Joan Ifland, PhD., M.B.A., is a researcher and educator in the field of food addiction and allergies. She has a doctorate in addictive nutrition at Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an MBA from Stanford University. In 1996, she founded The Sugars and Flours Project of Houston, which provides education about food reactions.
Joan Ifland, PhD., M.B.A., is a researcher and educator in the field of food addiction and allergies. She has a doctorate in addictive nutrition at Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an MBA from Stanford University. In 1996, she founded The Sugars and Flours Project of Houston, which provides education about food reactions. In 2007, she founded the Refined Food Addiction (ReFA) Research Foundation, which is dedicated to facilitating the flow of information between clinicians and researchers. She is the lead author of the first academically published description of food addiction in humans. She is a co-founder of the Society of Food Addiction Professionals. Her popular book is Sugars and Flours: How They Make Us Crazy, Sick, and Fat. She writes a weekly column for United Press International, Joan on Food. She was recently asked to write the first textbook on Food Addiction for the nation.
How did you become a food addiction researcher and academic, assigned to write the first textbook on food addiction?
Processed foods had me sick. I was depressed, anxious, irritable and overweight. I had constant sinus infections and fatigue. I was trying so hard and finally I got this idea that it was caused by processed foods. Once I got them out of my diet, my goodness; it was like a whole new life. But the greatest gain was that before, I had so much irritability. I was mean. I was critical and I would rage. I was crazy. I now know my brain was awash in neurotransmitters so I had the highs and the crash. Getting rid of processed foods helped me have a stable brain.
If you had to pick one action to start moving in the right direction toward eliminating processed foods, what would that be?
I would go to the grocery store. I would get a chicken, a bag of sweet potatoes, and a bag of carrots and some nice olive oil and I would just eat that as long as I could stand it. It is just a start, but it would get me through the first two days of withdrawal because there is a withdrawal.
In America, we tend to go out to eat a lot. What do you do to avoid eating processed foods?
Before you get there, call and decide what you are going to order there. Do not look at the menu because all those choices are designed to make you crave, create confusion and get you all excited about food—especially the bread with the olive oil or the tortilla chips with sauce! There is research showing that if you eat a processed food before a meal, you will eat more. In the 1950s, they used to put raw vegetables out on the table, and that would slow down your appetite, but you don’t see that anymore.”
What is wrong with the processing of food?
There are two things that are wrong. One has to do with the processing itself. The processing techniques for food are the same as the processing for recreational drugs. It is about extraction. It is concentration and then adding them together in certain combinations. It is taking the fiber out and powdering it and crystallizing it so that it is absorbed quickly and you get that high. That is exactly what they do for recreational drugs. There are food additives and about 10,000 of them in use and they are combined by the food industry to suppress satiation in the brain so they want you not to experience restraint and a lot of foods are collapsed in the membrane of the mouth so they don’t go through a digestive process. It is just like taking drugs.
What is the best advice for people who cook at home?
The best advice is for them to keep it simple. Don’t buy anything with a label. It is so easy to put sweet potatoes in the oven and butternut squash and spaghetti squash and make five days of starch. It is very easy to bake a chicken or turkey breast or bake a meat loaf. Make a lot at one time and eat it at home.
If you are not the cooking type, what should you do?
Go to ethnic restaurants and “Mom and Pop” restaurants where you can trust the organic food and buy from them.
For people who fail at weight loss, what should they know about food addiction?
They have to know the problem is in the brain. If you stabilize the brain and repair the brain, the weight loss will take care of itself. You have to desensitize the brain to craving cues and reminders and deliberately reestablish the cognitive functions, learning, memory decision-making and restraint.
I have a program in my Facebook group called Four Walls. One of those walls is trigger avoidance so if you go to a family event, you write what you are going to do at the event before you go. For example you write, “I am going to stay away from the table with processed foods. I am going to stay positive, talk to someone I like,” etc. So you have a strategy before you go. I teach cue and trigger avoidance, which I believe is the missing link in weight loss treatment. It is not given enough attention.
In our Food Addiction Education Facebook page, for example, we also have a food plan. The foods that you can eat and the foods you shouldn’t are listed and there is also a trigger inventory. There is very concrete advice there. This is a disease that can be activated at any time, so we help you plan ahead.
Food Addiction Education Facebook page