What’s wrong with you? Try harder.” No. The solution is, what drove this person to take heroin in the first place, and how can we stop them from doing that, especially when sugar triggers, again, the same opiate receptors in the brain as heroin and morphine. So a few podcasts ago, we talked about, again, this eat less, exercise more dogma is not only wrong, but it’s cruel.

This is another great example, as Carrie said, where just telling an alcoholic, “Just drink less,” or a heroin addict, “Just take less heroin,” or someone who is in an emotional, emotional eating state, “Just eat less,” shows that the person making that recommendation is just not in the loop.

Carrie: There’s no lack of willpower or laziness involved in getting up, getting dressed, getting the car out, driving to the store, finding what you need, standing in the line. That is all effort. That’s not lack of willpower or being lazy, because you’re actually having to go through a whole lot of effort to get to what your brain is compelling you to do.

But there are times where my brain will not shut up until I calm it down with a starch. That doesn’t make it right, but it is what it is. I have to say that there are times that it is actually better for me in the very short term to calm my brain with my starch than it is to let my brain just keep driving me crazy.

Jonathon: It’s great that you have that realization, Carrie, because I think there are two important points. One is, the solution, again, is not to just try harder. The solution is, of course, to try to — we both know you’ve been under some stress recently. We both know the solution is to not have that stress anymore, and that’s easier said than done. We can’t always — this is not Carrie’s situation, but if our spouse was stressing us out, you can’t be just like, “Okay, spouse, stop.” Or your kids may be a better example. But we realize, again, it’s not about just try harder and eat less. There’s something deeper.

Carrie: But usually, once you’ve identified the stressor or stresses, it then takes time to implement the change you need.

Jonathon: Absolutely.

Carrie: In the meantime, it isn’t helpful to beat yourself up. You have to be okay with giving yourself the time to work on the stresses. If that means that when you’re upset or you’re extremely stressed, if your brain is screaming for Pringles, give it some Pringles until such time as you’ve had the time or you’ve gotten what you need to stop the stress from happening that’s causing the cravings.

Jonathon: Yes. Of course, the goal I would just — I know you said give it the Pringles. Ideally, yeah, we want to try to minimize the situations in which that would happen, but the thing that I really want to celebrate about what you said, Carrie, is not to beat yourself up if it does. I have in my notes here, “It’s okay after.” Because the analogy we use, right, is if you have a healthy immune system and you get the flu, your body will bounce back. Because the chronic state of your body is one of health, and it can fight off invaders. If we can be SANE 99 percent of the time or 90-plus percent of the time, and we go off the ranch when extreme stress — so that we will then take steps to get rid of in our life — crops up, that doesn’t just blow up your metabolic system [crosstalk 19:39]. It’s like a virus comes in.

Carrie: I was talking about extreme stress. I’m not — for every time you go, “Oh, something didn’t go my way, I get to eat Pringles.” That’s not what I was talking about. I’m talking about those times when your brain is making you completely mad and if you don’t calm it, the consequences could be far, far worse for you. That’s the kind of level of stress I’m talking about. In those cases, give it the Pringles, eat the baked potato, whatever you need to do to keep yourself alive and keeping on.

If you can use other tricks, techniques to shut your brain up, fantastic. So that you can calm yourself without getting the Pringles, then obviously, do what you can. But certainly, beating yourself up for feeling like you have to go there, that’s not going to help.

Jonathon: From a science perspective, it’s not necessary. Because, again, if you have a healthy metabolic system, a bump in the road once every other week or once a month — at one time — is, again, like a virus getting in your body. It will get in your body but as long as you have a healthy immune system, it will bounce back and fight it off. It’s only if you had chronic exposure to disease that that would eventually wear your body down.

Not only should you not beat yourself up from an emotional health perspective, as Carrie mentioned, but there’s just no need to because from a metabolic perspective, as long as you’re SANE otherwise, you’ll be good to go. I think that’s helpful information.

Carrie: I hope so, because it’s —

Jonathon: True.

Carrie: It’s true, but it’s, for me anyway, incredibly frustrating to have to deal with this. It’s incredibly frustrating for me to feel like my brain is busy off doing something else that I, at the same time, know that I don’t want to do. It’s just — but it is what it is. You have to keep yourself safe, and if in the moment of crisis keeping yourself safe means eating a little inSANEly, that’s what you have to do, as long as you’re working on the bigger picture of working out what your stresses are and stopping them from happening.

Jonathon: Absolutely. Carrie, I think that is a very helpful show, and I will speak for, hopefully, all of the listeners when I say we really appreciate you sharing a bit more personal there, because I know that’s not easy. But I think it will help a lot of people, so much appreciation to you.

Carrie: You’re welcome.

Jonathon: Well listeners, remember, this week and every week after, eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. We’ll chat with you soon.

Carrie: See ya.

This week we dig into depression, anxiety, and eating.