If I were to tell you there are toxins and carcinogens in cigarettes, I know that news wouldn’t make you fall from your chair with shock. But did you know that many every day foods can be toxic for our systems too? Throughout my 23 years of taking care of women, I’ve seen a lot of addictive behaviors; particularly around food. The most common foods that people reach for to curb anxiety or dull the effects of a stressful day are chocolate, cheese,caffeine, flour and sugar. They’re used to anesthetize…and they are drugs (don’t fall out of your chair!).
The Curious Case of Morphine-Like Substances in Dairy
I recall learning decades ago that dairy products contain morphine-like substances (published in the journal Science in 1981). I learned this while studying nutrition, and later when I had kids, it helped me understand why my daughters would drink cup after cup of organic milk if left to their own devices. I was aghast. I guess it makes sense in a Darwinian way that a baby calf would do better if addicted to cow milk. But we humans do NOT have the same benefit.
Personally, I didn’t think I had a problem with cheese until I encountered Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes. Now, I’m clear that I have a problem. There are certain cheeses they make that I literally cannot stop eating. And when I’m otherwise eating a very pure food plan (link here to see it), I notice this when I binge on cheese: The next day my weight goes up by 2 to 3 pounds (I’ll explain why in a moment). I get all stuffed up, both in my head and my gut. Yes, the indelicate world of constipation is what I’m referring to.
I’m feel far better now and my gut is far more glisteny being off of dairy.
But don’t take my word, for it. Stay skeptical. I welcome that. Do your research and I think you’ll be convinced. Here’s what Neal Barnard MD has to say. It’s 40 minutes of well spent time.
What Dr. Barnard just told us, those casomorphines keep you addicted. Time to look addiction squarely in the eye. Indeed: Dairy. Addiction. As. Initiation.
Me, Kicking Dairy
Periodically, I go vegan. I do this for various reasons: guilt, carbon footprint, water shortage, thinking of the eyes of baby cows watching me purchase (steal) their milk from the grocery store. Last time was 2010 and I stuck with a pure vegan food plan for 6 months. I then ate some damn cheese.
And got some important information. My intestines gurgled like crazy (and they hadn’t for…uh, 6 months!). I gained 3 pounds overnight. I felt more dumb, as in brain fog. I needed a nettipot to clear the air flow through my nose.
Food as Information
This was all good information, which is how I believe we want to approach food. Food is NOT a drug to ease suffering. It’s not a salve for stress. It’s not a good friend. (OK, occasionally a temporary friend as I would insist one month ago while on my chocolate bender, Fortunately, we broke up).
Hang with me for a bit of science? In 2003 we sequenced the entire human genome for 3 billion dollars of your tax money. Now you sequence your food-related genes that determine the best food plan for you for $697. But here’s the rub: More than 90% of your body’s genetic expression — in other words, how those lovely genes play out or manifest for you — is determined by what you eat.
How do you want to leverage your genes? Feed them morphine-like substances or kale? Excess alcohol or a maca smoothie with chia seeds? You consume more than one ton of food per year, so this is a ton (literally and figuratively) of information for your genes.
My Unfortunate Food Genotype
After learning that my genotype-appropriate diet is low-carb (what? seriously?!), I thought I should investigate the persistent gurgling that happened every time I took a bite of sheep yogurt.
Turns out I’m moderately allergic to casein, the main protein in milk products. Eating allergenic foods definitely falls under the category of “not good for Dr. Sara, not good for the genes.”
Even armed with the information that casein is causing my intestine to enter battle, I kept eating the stuff. Perhaps you’re familiar with the rationalizations. “I’ll just have a tiny bit–surely that can’t cause too much damage.” Or “I’ll give it up on Monday!” Or “Well, the allergy was moderate, not severe.” Wow, Inner Saboteur, why am I such a moron when your arguments are rather lame?
Then 5 pounds appeared. And it was enough. It was time to get my big girl jeans on and kick the dairy. What helped? More accountability of the external variety (since my internal accountability is constantly dueling with my Inner Saboteur and I need the extra fortitude). See more below for 3 rockin’ practices to kick dairy and other food toxins.
But I can’t resist a quickie tip: Other creamy foods helped me kick dairy. I’m day 7 today. They are: avocado (for which my genotype is particularly fond) and hummus of all types (including edamame).
Need More Accountability? If you know you need help with cleansing the “drug-like” food toxins out of your system, here are a few more ideas to help you with both internal and external accountability.
Dr. Sara’s Top 3 Accountability Practices
1. Keep an accountability journal. Of food. Of every morsel you pop in your mouth, from cheese to raw cream in your coffee, to a lick of cookie batter, to a sip of your partner’s wine. This is not just my unproven opinion but shown to be a top driver for achieving a healthy weight and breaking bad habits.
2. Forward this email to your friends to improve your accountability. Write in the subject line: “Urgent! Need help kicking dairy! Be my accountability partner?”
3. Commit publicly to your community. Last year, Jennifer Louden committed to getting off sugar and alcohol before her 50th birthday on her blog. It was a powerful boundary for her and kept her accountable, and also allowed her to talk about it – process the grief, the cravings, the drama in a public way. As I think about how social media has the positive effect of raising your oxytocin, I consider using your community, such as on Facebook, and there’s no better community than my inner circle. Click here to join me plus an intimate group of like-minded women for two calls with me per month, one on a special topic related to radical health, and the other is a Q&A. Plus we’re active on our private Facebook group page. We will keep you accountable!
Another helpful strategy for me is to leverage your signature strengths to change your weaknesses, rather than just trying to change your weaknesses which usually fails and is depressing. Don’t go there. But I digress. Signature strengths is a topic for another time.
I’ll be writing more in the second half of June about safe and gradual detoxes that help ease that jittery and headachy feeling when you’re trying to wean yourself from an addiction. Let me know if you struggle with this too!