By Kat James

Saving Yourself From Compulsive Self-sabotage:
Self Transformation Part III

If you’ve been following this four-part series, you may already be experiencing some exciting physical rewards from the sixteen powerful steps outlined in the last issue—if you missed it, be sure to visit or dive into my complete approach by reading The Truth About Beauty. As you shed burden after health burden, you may begin to uncover deeper, more stubborn forms of self-sabotage, which I call compulsive self-sabotage. Unlike unwitting types of self-sabotage that require only good information and accessible solutions to resolve, compulsive self sabotage is a different “animal” fed by far deeper roots.

Compulsive self-sabotage affects the lives of most every one you know, quietly influencing split-second, seemingly benign everyday choices, with impulses that render them repeatedly in opposition with our healthiest intentions. These impulses may stay with us like a subtle cloud throughout our lifetime, gently
dimming our radiance and quality of life choice by choice, day by day, without ever becoming intolerable, or even noticeable, until one day we’re diagnosed with a full-blown disease, such as obesity, hypertension or diabetes. And suddenly…you’re a statistic. Or—as in my own case—what starts as an innocent impulse grows quickly into a powerful compulsion, making it harder and harder to present a rational, “together” person to the world. You marvel in horror at what you’re doing to yourself. Finally, you face a health crisis at an early age, and you either become a statistic, or you beat the odds and find a way out.

Most people see themselves in the first category, or even free of any unhealthy impulses. And though they may know someone who suffers from the latter, or one of the issues below, they may share the very attitude the media projects: that those “sedentary, fast food-loving, Americans” just refuse to think about their health.

Here are the troubling statistics perpetuating this view:

  • Over half of women and over a quarter of men are now on a diet
  • 65% of our country is overweight; more than a third are obese
  • Nearly two-thirds of Americans are estimated to be prediabetic
  • 23% of teens and adults binge drink at least once a month
  • 15% of people in developed countries are depressed
  • One in five has a substance-addicted family member

I was once convinced that I was one of those pathetic and weak “gluttonous Americans” you read about in the news, particularly because my eating disorder became so absurdly severe. It would only be in hindsight, after a decade of failure to attain eternal willpower, that a health crisis finally opened my eyes to the real issues behind my years of “insanity.” Today, I live in rare freedom not only from that eating disorder, but from even the minor cravings and weight concerns most people live with. And I think what I’ve learned may forever change how you see those statistics…and how you can avoid becoming one of them. What if the above wasn't true after all? What if those figures are only a symptom of a larger epidemic that is ushering us into more and more low-grade, self-destruction every day? What if cravings and addictions aren’t expressions of character at all, but issues of chemistry?

Beyond Conscious Choice: The Chemistry of Temptation
At the very same time that so many Americans struggle against weight gain or vices, they struggle with their own desperate perception that self-discipline is what they lack. But if most people understood what only a handful of pioneers do about how powerfully our brain chemistry affects our moods and choices, they might wonder why the aforementioned statistics aren’t worse. Consider, as an example, what goes on today in the Americans who are confounded by their own “lack of self-discipline.” Dr. Ron Rosedale, an international authority on metabolic diseases, and the author of The Rosedale Diet explains:

“There is a widespread phenomena of extreme cravings and weight gain in our country that is caused by a little known disorder called leptin resistance. This affects virtually all diabetics and prediabetics, as well as most people who have been exposed to high-glycemic diets over prolonged periods, (such as low-fat diets). Leptin is the body’s master hunger and fat storage hormone. Repeated exposure to blood sugar-spiking drinks or foods—even if calories are controlled— desensitizes the cells to leptin’s signals until they are no longer reaching the brain, and it’s default message is that the body is starving. What follows is an all-out survival mission by the body, using every pathway to get the person to crave and eat sugar (in any form, including starch or grains) to achieve fat storage even if a person is already heavy. The brain will even alter taste perception to prefer sweet foods to influence food selection to favor fat storage. Willpower is no long-term match for the cravings from leptin resistance. It’s a primal craving, which is felt as true, mortal hunger. A person’s response is not about laziness or love of food. It’s about obeying hormonal commands we are designed to obey. Most people think constant cravings and having to tell themselves to stop eating is a normal part of being human, but nature never intended that. We were not designed to resist hunger or question how much to eat. This is a sure sign of hormonal malfunction.”

How Cravings Become Compulsions
Compulsive self-sabotage can be as serious as a full-blown food addiction, or as seemingly benign as your coffee or juice fix, your fourth glass of wine, or that twinge of torment you feel as you scan the pastry selection and rationalize that “healthier” whole grain muffin, while waiting in line for your (sugar–saturated) green tea Frappuccino. Most people consciously or unconsciously use foods, caffeine, alcohol, prescription drugs, or nicotine to stimulate or relax themselves or deal with anxiety. And even if this relationship never escalates, it is still likely taking years off one’s life (and adding years to one’s looks), as those daily auto-pilot choices can predict drastically altered outcomes down the road.

But for many people, what starts out as entertaining choices become growing needs. For example, a person may feel a “crash” an hour or so after eating a sugary or starchy meal and may then reach for sweets, chips or caffeine around 11 AM and 2 PM to raise their energy and lift their mood. This pattern—which starts to diminish health right away—may go on for years. But here’s the insidious part that few of us know: the more we eat, take or drink things that spike these “feel good” brain chemicals, the more we cause their depletion in our natural brain chemistry. Sugar and alcohol binges, for example, are shown to spike dopamine (the brain chemical that gives cocaine its pleasurable effect) and, over time, to reduce our natural receptors for it. They also deplete serotonin, another extremely important well-being neurochemical. And so repeated indulgences over time can lead to seriously handicapped function of the brain’s feel-good responses, diminishing our sense of well-being and making us vulnerable to deeper depression and more serious cravings in between “fixes” and addictions. In fact, it is those increasingly unpleasant lows that often make a person reach for another fix in order to cope. And when a person can no longer ride out a low without bingeing again, they have officially become an addict.

Many addictions lead to others. Eighty percent of alcoholics smoke. One in five people who have eating disorders are addicted to one or more other drugs. Alcoholics who are abstaining desperately crave sugar, which has a similar molecular structure. And while alcohol, cigarettes and coffee are often cited as the most widely used drugs, the substance that trumps them all in popularity and regularity of abuse is sugar—the most deceivingly destructive everyday drug in the world. More and more Americans are addicted to sugar, which can cause cravings for other drugs, such as coffee or cigarettes, to counter its energy-sapping and depression-causing effects, in addition to causing just about every degenerative disease you can think of. Now you may still believe that willpower is the best protection from these lures. But you may be surprised that it’s often the most together and self-disciplined people who fall victim to some of the most virulent forms of compulsion. If one is made vulnerable by common brain chemical imbalances or heredity or common hidden nutrient deficits (and many thin and athletic people are), there are certain compulsions that not only defy willpower, but actually thrive on it.

A recent Princeton University study showed that those who skip meals, or even deprive themselves of food for a day, experience far stronger drug-like effects when they finally do succumb to a binge. They were found to develop a more virulent compulsion in a shorter period of time, setting off heroin-like dopamine and opiate brain responses. The study subjects quickly became seriously addicted to sweet foods, and experienced increasingly brutal withdrawal symptoms when the high wore off. This describes, almost exactly, the experiences I had with my eating disorder. I first began to deprive myself of food at 13, and was surprised not only by my first binge, which I did not plan, but just happened. In response, I would of course starve myself again to make up for the horrible act. Soon this pattern began to result in those heroin-like effects. But what was more pronounced than the highs were the truly awful lows that seemed to magnify every negative thought and make my body feel like a black hole. I would again starve myself… and soon I was lost to that eternal tug-of-war between epic willpower—which I sometimes managed for months at a time—and being incapacitated by the binge itself. I even got to the point that the smallest amounts of food, after starving, could “knock me out.” Later, I learned that fermentation in the gut when people have binged for years can actually raise your blood alcohol levels into the legally intoxicated range. I’m sure that was happening to me.

During those 12 bewildering years, I believed every shameful notion about willpower and chased after every over-simplified, calorie and fat-reducing goal. But I have known now for all these years since my true recovery, that not only had I actually been a very together, physically active 13-year-old when my compulsion developed, I’d had amazing willpower to have been able to starve myself at all in the face of such strong biochemical compulsions. And it was that ease with which I could starve myself that had been my greatest undoing for 12 harrowing years.

Research has shown that all self-destructive behavior—from compulsions, to anxieties, to depression —are attributable to imbalances in a handful of brain chemicals, including dopamine, endorphin, serotonin, and others. The brain scans of addicts as well as obese people show a marked depletion of dopamine receptors. Serotonin has also been found to be low in all kinds of addictions. So the next time you want to talk some sense into your teenager (or yourself ) about alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or even sugar (the most deceivingly destructive drug of all), you might tell them that some of the most powerful drugs known to man are right inside their own brain, and that bingeing on any drug—and especially dieting—could spoil the party and take away the back stage pass to your own feel-good chemicals.

Your Choice:
Eternal “Control” or True Freedom

If it weren’t for my health crisis, I would not have been forced to open my eyes, and would have no real success story, only a life-long string of false successes that would have kept my body at war with my impulses. But my war is long over. And this is one war that I know can be won. Yet we buy into the shame and self-blame game that keeps people distracted from their own dominating chemistry. This is reinforced in today’s society by many fitness trainers, doctors and even degrading TV boot camp-style reality shows, which perpetuate the stubborn myth that struggle and sweat is the only way to a true victory over compulsions. Emotional triggers may exist—and I’ll address those in the next issue—but it is our brain chemistry that distorts emotions and facilitates the drug-like mechanisms that leave us unstable and anxious, no matter how many emotional breakthroughs we have (and I had many!). Conquering your will is an illusion, because your will isn’t what’s calling the shots. Conquering your chemistry is the only way to achieve peace within your body and enable your emotions to be your own.

Here is the good news. It’s now known that the brain can be fixed, and it’s not that hard to do. How do I know? Because I fixed my own heroin-like addiction, the real, permanent way. And while I searched for over a decade to stumble on all the pieces of my puzzle, that long road should not have been necessary. People’s cravings, and even their vulnerability to mood issues and self-destructive impulses, and even full-blown addictions, are being resolved—as in totally cured, like mine was—within days. Conventional medicine may never get around to telling you about these un-patentable (read: unprofitable and unreported) solutions.

The pioneering work, in the 1980s, of neurochemist Kenneth Blum, Ph.D.,then a researcher at University of Texas who authored the groundbreaking book Alcohol and the Addictive Brain (Macmillan, 1991), has revolutionized the way we see cravings and addictions. When Blum identified amino acids that could nourish brain chemical production, which subsequently stopped cravings of all kinds, the ground was laid for several clinics treating various addictions all over the country with unheard of, consistent success rates between 70–80 percent!! In applying his principles, the recovery profession has been revolutionized, even though the programs most people continue to hear about are conventional (talk therapy plus drugs) or 12-step based programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous. And while the emotional and spiritual work is of tremendous value to many, their longterm success in keeping people off their addictive substances is 25 percent longterm success rate at the very best, and one that leaves people feeling unstable, while the reports from virtually all of the nutritionally-based clinics is that people continue to feel great, and usually better than ever many years later. Two clinics* carrying this new approach forward with stunning success are the Health Recovery Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, (founded by Joan Mathews-Larson, Ph.D.) and the Health Recovery Systems Clinic in Mill Valley, California. (founded by Julia Ross, M.A.).

While seeking medical supervision is important if you think you’re suffering from an addiction or mood disorder, be sure to incorporate a nutritional approach to repairing brain chemistry (drugs can only temporarily make up for brain chemistry issues, but they can’t fix them—and they come with myriad side effects). Even if you don’t suffer from compulsion, there’s no reason not to use these safe nutritional therapies to optimize your brain chemistry and help you feel better than ever, while making you invulnerable to the chemical mechanisms of addiction. The only people who may never benefit from this information are those who never read it, or those who are addicted to the concept that life should always be a struggle.

Here are some of the core nutritional components used by these and other nutritionally-based clinics with high success rates that are proven to have dramatic impact on cravings and addictions:

  • Refined sugar and carbohydrates are immediately cut out as a prerequisite to reducing withdrawal symptoms and achieving freedom from alcohol cravings. My own approach, as does Dr. Rosedale’s, even restricts whole grains, which can spike blood sugar levels in vulnerable people. This ensures that cravings are gone in about a week.
  • Amino acids are incorporated as crucial nourishment to brain chemical activity, such as tryphtophan (to replenish serotonin), glutamine, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tyrosine. Tryphtophan deficiencies predicted relapses in bulimia in one study.
  • A multivitamin and mineral supplement is recommended for closing a wide range of nutritional deficits inherent in most addictions. Minerals such as chromium and magnesium are included.
  • 5HTP is a tryphtophan derivative that can raise serotonin. Raising serotonin levels has been found to be one of the most important aspects of well-being and brain chemistry healing.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, such as in fish oil, have been proven to improve almost every aspect of addiction and mood, from protecting the liver from the ravages of alcohol, to reducing anger and depression and the severity of withdrawal.
  • Zinc deficiency can lessen our desire for healthy foods by desensitizing our tastes. In anorexics, zinc supplementation brought back appetite.
  • B vitamins deficiency made rats prefer alcohol over water in one study reported in the British Journal of Addiction. Supplementation then reversed their alcoholism. NAD, a form of niacin, caused a stop to almost all withdrawal symptoms within four days in a study published in the Journal of Surgical Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Kudzu, a weed-like shrub, has been shown to curb alcohol cravings and effects
  • Eating a raw diet has also shown to be effective. In one study, drinkers and smokers “spontaneously abstained” after eating a 67 percent raw diet
  • Additional individualized supplements are used to address remaining health issues, such as blood sugar, thyroid, and Candida yeast issues.
  • Exercise is encouraged for anti-depressant effects since it raises endorphin and serotonin levels
  • Emotional issues are addressed and worked on only after brain chemistry and nutrient balance is regained, because without that step, one’s emotions are not true

I knew none of this when I was stumbling my way to freedom by trial and error. But when my own biochemical issue came into balance, it was a physical revelation that was like waking-up to a dream every day. The dream of complete freedom was not the result of an emotional overhaul (though I’ll get into that in the next issue). Unfortunately for me, what could have taken only days took me much of my young adulthood to learn. But this journey to freedom can happen now for anyone reading this. The woman I was would never have believed the possibility of the freedom I live today. And my weight loss was only a symptom if a much greater miracle—losing my compulsion and recovering my health… and my sanity.

* Julia Ross’s Health Recovery Systems Clinic 415.383.3611
* Joan Mathews-Larson’s Health Recovery Center 800.554.9155.

If you feel healthy and want to partake in my 5-day Total Transformation® lifestyle program that incorporates my own personal eating and self-care approaches for self-transformation, call 877.548.6825 or visit for more information or email us at