Dr. Glenn Livingston, PhD is a long time Bestselling Author and Chief Executive Officer of Never Ever Again, Inc., a company which specializes in helping people with eating problems to stop being eating and overeating, lose weight, and learn how to think like a permanently thin person on the diet of their choice. Previous CEO of two companies, presiding over more than $30,000,000 in consulting services in the marketing and advertising industry.
He is a strong human resources professional with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Yeshiva University (1991). Also skilled in digital marketing.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:28] Hi there! It’s Mathea. Welcome back to the Nutrition Experts Podcast. The podcast featuring nutrition experts who are leading the way using food starts today right now with our next guest. It’s great to have Dr. Glenn Livingston on the show today. Welcome to Nutrition Experts.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:00:44] Well thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this Mathea.
Mathea Ford: [00:00:48] Yeah. So, today we’re going to talk about binge eating which is something I haven’t talked a whole lot about on this show. But I want to start with telling my listeners letting you tell my listeners a little more about you and what you do.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:01:00] Well I guess what you should know about me is that I’m not just a doctor who decided to work with people that were struggling with their eating. I am someone that had a very difficult struggle of my own eating for a good deal of my life. All the way back to I was a weird kid with food. My mother used to give me a whole box of pop tarts for breakfast every morning and a whole box of Sugar Pops for lunch every afternoon. So, that was the way that I was brought up. I don’t think I saw vegetable until I was 16 or 17 years old. But I figured out that if I worked out a lot it didn’t matter at least it didn’t matter to my weight. When I was 17 or 18 I would work out two or three hours a day and I’d have six, seven, eight thousand calories every single day. Boxes of pop tarts, boxes of chocolate bars, boxes of pizza, boxes of muffins, boxes of donuts. I guess you could say like boxes and I was fine with it except for all the time that I was wasting. But I was spending a lot of time eating a one time recovering from food and a lot of time exercising. That lifestyle didn’t work for me when I was a little older and I got married and I had responsibilities and I was commuting two hours each way. I just couldn’t work out like that my metabolism was slowing down a little bit. I couldn’t stop eating the same way that I was. I found that I just got used to it and these foods had a life of their own. And I started gaining weight. And you know my top weight was probably around 280. I’m guessing I was telling you beforehand the number on the scale was 257 the last time I weighed myself because I got fed up with it after that. And worse yet my triglycerides were going through the roof. I know I had a test already a hundred and twenty six. I remember them being over 1100 in the doctor just flipping out saying look you’re going to die if you don’t do something before you’re before you’re 35 so you really just kind of figure this out. But I couldn’t I just kept on I’d be sitting with suicidal patients and I would be thinking when I kind of get my next pizza or a couple who just never recovered from an affair and it was really hard to be a home a hundred percent present to that. That bothered me a lot because I was from a family of psychologists and being a great psychologist was first and foremost what was in my soul. So, I tried to solve it in what you might expect the way a psychologist would try to solve it. I tried to solve it by loving myself. And I said “it’s not what I’m eating I must have a hole in my heart. And if I could fill the hole in my heart then I’ll be okay.” And so I went to workshops and eating disorder specialists and all the best psychologists and psychiatrists around Manhattan. I take medication. I went over just never miss. Everything you could imagine which was a very soulful journey which I don’t regret. But in terms of the results I get a little better and then I get a lot worse, a little better and a lot worse. Finally, there were three things that changed the paradigm.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:03:57] It made me think that rather than trying to love myself fend, what I really needed to do was act like an alpha wolf in a pack who was being challenged for leadership by one of the pack members. I need to come to think of the urges is coming from a bodily organ and later I learned that it actually comes from the reptilian brain that in a minute but when you think about how an alpha wolf deals with a challenger for leadership it doesn’t say “oh my goodness! Someone needs a hug.” It says you know “get back in line or I’ll kill you.” Snarls and growls and “get back in line or I’ll kill you.” And I thought “well, that’s it’s not all that different than the urges that are generated by my bladder or my testicles” like these are very strong biological urges but I’m not in the middle of a conference where I just decide I’m going to pee. I’ll get up and go to the bathroom and express it in a particular way at a particular time. I don’t just run into attractive women on the street and kiss them. You know you have to approach them in a very particular way or not at all and restrain those urges because of the person you want to be in society right? So, I said “What’s the difference? Why can’t I just define what restraint actually means and take control?”
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:05:11] Two other things happened that made it really clear to me that that was a better paradigm than loving myself in. The first one was I read a book called The Rational Recovery by Jack Trimpey and he works largely with drug and alcohol addicts and he helps them to we called them black and white addictions are the things that you can give up entirely. It’s supposed to food where you have to take the full line out of the cage and walk around the block a couple of times a day. What he basically pointed out was that addiction comes from their reptilian brain and what I knew about neurology was that the reptilian brain doesn’t know love. The reptilian brain whether you want to believe it evolve this way or God put it there it doesn’t really matter. What it knows when it sees something in the environment is “do I eat it? Do I meet with it or do I kill it eat meat or kill. There’s no love there. There’s the sense of love that came later with the higher portions of the brain the mammalian brain that says “hey! Before you eat meat or kill that thing what impact does it have on your tribe or your family or those that you love? Or the neocortex. What we think of is a more human brain which says “we can really delay gratification to think about our long term goals and plans and what does this mean for the kind of person that we want to be for love and spirituality and music and art and who we want to be in the world, how we want to cooperate with society and fit in.” And so I realized that I had to think of my human identity as sitting in my neocortex and above the reptilian brain. And then that’s what I was in control. That the urges might be part of me but they really weren’t me. Just like my bladder is part of me and my testicles a part of me. But they’re not really made to everything that happened. I wouldn’t think a lot of consulting for the food industry.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:06:58] I never had kids and I never commuted so I had a lot of time to do two careers and I consulted for big food and big pharma. I kind of wish I didn’t but I did and I knew that they were engineering, putting billions of dollars into engineering hyper palatable concentrations of starch and salt and sugar and oil and excitotoxins and basically these food like substances which are designed to hit our bliss points in the reptilian brain and not give us the nutrition we need to feel satisfied. Beyond that, they were putting billions into advertising and most people think advertising doesn’t affect them. But believe me it does. It affects you more when you think it doesn’t affect you because then yourselves resistance is down. And they’re depending on what study you look at between five and seven thousand messages beamed at us over the airwaves about food every day. The airwaves and the Internet every year about food and how many of them do you think are about eating more raw fruits and vegetables? They’re not mostly about eating more of these bags and boxes and containers and mechanisms of industrial profit. And I remember talking to a food bar manufacturer V.P. who explained to me that their biggest insight was to remove the vitamins from the bar and make the packaging look good instead because the vitamins were expensive and they made the bar taste not as good whereas the packaging could make people believe that it was healthier ever vibrance of colors and a diversity of colors and like a bright shiny packaging which in nature a bright shiny salad with green lettuce and red tomatoes and yellow carrots and purple cabbage that would signal a diversity of nutrients. So, I said “you mean you’re most profitable insight was to fake people out?” Can you kind of get a little sheepishly said “Yeah.” I don’t mean to single out the food bar industry because this happens all over the place. So, I said there are these very powerful forces the line against us. Addiction treatment industry is telling us that we can’t resist even if we wanted to. That these urges are irresistible and that you were actually powerless over them and the only hope you had was to admit that you were powerless over them and abstain one day at a time. And there is no evidence for that. There’s no evidence that that’s true. The evidence is more on the side that people can choose to abstain if they want to abstain. That addicts can restrain themselves if they want to. And the only scientific studies that were quasi scientific studies ever conducted about this addiction treatment suggests that it’s either at parity or worse than doing nothing at all. So, I said “Okay. So, there’s these immense forces aligned against us. Everybody’s telling me to love myself then I’ve been trying that for 30 years it didn’t work. If anybody would know how to love himself then it would be a psychologist from a family of 17 psychologists, you’ve seen all these psychologists right?” I said “here’s what I’m going to do. This is the embarrassing part. I decided that I was going to never going to publish this. This was this is just a private journal.” I said “my reptilian brain I’m going to call that my inner pig. I’m going to make a really clear line that delineates what’s healthy food and what’s not healthy food for me. What does eating with restraint really mean to me?” And so “I said something like I will never have chocolate Monday to Friday again I only ever have it on the weekend.” That’s just an example I did all kinds of things. That I said if there’s a voice in my head that suggests that I should have the chocolate because “energy. You worked out hard enough today, Glenn. You can afford. It doesn’t matter. Or you could start tomorrow or chocolate comes from a cocoa being with frozen plants and therefore it’s a vegetable.” All of that was pig squeal. I would say “I pick a squealing for it slop. I don’t want that, my pig does and I don’t listen to farm animals tell me what to do.” I’m so embarrassed that that’s what worked. I wish it was one of the deep psychological insight I thought I had or soulful journeys or meditation. It’s not, it was “I don’t need pig’s laugh, I don’t want the farm animals tell me what to do.” It wasn’t a miracle. I wish I could tell you it got better right away. It didn’t. What it would do is it would give me those extra microseconds at the moment of impulse to remember who I was and why I made them on in the first place. And that way I could make a conscious choice. Sometimes I didn’t make the right choice but I stopped feeling overrun by this mysterious force inside. I stopped feeling helpless and hopeless and powerless and I started to feel hopeful right away. And over time I experimented with different rules. I kept a journal about what the pig would say and why it was wrong, how the pig would lie to me. For example, when it says “you can start again tomorrow it doesn’t matter.” Well, neurologically speaking that’s not true.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:11:42] If you reinforce the urge today, you’re going to be in a deeper hole tomorrow. Those grooves are going to have been worn even deeper it’s going to be harder to dig yourself out if you’re in a hole, stop digging. That’s the first thing you want to do or you know if the pig would say “go ahead and try this. I can’t get you now if I don’t get you later. You’re going to forget later.” I would say “well, the only time you can eat is now. So, if I was use the present moment to be healthy then you can never get me. And besides you don’t have a time machine anymore than I do you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or any more than I do.” So, I had all these interesting dialogues which would expose the logical fallacies in my pigs attacks. The reasons that it wanted me to take a break and I fully recognized that I couldn’t totally get rid of the pig. There was always going to be this voice in my head that would say those things but I also realized that I could recognize it. I got a lot of those rejection. We also just had to modify things tremendously to make it work. The food I could recognize and ignore it because it didn’t matter if by definition, my pig’s voice was any thought feeling or impulse which suggested that I would either now or in the future have one bite, taste or swallow off of my carefully constructed plan. Then by definition, anything the pig said was wrong. What was malintended and so like Jodie Foster arguing with Hannibal Lecter. There was no purpose arguing even if it seemed that he had a PhD from Harvard and starting analytical and all excited at the top here. But like some like arguing with Hannibal Lecter there’s no real point because it’s malintended. The whole point you start to throw you off balance and get you to try to break your rule. So, slowly but surely I recovered. I lost the weight, I hovered between 200 to 10 these days. I used to be as much as 280 I think I said at the beginning. I used to have high triglycerides those came down. I used to have eczema and psoriasis and rosacea. I don’t think you can see that in me anymore. Maybe a dermatologist can make the diagnosis but it doesn’t bother me and it doesn’t affect my appearance that much. That’s what happened but I wasn’t going to publish it. That’s a whole series of events happened including getting divorced and I decided through a minor publishing company that I was a part of to publish it as a test and it just took off. We’ve got 600,000 readers and almost 2,000 reviews including people who hate us because you were telling me before the interview there’s probably 10 percent of the people that think this is horrible and they call me to call me Dr. Sensitivity. I think sarcastically I’m just not being sensitive to people’s struggles and that’s my story. That’s who I am and what I do and now I focus on that.
Mathea Ford: [00:14:29] You know that’s very interesting because I had a podcast a couple of weeks ago that we talked about this like neuroplasticity and basically how you change and how your brain works with creating new pathways and how hard it is to change that. And so it sounds to me like you kind of used that information and obviously the things that help us to have better brains are things that are like whole grains, whole fruits, whole vegetables that are full of antioxidants to help your brain. So…
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:15:01] It’s not the bags and boxes and containers. I’ll tell you that much.
Mathea Ford: [00:15:06] No it is not. So, going back a little bit to what we were talking about this over eating cycle you mentioned kind of it it started in your childhood. What starts people in that overeating cycle most of the time?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:15:23] I’m not sure it matters because I think when say they do start that they have a life for their own. I’ll tell you a story. I did this 40,000 person study over the course of about five years when Internet clicks were cheap and I asked people what foods they struggled with like if they started eating them they couldn’t stop and what was troubling them in their life. And I found three interesting things. People who started their binges with chocolate like me they tended to be lonely or broken hearted. I was in a bad marriage for that kind of made sense. People who struggled with salty crunchy things like pretzels and chips tended to be stressed at work and people who struggled with soft chewy things like bread and bagels. They tended to be stressed at home. That this is really interesting I bet there’s something to this. So, let me go investigate my own history. Basically, I have a mother who is a psychotherapist while she passed away a year and a half ago and I called her and I said “Mom, what is it in my history that could have set up? I mean I know I’m got some struggles in my love life and whatever but what does it in my history that would have set up this pattern?” And she gets this horrible look on her face and this horrible standard of where she goes. “I’m so sorry. I am so sorry.” “Mom what is it?” I said “I forgive you. Whatever it is it’s okay I forgive you. You know it’s 40 years later now.” And she said “well, when you were about one in 1965 your father was a captain in the army and they were really talking about sending him to Vietnam. And we were working really hard to have another baby. Hopefully they weren’t going to do that but I was terrified we’re going to send them anyway. And I thought I could wind up as a single mom with two kids. And what am I going to do? And I was really terrified. At the same time my father your grandfather, he just got out of prison and he was guilty. And I had idolized him my whole life. He was the one and only saving grace in my upbringing and he was guilty. And I was just falling apart and half the time I was sitting and staring at the wall and I didn’t have a good therapist and didn’t have anybody to talk to. And I didn’t have the wherewithal to hold you and love you and feed you when you came running to me. So, half the time at least I would say ‘Glenn go get your Bosco and there would be a refrigerator in the floor with a big bottle of chocolate Bosco syrup and you go running over to the refrigerator you take it out you go crawling over the refrigerator you take it out. You’d suck on the bottle and you go into a chocolate sugar coma.” And I thought “Eureka! This is it. This is what this is why I go to chocolate when I’m upset.” And you would think if this were the movies that mom and I would have a big hug and a big cry and I would never struggle with chocolate again right? Would you believe me if I told you my chocolate eating got worse.
Mathea Ford: [00:18:02] Yes.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:18:03] You want to guess why?
Mathea Ford: [00:18:04] Probably because now you’re upset about that. You felt like you had less control over it.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:18:10] That’s true. The reason it got worse was there was this crazy voice in my head which I now know was my inner pig and it said something like this. “Hey, Glenn, you know what you’re right. Our mama didn’t love us enough. She left a great big chocolate sized hole in our heart and until we can find the love of her life we’re going have to go riding bingeing and get you let’s go get some right now. So there is this voice of justification that seized on the opportunity to use the emotional conflict and the emotional release to as a cause for bingeing more. And this is right around the time I was having the insights about having to switch my paradigm and I realized that emotions aren’t really a problem. It doesn’t necessarily matter why I have this raging fire inside. A raging fire in a well constructed fireplace in the center of a home can become the center of hearth and home. That’s where people tell stories, that’s where we gather, that’s where they find their peace. The problem is when the fireplace can’t contain it and the pig, this voice of justification is busy poking holes in the fireplace so the fire can escape and burn down the house so you can actually have a pinch. And I realize it was going to be a lot quicker to recognize and disempower that voice of justification than to fix the emotional issues. I mean do you know how long it takes in psychotherapy for someone with this particular problem to solve it? Like how long does it take to find the love of your life? Some people never do. How long does it take to come to terms with the fact that you know your mother was really traumatized and couldn’t love you in the way that you needed to and so therefore she left this hole in your heart. That that could take a very long time five to ten years. I’ve certainly come to a place where I can forgive her and love her for everything she went through. I don’t have a love of my life. I can’t say that I’m you know that I’m solving it. If I had to fix that before I stop bingeing I would be 400 pounds now. So, what causes it? You can investigate the foods that you eat. You can go back and look at your history. It’s a soulful journey to take. There were good things that came out of it. My mom and I forgave each other. I was softer on myself about the mistakes that I did make. It was easier for me to forgive myself after bingeing and get back on track a little quicker. So, it helped a little bit but would help the whole lot more. Was recognizing that crazy voice and disempowering it and most people don’t want to spend five or 10 years in psychotherapy to figure it all out. Most people just want to stop bingeing.
Mathea Ford: [00:20:32] You’re talking about not necessarily positive thinking but maybe more along the lines of changing the way you think about things. So, instead of feeling that victim and powerless and like you know like you said you’re reptilian brain just kind of got you to eat. You start telling yourself a different story which is what you were doing telling yourself this different story about who you were. You’re not that person that binge eat.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:20:57] Right! Really rather than making a Nazi rule which is how a lot of people look at what I’m trying to do. You’re changing your identity and character trumps willpower. So, what if I say I will never eat chocolate again? For me chocolate just doesn’t belong in my life. For some people it really does but for me it doesn’t. If I say “I’ll never eat chocolate again” people say “that’s crazy! How can you never see chocolate again?” And I’d say “well, what’s the difference between saying ‘I will never be chocolate again’ or saying ‘I’ve decided to become the kind of person who doesn’t eat chocolate.'” The second one is much more palatable and recognizable and easy for people to accomplish because they’re used to developing character traits and all sorts of different ways. We have all sorts of unwritten rules that we follow that we don’t know like if you walk into a diner and there’s a ten dollar bill on the counter because the waitress didn’t see your tip and she says “I’ll be right back. I have to get your menu” and there’s no video camera. The owner is not up front. There are no windows. Nobody would see you take it. Virtually everybody I ask in that situation says “I would never take it.” And I’d say “why? You’d be ten dollars richer. Nobody would know.” They’ll say “well, I’m not a thief!” And I say “What do you mean by that? She said “well, that woman worked hard for her money and I’m not a thief.” And I say “well, so as a matter of character you have an unwritten rule that says ‘I never steal. I will never steal again’ that you’ll follow regardless of temptation which doesn’t require any willpower because it’s not even an option. Willpower is required when you have to make decisions. But when decisions are ruled out because you’ve decided you’re not that kind of person, it’s not even an option and you don’t require willpower anymore. So, what I was doing which actually does result in very positive thinking was I was purging my negative thoughts from my identity. I was saying I’m just not the kind of person who track it’s chocolate. Therefore I’m not the kind of person that gets out of control with chocolate. Therefore, I am the kind of person who can’t control myself. I’m not a slave to my impulses. I am a master of my impulses and I have self esteem and self control. It tends to build up people’s self-esteem rather than tear it down. I know it sounds really weird in theory in the abstract. Another people listening to the call saying “you’ve got this psychologist on your call who’s got a peek inside and what do you thinking?” So, I’m actually at the end of the call I’ll tell you where you can download a bunch of free recorded coaching sessions so you can hear how it actually works in practice because it takes people from feeling despairing and powerless and hopeless to feeling hopeful, enthusiastic and possible. It actually is transforming and thus so far positive thinking. It just does it in a really weird way by purging your negative thinking into this artificial entity that you can call your food monster or your food demon or your pig or whatever you want to call it as long as it’s not a cuddly part.
Mathea Ford: [00:23:41] Is overeating we know that like 60% of the country is overweight and 30% or so I don’t remember the exact statistics are obese. Obviously it’s a common problem but what makes it so common is that related to the way the food manufacturers because not everybody had a bad mother are not necessarily a bad mother but a disconnect when they were young. What makes it so common?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:24:08] And just as a side point to what you’re saying adversity in childhood can lead to a strong character as opposed to a weak one. So, sometimes you’re looking for all of these faults in your parents but it’s those faults to give you your strength. What makes it such a big problem in my great big not so humble opinion is the evolution of the food substances to push our evolutionary buttons. We didn’t have all these bags and boxes and the containers on the Savannah or in the tropics when we’re growing up and we were evolving. There were no pizzas or pastas or pretzels or chips or chocolate bars you know on on the trees as we were. And it’s only the last few hundred years that these types of things are available. So, we really don’t have a defense for them and they’re getting stronger and stronger and stronger. So that’s part of it. But then the messaging we get that says that we’re powerless and we can’t resist. The messaging that says that you really can’t control yourself. You just have to eat everything in moderation. Well 90% of the time indulge, 10% of the time. That messaging conflicts with what we know about willpower because willpower is a fatigue of all muscle which is fatigued by decision making so if you say I’m going to eat well 90% of the time and eat bad 10%vof the time. Every time you’re in front of temptation you have to make the decision about is this the 10% or this is a 90%? If I say I want every chocolate on the last calendar weekend of the month then 90% of the time my chocolate decisions have all ready been made. I don’t have to constantly wear down my willpower. So, I think people are getting the wrong message. They’re also giving the wrong message about the psychology of winning the game. They’re told to strive for progress and not perfection which is a kindhearted way and the appropriate way to look at the mistakes that you’ve made in hindsight. But when you’re striving for a goal you actually need to commit it with perfection. If an archer is trying to hit the bull’s eye they need to pull back the arrow and see the arrow going into the bull’s eye before they let go of it. They can’t be thinking maybe I’ll make it maybe I won’t. They have to be perfectly committed to that fight of the arrow as if it’s a foregone conclusion that it’s going into the bull’s eye. If they miss the bull’s eye, they’re not supposed to say “Oh my God! I’m a pathetic Archer I’ll just shoot the rest of the hours into the audience or up into the air or whatever.” They’re supposed to get up and figure out what went wrong. Take it seriously. Adjust for wind resistance. Pull a little further back on the arrow whatever they need to do and do it again. If you touch a hot stove you want to feel that pain for a second because if you don’t you’re never gonna know where the hot stove is so you don’t touch it again. But you’re not supposed to say “I’m a pathetic hot stove toucher. Let me just put my whole hand down on it.” You’re supposed to take it seriously. Make an analysis make adjustments if you need to but then let go of the guilt. The pre-severation on guilt and shame, the round and round in your head that doesn’t go away. That turns out to be pig motivated when it’s trying to do is wear you down enough that you feel too weak to resist the next bench. “Oh! You’re pathetic. You might as well just give up and be a happy fat person.” That’s what it’s saying. That makes sense. So, the attitude that I recommend is that you commit with perfection but forgive yourself with dignity. What people are stuck in is pursuing things kind of wishy washy in a wishy washy way like “oh you know gee honey, I know we’re going to get married and I’m pretty sure I can promise to be faithful for the rest of my life but they sure are a lot of attractive people out there and you know progress not perfection.” So, they’re committing to these goals and a wishy washy way which we would never accept in certain situations. And then they’re analyzing themselves with too much self-criticism and flagellation. And so the whole thing is a setup for a loss. So you combine that with the food industry and the advertising industry and the messaging about powerlessness. And it’s a wonder that anybody can eat well today. But the solution is just a little bit of thought to distinguish exactly what healthy eating means for you. Think about the single worst trigger for the behavior for example and make one rule about it and then listen for yourself. Try to break it and either disempower or ignore that irrational voice while you make sure that you are getting adequate nutrition and calories in your day to day life.
Mathea Ford: [00:28:39] When you think about some different kind of the counter movement to what you’re talking about is this Health at Every Size movement where it’s okay whatever weight you are as long as you’re eating healthy and you’re doing healthy things. It’s not necessarily about the weight. It’s about being healthy. So, is what you’re doing kind of or what you’re your suggest book suggests is kind of that fat shaming yourself in your brain instead of being happy with how you are and healthy if you’re eating healthy?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:29:14] Fat shaming is a problem in our society. People do come in all different sizes and I’m thoroughly against people feeling criticized and shamed for their weight. On the other hand making an objective assessment of what weight is actually healthy. I think the data are pretty clear that it’s thinner than the people at Health at Any Size are necessarily suggesting. And so I don’t want to support people to be unhealthy. I want to support them to feel loved. I want to support them to love themselves. I want them to embrace a slow journey to where they need to be. But I think when you take a really hard look at the empirical evidence about where the incidence of disease and disorder is with regards to our weight and set the target accordingly. I mean our society is way too body obsessed in and of itself. I think women can be very beautiful at all different sizes but healthy is a different story. The same thing with what tends to go along with that is this philosophy of intuitive eating and the idea that you can’t distinguish between healthy and unhealthy foods that we have to be eat anything at any time and just listen to our insights about it. The industry is so strong and they’ve perverted and hijacked our intuition such a high level that we can’t really trust it. If we live in the tropics, we didn’t have all these bags and boxes and containers. Then I think we could trust our intuitions to tell us what to eat but when it’s legal to put flavored cardboard into the food system and it is I could show you instances where it’s happening then I think you have to stand up and say “there are some things I will and I won’t eat. There are some things that are over line and unhealthy or some things that are healthy and I can eat intuitively within those guidelines. But I have to draw some boundaries somewhere somehow.” So, those are my thoughts about the Health at Any Size movement.
Mathea Ford: [00:31:11] So kind of what you’re basically the intuitive eating, feeling good about what you’re eating. Feeling like taking the time to eat slower and enjoy the food that you have as long as you can distinguish that trickster whatever you want to call it in your brain that’s trying to tell you that “yeah! This is really good for you or this is really” or you can like you said “start your diet tomorrow” type thing.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:31:37] Eating mindfully is really important and you can make rules that support that. I always put my fork on between bites. I never eat in the car. I never eat with the screen in front of me. You can make rules that support that. For me personally as long as they don’t have industrial food being thoroughly present while I’m eating is exceptionally important. Letting my food nourish me. Experiencing every bite you wind up eating a little less of it when you when you do that but I think that we eat mindfully between the lines just like we can drive mindfully between the traffic lights. I think that the discipline actually enhances our freedom. You could not get around Manhattan in a car if it didn’t have traffic lights and stop signs. There were eleven million people in that place and just a few square miles and it wouldn’t be safe to drive around it would be too dangerous. And because we have traffic lights and stop signs people can move without that they’d be stuck. So I actually think that freedom sits on top of discipline. I don’t think that the discipline I’m suggesting restricts our freedom. I think it enhances it.
Mathea Ford: [00:32:41] What kind of guidelines do you encourage people to follow?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:32:43] It’s important to make up your own rules. I find that a big part of the problem in food disorders, addiction, even just simple overeating is a sense of rebellion. There’s this part of people inside that says “you can’t tell me what to eat” and they go from diet to diet saying “this diet is no good. This diet is no good. I lost weight but I couldn’t stand and I lost weight but I couldn’t stand it. This one’s no good at all.” And it’s just their pig playing the “grass is greener” squeal “oh! That diet is better, this diet is better and it’s really just trying to keep a state of anarchy. So, it’s very important to take a breath and figure out what rules you want to follow. I suggest people start with one rule “What’s your single worst trigger food behavior” and teach yourself that you’re able to follow it. Learn how this game is played. Show yourself that it’s possible to structure your mind in that way and when you hear a craving inside that says “I want to break the rule you say. I don’t want that my pig does or I don’t want that. My reptilian brain does. Its just squealing for its slop and I don’t eat slop.” As crazy as that sounds, it’s a commitment it’s a lingual commitment to forming a more constructive identity that’s in charge around food. Once you get that and I would suggest that people don’t worry about losing weight in those first few weeks. Once you get that, I suggest that people start to add rules which would help them accomplish the health and fitness goals. I’m not a dietitian/nutritionist or medical doctor so I’m not qualified to tell you what to eat. So, I always suggest that people consult with them to figure out what the right goal would be or you know read books or whatever but embrace it yourself and then start to add rules that would help you to lose weight at half a pound, a pound at the most two pounds a week. I really don’t like when people lose more than two pounds a week because I find it virtually always bounces in the other direction. The reason I think that is is because the problem with overeating and binge eating is not just in the overeating-binge eating part of the cycle. It’s an addiction to feast and famine and the most people who are struggling with overeating also are really good dieters. So, they can lose weight but then they gain back more and they get really high during the weight loss period. They get all excited and manic about it. They’re building up this caloric deficit, they’re building up the nutritional deficit and there’s some biological mechanism in the brain I think that would make sense from an evolutionary perspective that if calories in nutrition are unavailable for long periods of time then as soon as they are all we have to hoard them and that’s why people feel like someone’s pointing a gun at their head and saying “you will eat.” That’s why people feel like getting too full is a trigger to overeat even more because it must be a signal to the brain that says “oh! Finally! Finally, calories and nutrition are available I better are take in as much as we can.” So to combat that you went to a regular reliable steady source of calories and nutritions. You need to eat breakfast the day after a binge. You don’t you do not want to make up for a day of bingeing with two or three days of fasting or reduce only. You want to make up with a binge with a couple of weeks of extremely normal reliable eating and that takes you out of this feast and famine cycle. But you went to a more even keeled regular cycle with a slight deficit so that you can lose weight you know pound, two pounds a week at most. That’s what I recommend.
Mathea Ford: [00:36:15] So when you talk about a trigger food how do people identify their trigger food?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:36:20] What triggers food is the food that you find yourself eating beyond your own best judgment and feel guilty about afterwards. One of the things that I’ll give you when you go to my site at the end is a little workbook with a list of all possible trigger foods or all the ones that we identified. And you can kind of go through one by one and give them a rating and figure out if it’s a trigger for you. If you’re eating. So, people ask me how do you define binge eating? Or how do you define you know overeating? And I’ll say I don’t like to talk about the DSM 5 definition you can look that up if you want to but I don’t like people thinking in black and white terms because if you’re eating beyond your own best judgment then wouldn’t it behoove you to try this mental trick and see if you can take more control. So, I think that the question of “Is it a binge or not?” in and of itself is a bit of a squeal because it’s almost like a pig thing. “Can I get away with it? Can I get away with a little more?” You know what I’m saying? So, if you’re not happy and you’re losing control in any way wouldn’t you like to take more control? I’m not going to tell you I’m not going to take anything away from you. You can eat anything you want to. If you want your food plan to say “eat donuts all day long and that’s it.” I don’t think it’s going to last very long because you’re not going to be nutrified and I wouldn’t recommend it but I’m not going to take that away from you. Nobody is going to tell you what to eat. So, there’s no reason not to make a rule. You can change them if you want to. We will say “I’ll never have chocolate again.” But we say that in the same way we presented to the pig as if it’s set in stone in the same way we talked to a 2 year old. Little Sarah, you can’t never ever cross the street without holding my hand. Never ever ever again. The reason I tell her that even though I know that I’m lying because in five or six years I will teach her to look both ways and cross by herself. I tell her when she’s two years old that she can’t ever do that because it’s too dangerous. I don’t want her even thinking about crossing the street. I don’t want those images in her head. All I want her to do is raise her focus on my hand while we’re crossing the street so she gets her car safely. Our pigs are like that. They are too dangerous in the context of these trigger foods so we present these rules of them as if they are set in stone but if there’s a study that comes out that says you know “if you don’t eat chocolate you’re going to die of penile cancer” (I just made that up.) You’re going to die of some type of horrible cancer. Of course I’m going to consider eating chocolate at that point and I’ll change my rules. And once again, I will tell my pig never again because it has to be set in stone from a pig’s perspective. You don’t want to thinking “maybe? How about now? Is a time yet?” You can’t do that it’s going to be “shut up.”
Mathea Ford: [00:38:57] You talked a little bit about making your own food plan. How do you help people to make their own food plan you said you’re not going to tell me what to eat but how do you assemble a good food plan.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:39:07] There are four categories of rules I suggest the things you’ll never do again. There are things you’ll do under certain conditions call those conditionals. The things that you’ll always do and the things that you can do in an unrestricted way. Things you’ll never do again are really substances that you want out of your life. “I will never eat castor sugar again. I’ll never be chocolate again.” Things that you’ll do under certain conditions might be “only ever have chocolate added a social event but no more than once per calendar month or only pretzels at a major league baseball park or I don’t eat flour during the week. But if I go out to dinner on the weekend I can have a plate of pasta or two pieces of bread” something like that. Those are conditional rules and always rules something you always want to do. I always make a hypothetical food plan for the next day before I go to bed. “I always drink two pure glasses of spring water when I wake up in the morning. I always eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.” Those are always rules and the unrestricted rules are things that I include so that your pig can’t tell you that you’re starving. There are things that you can eat in unlimited quantities. “I can have all the berries that I want to during the day. I can eat unsauced vegetables in unlimited quantities. Can drink all of the coffee and tea that I want.” Whatever it is for you you do that to remind yourself that you won’t be starving. I have a whole set of examples that I’ll give people too so it’s not so confusing but that’s how it works. The main thing is whatever rule you create you want it to be externally verifiable not because you’re going to have people check up on you but because you don’t want there to be any wiggle room for your food monster. A rule that people try to make which isn’t really a rule that meets these criteria is “I will never eat when I’m not hungry and I’ll always stop when I’m full.” That’s a guideline. Guidelines are good to have but they’re not enforceable never been again rules. The reason is that they’re too subjective and internal. Your food master can always say “oh! We’re hungry baby. Believe me we’re hungry or we’re not full yet.” It’s not verifiable. If you really wanted the volume control rule then you need to say something like “I’ll never go back for seconds or I’ll never have more than one plate of food or I will have three meals a day with nothing in between with a meal being 45 minutes in the first calories and last.” Something like that you have some type of externally variable, verifiable external control. Let’s think anybody has to do any of those things. I’m just pointing out for illustration that if 10 people follows you around they should all agree whether you were on the rule or off the rule. That’s how you know that you have a really good rule.
Mathea Ford: [00:41:45] Okay that’s great! So, thinking about the listeners who maybe dietitians, other health professionals or even just everyday people interested in nutrition. How would you want them to use this information we’ve talked about in their day to day life?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:42:01] Well you’re talking about with their clients?
Mathea Ford: [00:42:03] Either with their clients or with themselves but probably with their clients. Maybe somebody who doesn’t necessarily struggle with bingeing but they have clients who come in who may have some issues with weight.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:42:14] I mean we do have a training and certification program where we teach and supervise people how to work with their own clients. That’s something we really like to do actually because helping the helper really furthers our mission we’re trying to help a million people stop bingeing every year and they have the clients right in front of them so that makes us really happy to do that. But in terms of implementing in their own life, I would make the same recommendation that I make to everybody else which is to start with one rule. Everything that’s really important to do is to be sure that the rules that you create don’t put you in a box where you can’t get enough nutrition and calories. And I would suggest that people check that with a nutritionist or a dietitian or with one of the online systems like cronometer.com or My Fitness Pal just to be sure that they’re not making your rule if it’s inconsistent with your body’s needs. There are some rules you can’t make. I can’t make a rule that says I will never pee again because nobody is going to tell me otherwise. If you make a rule which puts you in too much of a caloric and nutritional deficit, your body is going to want to force you to be less discriminating. You can override that. I mean people can go on hunger strikes until they die but it’s extraordinarily uncomfortable and it takes an extraordinary person to do that. So, why put yourself in that situation? So, go and have your remaining diet checked out by a dietitian or a nutritionist or at least at the very least one of these online calculators to make sure that it’s efficient. When you’re dealing with a craving, there are a couple of important things to recognize when dealing with a craving. First of all, you have to think of the craving as an opportunity. You can’t get rid of a craving without having a craving so a craving is an opportunity to extinguish the craving. If you have a craving and you don’t feed it then the craving will be weaker tomorrow. But underneath the craving is an authentic biological need. Almost all the time. So, it’s not just a craving for a chocolate bar but maybe you genuinely do need some energy. So what I found over time by experimenting with different things was that when I crave chocolate I would teach my brain “no, we’re going to have a kale banana smoothie instead.” And I wouldn’t get high the same way that chocolate makes you high. I think chocolate is a drug but I would feel satisfied and the craving would go away and I would have the energy that I needed. And I think that what I was doing was correcting the biological drive that got hijacked.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:44:45] There’s a whole series of animal studies where electrodes were put into the pleasure center thereby short cutting or bypassing the natural evolutionary means by which we’re meant to experience pleasure. And those animals were allowed to self stimulate by pressing a lever so that the electrode was wired to a lever. Those animals pressed the lever thousands of times a day to the exclusion of their survival needs. A starving rat for example would press the lever thousands of times a day and ignore its food. A nursing mother rat pressed the lever thousands of times a day and ignore her pups. So, what’s happening there is hijacking up the survival drive. It’s unnatural stimulation of parts of the brain and chemical neurological stimulation that causes the body to make a biological error. I don’t think anybody’s inserting electrodes in our brain but the chemicals we’re putting into our body it’s not that far away. And can you say we’re not being given these shortcuts to biological pleasure when you could walk out of McDonald’s and see a Burger King across the street at just about every city in the country or the world these days? So, I think you need to recognize that your body is making a biological error. It feels like you need chocolate to survive. It feels like you need chips to survive. At the moment you have the craving it feels like nothing else matters no matter how much work you did to think about what you wanted to do. No matter how committed you were to the diet. No matter how much motivational work you figured out. Why you wanted to commit to this? At the moment of impulse every bone in your body says “just hand over the chocolate and nobody gets hurt.” What you have to do at that moment is say “it’s a feeling and feelings aren’t facts and thank goodness I’m having this feeling now. Thank goodness I’m having this craving now” because I can feed myself what my body really needs. I’m not going to let it go for that chemical electrode in my brain. I’m not going to push the lever thousands of times to be like a stupid rat. Excuse me language I don’t think rats are stupid I think you’re really sweet but you know what I mean. I am going to forcefully and consciously redirect this drive I am feeling towards what I think might be my authentic need. Some other examples are when I struggle with pizza or wanting pasta with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese. What I would do instead was make myself some brown rice with tomato sauce and nutritional yeast. So, I started like shifting for its healthier alternatives and I would find the same thing wasn’t the most delicious thing I ever ate but it killed the craving and I was fine. And before I knew it my nervous system was adjusting and I was getting more pleasure out of the brown rice with tomato sauce and nutritional yeast than I was getting out of what I used to remember going to the pasta. Now, if I went back to the pasta that would revert back to where it was in my body would make the biological error again. So. So, feelings aren’t facts. Thank goodness I’m having this craving. What do I really need? That’s how you do it.
Mathea Ford: [00:47:50] That’s great. I love that idea of basically trying to restimulate, rewire what your brain wants so to speak by just concentrating on it and doing it for a period of time.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:48:03] Yeah.
Mathea Ford: [00:48:04] So, I always asked my guess what is your favorite food? Obviously it’s not chocolate, not dark chocolate.
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:48:11] Well, chocolate was my favorite. Chocolate and Cheetos was amazing. When people know what to eat they want to run away screaming. Took me a lot of years to get to this point but my favorite thing to do is to make cucumber noodles with a sauce that has tomatoes and lemons and dates and some dills in it for a little saltiness. Absolute favorite thing and sometimes up with some leafy greens into the sauce and in fact I have to go make that after we talk now because I’m hungry. I make a big friggin bowl of it also.
Mathea Ford: [00:48:48] So cucumber noodles or just slices really thin slices of cucumbers?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:48:52] I got a spiralizer. You can get them on Amazon for about 30 bucks and I spiralize in so it’s actually like a noodle so I can actually twirl it gives me the same experience of eating pasta. If you’re stuck on pasta it’s not going to feel like awesome.
Mathea Ford: [00:49:06] Okay Dr. Glenn thank you so much for being on the podcast today. It was a pleasure to have you on the show. I know my listeners learned a lot about the psychology thoughts behind binge eating and how to make some changes positive changes. If listeners want to connect with you what’s the best way to do that?
Dr. Glenn Livingston: [00:49:23] Well if you could ineverbingeagain.com and you click on the big red button. Sign up for the Reader Bonus List. There are a few things that I can get you. Can get your free copy of the book in digital format either Kindle, Nook or PDF. I can get you a free copy of the Food Plan Starter Templates we talked about. So, regardless of your dietary philosophy. High carb, low carb, ketogenic, vegan, point counting, calorie counting it doesn’t matter. We have a sample set of food rules that you might want to start with and modify for your own benefit. And I recorded a whole bunch of coaching sessions to show you that this isn’t really such a weird or harsh thing in practice as it sounds like in theory so. So, ineverbingeagain.com. Click the big red button.
Mathea Ford: [00:50:09] Right! So, guys this has been another great episode of the Nutrition Expert Podcast. The podcast is all about learning more so you can do more with nutrition in your life.
You Love Nutrition and You Love Hearing From The Experts!
Subscribe to get our latest content by email.