Acclaimed Chef Credits Plant-Based Diet With Treating Her Eating Disorder

'Not realizing that from a very young age I was actually suffering from an addiction to refined carbohydrates (sugars and flours), I felt that I was somehow defective and that there was something seriously wrong with me'
Vegan Chef AJ
Chef AJ changed her her health by following aplant-based diet (Photo: Supplied)

Trying to lose weight can be an all-consuming personal struggle. But few understand it and talk about it openly. Sure there are weight loss programs, diets and exercise programs everywhere you look but most of those authors never had to go through decades of struggle.

Which is why we want to share this excerpt from Chef AJ's best-selling book: The Secrets To Ultimate Weight Loss

Plus we'd like to invite you to learn first hand from the very experts that have helped Chef AJ achieve her ideal weight after being overweight or obese for over 50 years. Chef AJ is hosting The Real Truth About Weight Loss Summit in which she interviews 34 experts and you can watch it all for free for a limited time. Click here and sign up now


I was overweight from the age of five, obese by eleven, anorexic in my teens, bulimic and obese in my twenties, addicted to prescription diet pills in my thirties, and overweight and suffering from an addiction to processed and refined foods in my forties and early fifties.

My struggles with food were always lonely and fraught with guilt and anxiety. Growing up, I felt that there was not a single person to whom I could talk who would truly understand what I was going through.

Could anyone even comprehend how much I was suffering from my dysfunctional and discordant relationship with food, or how it was impacting every area of my life? It was affecting not just my physical health, but also my ability to hold a job, to have healthy personal relationships, and to nurture my spiritual and emotional well-being.

Not realizing that from a very young age I was actually suffering from an addiction to refined carbohydrates (sugars and flours), I felt that I was somehow defective and that there was something seriously wrong with me. Addiction is a disease that thrives in isolation, and I felt completely and totally alone.

Food addiction

I have now had the opportunity to work with more than 2,000 people who have experienced similar, or even worse, struggles than my own. Food addiction (more accurately, processed food addiction) is real. You are not lazy or weak-willed. You do not lack discipline or willpower. You have a biogenetic disease. Having that disease is not your fault.

For food addicts, powders like sugars and flours are drugs, not food. In their manufacture, they go through the same sort of refining process that drugs and alcohol do. Once you abstain from them, you can begin to stabilize your brain chemistry. For almost all the individuals with whom I have had the privilege to work, their excess weight was a direct result of their food addictions.

As soon as they eliminated all sugars (real and artificial, caloric and non-caloric), all flours (even the so-called healthy, whole grain ones), dairy products, high-fat foods, and alcohol, and any other foods that were personal food triggers (foods that lead to bingeing or overeating) for them, and as soon as they began addressing as well the emotional reasons why they were using food as a drug to medicate in the first place, their brain chemistry began to stabilize, perhaps for the very first time in their lives. Once they treated their food addiction and they began to recover from it, the excess weight fell off.

Energy dense

Whether or not you believe that sugars, flours, and alcohol are addictive, the simple fact is that they are still not health-promoting foods and will not help to facilitate weight loss. They are highly processed foods that are not found in nature and have been stripped of their water, fiber, and vital nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

They are very calorically dense when compared to whole, natural food. These are also the foods that many people in general, and overweight people in particular, simply cannot moderate their use of. These processed foods can cause many people to have food cravings and to overeat.

Food problems?

So, how do you know if you have a problem with a particular type of food or drink? Please ask yourself these 10 questions and answer as honestly as possible:

-Do you absolutely have to consume it daily, or perhaps even several times a day?
-Do you feel bad if you are unable to get your fix?
-Do you think about it often and can't wait until you are able to consume it again, even if you have just had it?
-Is it difficult for you to moderate your use of it?
-Do you often consume more of it than you intended to?
-Do you often feel shame or regret after consuming it?
-Do you have physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms when you try to abstain from it?
-Is it difficult for you to get through even a single day without consuming this substance?
-Does abstaining from it result in any physical or emotional discomfort?
-Does the mere thought of abstaining from it bring on strong emotions, such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or grief?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be suffering from an addiction. 

Food addiction is not yet widely recognized in the larger medical community, but many doctors and scientific researchers are working very hard to broaden our understanding of it.

Diets don't work

I spent most of my life suffering from being either overweight or obese, and battling emotional eating and an addiction to refined food until I discovered the one plan that will overcome all these afflictions. And it's not a diet because diets don't work. Did you know that 98 percent of those who lose weight, usually through a great deal of suffering and deprivation, gain it all back within two years, and then some?

If you are overweight or obese, or even if you are slender but suffering from emotional eating or food addiction, I genuinely understand your pain and how these diseases may affect virtually every area of your life. I truly know what it's like to walk in your shoes, because I walked in them for over fifty years, nearly my entire life.

I often think of myself as 'nouveau thin' because the majority of my life was lived in a fat body. I want you to know that wherever you are in your journey, there is hope. As long as you are still breathing, there is always hope. Recovery is possible and you can heal. But it has to start with getting the food right.

Chef AJ often shares healthy recipes on YouTube

Stockpiling food

For most of my life, I would do things like stockpile packages of cookies, boxes of pastries from the bakery, and bars of candy. I would 'hide' them in the freezer so that I wouldn't be constantly tempted by them, promising myself that I would 'be good' and not eat them, or perhaps 'eat just one'. (If you can 'eat just one' of any hyper-palatable food, then you are not a food addict.) I would open and close the freezer door numerous times a day.

I tried to walk away, truly I did, but the urge to eat these foods overpowered me and I completely lost control. I simply could not stop myself from eating them. The power that they had over me was just too great, and no amount of willpower that I could muster was a match for them. It was a constant battle and one that I always lost.

And the story always had the same ending - empty bags full of crumbs. When I would finally wake up from the food coma, full of shame, disgust, and self-hatred, I would promise myself that I would never do it again. I would keep that promise. Until the next time. And there was always a next time. Sound familiar?

Fat from childhood

I had a very tumultuous childhood. I distinctly remember being an emotional eater from the age of five, when I first became fat. Since early childhood, I was using food as a drug to soothe myself.

I was born in Chicago in 1960 to a morbidly obese mother who had struggled with her weight, food addictions, and emotional eating her entire life. Statistics show that if one of your parents is obese, you have a 40 percent chance of becoming obese. If both of your parents are obese, that chance increases to 80 percent, whereas lean parents have only a seven percent chance of having an obese child.

Although I was genetically predisposed to being obese, I do not blame my genes. Genetics only loaded the gun and made me more susceptible to developing addictions and putting on weight. It was my deplorable diet and sedentary lifestyle that pulled the trigger and caused me to become fat at the tender age of five years old.

'Recipes, not diseases, are hereditary'

I love what Dr. Baxter Montgomery, a Houston plant-based cardiologist, says: "It's not the diseases that are hereditary, it's the recipes!"

If you are a parent reading this, please understand that once you start feeding your kids unhealthy, disease-promoting foods like animal products, especially dairy, and processed food (particularly sugar and refined grains), you are planting the seeds for predisposing them to a refined food addiction by rewiring their delicate brain chemistry in an unfavorable way and adulterating their palate so that they are disinclined to enjoy the taste of healthy, whole, natural food.

Processed foods like these are engineered to be addictive; they hijack our taste buds and our brain chemistry. Getting your family to eat healthy foods after they have been habitually eating these highly addictive foods will be an uphill battle, so please heal yourself from these addictions and stabilize your own brain chemistry first. The best strategy is not to feed your kids these poisons in the first place.

While today one out of every five kids under the age of eighteen is obese, in the early sixties, that wasn't yet the case. In a classroom of 40 kids, usually only one was fat - and that kid was me.

I dreaded the month of September because that meant going back to school and buying new clothes, as last years dresses no longer fit. Not because I had gotten any taller, but because I had gotten wider. I remember one rude sales clerk saying to my mother that if I got any fatter, the store would not be able to accommodate me and that I would have to shop at 'Lane Giant's'. She was referring to Lane Bryant's, a plus-size clothing store for adult women.

Food and illness

My grandmother was a Type 2 diabetic. I can still remember squeamishly watching her inject her very round belly with insulin every morning.

Her mother, my great-grandmother, had died of complications of Type 2 Diabetes after having her leg amputated. I have very unpleasant memories of visiting my beloved grandfather in the ICU after he had open-heart surgery; how weak and anguished he looked after the operation really terrified me. I watched my own father languish, and suffer tremendously, after his own failed open-heart surgery, which ultimately killed him.

Growing up, I thought that all this was normal, that these diseases were just the natural result of ageing, or as my parents put it, 'the vagaries of old age'. It would be almost half a century until I learned that all these diseases were completely preventable and largely reversible and that they were all caused by the foods my family ate.

My uncle, a doctor who practised internal medicine, noticed that I kept getting fatter and said to me: "I bet you could go an entire week without eating and it wouldn't hurt you one bit." And so, I did. Thus began my struggles with disordered eating. For the years that followed, I alternated between feasting and fasting, without ever understanding what to eat.

Anorexia

When I was 19-years-old and a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, my anorexia was so severe that I had to be hospitalized. Here is how they treated anorexia in the late seventies. You had a choice. You could either eat what they served you or two psychiatric aides who looked more like NFL linebackers would put you in five-point restraints and shove a tube down your throat and force-feed you like a goose cruelly being fattened for fois gras.

Telling them that I was an ethical vegan and didn't wear leather products did not seem to amuse them. After having been left in five-point restraints once for several hours, treated like a rabid dog, my will was broken. In order to avoid further trauma and humiliation, I ate. But once again, I ate all the wrong foods. Instead of eating wholesome, nourishing, and life-sustaining foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which is what my diet consists of today, all I chose to eat from what was offered at the hospital fell into my own four toxic food groups: flour, sugar, caffeine, and chocolate. I was already vegan at this time, so I still shunned all animal products, but ate instead only the least healthful vegan foods available, the highly processed and refined vegan junk food.

After years of alternating between severe dietary restriction and gluttony, once I started eating again, after my discharge from the hospital, I could not stop! I quickly gained over sixty pounds in the course of just a few months. The last time I actually remember weighing myself, I tipped the scales at 180 pounds. I was mortified and ashamed. My biggest fear in life, that I would end up morbidly obese like my mother, was now manifesting, but my appetite was insatiable. I felt completely out of control and became seriously depressed.

Depression and suicide attempt

It was at this point that I attempted suicide. Needless to say, this was not a smart move for someone who hated being in a mental institution, and the aftermath was absolutely horrific. It was the darkest period of my life; I feel very ashamed about what I did and what I put my family through. The only reason I choose to share this personal information is this: since coming out publicly as a food addict, I have received numerous e-mails from people who have told me that they have attempted suicide or have contemplated taking their own lives, or that they have had friends and loved ones who have committed suicide because of this disease. I want people to understand that this is truly a biogenetic disease that you were born with. It is not your fault and you need not feel ashamed. It must be taken seriously because it can be fatal.

Food addiction, you see, is a chronic, progressive, and often life-threatening illness. Once you understand the gravity of the situation, it is your responsibility to seek the help that you need to recover, and that starts with getting the food right. It is essential that you abstain from eating the foods that will perpetuate the disease, and instead eat the foods that will restore you to health and stabilize your brain chemistry: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. These are not only the healthiest foods on the planet but also the foods that will finally allow you to easily and permanently lose weight without going hungry.

'Free from the clutches of refined food addiction'

Twice in my life, I had been thin, once from anorexia and once from a dangerous drug, and both times it had been fleeting and required extraordinary measures to achieve and sustain. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight through healthy eating didn't seem to me at the time to be remotely possible. But in 2011, I learned The Secrets to Ultimate Weight Loss from Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Dr. Doug Lisle and Dr. John McDougall.

And for the past six years, I have not only been joyfully and consistently slender, at 117 pounds, but free from the clutches of refined food addiction.

And believe it or not, my recent journey has been painless and relatively effortless. I do not have to weigh my food, or myself, to easily maintain my slim, ideal weight. While I do exercise regularly now to help manage my anxiety without medication, I engaged in absolutely no exercise whatsoever to lose the majority of these fifty pounds. I no longer have an insatiable appetite for unhealthy junk food or suffer uncontrollable hunger or cravings. I never feel deprived. I eat all the delicious, nutritious food that I want, as often as I want, until comfortably full, but of the right foods.

Unprocessed plant foods

If you've never eaten this way, I know that it must sound like I am making a bold promise, that you can truly eat and enjoy large quantities of food, even potatoes, and still lose weight. I didn't believe it was possible either until I went to TrueNorth Health Center and watched how all the doctors, patients, and other staff members ate. They were all trim. They would come to the dining room at every meal and take not one, but at least two, huge plates of food. And the food would be piled on high.

One plate would usually have salad and fruit, the other lots of steamed vegetables and cooked starches. I was skeptical at first, but when I finally took the 'when in Rome attitude' and 'ran an experiment', as Dr. Doug Lisle, co-author of The Pleasure Trap, suggested, and ate all these foods with abandon, the weight melted off. The more potatoes I ate, the slimmer I got! I learned firsthand that the way to lose weight was with a full plate. Always remember that you will not gain weight if the calorie density of the foods you eat averages 567 calories per pound or less, which describes all the foods to the left of the red line.

Using the calorie density approach with unprocessed, whole plant foods is not a diet, as you will be able to enjoy extremely large portions of delicious, satisfying foods like rice, beans, potatoes, fruits, and vegetables. And you will never feel hungry or deprived.

You won't be counting your calories or measuring your portions, but you should notice that the majority of the volume of your food will be coming from non-starchy vegetables, and the majority of the calories you ingest will come from sources of starch (potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squashes, whole grains, and legumes).

As I said in my first book, Unprocessed, for optimal health, disease prevention, and even disease reversal, we are designed to eat our food whole, not processed. We need to eat foods that come from a plant, not foods that are manufactured in a plant. And as it turns out, these whole plant foods are lowest in calorie density, highest in nutrients, and unparalleled for weight loss too.

You can find out more about the book here

If you'd like to learn from Chef AJ and the experts who've helped her on her journey, then join her on The Real Truth About Weight Loss Summit. It's free for a limited time only so click here and sign up now

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are prepared in the author's capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Plant Based News itself. 

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