New York’s indomitable anti-sugar superhero, High Voltage, aka Kathie Dolgin, takes sugar addiction recovery into inner-city schools. “When they see how much sugar is in the food products, they get really upset,” she says. She’s pictured in Central Park giving her group’s signature “Thumbs Down to Soda.”
by Jill Escher
Long before Dr. Robert Lustig pronounced sugar an addictive poison and a decade before Mayor Bloomberg sought to ban mega-sodas, a bleach-blond and super-fit force of nature called High Voltage (real name Kathie Dolgin) started a New York program to help schoolgirls break free of their sugar and junk food addictions. At 65, an age where many women suffer obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and hypertension, Voltage remains a vibrant, youthful and positive bundle of energy, who, through her one-of-a-kind approach and role modeling has helped turn thousands of young lives around.
Voltage is the director of EUVA, Energy Up! Voltage Approved, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit now in its tenth year, a group that goes into schools and teaches girls the nasty truth about sugar and junk food. You can find the group at EnergyUp.Org and follow them at @EnergyUpVoltage. I had the honor of interviewing this trailblazer in June in beautiful Central Park.
How did Energy Up! get started?
In the late 70s, when I got sober from drugs and alcohol, I recognized my eating behavior, specifically with sugar, flour, and salty things, was just like with drugs. So Energy Up! was created based on the addiction model. It was set up that way, I always knew sugar is a drug.
You were way ahead of your time. Scientists are just now accepting the addictive properties of sugar.
I addicted to drugs and alcoholic, so because of my brain chemistry issues I recognized the pattern. Chronic sugar consumption is a brain chemistry problem.
Addiction specialists see this all the time–drugs, sugar, and alcohol chemically causing the same type of aberrations in brain biochemistry. But it seems this field still sees this as an eating disorder, not addiction.
That’s starting to change. Two years ago, Dr. David Kessler in his book, The End of Overeating, was the first serious researcher who talked about the science of overeating and sugar addiction. This is the science behind Energy Up!
What is your group doing in the schools?
Energy Up! has been a health and wellness program in the schools for ten years. Ten years ago I donated my time for one month to a Catholic girls’ school. I fell in love with the girls, I didn’t have children and they became my daughters, and I realize how many people beat themselves up, they think it’s their fault, they think they’re losers, “What’s wrong with me?” Like they have some sort of a defect. And it’s not. It’s brain chemistry. Then they understand that, they get their lives together, and that’s something worth dedicating your life to, in my opinion.
What we’re really proud of at Energy Up! is some of the girls who come back and work for us. “Once an Energy Up! girl, always an Energy Up! girl.” We really back each other up, and a lot of girls from inner city situations don’t necessarily have that. These girls are brilliant, and I love to tell them, maybe you didn’t get that silver spoon in your mouth but many times that silver spoon chokes.
We’ve worked with thousands of girls, about 60 girls per program. They have sugar issues, food issues. But after a three-day course, the energy can come up, the weight can start to drop down if there’s a weight issue, and you start feeling different quickly when you stop eating sugar and many processed foods. Energy Up! is not just a weight loss program, it’s a spiritual and lifestyle program. Affirmations and gratitude are just as important as eating Voltage-approved foods and staying hydrated. Also, removing sugar can have a profound effect on depression, mood, and aggression.
You look incredible, can I ask what you eat?
The way I eat is where I’d like the girls to be one day. I eat organic and vegetarian probably 80-90 percent of the time. I love food, and I’m constantly eating, but I eat real food and I don’t eat crap. I was a sugar junkie for so many years, but once my physical nutrition became so strong, I can have a little bit of sweetener but I have to be careful I don’t overuse it. If I catch myself overusing I just stop.
When I was addicted, cookies and dough were my thing. Now I need to train my brain to look at these sweets as dog doo-doo. I would never touch that stuff because now I see dog doo-doo. On that slippery slope, I would fall down and break my butt. In the Energy Up! program, we encourage the girls to identify foods that don’t work for them, we get them to not like them.
Are challenges working specifically with inner-city girls different?
There are plenty of wealthy families with access to everything that have the same problems. So honestly I don’t think it’s so different. They might say, “But that’s so expensive,” and I’ll say, “Those are really cool sneakers you’ve got on, and let me see your phone.” Somehow all of us get what’s important to us, so we’ve got to change our idea of what’s important. You need to learn how to cook and you need to learn how to chop up vegetables. We need a cool, new-millennial Home Economics.
I spend less on food now than I did before I went off sugar. It’s cheaper to eat healthy.
It’s a knee-jerk reaction to say it’s more expensive. But we run out of excuses, people are dying and they’re miserable. Some of our girls have diabetes or are on blood pressure medication at 13, 14 years old. The doctors don’t know how the kids should eat, the medical school money comes from pharmaceuticals, that’s who pays for their education.
Tell me about “Choose To Be Sugar-Free”schools.
We launched a pilot of the first “Choose To Be Sugar-Free” school in New York last year. This is no quick project. Phase one was getting chocolate milk out, juice out, making real salad dressings, getting the lowest sugar cereals, and not very sugary cookies. More incremental changes are coming. We use incentives. When girls order Voltage-approved food, they get the pink bracelet which reads, “I Choose to Be Sugar-Free.” We give out raffle tickets. We get the healthier stuff in, and then get the kids excited about eating it; that’s the secret to success.
When you’re educating the girls about the seriousness of sugar, what messages work?
Our signature activity is called Sugar Shock, and through math we show girls how much sugar is actually in a product, we get little baggies and the girls scoop the sugar into the bags — it looks like drugs. We show them what 6-8 teaspoons looks like. Showing them anything over this amount makes you sick, starts giving you cancer, heart disease, moodiness, bad skin, and aggression. When they see how much sugar is in the food products, they get really upset. Sugar Shock turns people around, really quick.
What’s your advice for a girl struggling with food issues?
The advice I give most often is if you really want to win in life, you need to be healthy because you need the energy. It’s all about energy. If you have the best credentials in the world but no energy, it doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of money spent to keep you sick, but what I keep telling the girls is, “No one has a gun to our head to keep us eating crap, we can stop anytime we want.” Once they realize they only want food that makes them strong and powerful, they see the crap for what it is. When your brain is hijacked by chemicals in the processed food, you’re always going to be hungry, you’re always going to be depressed, you’re never going to feel your best. I want my girls to win, there’s nothing wrong with that. Become the best you can be. We want the girls to become advocates for themselves. They are going to have the information, the education, they are going to be very hard to ignore.
I wish you were there when I was in high school!
Wisdom comes with age. I wasn’t always like this, I was afraid of my own shadow and very insecure. We get smarter and more secure. We need to take care of ourselves to become the role models we need to be.
EUVA is launching a capital campaign to expand their capacity to bring the program into more cities and schools. To learn more or make a contribution, please visit www.energyup.org.
by Jill Escher
Let’s start this discussion with three stipulations: first, that refined sugar is a drug (refined substance that provokes unusual biochemical response), and not a food (plant or animal product that nourishes); second, that sugar is highly addictive; and third, that all else being equal, it’s best to avoid refined sugar altogether if you can manage it.
Problem is, most people can’t manage it, which has been among the factors simultaneously raising eyebrows about Paleo-type diet approaches, while quietly yet powerfully driving today’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. Since elimination of sugar presents such a seemingly insurmountable task for most people, the question must be, “Can You Get Your Daily Sugar Hit While Kind-of, Sort-of Recovering From Sugar Addiction?”
It’s anathema to suggest that a drug addict can recover from addiction while staying leashed to his drug, but here’s the problem: people have become so profoundly biochemically dependent on sugar that even I, an ardent anti-sugar person, must admit that no time soon will we have a world without cupcakes, soda, and ice cream. So, the next best thing to the abstinence of recovery must be cutting consumption, a lot. Americans eat on average 22 teaspoons of refined sugars each day. If we can move that number down to, say, 5 or 6 teaspoons, that would be a fantastic, not to mention desperately needed, achievement.
Here’s how to do it:
1. Admit you need your sugar buzz. You eat sugar not for the alleged “yummy” factor, but because it gives you that mild euphoria, buzz, jolt, hit, floaty feeling you don’t get from real food. You need this injection, and in fact go into a painful withdrawal gripped by overwhelming should-I-get-in-the-car-now-to-get-a-Starbucks-brownie craving without it.
2. Treat your sugar as your drug, not your food. Stop pretending it’s just part of a meal.
3. Decide that to feed this craving you will eat your junk food of choice, but only up to a few teaspoons worth of sugar per day. This drug-food could be anything from cookies to mochachinos, to flavored yogurt. It’s up to you. Keep in mind that 4 grams of sugar/carbs equates to a teaspoon. So if your drug is a mini-chocolate bar with 16 gm of total carbohydrate, that’s 4 tsp of sugar, which ought to be more than enough to create a solid buzz.
4. Aside from your daily dose, eliminate all other forms of refined sugar and starch. This means no wheat (please, no wheat! so toxic), grains, potatoes, corn, rice, bread, pasta, pizza, baked goods, crackers, or the like. And no other added sugars: no soda, juice, sweetened anything, or processed food. Basically, follow a Paleo-ish diet, though I’m not adamant about eliminating dairy or legumes.
For some people, this is the way to lose weight, get reasonably healthy, while still maintaining their habit. For others, it keeps the sugar monster inside intact and prompts binges, preoccupation and misery. We are all different: total abstinence may be ideal, but out of reach for many people. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. If you need further tips about how to break up with the sugar in your life, may I humbly recommend my book, Farewell, Club Perma-Chub: A Sugar Addict’s Guide to Easy Weight Loss? It’s a no-nonsense approach to regaining your health, it’s fun to read (hey, I wrote it), and all proceeds benefit charity. Good luck on your road to recovery, perfection is often not required.
by Fred Pescatore, M.D.
(Learn more about Dr. Pescatore, author of The Hamptons Diet, at drpescatore.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @drfredpescatore.)
I don’t know how many of you saw the HBO documentary, The Weight of the Nation but it was, for me, almost unwatchable. Before I tell you how many things I hated about it let me tell you the thing I loved about it – they mentioned my book. Well, they showed its picture along with some others and said nasty things about me but hey, I made it – I am part of the dieting zeitgeist. It was all downhill from there.
I knew I was going to have a hard time watching it because it was done in association with the five horsemen of the apocalypse:Institute of Medicine, The Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, The FDA and the USDA – basically the establishments that dictate how we eat. I do realize in the book of Revelations there were only four but since this is about obesity, we gained an extra horseman.
The show took the angle that what a surprise it was that we are all obese or overweight. It looked at the emotions of the people which I was incredibly moved by – I know what it’s like to be an overweight person and have to struggle every day with what I eat. It is not a battle that you do not walk away from unscarred. I still see a fat person every time I look in the mirror. I still have to watch everything I eat and have to think about food every day. It is exhausting. This struggle was very well documented in the show; however, the comments from the representatives of the horsemen were really aggravating – it was as if they had nothing to do with it.
I guess the reason I sound so angry is because these stories resonated so much with me; or it could be because I am hungry. I live my life hungry and you have to be hungry in order to lose weight and maintain your weight loss. No one tells you that part but guess what folks, it’s true. Many of the people interviewed for the show didn’t have photos of themselves with their family. I still hate having my photo taken and every photo of the obese me has been destroyed.
Let me tell you a story: Did you know that the first childhood obesity clinic was started in this country at Columbia University by a female German physician? She came to this country and couldn’t believe how many overweight children she encountered. Do you know when this was? The mid 1930’s – during the height of the Great Depression.
Can you guess why there were so many fat children during a time when many people could not afford to put food on the table. It’s because of what they were eating – carbohydrates and sugar because those were (and still continue to be) the cheapest foods around.
Can this please, I beg you, put to rest the notion of calories in vs. calories out. If I heard this once through the four hours of my life that I will never get back watching this insanity, I heard it a thousand times. It’s a reason I hate most doctors. It’s not about calories, it’s about the type of calorie that we consume. This theory has been largely ignored by the horsemen and the documentary. They kept saying it over and over again. It may have been the first time in my life I wanted to damage my television.
Let me explain this again: if you eat sugars and grains, insulin gets released which, while regulating blood sugar, also regulates fat accumulation. This is in medical textbooks as to why our cells get fat. Yet, the 5 horsemen of the apocalypse don’t make the connection that if you have fat cells, you will have fat human beings. Seems pretty obvious to me; yet, the policies they set in place led to an increased consumption of grains and sugars and guess what, an increase in obesity, diabetes etc.
These foods make us fat. Whereas fats, proteins and green leafy vegetables do not because these do not cause the same type of insulin reaction in the body. For all these years, the horsemen have been making policy, promoting the consumption of carbs and sugars and telling us the wrong things – can we blame the population or should we blame the horsemen?
“My doctor told me to go brown,” one woman said in this documentary. “So, I guess I will be eating brown rice, brown bread and wheat pasta.” What???? What about telling her to eat lean proteins and vegetables? Go brown – that should only be said when watching college football.
Since the mid-1970’s we have been told that the ultimate healthy diet was one rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and that red meat will make us fat, cause colon cancer, and give us a heart attack. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to prove that salt and saturated fat are bad for our health and spent nothing on sugar.
While our calorie content has increased over the last 30 years, of those calories, 25% come from added sugars, 25% from added fats (most of this from soy) and 50% from refined grains, corn starches and wheat.
And guess what, obesity rates remained almost stable up to the mid-1970’s which by the way is when red meat consumption in America peaked and has been dropping steadily ever since. Since then, and the switch to the USDA enshrined food pyramid where we were told that grains and starches should be the basis of a healthy diet, was the beginning of the obesity epidemic – yet, consistent with what the five horsemen told us to do.
Before I go on, can anyone tell me why Coy from the Atlanta Falcons who appeared on Don’t be Tardy for the Wedding was carrying a Gucci purse. Not hating, just saying. Can anyone say John Travolta?
The show raged about the epidemic in children. I published Feed Your Kids Well in 1998 – almost 15 years ago. It sold well enough but it didn’t make any best seller lists. I wasn’t asked to be on any major television shows except the View where Meredith Viera essentially scoffed me by saying we can never get our children to eat healthy. I have hated her ever since. I know I shouldn’t h8 but she did a great disservice to the community of women that watch her – and she has so many wrinkles on her face, I almost fell into one.
W8/H8 goes on to say that good intake is a learned behavior and that genetics plays a role in the epidemic. While that may be true to some extent, stop looking for the reason and just admit that you’ve made a grave mistake in what you tell people to eat. I came from a family who ate good food but the food was all terrible, all of my family members are/were overweigh or obese as was I and I overcame all of it – so enough about genetics and learned behavior – unlearn it and move on.
There were many moving stories on the show and I cried multiple times – not as often as I cried when Glee won nationals – but a lot. Obese people don’t want to be obese and they know it’s going to kill them but they don’t see they have an option.
Did you know the NIH spends $800 million dollars each year to try to figure out the cause of obesity? I know!!! As if we don’t already know the cause – just fess up already and maybe I’ll forgive you.
$1.5 billion dollars is spent on food marketing to children and all foods that will kill them. The companies themselves decide what is healthy. They and the pharmaceutical industry are the only ones that are allowed to self regulate in this country.
For many children, 40 to 50 % of what they consume is consumed at school. Have you seen what they serve at school? And, 90% of the parents thought the food was healthy! So, the horsemen decided to come up with a new child nutrition act which doubles the amount of fruit served as breakfast – when studies tell us eggs keep you fuller longer and cause you to eat less throughout the day; but yes, go sugar – oops, I mean fruit.
This act also allows French fries to be counted as a vegetable, encourages whole grains and reduces sodium and saturated fat to less than 10% and allows only fat free milk. Again, my head, like Linda Blair in the Exorcist is spinning and pea soup is spewing as I am writing this. Kids need fat. Not only is it satisfying but their brains are still developing and does someone need to remind these people that the brain is about 70% fat.
One doctor went on to say that with food, you have to change your behavior every day because you have to eat. Yes, and his point was……. Ex-smokers do it; Alcoholics do it, even educated fleas do it – let’s fall in love. But with healthy food choices please.
Healthy food is more expensive but do you know why? The profit margin for soft drinks is 90% and for produce – 10%. We spend $40 billion per year in subsidies for corn, wheat, sugar and soy. 50% of all farmland is corn and soy. Because of these subsidies, food is no longer something that feeds up but it is a commodity to be traded and exchanged on a stock market. These businesses don’t care about us, they only care about the bottom line and still, the five horsemen sit back, shake their heads and can’t seem to figure out why we are in the midst of the most troubling epidemic since AIDS or the bubonic plaque or I don’t know – this is probably the worse one ever. But one thing I do know – if the tobacco industry can be taken on, so can the food industry.
So, who is to blame? As a nation, we listened to those who were supposed to be protecting our health. So, I will leave you with Dr. Hilde Bruch who pointed out over 50 years ago that telling people to eat less and exercise more doesn’t work and that the individual shouldn’t be blamed if the advice they followed was wrong.
We were duped! Shame us once, shame on you, shame us twice, shame on us. Stop listening to the horsemen of the apocalypse – just follow the Hamptons diet – you know you want to and you know you can.
Oh, and can someone please explain to me why every CW show (and by every I mean Gossip Girl and 90210) this season ended with the song, We Are Young? Just saying.
(Big thanks to Dr. Pescatore for letting us reproduce this review, and for the laughs.)
by Jill Escher
Oh, recovering from sugar addiction can be such a bear. Even after a prolonged period of abstinence we are always just a bite away from sinking back into our ol’ cycle of craving, preoccupation, weight gain, exhaustion and general addiction misery.
So, to remain inspired and encouraged, we must continually put gas into the engines of our motivation to get and stay clean. One fabulous refueling tool (and a free one, at that) is the wonderful world of nutrition and health podcasts. Here are five episodes from the last month or so to get your mind, and body, back on track:
Vera Tarman, MD, on Underground Wellness, with Sean Croxton, “Understanding Food Addiction.” [Thanks for mentioning our website, Dr. Tarman!]
Jonathan Bailor on The Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show, with Jimmy Moore. “The Smarter Science of Slim.”
Mark Houston, MD, on Carbohydrates Can Kill, with Dr. Robert K. Su, “Cardiovascular Disease and Diet.” [Note this is in two parts]
Erin Chamerlik, Get Better Wellness, “The Run Away Diabetes Epidemic.”
William Davis, MD, on Dishing Up Nutrition, with Dar Kvist, ND, “Wheat Belly.”
Lots of people want to help you stay off the white stuff — take advantage of the many brilliant podcasts out there. Happy listening!
The shape of the nation? It’s projected that 40% of American adults will be obese by 2030.
by Jill Escher, author, “Farewell, Club Perma-Chub: A Sugar Addict’s Guide to Easy Weight Loss”
A new program, “The Weight of the Nation,” premieres tonight on HBO, so I admit to writing this column without the benefit of having seen the actual show. But just by perusing the website, http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/, one can easily discern that here’s yet another well intentioned but misguided effort to slim down America, parroting the same old “eat less, move more” conventional wisdom that’s been proven time and again to not work. The trick to weight loss, says their website, is as follows:
“The term “energy balance” refers to the balance between the energy (calories) you take in through foods and drinks and the energy you burn. When your body is in positive energy balance, you are taking in more calories than you are burning. Your body stores extra energy as fat. When you take in less energy than you burn, your body is in negative energy balance, and your body burns fat for fuel.
“Most effective weight loss plans include changes to both diet and physical activity to achieve negative energy balance. Having an imbalance of 500 to 1,000 calories per day can lead to weight loss of about 1 to 2 pounds per week.”
In other words, they say, “You Will Lose Weight if You Are Miserable and Hungry and Sweat a Lot While Being Miserable and Hungry.” One thing we know, for sure, is that a weight loss plan that entails feelings hunger or deprivation will not only fail, it will backfire because our age-old hormonal signaling system will make us to anything (cookie binge, anyone?) to relieve our state of hunger. Low calorie diets invariably result in dieters regaining the weight, and then some more. Weight of the Nation also gives patently backwards food advice, urging dieters to:
“Eat 6 ounces of grains. At least half the grains you eat should be whole grains (such as 100% whole wheat breads, whole-grain cereal, and brown rice). One-ounce examples include: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked pasta, rice, or cereal.” And to:
“Dig into dairy. Eat 3 cups a day of low-fat or fat-free dairy, such as milk, cheese or yogurt.” And to:
“Go lean with protein.” And to:
“Choose foods low in saturated fats and cholesterol…. Keep total fat intake between 20 and 35 percent of your total daily calories.”
Yes, indeed, the same old, same old, that ol’ dogma-driven advice that hasn’t helped one bit in the past several decades to stem the rising tide of obesity and diabetes. The writers appear to have not noticed that (1) the human metabolism does not operate under the laws of thermodynamics; (2) grains are basically nutrient-lite sugars that drive up insulin, and therefore the storage of fat; (3) low-fat and non-fat foods having higher proportions of sugars, and are not satiating in the way of real fats; (4) lean protein without the naturally occurring fats are less nutritious, and satisfying; and (5) dietary fat and cholesterol has very little relationship with blood serum fat and cholesterol–those lipids are driven high by dietary sugars, not fats.
That said, the series does seem to have some redeeming qualities — it urges drinking water instead of sodas, minimizing processed foods, cutting down on sugar, and eating lots of colorful veggies. But the recommendations as a whole are solidly based, unquestioningly, on the carb-heavy, low-fat USDA Dietary Guidelines that made us obese in the first place.
So, what’s the right advice?
The mammoth health debacle that is the obesity epidemic is fueled not by a sudden inexplicable human quest for more calories, but rather by a biochemical tampering unprecedented in history. This biochemical malfeasance is a nice way to say “We’ve been poisoned.” By refined sugars, processed carbohydrates, faux-foods engineered from chemical substrates. These poisons (for indeed, they make us ill, and are far from nourishing substances) wreak havoc with our metabolism and neurochemistry, and launch a cascade of biochemical consequences that results in often massive accumulation of fat.
So, what’s the answer?
The answer — one you won’t hear in Weight of the Nation — is to eschew the engineered and refined foods that trigger this biochemical disarray and return to eating, get this!, REAL FOOD. If America dumped the processed crud, including sugars, flours, packaged and prepared foods, vegetable oils, etc, we would have no obesity or diabetes epidemic. Humans have been eating Real Food since time immemorial, so why not resume this state of normalcy? I think it’s because we’re firmly in a state of addiction to them, and can’t fathom life without our muffins, pizzas, pastas, cookies, chocolates, ice creams, and chips. Yes, our poisons are powerful indeed.