The Problem of Sugar Sensitivity and Weight You are fat, and diets haven’t worked for you. You want to lose weight and not gain it back. You have been motivated to lose weight your entire life. You have tried every diet on earth, from the cottage cheese and grapefruit diet to the cabbage diet. It is all you think about. How can you try so hard and still not have the results you deserve? You know people who decide to diet, lose weight, and that is the end of it. Why is it so different for you?
You may be sugar sensitive. This physical and chemical condition changes everything. Take this test for sugar sensitivity. If you answer yes to three or more questions, you are reading the right book. If none of these apply to you, stop here. This is not the solution for you.
You have tried every diet in the world but cannot sustain your commitment.
You try again and again to cut down or control your use of sweet foods.
You feel everything will be okay once you are thin.
You are easily hurt.
You are overly sensitive to criticism.
You need a regular dose of sugar or you get irritable and cranky.
You love office supply stores.
You know what a “sugar hangover” is.
You start things and do not finish them.
You sometimes go blocks out of your way to get something sweet.
You have twenty projects going on simultaneously.
You have several sets of clothes—one fat set and one hopeful set.
You hate how you look.
You pretend that big is beautiful, but you know this is hooey.
You are impulsive.
You like to skip breakfast because it gives you a “starvation high,” but you’re famished by eleven o’clock and exhausted after lunch.
Your mother bought your clothes in husky sizes.
You get overwhelmed easily.
You wait for new magazines to find one more diet that will work.
You have taken medication for weight loss.
You have taken antidepressants.
Your friends tell you that you look fine, but you feel fat and ugly.
If you have answered yes to three or more of these questions, you are in the right place. You will get answers that will help you understand why you are fat, why you feel the way you do, and what you can do about it. (If you are wondering about the office supply store question, that question comes from a serendipitous discovery made in our online community at www.radiantrecovery.com. We got into an exchange about office supply stores and discovered that we all loved them. It was a little creepy at first, since we had all felt this was a personal idiosyncrasy and not a shared characteristic. But over time, we have come to love this little indicator as a secret code.)
Characteristics of Sugar Sensitives
I have spent the past ten years developing and writing about the theory of sugar sensitivity—that some people are born with a different biochemistry that makes them more vulnerable to the addictive properties of sugar and alcohol. Sugar-sensitive people have lower levels of the brain chemicals that create the simple state of feeling good. They are likely to be impulsive, have a hard time saying no, struggle with mood swings, are more vulnerable to depression, and struggle with sugar addiction. Their self-esteem fluctuates with what they eat. Sugar-sensitive people also tend to be smart, intuitive, creative, funny, compassionate, and tenacious.
The contradiction between the difficult and wonderful parts of being sugar sensitive creates a significant dilemma. You may ask yourself, “How can I be such a nice person and do such dumb things?” Even more relevant to this discussion, you may ask yourself, “How can I know so much and still be fat?”
The pain of the dissonance between all that you know and what you are actually able to do in your life is horrible. You feel guilty, hopeless, and overwhelmed. So the struggle for control over your weight and your life gets bigger, and you feel more out of control as time goes on. Food—particularly sweet food, high-fat food, and white things (refined flour products)—seems to be the only thing that comforts you and quiets the emotional pain you are in. Intellectually, you may know that the thing that seems to comfort you is actually killing you.
But you can’t find a way out of compulsive eating. And you feel a profound shame about your weight that you rarely talk about. The shame is always there, sort of like an aftertaste, right under the surface. It doesn’t matter what you say on the outside. It doesn’t matter how much work you have done to accept yourself just the way you are. How much you weigh isn’t the issue so much as this shame, this pain of your inability to control it. It follows you everywhere. You can be walking down the sidewalk and see a reflection of yourself in a plate-glass window, and all your molecules cringe. You look away in pain, then glance back again at your reflected image. “How can I look this way?” comes the voice inside. All your pain floods through you. The anguish of feeling fat, ugly, and out of control washes over you.
I have been in that place. When I decided to write a weight loss book, I knew I would be writing from my heart and my healing as well as my clinical experience. I know this shame and hopelessness from a deeply personal level. Before I did this program I weighed close to 265, but in my first book I said I weighed 240. Lying about your weight is part of the shame. I no longer feel it. I want you to have the healing that I have created. I want you not only to understand the science that will free you from blame but to have the joy and gratitude that come from healing your sugar-sensitive body.
I’ve been on Your Last Diet! for five and a half months, and I have so much to thank you for. On one level, you have taught me how to listen to my body, how to do what’s good for it in a way that I can do comfortably. I have hope. I started from a hopeless, helpless, and scared place. Now I feel effective. Either I know what to do or I know how to find out what to do, and I realize that my progress happens in slow, steady, doable steps.
I trust my body now. This is so big for me. I had lost trust in my body. Now I know how to listen to it and take care of it, and through that connection I have built trust.
My negative, desperate thinking regarding food has changed. I have positive and hopeful thoughts now. I no longer have irresistible urges to eat things that are not good for me. In fact, I don’t even really care about them.
And most important to me, I have moved out of fear into a place of compassion and confidence as my skills continue to grow in your program. I feel like I finally have the rest of the tools to take good care of myself—mind, body, and spirit.
If this is the first time you have heard about sugar sensitivity and you want to heal this condition and lose weight, Your Last Diet! is for you. The solution in Your Last Diet! changed my life and the lives of more than four thousand people who are connected through our community at www.radiantrecovery.com. It has helped people who are fat or just in need of trimming.
My first book, Potatoes Not Prozac, gives an in-depth discussion of the theory of sugar sensitivity and was the first to lay out the seven steps. It connects food and mood in a unique way. My second book, The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program, explains the relationship of sugar sensitivity to sugar addiction and provides a detailed road map for healing your body on a day-to-day basis.
Your Last Diet! takes the information one step fur- ther into weight loss. While some sugar sensitives have lost weight doing the food plans of my first two books, some did not. Your Last Diet! will help this latter group. Some others may have lost weight and then reached a plateau and are not losing any more. Your Last Diet! will also help them.
Key Issues for You
Being sugar sensitive and overweight brings a history with many variables. It is too shortsighted to say that you simply need to lose weight and be done with it. I am interested in healing your body and then helping you get to your ideal weight. Let’s take a look at what may be going on for you.
• You are overweight or fat and cannot lose weight.
• You are fat and cannot maintain your weight loss.
• You have a long history of dieting.
• You love sugar, carbohydrates, and fats.
• You are sugar sensitive.
• You are insulin resistant.
• You have a body with unique biochemical responses.
Before we look at the biochemistry of why you are overweight, let’s talk some about sugar sensitivity and examine what it is and how it affects your moods and your behavior. “Sugar sensitivity” is a term I coined to describe a three-part syndrome that I believe is inherited and includes these three components:
• Volatile blood sugar
• Low levels of the brain chemical serotonin
• Low levels of the brain chemical beta-endorphin
Let’s take a look at each component separately.
Volatile Blood Sugar
When you eat carbohydrates (sugars and starches), the glucose (a type of sugar) in your blood increases. Typically, as it rises, your body releases the hormone insulin, which then signals the cells to open up and accept the glucose to be burned as fuel. At best, the system works within a specific range. You eat, your blood sugar rises, insulin is released, the sugar in your blood drops, you get hungry, and you eat again.
Some people are carbohydrate sensitive.1,2 Their blood sugar goes up more rapidly, they release extra insulin, and consequently their blood sugar drops more quickly. The blood sugar system doesn’t work for them. The slope of their blood sugar action is steeper than a normal person’s. I believe that carbohydrate sensitivity is one of the hallmarks of sugar sensitivity.
This blood sugar pattern of sugar or carbohydrate sensitivity is not the same as hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia refers to low blood sugar that occurs when the level of glucose drops below normal and the person experiences fatigue, shakiness, and mental fog. This may be a function of too much insulin or too little food. A sugar sensitive’s blood sugar may or may not drop to an abnormally low level. You can be carbohydrate sensitive without being hypoglycemic. What is important for you is the slope of the blood sugar curve—a faster rise and fall. The blood sugar volatility affects your moods in a big way. When blood sugar rises, you feel great; when it falls, you get really cranky. Blood sugar volatility is the first part of sugar sensitivity.
The second part of sugar sensitivity is a low level of the brain chemical called serotonin or 5HT. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for mood. Too little of it is associated with depression and impulsivity.3 Too little and you may have a hard time getting out of bed, getting organized, feeling like you can face the day, creating and fulfilling goals, or feeling that life is worth living.
Serotonin also acts as the brakes in your brain. Think of serotonin as the “just say no” chemical. If you have too little, you may have all the good intentions in the world, but chocolate chip cookies will hop into your mouth before you know it. You may feel you have no self-discipline or no willpower. This is not a character flaw; it is biochemical and comes from low serotonin.
Low serotonin is also associated with obsessive and compulsive behaviors.4 Your brain can “lock” on a task or idea. The brakes get stuck. You munch on a problem over and over, or you get lost in a task and “wake up” five hours later. It is as if your “pay attention” switch is either on or off; there is not a whole lot of flow from one to the other.
The third part of sugar sensitivity comes from having low levels of the brain chemical called beta-endorphin. Beta-endorphin is a painkiller. It is a survival chemical. It protects you from the pain of running away when a tiger is chasing you. It helps you avoid passing out from the pain when you smash your finger in the car door. Beta-endorphin creates a kind of euphoria. What we call a runner’s high is actually a flood of beta-endorphin.
If you have low levels of beta-endorphin, you will have a low tolerance for pain. You won’t like going to the dentist. If you fall and skin your knee, it will hurt more. Because beta-endorphin also affects emotional pain, if you are low in this chemical you feel more deeply and are often thought of as being sensitive.
Low levels of beta-endorphin are associated with feeling isolated, inadequate, and helpless.5 Low levels of beta-endorphin create changes in your brain that make you respond more intensely to the drugs and chemicals that evoke beta-endorphin. You get a bigger high from alcohol.6 And you respond to sugar as though it were a drug. Sugar evokes beta-endorphin.7 Your brain likes the effect and is drawn to wanting more. When you use sugar, you feel confident, soothed, and able to cope. You feel attractive and hopeful—until it wears off. And then you need more. Over time the druglike effect diminishes, your tolerance for sugar increases, and you need more and more to achieve the same soothing or energetic effect. Your addiction to sugar is physiologically real, and like any addiction, it causes physical and psychological havoc in your life.
I often use the image of a three-legged stool to explain the concept of sugar sensitivity. Each of the biochemical parts forms one of the legs and supports the concept of sugar sensitivity itself, which is the seat of the stool. Each leg as described in the preceding section is well documented in the scientific literature, but the top that connects them all is a new idea.8 The lived experience and testimony of thousands and thousands of people who now identify themselves as sugar sensitives suggest that I am on to something here.
Not every sugar addict has a problem with all three legs. You may have very low serotonin, reasonably stable blood sugar, and moderately low beta-endorphin. Or you may have extremely low beta-endorphin, moderately low serotonin, and close to normal blood sugar. Or you may have highly reactive blood sugar, low serotonin, and normal beta-endorphin. If all three are a problem, you are in big trouble. Take a look at the symptoms that come with low levels of each of the three and see if you can get a feel for which leg or legs are out of kilter in your sugar-sensitive stool.
LOW BLOOD SUGARLOW LEVEL OFLOW LEVEL OF SEROTONINBETA-ENDORPHIN
Tired all the timeDepressedHaving low pain tolerance
Tired for no reasonImpulsiveTearful
Restless and edgyShort attentionExperiencing low spanself-esteem
ConfusedScatteredFeeling sensitive to criticism
ForgetfulQuick to angerFeeling isolated and inadequate
Feeling easilyReactiveFeeling “done to” frustratedby others
CrankyCraving sweetsCraving sugar and fat
Traditionally, the medical profession has treated two of the legs of the stool—low blood sugar and low serotonin—as separate problems. The solution for low blood sugar has been to eat regularly and to avoid foods such as sugars and refined carbohydrates. The solution for low serotonin has been to take antidepressants. These medications can work wonders, but they have side effects, take many weeks to start working, and may become less effective after a few months. Finding the right antidepressant for your body and mind may take a great deal of trial and error, which can be a depressing process in and of itself.
The medical profession has not offered a solution for low beta-endorphin. Indeed, low beta-endorphin has not been recognized as a legitimate concern until very recently.
Because there has been so little public discussion about the role of beta-endorphin in well-being, most people with low beta-endorphin have simply intuitively drifted toward the things that make them feel better in the short run, not realizing that they have been self-treating low beta-endorphin. The most common “homemade” or intuitive solutions people have used to raise their beta-endorphin are alcohol, drugs, sugar, fats, compulsive exercise or work, sex, gambling, thrill seeking, and stress. With any of these solutions, you do feel better temporarily. Your confidence goes up, the emotional pain goes away, and you feel less isolated—until the druglike effect wears off. And then you feel worse. So you have to go back for more. The beta-endorphin effect sets you up for an addictive relationship to the things that raise beta-endorphin. You will do anything for even five minutes of relief. You get into a cycle, and you do not know how to get out. In fact, until reading this book, you may not even have understood what is happening in your body or whether there is any other way to be.
If you are sugar sensitive, you may struggle with the whole package. If you are sugar sensitive and overweight, you may have decided that losing weight will fix all the problems. You don’t know that your lack of confidence and low self-esteem are a function of your chemistry and not of your weight. You think if you just lose weight, you will be okay.
Or you may know that you are depressed, so you start taking an antidepressant. You do feel better, but not in the way you had hoped. You still struggle with feeling inadequate, and you still have times of feeling so tired that you cannot function. Your house stays cluttered, and you still yell at your kids. And you are still fat, sometimes even more so. You now get headaches and can’t have an orgasm. The price for getting rid of the depression is high. You still believe if you could just find the right diet, you would lose weight and things would be okay.
This is not how it works. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now. No medication, no amount of willpower, and no weight loss alone will resolve the biochemical problem. It is time to address all three biochemical legs of the sugar sensitivity stool.
Your Last Diet! goes right to the heart of all three problems. It is a simple food plan with a powerful impact. “Doing the food”—as I call it—in this plan treats all three biochemical conditions at once in a natural and effective way. Doing the food gives each leg what it needs. You don’t have to think separately about your blood sugar, about finding the exact combination for your serotonin, or about fixing your beta-endorphin. You simply do the food, and your body chemistry heals. Look at the kinds of changes in the chart below that happen as you get balanced. I call this kind of balance radiance. It is a realistic map of what you can attain as part of your recovery—physical, mental, and emotional radiance.
OPTIMAL BLOODOPTIMAL LEVEL OFOPTIMAL LEVEL OF SUGARSEROTONINBETA-ENDORPHIN
High energyHopefulTolerating physical and emotional pain
Appropriate fatigueReflectiveSensitive, sympathetic
RelaxedAble toExperiencing high concentrateself-esteem
Remembers factsPlans strategicallyConnected and in touch
Effective problemResponsiveTaking personal solvingresponsibility
HumorousEngagedSeeking healthy beta-endorphin- raising activities
Even-temperedSeeking good healthSolution-oriented
Radiance is a real state that you can have even before your weight loss if you do the food. Rather than being foggy, depressed, reactive, impulsive, overwhelmed, and tired while you’re trying to make difficult behavioral changes, you will be clear, intentional, humorous, and directed. When you are radiant, the chances of your diet working and lasting go up astronomically. So the first phase of Your Last Diet! is focused on getting you to this place of radiance. This focus shifts you out of the obsession with the scale into a dynamic and proactive relationship with your healing. It changes everything. It gives you hope, humor, and a sense of possibility. It empowers you down into your cells and bones. Are you not ready for this shift?
“Bake someone happy”—that has always been my motto as long as I can remember.
I grew up knowing that food equals love. As time went on, it became apparent to me that food made me happy, too. Especially chocolate! By the time I was in my twenties I was consuming several candy bars daily. I would buy three bags of miniature Snickers. Would freeze all three, well, I mean I would hide two bags, under some frozen meat, and have the other bag in plain sight so I could get to it easily.
One day, after a huge chocolate binge, I started to feel that my life was not worth living. For the next several weeks I went into a severe, dark depression. One day I decided I had to do something. I was not even functioning, only existing.
Then, after a while, no amount of sugar made me feel happy. All I could do was cry. I was so angry that I couldn’t be like other people and eat anything I wanted. Then I began Your Last Diet! on www.radiantrecovery.com. For the first time in my life I felt like I was home. I began to understand that I was addicted to sugar.
I have been doing this plan for six months. I have learned to listen to my body, to eat the best kind of foods for me, and to eat at a regular time. I don’t feel those pangs of guilt and shame anymore. I have also lost fifty-two pounds since I started. To me, the weight is a bonus. The real present is how great I feel, emotionally and physically, and how I relate to food. I look at food as fuel for my body, my mind, and my spirituality. I am in control of the food; the food is not in control of me. I am able to think more clearly and to enjoy my feelings. Because of the Your Last Diet! food plan, I have become a new person . . . a new healthy and happy person.
Sugar Sensitivity Contributes to Your Weight
In order to get to the weight loss solution, we have to go further with the story of sugar sensitivity—your sugar sensitivity. How does your unique body contribute to your being overweight? You are fat because of the kind of body and brain chemistry you were born with. Your sugar sensitivity set you up. Your sugar sensitivity has led you down a path of being overweight and feeling crazy that has gotten worse over time. You are spinning in the middle of a dilemma that cannot be solved by willpower, insight, or therapy. Until you change the biochemistry, you will stay stuck. And you will stay fat.
You can change the biochemistry of your sugar sensitivity by changing what and when you eat. As you heal the imbalance, your life will change dramatically. You will feel clear and focused, your sense of who you are will improve, you will be able to say no, you will set goals and solve problems, and you will lose weight.
First, let’s look at how you got to where you are. Why are you fat? It is not that you simply eat too many calories and exercise too little. Sugar sensitivity changes the equation. You gain weight disproportionately to what you eat. If you and your non-sugar-sensitive friend both eat the same number of calories loaded with fats, you will gain more weight. Read that last sentence again: Eating the same number of calories, you gain more.
Now, you already knew this intuitively. You have always felt it, but the people around you (those who are not sugar sensitive) told you that you were crazy. They’ve said that you lie about how much you really eat. They give you that look, the “yeah, right” look that implies, “Hey, I know you sneak food, gimme a break!”
Sometimes these people are members of the medical profession, and this can compound your feelings of frustration and helplessness.
People who are not sugar sensitive accept the common theory that being fat is a function of more calories and less exercise. They have no intuitive understanding that something is wrong with that equation. They cannot accept the idea that some people can gain more weight on the same number of calories. They tell you that you are wrong. They reinforce the feeling that it is your fault and that if you would just get it together, you would not be fat. The negativity and accusations have made you disconnect from your intuition and believe them, not it.
You are not crazy. You can eat the same amount and gain more weight. You can actually be more active and still gain more weight. Yep, that is right—you don’t necessarily have to be a couch potato for less food to cause more weight.
My mother put me on my first diet when I was four years old. I was just slightly chubby at the time, but she had en- dured a lifetime of being fat and didn’t want the same for me. Now, forty-two years later, after hundreds of diets, I was fatter than ever. I was demoralized, depressed, a hundred pounds overweight. When I looked in the mirror I saw a fat, stupid failure of a woman who would be better off dead. My siblings (all fat), who, like me, were sliding headlong into middle age, were being diagnosed one by one with diabetes, heart disease, and so on, and I was terrified I would be next. My parents had both died in their early fifties of complications from these conditions, and in my late forties I was frozen with fear. In fact, panic was taking over my life, but I still couldn’t stop overeating.
Exactly 175 days ago I found Your Last Diet! To say it changed my life would be an understatement. It probably saved it.
Today I am a different person. I think I am the “real me,” which was buried under the self-hatred and fear. I wake up each morning with a sense of positive expectancy, and I go to bed each night feeling a peace inside that had eluded me all of my life. Food no longer rules me. I don’t think about it all day long. There is no secret eating, no bingeing, no feelings of being out of control. Just a beautiful, steady, calm, content way of living. I am losing weight and feeling healthy, strong, and self-confident. My panic attacks have stopped. My thinking is clear, and I have so much energy. In fact, now my body tells me it wants to exercise! I feel . . . well, there is no other way to put it—positively radiant!
The reason for your weight gain—in fact, anyone’s weight gain—is complex and multifactored. The thousands of articles published on obesity attest to this complexity. Scientists move along inch by inch plotting tiny variables. Some have said obesity is caused by a gene; others, that a pill will make the hunger go away so the weight disappears. No one is giving you the bigger picture about body chemistry and weight gain. No one is helping you make sense of your body so that you can figure out what to do. But Your Last Diet! will help.
The Mice Experiments
Let me share some striking information I found buried in the scientific literature. As I looked for scientific evidence to support my theory of sugar sensitivity, I learned that scientists have bred different strains of mice to have certain characteristics. Manipulating the genetic makeup of the mice allows scientists to test more specifically for different components in a problem. Each mouse strain has distinct characteristics. Two strains in particular, the C57 mice and DBA mice, have very different responses to alcohol. The C57 mice are called alcohol-preferring.9 This means they love alcohol and go back for more and more; if they have a choice between alcohol and water, they will always go for the booze. The DBA mice are called alcohol-avoiding. Booze doesn’t call them. They prefer water.
This mouse preference for alcohol is not a learned behavior. The scientists can take a third-generation C57 mouse whose mouse parents never drank, offer it alcohol, and the little C57 will go “Wow! Booze!” the first time it tastes the stuff.6 And if the scientists do the same with the little DBAs, they will say, “You gotta be kidding me! You want me to drink that?” These mice are displaying inherited preferences. Inherited preference for what to drink has a lot to teach us sugar-sensitive people.
In fact, the C57s and DBAs respond the same way to sugars as they do to alcohol. The C57s want more. Let them have something sweet and they will do anything to keep having it.10 Not only do they love sweet drinks and foods, but they like more concentrated sugars a whole lot more than diluted ones, and they will work hard to get their supply. In fact, when the little C57s have an opportunity to go after sugars, they will sort of forget the other things in life. I think of the C57s as little mouse sugar addicts.
Mind you, these are mouse studies, not people studies. Although there are differences between human biochemistry and mouse biochemistry, I have found that studying the C57 mice is helpful in making sense of why some people respond to sugars, fats, and alcohol so differently.
Let’s look a little more at this strain of C57 mice. C57s have lower levels of beta-endorphin, just like us sugar sensitives.11 Beta-endorphin is the body’s natural painkiller, so C57 mice feel pain sooner and more deeply than other mice with higher levels of beta-endorphin. Not only do they feel physical pain more intensely, they also feel emotional pain more intensely. Of course, scientists measure mouse emotional pain a little differently than they would human emotional pain. The C57 mice get upset about being alone. The babies cry a lot when they are taken away from their mothers.12 The adult C57s respond to stress differently. They crouch in the corner when faced with new, unfamiliar challenges and tests. Scientists believe there is a correlation between these behavioral responses to fear, pain, and uncertainty and the levels of beta-endorphin in the mice’s brains.13 Lower levels of beta-endorphin create these problems.
The brains of the C57 mice work to compensate for the low levels of beta-endorphin by opening up more receptors to try to grab all the beta-endorphin there is. This opening up of extra receptors is called beta-endorphin upregulation. This upregulation allows the C57 mice to experience a more normal response even though they are producing less of the chemicals. But upregulation creates an interesting problem. It is designed to deal with the day-to-day flow of beta-endorphin in the little mouse brain. If a C57 mouse takes something that adds an extra push of beta-endorphin, it will get a bigger reaction because there are now more receptor sites. Things such as alcohol, sugar, and fat evoke beta-endorphin and create a more intense response in the C57 mouse brain.
It is this more intense beta-endorphin response to the effects of alcohol, sugar, and fat that hook the little mouse into wanting more and more. It is a critical factor in creating the addictive response. The scientific data about the differences between the C57 and DBA mice helped me to construct my hypothesis about sugar sensitivity. There is no getting around how uncanny the correlation seems to be in applying the scientific ideas about mice to our lived experience. The science of the C57 mice is actually comforting and instructive for us sugar sensitives as we try to make sense out of what seems to be an irrational attachment to sugar, alcohol, and fat.
There are other differences between the C57 mice and their DBA buddies that can shed light on why sugar-sensitive people so often struggle with their weight. Let me share some of these intriguing C57 characteristics and talk with you about what this might mean for your weight problems.
• C57s are prone to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension.14
• C57s gain a disproportionate amount of weight on a high-fat diet. If the DBAs (non-sugar-sensitive mice) and the C57s eat the same number of calories that include a high percentage of calories from fat, the C57s will gain a lot more weight than the DBAs.14
• C57s have a different insulin response than the DBA mice. Insulin is the hormone that tells the body to take sugar out of the blood and put it in the cells to be used for fuel. The C57 insulin mechanism doesn’t work as well as the DBA one. More sugar stays in the blood and is likely to be stored as fat rather than being burned for energy.15,16
• C57s are genetically predisposed to accumulate fat in the stomach area.17,18
• C57 mice release more sugar from the liver in response to stress.19
• C57s produce less of the hormone leptin in response to eating fat. Leptin shuts off appetite and tells the body to burn fat.20
• C57s that exercised more than DBAs while both were on a high-fat diet still gained more weight.21
• C57s had lower levels of the enzymes sucrase and lipase. They do not digest sugars in the same way as DBAs and so store more.14
Science spends billions of dollars on obesity research trying to find out why you are fat and what can be done about it. The insulin scientists work diligently to make sense of the insulin mechanisms, and other scientists grapple with hormonal complexity, yet no one has connected the C57 dots to create a picture of sugar sensitivity to show that this is shared by humans. Before publishing my theories, I talked to my brother, who is a highly respected doctor and CEO of a pharmaceutical company. I asked him whether I should wait for ironclad scientific proof before publishing my first book. He said, “For goodness’ sake, you have something that works! Get it out there! You are on to something; don’t wait for us to catch up.”
Even though it may be years before an absolute connection between the two species is proven beyond all scientific doubt, I and others have used the mouse story to create a powerful solution to our weight problem.
Here is a more detailed look at the characteristics and health problems of sugar-sensitive mice:
• C57s are prone to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. C57s get fat, and subsequently develop diabetes and hypertension disproportionately to their non-sugar-sensitive friends. They are genetically predisposed to these conditions. When we read about the idea that some people are more likely than others to get fat or to develop diabetes or hypertension, it makes sense. But let’s play with the C57 idea and see what it might mean if we thought of a sugar-sensitive person as a big C57 mouse.
You were hardwired to be fat at birth. You inherited your body from your parents. Before you even started eating differently, your body was waiting to be fat. If no one ever told you this, you may have lived your whole life feeling guilty. You may have thought your weight was a flaw in your personality, not your body. You felt that you got this way because of how you ate. You were out of control. You caused it, and by golly, you’d better fix it. These very strong messages may have come from your parents. They certainly come from our culture.
These self-criticisms and judgments by others have been a very painful burden, especially since you have tried and tried to lose weight. Knowing that you have a body that is hardwired toward being fat, like those of the C57 mice, can help you see what you need to do for yourself. Your Last Diet! is the solution you need.
• C57s gained more weight on a high-fat diet than DBA mice on the same diet. In a study of how increasing consumption of fats would affect weight gain, scientists gave the DBAs (non-sugar-sensitive mice) and the C57s the same number of calories of high-fat mouse chow. On the same number of calories, the C57s gained a lot more weight than their DBA friends did. Think about that! The C57s gained more weight on the high-fat diets. It wasn’t simply the number of calories they ate that made them gain weight. Something else was going on. When I first read this, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I knew the truth of this in my own body. I knew that I ate less and gained more. I knew that my body responded differently to food. But I had never, ever read anything that said that my intuition was on target.
• C57s have a different insulin response to sugars than the DBA mice. C57s are carbohydrate sensitive. Their blood sugar rises more rapidly in response to sugar, and their bodies produce more insulin as a result of this. C57s have an additional problem, called an impaired second-phase insulin response. When the insulin is supposed to be getting the sugar in the blood into the cells, the mechanism doesn’t work as well as it should. The C57s are insulin resistant. More sugar stays in the blood, but the body needs to get rid of it, so it stores the extra as fat. Insulin resistance is one more piece of the fat puzzle. If your sugar-sensitive body really does respond like a C57 mouse, you will be more likely to store fat rather than burn it.
• C57s are genetically predisposed to accumulate fat in the stomach area. This particular finding made me laugh. I thought tummy tubby or my aging body shape was a function of genes. I had no idea it might be connected to being sugar sensitive. Somehow, I take great comfort in the idea of the little sugar-loving, alcoholic C57 mice getting fatter in the stomach.
• C57s respond to stress more intensely. The body releases sugar (in the form of glycogen) from the liver in response to stress. This response is intended to provide fuel to allow running away in the face of danger. The C57 mice get a bigger release of sugar as glycogen from the liver in response to stress than their lean buddies. This reaction was even more exaggerated in fat C57s.
What might this mean for the sugar-sensitive human? It may mean that stress contributes to your being fat. More stress means more sugar is being released from your own body. If you are not able to process it or metabolize it adequately, it will be stored as fat. In addition, since you have a more pronounced reaction to the sugar, you may grow to depend on the stress-induced sugar “hit.” You may seek out stressful situations in order to get a sugar rush.
• C57s do not produce the hormone leptin in response to fat intake the same way that non-sugar-sensitive mice do. Leptin, which shuts off appetite and tells the body to burn fat, seems to be another of the genetically wired contributors to fat levels. Leptin tells the body how much fat is stored. When it says, “Enough,” the body knows to eat less and turn up the fat-burning process. If C57s have lower levels of leptin, this may be true for sugar-sensitive people as well. Think of what this may mean for you. Rather than getting a leptin message to burn fat, you sit around getting fatter and fatter.
• C57s exercised more than DBAs while both were on a high-fat diet and still gained more weight. C57s develop severe obesity when placed on high-fat diets. Researchers at Duke University wanted to see if exercise would affect how much weight the C57s gained compared to the other strain of mice. They put both strains of mice on a high-fat diet. As expected, the C57s gained more weight without consuming more calories. But to the amazement of the researchers, the C57s actually exercised more than their lean friends did. The researchers officially state that “diet-induced obesity is not explainable by reduced levels of physical activity.”
This researcher language may mean that you are not necessarily a couch potato if you are overweight. Being fat is generally blamed on your lack of exercise. You may exercise a lot and still not be able to figure out why you do not lose weight. The findings about the C57 mice and exercise suggest that there is far more to losing weight than what you have been told and what is typically known.
• C57s had lower levels of the enzymes sucrase and lipase. They do not digest fats and sugars in the same way as DBAs. Researchers found that the little C57s had lower levels of the intestinal enzymes sucrase and lipase when their diets were high in sugar. So C57s don’t digest sugar and fat in the same way that the little lean mice do. If sugars and fats are not digested properly, they cannot be used as fuel. They stay in the bloodstream and get converted to fat.
Put all these pieces together, and you get a tubby little mouse who has a hard time losing weight and is prone to diabetes and hypertension. If the C57 obesity research reveals biochemical truths that apply to us sugar-sensitive people, it certainly helps to explain why you gain more weight and why you have a harder time losing weight than your normal friends do.
C57s and Beta-endorphin
The C57 profile has many other interesting pieces that can help you make sense of why you are the way you are. Let’s look at the brain chemistry of the little C57 mice. As I said earlier, C57s inherit lower levels of the brain chemical called beta-endorphin. Lower levels mean a brain adjustment to create more beta-endorphin sites. More beta-endorphin sites mean a bigger “hit” in response to things that produce beta-endorphin, such as sugar and alcohol. This contributes to the C57s really liking sugar and alcohol and wanting more. It is why C57s are called alcohol-preferring mice.
Beta-endorphin withdrawal is responsible for cravings. When the beta-endorphin effect of alcohol or sugar wear off, the empty beta-endorphin receptors scream for more. With more beta-endorphin receptor sites screaming, you will have bigger cravings than the person who has a normal brain. People who are alcoholic generally have lower levels of beta-endorphin than those who are not alcoholic. Because the low levels of beta-endorphin are genetically determined, the sons, daughters, and grandchildren of alcoholics may inherit these lower levels and thus may be more at risk for alcoholism.
This same inherited brain chemistry also affects cravings for sweet and high-fat foods. I consider it a key part of sugar sensitivity. You are born with a bigger reaction to beta-endorphin. Sugars and fats evoke beta-endorphin. Because of your brain chemistry, you get a bigger “hit” from the sweet and fat foods, so you become physiologically—not just psychologically or emotionally—addicted to them.
Sugar Sensitivity and Serotonin
C57 mice also have lower levels of another brain chemical called serotonin. I believe that these lower levels of serotonin are a key factor in sugar sensitivity in mice and humans. For instance, serotonin regulates mood and the ability to say no (impulse control) in humans. Serotonin provides the brain’s brakes. If you have low levels of it, you will be impulsive and reactive. You will shoot your mouth off at the wrong times. You will say, “I am not going to eat any more cookies,” and then eat the whole bag. You will insist that a new diet is “it” and then three weeks later give up and forget it. You will wake up in the middle of February and feel that you cannot function another day. This is all because of low serotonin.
What and when you eat affects serotonin levels. When you diet, you reduce the levels of serotonin in your brain. Dieting actually makes you less able to say no and more vulnerable to depression. This is one reason traditional diets do not work for sugar sensitives. You feel much worse than other people on a diet. This shift in serotonin levels doesn’t happen overnight, however. It takes a couple of weeks. But the low serotonin creeps up on you and whacks you in the head about four to five weeks into the latest diet.
Your serotonin levels are related to the insulin levels in your blood. Many diets are designed to minimize insulin levels by reducing foods that evoke insulin. While this is good for your overall health and for reducing your insulin resistance, it zaps your serotonin levels. You can feel terrific on one of those diets for the first few weeks, and then pow—you feel as if you can’t do it another day, and a slice of bread sets you off on a three-week binge. This is the effect of low serotonin.
Because serotonin is the brain chemical that helps you say no, whenever you minimize your insulin levels, you will be less and less able to stick with the diet. And you will get more and more depressed as the lowered serotonin contributes to a bleaker mood.
What to Do with This Information
This information about brain chemicals and mice does not mean that being sugar sensitive is a hopeless condition. You can fix it. You may feel that you are destined to be fat no matter what, but these feelings of hopelessness come from your biochemistry. And you can change the feelings and your biochemistry.
Your Last Diet! will help get you a kind of DBA energy—a hopeful, confident, goal-setting energy—by healing your sugar sensitivity. You will become more able to solve the problem of your weight rather than feel defeated by it. Your Last Diet! will help to compensate for your C57-like sugar-sensitive wiring. It won’t be fast, but it will be certain. The plan isn’t going to fix every single one of your problems, but it will give you the emotional and physical stability to allow you to use all the life skills and resources you have developed over the years to address your other problems. Your Last Diet! has already done this for thousands of other sugar sensitives. In this book and on our community website at www.radiantrecovery.com, they attest to its effectiveness for sugar-sensitive people.
Let’s go back and review what you have learned so far. If you are sugar sensitive, you have a body that acts like a big C57 mouse. You respond differently to sugars and fats, you gain weight disproportionately, you don’t rise to new challenges well or confidently, you have a hard time saying no, and you struggle with an addictive relationship with sweets and white foods.
What and how you eat has a profound effect on your body. Because of the sugar-sensitive body chemistry, you are naturally drawn to a high-sugar, high-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. These kinds of foods increase your beta- endorphin levels and enhance your serotonin levels in the short term. They comfort you and make you feel satisfied—as if you are coping. But what you think is comforting you is actually creating the problem of mood swings and weight gain. Putting a high-sugar, high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet into a C57 metabolism is a recipe for disaster.
In many ways you have been a sitting duck for a weight problem. Your biochemistry makes you vulnerable to gaining more and more weight. You become depressed and impulsive. You try lots of different ways to lose weight, but your weight keeps going up despite your best intentions. This pattern is devastating. After years of spinning like a hamster on a wheel, you have come to feel hopeless.
Your Last Diet! helps you change this. Changing what and when you eat will shift your sugar-sensitive body chemistry. Your moods will become stable. You will be able to follow through on your intentions, and you will lose weight. Permanently. You will heal the shame and feel hopeful, optimistic, and radiant.
If you are sugar sensitive, losing weight needs to be done in several phases. This is the plan we follow in Your Last Diet! First, you change your body chemistry with a food plan that lays the physical and emotional foundation for weight loss. You get steady, and then you develop a weight loss plan that is perfect for your body. Essentially, you first shift your brain and body chemistry from being like that of the C57 mice to being like that of the DBA mice. By doing so, you will be able to lose the weight that the sugar-sensitive chemistry created. Rather than being impulsive, impatient, and reactive as you diet, you will be reflective and effective. Rather than feeling hopeless and overwhelmed, you will feel optimistic and empowered.
The first phase of Your Last Diet! will prepare you for dieting and weight loss by:
• Getting your brain stable enough to follow directions
• Increasing your serotonin levels enough to have impulse control and to be able to stick with your intention
• Stopping beta-endorphin spiking so you don’t have huge mood swings and cravings resulting from withdrawal
• Increasing your beta-endorphin levels so you feel confident and able to make changes and solve problems
All this will happen before you even think about the scale. Your Last Diet! is different from anything you have ever done before. You do most of the work before you start the losing-weight phase. The plan is designed to get you to stop thinking about the scale and stop fretting about how many pounds you have to lose before your daughter’s wedding. This is a radical departure from what you are used to, but in the long run you will lose weight.
Just sit still for a minute. The plan is very simple. All you need to do and everything you need to learn will be explained in simple, straightforward terms. Basically, you simply do the food. You follow the program for healing sugar sensitivity with food. I will teach you what this means. You will take baby steps, follow a very clear sequence, and do the steps as they are outlined. Your body and your brain will change, and you will feel better. Think of this book as a weight loss map for sugar sensitives. You can’t get from point A to point B in an instant. But you will always know the way from one to the other, and you won’t ever get lost.
Let’s get started. I want you to feel the radiance that I have every day.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Your Last Diet! by Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D.. Copyright © 2001 by Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.