The Melanie Avalon Biohacking Podcast Episode #68 - Glenn Livingston, Ph.D.
Glenn Livingston, Ph.D. is a veteran psychologist and was the long time CEO of a multi-million dollar consulting firm which has serviced several Fortune 500 clients in the food industry. You may have seen his (or his company's) previous work, theories, and research in major periodicals like The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Sun Times, The Indiana Star Ledger, The NY Daily News, American Demographics, or any of the other major media outlets you see on this page. You may also have heard him on ABC, WGN, and/or CBS radio, or UPN TV.
Disillusioned by what traditional psychology had to offer overweight and/or food obsessed individuals, Dr. Livingston spent several decades researching the nature of bingeing and overeating via work with his own patients AND a self-funded research program with more than 40,000 participants. Most important, however, was his own personal journey out of obesity and food prison to a normal, healthy weight and a much more lighthearted relationship with food.
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1:45 - IF Biohackers: Intermittent Fasting + Real Foods + Life: Join Melanie's Facebook Group For A Weekly Episode GIVEAWAY, And To Discuss And Learn About All Things Biohacking! All Conversations Welcome!
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8:40 - Glenn's Background
11:50 - Psychology of Overeating: A Paradigm Shift
13:30 - Overstimulating The Pleasure Center of Brain
18:35 - Eradicating Powerlessness
19:20 - Will Power As A Resource
22:00 - Rules: Restrictive or Freeing?
25:40 - Perpetual State of Restriction
26:35 - 45 Binge Trigger Busters
27:20 - "You Can Just Start Tomorrow"
30:00 - "Just One Bite/Just One More Bite"
32:00 - 7:11 Breath
33:40 - LUMEN: Get $25 Off A Lumen Device At MelanieAvalon.com/Lumen With The Code melanieavalon25! And Learn More In Melanie's Interview With Lumen Founder (The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #43 - Daniel Tal)
35:00 - Half Of A Truth And A Bigger Lie
38:00 - The Nature of Food Addiction: A Theory
41:20 - Struggling With Sweets
48:15 - Food Sedation
49:35 - Changing the Paradigm
55:05 - Changing The Behavior Before Getting To The Emotional Root Of The Binge
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art (James Nestor)
56:35 - Navigating Emotional Eating
1:00:30 - Struggling With Salty Snacks
1:05:00 - Prep Dish: Weekly Grocery And Recipe Lists Which Are Gluten Free And Optionally Paleo, KETO, AIP, Or Alkaline! Get A Free 2 Week Trial At Prepdish.Com/Melanieavalon
1:06:40 - Nighttime Overeating
1:10:00 - Bedtime Rituals To Break Bad Habits
An End to Nighttime Overeating: Your 10-Day Definitive Guide (Glenn Livingston, Ph.D.)
1:15:00 - Secret Eating
1:19:15 - Social Eating and Drinking
1:20:00 - Social Pressures To Eat Or Drink
1:21:20 - Basics of Group Psychology
1:24:40 - Unconscious Anxiety Of Groups
1:25:35 - Re-Establishing The Group
1:28:15 - Conditional Rules
1:29:50 - Influence of Alcohol
1:30: 35 - Self Sabotage
1:32:00 - Decelerating Weight Loss For Success
1:34:20 - People Who Struggle With The Process
Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. I am so excited and even more so honored for the conversation that I'm about to have. So, backstory on it. I myself, and I know a lot of my audience oftentimes struggle with things like food cravings and overeating and food fears and bingeing, and there's just a lot of stress surrounding food, especially now. I'm probably going to release this around the holidays, especially now, it can be a lot to deal with. And I'm a rules type of person, and things like intuitive eating and stuff like that never really seemed to work for me. And then around, I think was around 2017, I was very intrigued by a book I saw on Amazon called Never Binge Again. It had thousands of reviews, between four and five stars. Today, I just looked it up, and today it has over 7,000 reviews, which is honestly just kind of shocking, but for good reason.
I read this book, and friends, it was so life changing. It really, really is a paradigm shift in reframing your perspective towards food. And finally becoming free from the little voice in your head that might keep you in patterns that you don't want to be in with food. So, I read that book, I would recommend it all the time on the Intermittent Fasting Podcast. And we talked about this on the last episode that I had this guest on. It's called Never Binge Again, but really what you learn in it could be applied to, I mean, overeating in general, and so many other things in life that is just so valuable. I was recommending it all the time. I made it my mission to try and get the author on to this show. So, when he agreed to come on, I think I aired it, I don't know when we recorded the first time, but when he agreed I was so excited--
Glenn Livingston: It's six months ago.
Melanie Avalon: Six months ago? Okay. Oh, yeah, because it was around the beginning of the whole quarantine situation, I think. When he agreed to come on, the conversation was amazing. It was magical. You guys loved it. The second I recorded it, I knew that I had to bring him back ASAP for a second episode. And I've also gotten to know him as a friend and he's just an incredible human being. So, I am here with Dr. Glenn Livingston. And Glenn, thank you so much for being here.
Glenn Livingston: Melanie, thank you so much. It's my honor.
Melanie Avalon: Well, first of all, I will refer listeners to the first episode that we did together because you dive deep into your personal story of what brought you to write Never Binge Again and all of that. So, if listeners want the really deep dive into that, I'll put a link in the show notes to that. That said, I will tell listeners a little bit about you for those who are not familiar. Glenn Livingston, he is a PhD, a veteran psychologist. And he was the longtime CEO of a multi-million-dollar consulting firm, which serviced many Fortune 500 clients in the food industry. And he talks about this in his books, but I think it really-- I don't want to put words in your mouth, but it seems that it really gave you a really good perspective of how things like advertising and our modern food system can really hijack us.
Glenn Livingston: From when I was on the wrong side of the war, yes, it did.
Melanie Avalon: It's a nice background that you have because it gives you a whole perspective. But since then, you took a turn. You no longer work with that company. And so, would you like to tell listeners briefly a little bit of how you did come to write Never Binge Again and what was the epiphany that you had surrounding how we can view our food struggles?
Glenn Livingston: Melanie, have you ever been to Long Island? If you were in Long Island and you passed by the Woodbury Country Deli, and you found that they were out of pizza or a pop tarts or muffins, the odds are that I got there before you. And the reason I'm saying that, which is kind of a joke, but not really is that-- what your listeners to know, I'm not just a doctor that decided to work with overeaters, but I had a serious problem myself. And I used to weigh almost 280 pounds. My top visit on the scale was about 257, but I just stopped weighing myself for a long time after that, so my best guess is about 280. And my triglycerides were over 1000 and the doctors were saying I was going to die. It was very bothersome to me because more so than the weight, I'm 6’4, I'm modestly muscular, so it didn't look awful. It didn't look great, but it didn't look awful.
What was more bothersome to me was the inability to be present and connected to people because I have always considered myself a psychologist first and foremost. Grew up in a family of 17 therapists and early, my mom and my dad and my cousins and my uncles and my aunts and sometimes even the dog would ask you how you're feeling. I felt wrong. I felt like I'd be sitting with couples right after they had an affair trying to save the marriage and I kept thinking about how can I get to the deli and get a whole tray of food and dislodge my joint, empty it into it or when am I going to get a whole pizza? When can I get to Dunkin' Donuts? And the constant obsession with food was bothering me more even than the weight.
I'll fast forward through a lot of the story. I went on the assumption that there must be a hole in my heart, and it's filled a hole in my heart that maybe I wouldn't need to fill the hole in my stomach so badly. And I went to the best doctors and took medication. And I went to Overeaters Anonymous and ran a big study trying to understand relationship between emotions and overeating. Eventually, I ran across a couple of things that flipped my paradigm to be more like an alpha wolf that this is the epiphany that I needed to be more like an alpha wolf dealing with a challenger for leadership, more so than a guy who was nurturing his inner wounded child back to health.
The three things that got me to that real quick were, one, that I discovered the neurology of food addiction doesn't really involve the centers of the brain that know love. The food addiction seems to be an overactivation of the feast and famine response or the fight and flight response, part of the reptilian brain, part of the lizard brain. That's the part that looks at something in the environment and says, “Do I eat it? Do I meet with it? Or do I kill it?” It's the part that says just hand over the chocolate, nobody gets hurt. It feels like a survival need. And it doesn't know love. It's the higher brain that says before you eat, meet, or kill that thing, what impact is that going to have in your loved ones in your tribe and for that matter, what impact is it going to have in your long-term goals and your spirituality and your music and your art and your contribution to society and the kind of person you're trying to become.
All this stuff that I had studied in psychology and the 30 years of deep diving, that I was very soulful. I went through all the psychotherapy you can imagine. All of that made me a better person in a lot of ways, was very rich and spiritual, but it didn't help me to stop overeating. And like you said, I was also working with the big food companies and saw that they were spending billions of dollars to engineer concentrated forms of hyper-palatable poison. Basically, it's starch and sugar and fat and oil and excitotoxins, and salt. And that it was all designed to hit our bliss point without giving us enough nutrition to feel satisfied. I looked at animal studies to see what happens if you short circuit the pleasure systems like that. It turns out that if you wire an electrode-- I don't think anybody's wiring electrodes to our brains, but if you do wire an electrode to a mouse brain in the pleasure center, and you let them press a lever to self-stimulate, they will do it thousands of times a day, to the exclusion of all their survival needs. Nursing where the rats will abandon their pups, press the lever thousands of times a day, rats will crawl over painful electrical grids to press the lever thousands of times a day. It's very, very, very strong when you can short circuit to pleasure mechanisms. And nobody's kidnapping us and implanting electrodes in our brains, but walk outside of the McDonald's in any city in the country and there's usually a Burger King across the street in some corner, and there are bags and boxes and containers on every street corner. Every time you're looking for love at the bottom of the bag, or a box or container, there's some fat cat in a white suit with a mustache just laughing all the way to the bank. We're overstimulated.
We are overstimulated with food pleasure which nature didn't prepare us to handle. And the result is that our survival drive shifts towards these bags and boxes and containers, rather than what nature has to offer. And whether you believe that we're supposed-- most people believe we're supposed to be having whole natural foods. Some people believe that that's lean animal proteins and vegetables. Other people believe it's-- fruit and vegetables or some other variations of that. But basically, people, when you look at the evidence, they say we're supposed to be having whole natural foods, we're not really supposed to be eating all these bags and boxes and containers. I mean, there's no doctor in the world that's going to diagnose you with a potato chip deficiency.
I looked at that, and I said, “Well, that's an external force.” It has nothing to do with the fact that my mom didn't love me enough or that I was in a bad marriage. I looked at the advertising industry, and how they were convincing us that we needed these things to survive. Food by manufacturer that takes the vitamins out of the bar, because it was too expensive and made it taste bad. And they put the money into the packaging instead to fake us out and make it look vibrant and healthy and multicolored, like it has a diversity of nutrients. I saw that going on all across the industry. And then, I did this big study, and I figured out that there were some associations with, for example, people that eat chocolate, like me, they tended to be lonely or brokenhearted or depressed.
I went through all of this and eventually realized the food addiction is a separate issue. It's a separate issue. Yes, there are reasons people choose food as their drug of choice. But once the habit is set up, it's really just a bad habit. And it has a very powerful self-sustaining nature, and it has a life of its own. Once you've established the bad patterns, it really has a life of its own. And you could talk about your mom until you're blue in the face. And that's not necessarily going to help you to overcome the food addiction. It might insulate you from the feelings for a little while, but it's not going to help you to overcome the food addiction.
And so, what I did was I decided that-- Melanie, you have to understand this as a private thing. I was not planning to be a public figure about this. I had no idea what was going to happen with the book at that time. I wasn't even going to write a book. I had failed writing another health book before because I was really off base. And so, I was just writing internally in my journal to try to figure this out for myself. And it's a little embarrassing, but I decided that I had a pig inside me. I decided that my lizard brain, I see that my food addiction was going to be my inner pig. And I would make very hard and fast rules that would clearly distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behavior, like I will never have chocolate on a weekday again. And then, if I heard a voice in my head that said it was just as easy to start to my diet tomorrow and I wasn't going to gain any weight and I could have some chocolate because I worked out hard enough, I'd say, "Whoa, wait a minute! That's not me. That's my inner pig. Chocolate is pig slop on a weekday. I never eat chocolate on a weekday. I don't eat pig slop. I don't like farm animals tell me what to do."
And as ridiculous as that sounds, I know one of the reasons it works. But as ridiculous as it sounds, and as prude and primitive as it sounds, that's what gave me the extra microseconds at the moment of impulse to make the right choice if I wanted to. And it wasn't a miracle, I can't say I totally recovered with that insight. But what that insight did for me was it eradicated any sense of powerlessness and confusion. I then really knew that I was in control and I could choose what to eat. Maybe sometimes I made the wrong choice, but I knew that I was choosing. And then, I looked at more research in the industry and I realized that people are being given the wrong advice about guidelines versus rules. People were told to follow a guideline, eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full, eat well 90% of the time, indulge 10% of the time. And it's not that that's wrong, it's good advice. It's just that it's really hard to follow because every time you're in Starbucks in front of a chocolate bar, for example, you have to ask yourself, “Is this part of the 90%, or part of the 10%?”
It turns out that willpower is largely a fatigable muscle. It's not like a genetic gift, it's more like gas in the tank. And every time you're making decisions, even non-food decisions, you're burning more willpower. There are only so many good decisions we can make every day. And guidelines wear down your willpower because they require too many decisions. On the other hand, if I want you to accomplish the same thing, like let's say I want to have chocolate 90% of the time, that's a slip-- [laughs] If I wanted to have chocolate 10% of the time and avoid it 90% of the time, I could say something like I'll only ever have chocolate on the last three days of the calendar month. But still 90% of the time that I'm not having it, I'm not giving it up totally. But my chocolate decisions are made for me all month long. And I don't have to walk around wearing down my willpower, I'm much more likely to succeed. And I can use my willpower for more important things.
So, that's what I did. I kept a journal for eight years about all the things that my pig would say and why it was wrong. And I also figured out that, I had to figure out what the authentic need was. So, it wasn't just that I had to stop eating chocolate, but I had to start having some banana kale smoothies to give myself the energy and chlorophyll that I needed. And that what I find is that I wouldn't get a high the same way I did when I had chocolate. I think chocolate’s very unnatural concentration of pleasurable substances. Not saying it's bad, some people can do fine with that, but it's definitely unnatural. I was looking for energy and some calories. For me personally, I did a lot of experimentation and I came up with a kale banana smoothie. And that's what would kill the craving. It wouldn't be delicious the way chocolate was, but I wouldn't be bothered or tortured with a craving anymore. And I could go on with my day.
And slowly, but surely, over the course of eight years, I disempowered all the crazy things that my pig would say. And as I was getting divorced in 2015, the CEO in a publishing company that I was a minor partner in, said, “Hey, could you write a book?” We need to do some experimentation with the book. We need our own authors to do that, and then we can attract better authors. And so, I wrote the book. We launched it, and it just absolutely took off. And so now, when I'm at a bookstore, once in a while, people come up to me, and they don't know my name. But they've seen me on a video or something and they point at me and they go, “Pig guy! Pig guy!” [laughs] That's my story. That's what happened.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness, thank you so much.
Glenn Livingston: I was more detailed than I meant to be. I'm sorry.
Melanie Avalon: No, no, no, it was great. You're like the interview that does itself, you touched on so many things that I'd wanted to talk about. So, that was so incredibly valuable. And a lot of people see things-- especially if they're completely new to this whole concept that you just put forth, it can seem restrictive, or it can seem like rules would be a bad thing because they encourage maybe too much of a restrictive or an obsessive mentality. But at least for me, and clearly tons of people who have implemented this, it's ultimately extremely freeing because like you said, it gets rid of decision fatigue, it gets rid of the whole-- the nebulous waters that just slowly drain you down, like Chinese water torture of not just having your clear rules of what you're doing in the given moment.
For this episode, I reread-- I think it's probably my third time reading it, 45 Binge Trigger Busters, because for listeners, so Glenn has Never Binge Again, but then he has a whole series of other books that dive into more specific topics. And one of them is 45 Binge Trigger Busters. So, I thought it would be really fun and exciting to go through some of those specific things that people deal with. And I reached out to my audience on my Facebook group, IF Biohackers, and asked for questions for you, specifically involving what do people struggle with, with overeating or bingeing, what are your triggers, what situations, what environments, and I got so many questions for you. Let's do it.
Glenn Livingston: Can I say something about the restriction first because it's kind of important?
Melanie Avalon: Yes, please do.
Glenn Livingston: It's possible to use this to over-restrict, and I don't want you to do that. It's possible to use rules to over-restrict, in the same way that it's possible to use a kitchen knife to hurt someone. The purpose of Never Binge Again is to be articulate and descript about where your personal food bullseye is. The way to lose weight in my estimation, and I'm not a doctor or licensed dietitian or anything like that, but I think we should be flooding our body with nutrition at a slight caloric deficit. I think there's a mechanism in the brain that says if I live in an environment, where food is occasionally very scarce for long periods of time, like if you dramatically lower your calories and if you restrict, then when food becomes available, I think there's this evolutionary mechanism that says we better hoard it. We'd better hoard it, because you never know when it's going to be restricted again.
So, when people are addicted to overeating, they're not just addicted to overeating, they're addicted to the feast and famine cycle. What I want people to do is to step out of the feast and famine cycle and keep reliable nutrition coursing through their bodies and if they need to lose weight, do it slowly at a pound or two per week. The insight of Never Binge Again is to be descript and articulate and know exactly what the boundaries of your personal bullseye are so that when you miss it, you know by how much and in what direction and what adjustments you need to make. It's not to use rules to create a bunch of Nazi food policemen that are standing over you and making it impossible for you to nutrify your body and eventually you're going to rebel against that invention. That's a very important insight and I do have to be sure that people aren't using this the wrong way. So that's it, Melanie, thank you.
Melanie Avalon: I'm so glad you clarified that and actually because that's something especially having being the host of the Intermittent Fasting Podcast, which in a way you could argue is based on the feast and famine cycle, like that lifestyle. With that approach, it is so key that when people are having their eating window that they're not over-restricting and not living in a perpetual state of restriction, which can so easily happen. I just thought about that with the comparison here.
Glenn Livingston: With binge eaters, I find that if they start with smaller windows and they expand the windows after a couple of months, they do much better than if they start with a really large--
Melanie Avalon: Smaller fasting.
Glenn Livingston: Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. I also cannot agree more with, I don't know, if you said-- I'm paraphrasing, but something about the ideal diet being nutrient replete at like a slight calorie deficit. I just want to agree there.
Glenn Livingston: Good. I like when you agree with me, but it's okay, if you disagree with me too.
Melanie Avalon: No, but I do. That’s what I think. In any case, so revisiting the 45 Binge Trigger Busters, so many things I want to touch on. You've worked and practiced with hundreds, thousands of people?
Glenn Livingston: Thousands at this point. Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: And one of the fascinating things to me was you said that you've worked with thousands of people and people will think that they're unique, like they have this one thing they struggle with that nobody else struggles with, but you said there's really only around 50 or so triggers or what you call pig squeals, excuses that the pig gives you for reasons to break your plan that you kept seeing over and over. I just found that so interesting. And in the book, 45 Binge Trigger Busters, you go through 45 very specific ones. Before I go into the specific questions from listeners, what do you think are the top like five, which ones do you hear the most?
Glenn Livingston: You can just start tomorrow. Today's almost over, you already blew it, you can just start tomorrow. And there are a lot of variations of that. But basically, that's the biggest one. Here's the problem. There are actually about 13 problems with that, I'll tell you the biggest ones. The biggest problem with it, is that your pig is telling you that it's going to be just as easy to start tomorrow. But it's not. The principle of neuroplasticity says, “What fires together, wires together.” That means that if you have a craving and you indulge the craving, that craving will be stronger tomorrow, as will the connection between the craving and the indulgence. So, you're always either reinforcing or extinguishing your addictions, we can only use the present moment to be healthy and we have to always use the present moment to be healthy.
The other big problem with the "I'll start tomorrow" squeal is that-- two more big problems. One of them is that when you have the thought, "I will start tomorrow. It's just as easy to start tomorrow, let's start tomorrow,” and then you have something highly palatable or pleasurable, you're actually reinforcing the thought itself. So, that means tomorrow, you're more likely to have the thought I'll start tomorrow tomorrow than you did today. So, you're building up a thinking pattern, in addition to building up a bingeing pattern. And the last big reason I will tell you is that all of the research suggests that saying, “I'll start tomorrow” doesn't really mean anything because there is no real tomorrow, all there really is is now. And I mean, there will be a tomorrow, but it's going to be now again tomorrow.
When you say I will start tomorrow, your lizard brain doesn't understand tomorrow. It understands today. And so, what you're really telling your lizard brain when you say “I'll start tomorrow,” which means, we're not going to do it today, it just means “we're going to eat badly today.” That's all it means. So, you haven't really decided anything about tomorrow, just fooling yourself that you're going to do something tomorrow. You've just decided something about today. The only time you can make a decision is right now and so I always have to use the present moment to be healthy. Makes sense?
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, so sneaky, what you just said about by engaging in that pattern of “I’ll start tomorrow,” you're more likely to do that again. That's very distressing, but it's really empowering. What's another one? What about "just one more bite?"
Glenn Livingston: [laughs] Just one more bite.
Melanie Avalon: Or just one bite. That one too.
Glenn Livingston: Well, the same principles of learning and reinforcement hold. So, when you say, “Just one bite,” and then you get pleasure from that bite, you've reinforced the thought that you can have just one more bite. So, you're actually more likely to have another thought that says, just one more bite, and then just one more bite, and then you get a case of the F-Its.
Melanie Avalon: Which is the worst.
Glenn Livingston: Yes. One bite is a tragedy. One bite of your plan is very often the tragedy. I want to underscore that just because you take one bite, doesn't mean you have to have more, in the same way that just because you accidentally chip a tooth, you don't have to go get a hammer to bang the rest of them out. Every bite counts. Every last bite counts no matter what, no matter what, no matter what, and even if you're midway through a binge and you wake up and you remember this, 5 cupcakes is better than 15. Bingeing for an hour is better than bingeing for a day. Bingeing for a day is better than bingeing for a week. You always want to, soon as you wake up, get right back on track. If you miss the bull's eye, stand up and aim again. Figure out what went wrong, adjust your aim, and then stand up and aim again.
Melanie Avalon: So you can always get off the train.
Glenn Livingston: You can always get off the train. I mean, there are a couple of things you can do to make it easier because when you're on the train, you've allowed your lower brain to take control, and it feels like an emergency. You've revved up, your sympathetic nervous system is revved up, it's preparing for action. It thinks that these are scarce resources that are not going to be there later. So, what you want to do is take yourself out of that sympathetic or emergency action nervous system. And you could get yourself to take a breath. Breathe in for 7, breathe out for 11. It's called the 7-11 breath. I got it from Lori Hammond.
The reason that works is that if we're in an environment where there's time to breathe out longer than there is to breathe in, then we're probably not in an emergency environment. If you were running away from a hungry tiger, you would be running, you wouldn't have time to breathe out for four more counts than you can breathe in for. So, you're signaling your body that there's no hungry tiger chasing you, and there's a calmness that comes upon you, which is the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system or moving from your lower brain to your upper brain. And you can do that. You can carry around something to write with, and you can write down what your biggest thing right there and then, because writing, but you're not only inserting in delay between impulse and action, but writing is an upper brain activity, and bingeing is lower brain activity.
Then, you can challenge what it says. You can ask yourself, where's the line, what it's saying. There's usually a half a truth and a bigger lie. Ask it where the lie is, and then write that down. And then, ask yourself if you're genuinely hungry for something, what does your body authentically need? And ask yourself how it would make you a happier, better person to follow your rules and aim at the target again. I know that sounds like a bunch and people might be saying, “Well, I just don't feel like doing it that at the moment.” But you can teach yourself to feel like doing that at the moment. And you can teach yourself to do it even when you don't feel like doing it. It makes all the difference in the world.
Melanie Avalon: I really love what you just said about there's usually like a little bit of a truth in a bigger lie. When we're experiencing some sort of voice in our head telling us to eat whatever it is that's off plan because I think there's often a tendency to just want to like reason with that voice and either reason your way into it or out of it. What does that look like practically? If you're wanting to have this chocolate off plan at this moment, and you're like thinking about it. So, if you come up with reasons for why you should compare to why you shouldn't, what does that dialogue look like in your head with the pig?
Glenn Livingston: Okay, first, I want to give credit to Jack Trimpey for helping me understand a lot about the way that this works. He works with alcoholics, and he wrote a book called Rational Recovery. And there's an awful lot about that the addictive dialogue from his book. Mine is different, there are a lot of differences between what he does and what I do with but there are a lot of similarities too. Anyway, the idea-- kind of go back to the semantic definition of the pig. A pig squeal is any thought, feeling, impulse, or image that suggests that you're going to break your plan either now or in the future until the day that you die. The pig is that entity, that fictitious entity, that contains and organizes all of your destructive thoughts, by definition. It's not a cute pet. These are the thoughts that want you to self-sabotage.
So, knowing that if you immediately recognize that this is a pig squeal and you're capable of ignoring it, you can just ignore it. You don't have to go through these logical machinations to identify the false logic and disempower it. The problem is because most squeals contain a half a truth and a bigger lie, that the truth is very seductive for people and they really do need to examine it so that they'll recognize it next time so that the evidence is obvious that this is the pig and it's not their own thoughts.
For example, my pig says, “You worked out hard today, you can get away with a little chocolate, even though it's a weekday, you can just start again tomorrow. You're not going to gain any weight.” So, there are elements of truth in that. If I ran five miles, and I have two or three ounces of chocolate, I probably won't gain any weight, it's really ostensibly nothing wrong with that, as long as it was just two or three pieces of chocolate. So, it's true that I won't gain any weight, and it's true that I worked out hard. So, I could admit that. I can admit those things are true. What's not true, is that I'll be likely to stop at one or two squares of chocolate. My sister is one of those people that can take out a bar of chocolate from her purse and take one or two squares out and take like a half an hour to eat them and say, “I'm going to fold up the rest for later.” And I always wanted to kill her. I don't know how she does that.
Melanie Avalon: I don't know how people do that with anything. Yup.
Glenn Livingston: Right. What's the point if I can't have six bars? That's more like how I am. But I'm not someone who can do that. And so, it's not going to be just two squares, it's not going to be just a little bit and I probably will gain weight if I have six bars. The other part that's not true when it says there's no harm in it, because food addiction, this is a Glenn Livingston’s theory. I can't totally prove this, but I really believe it. I think food addiction is not an addiction to any particular substance. I do think sugar, salt, excess fat, oil, starch, I think they are hyperpalatable, and they play a role in the addiction. But I think the real addiction in food addiction is the addiction to impulsive decision making and emotional eating. I think that's the real addiction. And so, if I made a plan, if I made an intellectual plan, I made a rule to follow, I will never have chocolate on a weekday again, I did that when I was of sound mind and body and I had the intellect and fortitude to figure out what was best for me.
If I break that plan by even a little bit, I'm reinforcing my addiction to impulsive eating and emotional eating. And I want to instead be someone who commits to ordered and planned eating around my most dangerous food triggers. You don't make a rule for everything, you try to minimize your set of rules, you try to maximize your freedom. But for the places where I've been hurt before, and I know that it's dangerous for me, I want to commit to being a-- to making intellectual decisions and following planned and ordered eating around those substances. And one bite over the line is a reinforcement of the emotional addiction and impulsive addiction. And that's where the majority of my suffering came from. Many of the things that I thought I could never eat again, once I broke the addiction to the impulsive and emotional part, turned out if I planned it out, I could have it again some things. Chocolate, for example, I have actually decided I just couldn't have at all. Sugar, I can't really have at all. Flour, I'm okay with if I plan it out. I don't do that that often because I like the way it makes me feels, but I can do that if I want to. For a while, I was a complete raw food vegan. And I can go back and forth if I want to as long as I plan things out and have some cooked food or go on a date and have steamed vegetables or something. It's not a problem, as long as I plan it out.
Anyway, so what the logic looks like is it's incorrect, that it's going to be one or two squares. It's incorrect that it's going to be just as easy to start tomorrow and no damage is going to be done. If I have this craving and I indulge today, I'm going to have a harder time tomorrow. When you're in a hole, you should stop digging. That's what that looks like.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, that was insanely helpful.
Glenn Livingston: I'm an insanely helpful guy.
Melanie Avalon: I know, I know. This is incredible. Okay, so specific questions from listeners. So, one of the things that you talk about, and at least in 45 Binge Trigger Busters, maybe it was in Never Binge Again as well. And you mentioned it already, I think in this interview, that we often attach emotions to different types of foods and you've said that you did find that certain types of foods tend to be attached to certain emotions. But that said, the emotional piece isn't necessarily the key to overcoming that. That said, specific foods. When I asked the question in my Facebook group, the answer I got the most was sugar and sweets. So, I'm just going to run through some of the people and what they said so they can hear themselves.
So, I asked people what they struggled with surrounding all of this. And Susan, Angie and Kent and CJ all said sweets and sugar. CJ said sugar for him equaled dopamine equaled comfort. Marni said sugar cravings, especially with the holidays coming. Christina said sugar, again because of the dopamine and she says when she's distressed with things happening in her relationship, it's like it sedates her and she doesn't care as much. Janelle says she always wants to finish a meal with something sweet. Charlotte says once she has something sweet, she can't stop and she wants more. Julie says sweets and chocolates, they're literally the one thing stopping her from reaching her weight loss and health goals. If she could cut them out, she would be losing weight and feeling so much better for sure. Jessie says sweets and desserts, especially on the weekends that she can't stick to a small treat. Kristen shows sugar. Lindsay says sugar. Carrie says sugar. Carrie also said, we already touched on this one, she says if she has one bite, she can't stop till it's gone. If willpower can keep her from that first bite, then it can sit in front of her all day. Katie said something similar that she has sugar cravings in the evenings and when she gives in, it's an avalanche. And then, this one I thought was really interesting, Stephanie said natural sugars, super-sweet grapes, apples, etc., she says going by 80/10/10 mentality fruit should be eaten alone, but I feel like it makes me sugar crazy. So, there was even more than that. But basically, sugar and sweets. Is there something unique to that? How can we deal with that, with the pig?
Glenn Livingston: I can answer the second question more easily than I can answer the first one. The research we had on specific foods and specific emotions, the closest we got to understanding the emotional component of sugar addiction would be the emotional component of chocolate addiction, which was that people who struggle with chocolate tended to be lonely or depressed or brokenhearted. People who struggled with stress at work tended to gravitate towards chips and crunchy salty things. And people that struggle with stress at home, they tended to gravitate towards pastas and breads and chewy starchy things.
What I can tell you about overcoming sugar addiction is that you need to be very, very clear about your definition and the role that you want sugar to play in your life. It's true that for many people, none is a lot easier than some. For a lot of people, I remember this one client that said, “The way I'm going to prevent myself from having a lot of cookies is by not having one, not even one bite.” And for a lot of people, it's like that. I find that for two out of three people, the approach I'm going to describe in a moment, works perfectly well. Most people have not been descriptive enough about what sugar actually is. And they have not been descriptive enough about what role they wanted to play in their life.
I wish that there were some diagnostic test that would tell me who one of one out of three people is that can't do it because you could save a lot of pain by just recognizing and coming to terms with the fact that sugar is not for you if you're one of those people, but I don't know how to tell that. And so, it's up to you if you want to take the risk of trying to moderate it with a very specific and descriptive way of going about things.
So, the first thing is, what is sugar? At first, when I worked with the first few dozen clients, we went through all types of definitions and maybe it's anything where a sweetener is above the fifth position on the label or maybe maple syrup is okay and white sugar is not okay, maybe it's okay when I have sweeteners in my coffee, what about artificial sweeteners? What I came up with as a solution which works really well is to define the sweet taste that you will have versus the sweet taste that you won't have because there are so many different forms of sugar in so many places that it hides that it's almost impossible to get them all out in the piggle will wiggle around it, unless you define it inclusively rather than exclusively.
What that looks like for me for example is I've got a rule that says the only sweet taste that I'll ever eat again are whole fruit and berries, fruit, and berries. That's where I get my sweet taste from. Other people will say whole fruit berries and artificial sweeteners in my coffee. Some people will say maple syrup is okay. But the point is you make a very specific list, and then you could list exceptions if you want to. Some people might say speaking of the holidays, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's when I may have one serving of dessert at a restaurant or holiday dinner, any serving, any dessert I want. So, it's very, very specific. There's a beginning and an end, you know exactly when they're allowed to do it and when they're not. I find that two or three people can do that where they couldn't do it before, then there's that one of them kind of three people who really can't.
So, that's my best advice for dealing with sugar. The other advice I want to give you about sugar is that, while artificial sweeteners are shown to lower your calories at a given meal when you have the artificial sweeteners there, the research on what it does to your caloric intake over the course of the day suggests that it increases your caloric intake by about 22%. And so, artificial sweeteners are faking you out. Are these people here that we could talk to someone in real-time because that would be the best way for me to help someone?
Melanie Avalon: They are not. I'm sorry.
Glenn Livingston: It's very individual, the reasons that people crave sugar. I want to tell you one more thing, though. People believe that they're using it to sedate themselves. And it's true and it's not true. When you overload your digestive system and your bloodstream with excess nutrition, toxins, and excess nutritional tasks for digestion, your body diverts some of the energy from your nervous system, so we can't conduct the emotions in the same way. So, as a consequence, there is an anesthetic effect of overeating or sugar in particular, on the emotions. There's a high that lasts for between 18 to 32 minutes, and then you crash. But have you ever been to the dentist? People say they eat to numb out. And then I usually asking them, “Have you ever been to the dentist?” And they say, “You know, Melanie? I'm really sorry, but I'm out of Novocain. I'm just going to inject you with some sugar instead?” And the answer to that is no. [laughs] That's never happened.
The reason that doesn't happen, is because people are eating sugar for more than just a numbing effect. They're eating it to get high. They're having an unnatural concentration of glucose that doesn't exist in nature and it provides a high in much the same way that a drug provides a high, it's like a legal drug. And the reason that you want to change your paradigm and embrace the part of the problem that says, “I'm doing this to get high with food,” is because you probably don't want to be a drug addict. When you say, “I'm eating this to sedate myself, I'm eating this for comfort.” It's like your pig is saying, “Oh, we're hurting so much, and life is so hard. And we're so miserable that we really need something, and at least there's this one good thing, at least there's sugar.” And you're much more likely to give into the pig if you think that you're eating for comfort. I actually have more things to tell you, can I keep talking about this as it's kind of important?
Melanie Avalon: No, of course, you can, sure.
Glenn Livingston: This ties into the whole mythology around emotional eating, where people think that the emotions are causing the binge. But did you know that it's entirely possible that the binge could be causing the emotions? Let me articulate that better. There's a whole bunch of animal studies like this, so let's look at research on baboons, just give you a little background. Emotions have physiological correlates. So, when you're anxious, for example, your blood pressure goes up a bit, your respiration goes up. Sometimes, you perspire, your heart rate goes up. There are things we can measure that are the correlates of emotions. Then, we put a label on them internally, and that affects how we feel about it. But there's a definite physiological experience associated with an emotion.
Now using the very well-established principles of operant conditioning, I'm talking about thousands of studies. You can take pair of baboons, for example, and monitor their respiration and their heart rate and their blood pressure. And every time it goes up-- I think they did this with blood pressure and baboons in particular. You can give them some sugar water, or some type of highly palatable treat, equivalent of junk food in our society. When you do that, do you want to guess what happens with the baboons?
Melanie Avalon: I'm guessing way worse.
Glenn Livingston: Their overall sustained blood pressure goes up. So, the highly palatable treat administered after the experience of the emotion, like we think is the emotion, we couldn't really ask them. It reinforced that emotion and made it more likely that they're going to sustain it. People think that they run to food for comfort when they're anxious and they can't sleep, for example. But could it be that running to food for comfort is the thing that's causing the anxiety in the first place and you're just caught up in a horrific pattern? I'm not saying this is all that matters, and I still am a depth psychologist and I do believe in the emotional roots of anxiety and I do like people to talk about their history and everything like that. But this is a component of the puzzle that people don't really understand that the emotions don't cause the binge, the binge is more likely to cause the emotions. So, there's that.
And then, the last thing I want to tell you about emotional eating is that if you think of emotions as a fire, you could have a roaring fire in a well-contained fireplace, and that becomes an asset, not a liability. That is someplace where people will gather around and they'll hug and they'll cry, and they'll tell stories and they'll laugh, and they'll make memories and form connections. It becomes the center of hearth and home. But if you have even one hole in the fireplace that an ash can get out of, it could burn down the house. Well, it turns out that it's easier to repair the fireplace than it is to put out the fire. And it's the pig that's busy poking holes in the fireplace. And I got better so much quicker once I decided to focus on the fireplace rather than the fire itself. When you have a well-contained fireplace, it becomes safe to study the fire. If you have a well-contained fireplace, then you can be present with your emotions, you'll have the memories that they're associated with, then you can do the therapeutic work to work your way through the emotions. If you don't have a well-contained fireplace, there's an argument to be made that it's not safe to be digging into the fire and stoking it and looking at it so carefully.
So, people, I think they have the cart before the horse. And the other problem with it is that emotions are very complex, and they got very complex ideologies and histories and so you could be led into a labyrinth of emotional depth, that's very interesting and soulful. And you could spend 30 years like me, on your analyst couch while you binge-- [laughs] So, change the behavior, there are very practical things you can do to change the behavior. And you might find that the anxiety is not as bad as you thought it was, you might find that the stress is not as bad as you thought it was. Do you know there is a longitudinal study and 30,000 people that found that it was not the level of stress that caused excess deaths and disabilities? But it was the belief that this stress could cause excess deaths and disabilities of the stress was harmful to your health that caused the problem.
Melanie Avalon: I believe it.
Glenn Livingston: Yeah. Behavior first, emotion second, that's the impact of this lesson.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I think that is one of the most powerful and at least for me, impactful takeaways from all of your work is what you just said, that idea that you don't have to get to the bottom of-- if there is even an emotional root, you don't have to solve that mystery before you change the behavior. It's incredibly powerful.
Glenn Livingston: Also, understanding doesn't always solve the problem. I know that I rent the chocolate because my mom was not available when she was younger, and she was anxious and depressed herself. And I know that I had a pattern of not really finding love in my life, because I had that misconnection with my mom, and I've been working on that my whole life. But I'm still single, and I don't have the love of my life., but I don't have to binge because of that. So, the fact that I understand that I could quote you chapter and verse of how it was set up in my life. It didn't solve the problem. It just made me understand that. In the same way that an X-ray helps you understand where your bone is broken. There's something you have to do to fix the broken bone, not just understand that it's broken.
Melanie Avalon: This is a really quick tangent. I recently had James Nestor on the podcast, and he wrote a book called Breath. I'll put a link to it in the show notes.
Glenn Livingston: I heard that was a great book.
Melanie Avalon: It's amazing. Oh, it's one of those right up there with Never Binge Again for like life-changing books. But in any case, one of the most like mind-blowing studies in that book was long story short, but carbon dioxide can spike like panic in our brain. So, they do like CO2 therapy to address phobias. When you get it done, you have completely adequate oxygen, like you can breathe, but because of the amount of CO2 that you have, you feel like you can't breathe. And so, it creates like utter panic and is kind of like exposure therapy. But like in that situation, you have oxygen, you know that in your prefrontal cortex, you're not going to be able to talk yourself into feeling like you can breathe, just not going to be able to. That was a tangent, but basically even if you know the reason or the reality doesn't change what you're experiencing or the struggle.
Glenn Livingston: You're still going to go through that, and you have to be able to tell yourself that feelings aren't facts.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, exactly. So, you answered some questions that we had about emotional eating because Angie wanted to know about emotional eating. Casey says she struggles with emotional bingeing. She says, after a long, hard week, she feels like nothing can make her feel better other than food sometimes. Robin said definitely emotional eating. It doesn't matter what type of emotion it is. And then Amber says, kind of what you just spoke to, she says, “I feel like I need a counselor, instead of another [unintelligible [00:50:32] to get me to stop enjoying, there's got to be some root problem that I'm attempting to bury. And I've built lifelong habits around that attempt. I wish it were as easy as just talking to the pig, I've allowed food to have a lot of power in my life.” So, you just talked all about this, but the primary reframe is just implement the pig routine and work on the emotions.
Glenn Livingston: Life isn't a pain-free experience and at some point, we'll have to tell our pigs that we're willing to experience whatever emotional discomfort we need to in order to change our behavior. And that might mean having psychotherapeutic support while you go through it. I don't want to be like, “I don't want to be insensitive to the pain that people go through.” I mean, from 2016 to 2018, I got divorced, moved six times, lost my dog, lost my mom, went across the country by myself, and had a business take off, which was actually kind of like riding a bucking bronco. It was really stressful. I went through all sorts of emotions, but because I've gone through really hard times before. In 2001, I was caught up in a business in 9/11. And I went $700,000 in debt, which was a fortune for me. And I felt like I was going to be in debt for years after that. And at that time, I felt like I couldn't deal with it without bingeing. And I wound up fat, sick and broke. And I told myself, “This time no matter how hard life got, I wouldn't mind being broke, but I'm not going to end up fat and sick also.” I could have just been broken. And thankfully, I didn't wind up going broke. I mean, there were days I just wanted to sit in the closet and cry. But I didn't have a box of Oreos with me [laughs] because I told my pig I said, “I'm sorry. But life isn't a pain-free experience and we're going to go through this without that box Oreos, I'm sorry, I'm willing to be uncomfortable to get through this.” And I thought I talked to a therapist, and I reached out to my friends and I was aware that I was going through something and that I really had to actively seek support, but life isn't a pain-free experience. And if you have six problems, and then you binge, you will have seven problems.
Melanie Avalon: It's one of my favorite quotes. So simple, but so true.
Glenn Livingston: I've actually since revised it to, “If you have six problems, and then you binge, you're going to have 42 problems.” Because bingeing is a problem multiplier, not a problem matter.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, that's good, too. I like it. I'm so happy because I have written down all these wonderful, amazing takeaways from the book, and then you say them and I'm like, “Yes, he said them.” We talked about the sweets. Also, a lot of people struggle with the salty side of things. So, for example, Gwen says salty foods, with the worst time being the evening after dinner. Brittany says potato chips. Shawn says constantly craving the salty snack particularly after a beer or three. Michelle says she agrees salty snacks, tortilla chips are her weakness. I like what she says. She says, “If I don't buy them, I'm good. But if I buy them, I'm weak and I'll eat them. If I know this, why do I buy them?” Robin also says salty. Debbie says chips, anything salty. So, is it similar because you talked about with sugar kind of like understanding how what role sugar is going to play in your life? Does that apply to salt?
Glenn Livingston: It's the same approach. I've had several nutritionists and doctors tell me that that might have to do with a mineral craving. And personally, I find that I crave salt much less. When I watch my electrolytes, and I'm eating enough leafy green vegetables. I don't have a pound or two of leafy green vegetables each day, then I do get salt cravings. I don't indulge them, but I get them. What we find when people are reading overeating crunchy salty chips is that it's usually in the evening. And this is just a pattern that we observed. We surveyed several hundred people that were struggling, and we observed that when they’d overcome their struggles, they wind up adding more crunchy things into their diet during the day particularly at lunch. So, came up with a mantra, add some crunch to your lunch. Celery, carrots cabbage, other cruciferous vegetables, but raw, not cooked, not that there's any problem with no-cook, but they would have them raw.
My hypothesis is that there's a certain amount of frustration, aggression that we get out by crunching during the day. We're designed to chew stuff. And when people are adding crunch to their life, then that frustration, aggression doesn't build up all day. A lot of these people who are struggling with the salty crunchy things at night, a lot of them are mothers that have many kids. [laughs] They've got a whole bunch of kids and what happens is, all of a sudden, they're alone when everybody's gone up to bed or anything, and that's their best time to get out the popcorn or the potato chips and go to town with that. So, you can make a dent in that by trying to take an additional two 5-minute breaks during the day, where you are entirely free of stimulus input. And most specifically, you're entirely free of the need to make decisions. Even if you have to go run to the bathroom and lock the door. Just five minutes twice a day when nobody is screaming, “Mommy, who's taking me to soccer practice? “Honey, where's my shirt?” “What's for dinner?” When your boss isn't telling you to take care of this email and that email, just five minutes twice a day, nothing impinging upon your decision making ability can take the edge off of that, and then you add some crunch to your lunch. If you are eating them at night, if you're overdoing it at night, then the odds are pretty good that you're not having breakfast. And I'm aware that I'm speaking to an intermittent fasting group.
So, if you need to break the habit, it might be good to have breakfast for a little while. And I totally support, Melanie, and everything she teaches you, but to break the habit if you really need-- Look, it's probably better if you don't have two bags of potato chips at night. If you got back to intermittent fasting in a couple of months, Melanie, will you forgive me if I say that? [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: I want to say please say everything that you would say. Purpose of this show is to bring on all perspectives and all viewpoints. And I don't think I'm right about anything. All I know is I know nothing. So, I welcome everything that you would say, regardless of the audience.
Glenn Livingston: Well, I don't dispute the medical benefits of intermittent fasting at all. And as a matter of fact, I might go for supervised intermittent fast myself. But as people are breaking the habit of binge eating not forever, but as they're breaking the habit, it can be really helpful particularly for nighttime eaters, who are crunching at night to eat some breakfast that can really help.
Melanie Avalon: We actually got questions about that. Irene said time triggers, after her daughter goes to bed, after her husband goes to bed. It almost always happens at night. Jenna Beth said, “The behavior of nighttime overeating, please.” And then we also have like people who wake up like in the middle of the night. Like Stephanie was saying, “Middle of the night eating.” Meredith says, “Why does this usually happen when I've woken up in the middle of the night and standing in front of the fridge like a half-asleep zombie, not even knowing how much I'm shoveling into my mouth as if there's some disassociation with it?”
Glenn Livingston: Got it. My mother used to say, she'd wake up with Oreo cookies on her pillows and she didn't know what happened. So, I read a whole book about nighttime eating it's called An End to Nighttime Overeating, and in addition to the changes in the dietary pattern of eating breakfast and crunching into your lunch. And the last dietary change would be to spend a little more time trying to make your regular meals taste better and be more enjoyable. Sometimes that meant putting things that were relatively healthy with added flavor, like spices or sun-dried tomatoes or something like that. But like having a little bit more enjoyment of food during the day, that seemed to help. But there were a variety of psychological things that people did, psychological routines people engaged in to overcome nighttime overeating.
One of them involve creating clearly delineative lines and rituals. So, think of the vampire movies. And by the way, we call the pig when it comes out at night Pigula, and it whispers more than squeals, that has seductive whispers. In the vampire movies, first thing you notice is that the main characters and the heroes, they know the difference between daylight and dark. And the directors want to make sure that we know that because there is different music that plays at night versus during the day, there are other signs of danger. The furniture and other things in the scenes are usually more ominous and scary, the characters and making preparations for the nighttime to come on. I had someone research vampires for me a long time ago. And we know that vampires are largely a projection of people's aggression and fear, from things that were happening in the earlier part of the millennium, of last millennium. And we understand that rituals, they find[?] fear by kind of flexing the upper brain against the lower brain.
When this hero in the vampire movie is making a circle of salt around the house, what they're really doing is priming their upper brain to recognize that the impulses will be upon them soon, and that they're going to have to deal with them. And it's a magical belief, but nonetheless, it does take them out of their lower brain and into their upper brain. And so, it tends to work. They know exactly when the sun is going down, and they have a ritual to demarcate the transition from daytime to nighttime. What that looks like for nighttime readers, is that you need to know what maybe it's a particular time on the clock, choosing that exactly when the sun goes down, as it goes down at different times in different time zones and different latitudes and everything. But you need to know when the sun goes down, when is it time to stop eating. And you need some type of ritual to demarcate that.
One of the women that works for me, she claps her hands, and she goes, “Dinner and done,” as soon as the dishes are in the dishwasher. I'm mixing two of them up. One of them [claps] claps her hands three times and says, “Kitchen’s closed.” And the other one kind of slams the dishwasher and says, “Dinner and done.” And that's equivalent to pouring salt around the house and putting up silver crosses to keep Pigula away. So, they have this ritual. And then there is a different set of activities that occurs in the evening, when they're preparing to rest in the absence of being disturbed by these impulses, are being disturbed by the vampires.
What that looks like is that some people will change their clothes, some people will move to another room of the house, some people will make a set of exceptions of things that they can have like warm tea with a cinnamon stick and a little almond milk, no sweeteners. Some people do that at night, some people have diet jello. I'm not saying any of these things are good or bad for you. I'm just saying that there's a very specific lists of things you can have while you're decompressing and then there's a decompression routine. Maybe there's a shower or doing your skin moisturizing or skincare routines, brushing your teeth, changing clothes, what do you do to transition into the evening, away from the food consumption and into your preparation to let go of the day and slip into the night.
And then, they move to the bed and these people typically don't use their bed for anything besides sleeping and sex, but they're definitely not eating in bed, definitely never eating in bed. And they're trying not to even watch TV in bed. They're just trying to make a better place for resting and intimacy. If you can think to yourself, what ritual would I like to install? How am I going to decompress? What are the allowed things I can do when a decompress what's not allowed? And what's the ritual I'm going to use when I actually go to bed and get the stimulation out of the bed and prepare for sleep? And then you make those other changes we talked about like having a little breakfast, adding crunch to your lunch, making sure you're enjoying the food throughout the day. That protocol represents the conglomerate of things that people have successfully overcame nighttime overeating or doing.
The one problem I have to say we haven't solved yet is what you're describing is called nighttime eating syndrome, where you wake up in front of a refrigerator and you're kind of sleep eating. I can't say I have a reliable solution for that yet. Few people that I've worked with that do solve that. They'll tape something to the refrigerator door that's different every night in hopes that they'll wake up, or they will sometimes the lock the cabinet. Sometimes they will put some-- What did that lady do? Paint that exploded-- I forget exactly what it is. You've got to put something that interrupts the unconscious pattern in place. And it doesn't always work. I'm still working on that one, I'm sorry. That's the one thing that we don't really have.
Nighttime overeating was a really serious problem, that took us a couple of years to figure that out. And this is the one last remaining part. If anybody has done anything that really works for that, then please write to us and let us know, okay?
Melanie Avalon: That was ridiculously helpful. The whole ritual thing is absolutely amazing. And I love the whole history behind that and how that works. So, I think my listeners, especially because I think a lot of my listeners, like I said, follow intermittent fasting protocols, and they might be eating at night. And so, it might be harder for them to get off that train. So, I think that will be very valuable. And for listeners, I'll put a link in the show notes to an into nighttime overeating. I was fascinated by the people who have that condition where they eat at night and don't even realize it, and then I met somebody who had it. It just blew my mind. I was like, I was really grateful I don't have that because that would be a monster to tackle.
Glenn Livingston: Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: Also, sort of in the same realm secret eating. Chrissy says, “I feel like an alcoholic only with food. On occasions, I binge without regard normally in silence and hidden.” What about people who find that they secretly eat?
Glenn Livingston: You can make a rule that says that you will never eat alone again, that's a little drastic, you can do that. You can make another, it's a little software that says, “I will only ever eat in plain sight again.” So, even if someone is not watching you, you're sitting right in the living room where people can see you when they walk in. And you're not allowed to jump up and hide the food when they come in. So the first thing to do is create a behavioral rule that delineates the behavior and then you can work on-- once you do that, you'll become more aware of what the pig is squealing to say that you have eating secretly. Usually that will be something like you don't really deserve this, and you don't deserve to be nutrified. You don't deserve this time for yourself. You're really pathetic and awful and shameful and you can only do this by yourself. So, you can start to dispute those things.
The other thing that I find sneak eaters tend to have in common is that they can't love themselves before they arrive. So, they have this idea that their life is going to start when they get to a certain weight, when they get close to the goal weight, or at least when they get into a certain range that they consider acceptable. And they're just constantly shaming themselves and criticizing themselves until that point, not realizing that the constant self-castigation is making them feel too weak to resist the next binge in the first place.
And so, you kind of have to give that up. These are the people who I always thought the mirror work where you say, “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people love me,” or look at yourself in the mirror and say I love you. I always thought that was kind of hokey. But these are the kind of people that could use that. These are kind of people that have to actively and purposefully find things to love about themselves. Along the way, it would help to keep a non-scale victory journal. As you're getting the bingeing out of your life, what's getting better in your life, other than your weight? So, maybe your digestion feels better, maybe you feel more present with your kids, maybe your skin looks a little bit better, maybe your knee hurts a little bit less, maybe you're finding yourself a little more emotionally present for your relationship, maybe you caught yourself dancing the other day. If you keep a non-scale victory journal and I did by day basis and really focus on being in the present moment and loving life before you arrive as hard as that sounds, that's what I find helps sneak eaters.
Melanie Avalon: Super random vulnerable moment for me. I just find it interesting that you bring up the mirror work because out of all of the modalities and tools for working on my personal perspective and mindset and self-love and all of that, the one tool that is out there that I struggle with the most to do-- like it's just hard for me to do is mirror work. Everything else, I'm like, “Bring it on,” but mirror work wrecks me to the bone.
Glenn Livingston: How come?
Melanie Avalon: I don't know, something about like seeing yourself. I just find it-- I guess it's just so much in your face, like no pun intended. It's literally looking at yourself and--
Glenn Livingston: Can't escape.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Compared to just working through different techniques, like not seeing yourself. I don't know, that was a tangent.
Glenn Livingston: It's hard. I find it hard also, but it's helped me.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I think it's probably pretty powerful. So the flip side of secret eating, social eating, we have Cara says overeating and overeating during an event or gathering. Danielle says social eating and drinking. “I do just great when I'm in my own controlled environment. But I attend many social events where there is always food and drinks. No matter how controlled I am at home, I find that when I'm in front of food that I would never ever keep or eat at home, I will go all-in at a cocktail party dinner or soiree. Inevitably, I leave filled with regret and often with stomach issues. I'm very social. And these interactions are very important for both my work and personal life. So as much as I look forward to them, I dread them. And sometimes I don't attend them as I worry, I won't be able to control my impulses in the moment.” She also says, “When all social events literally revolve around food and alcohol, I end up eating more because I'm drinking.” And we got a lot of questions about drinking.
So, yes, social events and then also they didn't mention this so much. One of my questions is the social pressure, like people being like, “Oh, you can just have one bite?” Or, “Why aren't you eating?” So, society.
Glenn Livingston: I have a whole lecture on this, so I'm going to have to condense it.
Melanie Avalon: Okay.
Glenn Livingston: First of all, there is a tendency for binge eaters to start to shrink from life because they fear the stimulation. And that's something we really want to work on. We don't want to allow your life to become smaller and smaller and smaller. We want to be able to seize the day and aggressively walk through life confident that we know how to deal with us. So, everything about Never Binge Again, is about doing that.
Okay, but there's a lot more in a social interaction that creates pressure to you, like everybody else is eating than meets the eye. Yes, people don't want to feel guilty for what they're eating. Yes, they want permission to indulge, they want to have some company for it. But there's a lot more than that going on. So, let me take you back to basics of group psychology. Let's talk about the distinction between an aggregate and a group. An aggregate is what you see when you walk into an elevator, and there's a half a dozen people there. And even before COVID, people would position themselves equidistant from one another. How much space can I make from everybody in the elevator? And people look down after they push the button. And they typically don't talk to each other. Maybe they look up and they look at the floor number. Their hands aren’t touching, their shoulders aren't touching, they're not facing each other. It's a very sterile group experience without interaction. And there's certainly no norms for behaviors or union or bonding within the group.
Then, let's make the assumption that the elevator breaks down. And two hours later, the repairman finally arrived. And they open the doors. And you see one person is taking a nap and the other person's shoulder. And a couple of the guys are playing cards and they loosen their ties and they're laughing and another one is telling a joke and they've come up with rules and norms, what do you do when you have to go to the bathroom? How many times can we push the emergency call button before anybody else gets annoyed? They went through an experience where they had to survive together as a tribe. So they went from being a bunch of strangers who happen to share the same location to relying on each other in some way and having to define norms and behaviors that are okay, and norms and behaviors that are not okay. This is how we relate to each other in this tribe.
Now, this quality of a group, it comes and goes to some extent depending upon how much time you spend with the group. So even with your family, if you have not seen them and you're going to go see them on Thanksgiving and you haven't seen them for a month, six months or six years. There's not the immediate cohesion of the group rules and norms that allows the tribe to function together as an effective unit. And now functioning together as an effective unit just means getting for dinner together but a few years ago, it would've probably meant survival because there were very scarce resources. And if everybody didn't eat the same thing, someone can get sick, and we needed the labor of every person in the tribe, and so you're really being a burden and everybody else.
So what happens is, when you're not together for a while, the tribe or the family becomes a little more aggregate like or a lot more aggregate like, and there is some anxiety as people come back together about whether you're really still a family. I mean, no one would say this consciously, but it exists that at an unconscious level, and I think it exists at an evolutionary level also. I think this is hardwired and that there is a set of psychological forces at play, that we perceive to be necessary for survival when a group comes together. And you can also think about when two groups come together, and they have to break bread to show that they're no longer at war and that one group is not there to rape and pillage if there is an ally. A civilization is a pretty recent thing. Whether we behave together is pretty recent, and there are still a lot of very primitive fears in our DNA.
Now, let's look at this situation where I go back to my family for Thanksgiving, and this was when mom was still alive. And she comes running up to me and she's, “Oh, hi, honey. I love you. I made you this chocolate chip mint pie using your favorite chocolate chips. Oh, I saved this special piece for you. Here you go, honey. Why don't you have some right now? Just a little bite, a little bite more?” What is mom doing there? Well, on the surface, she is feeding me, she wanted to be appreciated for making me the things she used to make me. She's using food as love, etc., etc., etc. What she's really doing though, the deeper need is to reestablish the groupness of the tribe. She's trying to welcome me back to the tribe with love. She's presenting me with a love gift.
Now, what most people get caught up with in that situation is that they attempt to engage in an intellectual argument to explain why it's important that they don't have the chocolate. “Well, mom, my triglycerides are really high. I'm not supposed to do that.” Well, the problem with that is that it makes them feel like I've rejected her love gift. At an unconscious level, it probably frightens her that the tribe is not going to care the way it's supposed to. And also makes her feel guilty for making the pie in the first place and for eating it. Is she poisoning other people, giving them this unhealthy stuff? So, you should almost never until you're totally over binge eating, almost never take that opportunity to give people a health lesson and explain why it's not really good for them to have that or you can't have it anymore.
What you really want to do is teach mom an alternative way to love you back into the tribe. So, you say, “Oh, Mom, you know what? I ate a little too much at lunch. My stomach's a little upset. Do you have any mint tea, for example?” Or, “Mom, I'm a little cold, do you happened to have a sweater?” Or even something like, “Mom, I just have to know what happened in the Yankee game. Do you know the score? Can we go talk to Michael? Can we put it on the TV?” Give her something that she can do to love you back into the tribe. Sidestep the argument entirely, sidestep the conversation entirely, present her with an alternative way to love you. And everything will be fine. And then you change the topic. And I promise you it's not going to be an issue. With all but the most pernicious mothers, it's not going to be an issue. And if you can handle your mom, you can handle anybody else with food. [laughs] That's what we find in-- I grew up in a Jewish culture, but most ethnic cultures where food is a big deal. If you learn how to handle your mom, you're doing fine. So, there's that social pressure.
Now, there's one more thing you can do. If you think of your everyday rules as the bullseye that you're aiming for on the archery target. There is also a second and third rung. And you could create a second rung of conditional rules that say, “I can have one main meal and one dessert of my choosing on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.” I'm just making that up, you can delineate it however you want to, but the point is that the second rung of the bullseye begins and ends somewhere you know exactly what it is., So your decisions will be made.
Most people two out of three are able to do that and they get through holidays and social events like that. Some people will say, “I will never read flour again except for two pieces of bread in a restaurant once per calendar week.” Other people will say, I never have sugar except for one dessert at my sister’s house, and a Saturday, but no more than twice a month.” Very, very clear boundaries of what the exceptions are at your own risk, but more often than not it works. So between managing the psychology with an alternative love gift and then aiming for the second rung of the bull's eye if you want to, most people are able to navigate social situations much better than they did before, we explained all that to them. So, how's that for a long-winded answer?
Melanie Avalon: That was one of the most mind-blowing things I've heard in a long time. That was so incredible.
Glenn Livingston: Oh, thank you, dear.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, my goodness. Alternative love gift, I'm going to start implementing that. My mom has gotten a lot better. Like she used to do this a ton and she doesn't really anymore. But wow. This is mind blowing and understanding why it works. I'm going to talk about this on the next Intermittent Fasting Podcast. Really quickly, what about the alcohol?
Glenn Livingston: I consistently hear from women, that when they have more than two drinks in a day that all the rules go out the window. And I consistently hear from men that when they have more than three drinks during the day, all the rules go out the window. So, alcohol inhibits your frontal lobe, which is where your decision making and willpower is, so I don't have a solution that will let you get drunk and stay to your rules. I'm sorry. People break the rules when they get drunk. So the solution if you're really worried about it is to, I cannot get drunk.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. Like know yourself.
Glenn Livingston: Your tolerance.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, like figure out what drinking leads to not being able to maintain or hold to the planned compared to because I think some people might be all or none. But some people might be able to find that, that amount and then being really strict about it. Really quickly, what about self-sabotage? Monica said, “I sabotage myself whenever I get at a certain weight or justify that I can binge eat because I lost so much already.” And Angie says, “It'd be nice to get tips on how to not sabotage myself every time I'm doing well and eating well. It's like something snaps in my brain and I binge.”
Glenn Livingston: Yeah. I'm not sure that the psychological interpretation of self-sabotage is accurate there. I think there's something physical going on. I mean, there are reasons that people self-sabotage themselves, but I don't think that that situation is one of them. Here's why. What people typically do is they get onto a weight loss plan and they zoom down to their goal. And it's almost like they crash headlong into the goal. Think about when we send a rocket to the moon and we land on the moon. Before we get to the moon, we have to decelerate, kind of fire the thrusters in reverse, so that you slowly touchdown. Otherwise, you crash.
What most people do is they say, “Okay, I'm going to lose two pounds a week,” or some people try to lose four pounds a week. “Until I get to my goal weight, then I'm going to go back to a maintenance diet.” Let's go back to the discussion we had about an evolutionary mechanism that probably says, “If calories and nutrition are scarce in this environment, then as soon as they're available, I better hoard them.” I think that's what's happening when people switch from weight loss to maintenance. I think that because they're crashing into whatever, they're not decelerating beforehand, and softly touching down, that they're triggering that mechanism in their brain that says it's time to hoard calories.
I've had some success with people who have done that before. For example, if they're losing two pounds a week, when they get to 10 pounds away from their goal, we switch that to one pound a week, when they're five pounds away from the goal, we switch to a half-pound. When they're two-pound, they will switch to a quarter pound. And then switching from your weight loss food plan to a maintenance food plan, the crumbs more like slowly turning on a rheostat and gradually watching the light come on, then all of a sudden flicking a light switch. And that way you don't trigger that feast and famine response. And I think that's 70% of the problem.
The other part of the problem is that the pig says that your health is like a great big garbage can. And as soon as it's empty, it's time to fill it up with more slop. And that's not really true. Your body is the most sacred thing you'll ever own. So, you can try to remind yourself of that. You can look for what else your biggest specifically saying to get you to your diet. But the best part of the solution I've seen is more of a physical one where people-- they preempt that feast and famine response.
Melanie Avalon: I feel like a lot of people-- maybe this is the same thing, but they feel like they deserve it. Like, “Oh, I've done so good. I haven't binge, I haven't broke my plan this amount of days. So, I deserve this.” So maybe I don't know if that's more emotional or--?
Glenn Livingston: Well, yeah, and so you could plan out very specifically what you deserve and what the limits of that are going to be. And if you can combine that, and treat or a couple of days treats, whatever it is, you combine that with a deceleration towards the goal, then I don't think you have the problem.
Melanie Avalon: There's so many more things, but I want to be super respectful of your time. What about people who-- and you talk about this at the very end of 45 Binge Trigger Busters, people who just say it, “It doesn't work,” or they just feel like they can't get a grasp on the pig. And for example, like Angela says, “Saying no to the pig is a simple concept, but not always easy to do. That dumb pig still gets control over me a lot of times.” And then Amber agreed with her. And then Carolyn says, “This is perfect timing. I really need help with the bingeing. His book has definitely helped me but sometimes I still listen to the pig. So, what about people who just feel like they can't?
Glenn Livingston: Yeah, first of all, that's a very typical course through Never Binge Again, people get the concepts, and it helps them. I mean, some people just get it and they stop bingeing, and that's that, that's the minority people. Some people will get it for something very specific that they can cut[?] out in real life like popcorn. Whereas eating three meals a day with nothing in between is a lot harder. In every case, when you're installing a new habit, you're having to insert yourself between stimulus and response. And all the tools that we've given you in Never Binge Again are very practical tools for doing that. But I can't take away your free will, and I wouldn't if I could. It's not a like a gastric bypass or something that makes you not want to binge. It's something that makes you aware of the space between stimulus and response.
And what you need to do if you want to fix this, if you want to recover, is you have to eliminate the words, “I can't” or “I don't know” from your vocabulary. Know that you're in good company, problem-conscious pig parties where people just don't have the energy or the inclination to go through the exercises and put themselves in the middle. And they get a case to the F-its and they just go to town. What you need to do is reconstruct those moments where it happened, you can analyze it postmortem and say, “If there were more of a justification, if there were more of a voice of destructive justification, between the stimulus and response, between the thing that I saw and the thing that I eat-- the thing that I thought about and the thing that I eat, if there were more of a destructive justification, what would those words have been? What might the pig have said?" You can do this a postmortem if you have to. And then you dispute that you disempower that on the way that we talked about earlier.
We exist in the space between stimulus and response. So, this is actually about much more than just arresting binge eating, this is about empowering you to make choices in your life so that you can make the pig your slave rather than you being the pig slave. One of you is going to take control. So, change your vocabulary. Rather than asking yourself, “What did the pig say?” Ask yourself, “What might have the pig said? What might the pig be saying? What occurs to me?” And become committed to assigning language to that space between impulse and emotion-- impulse and action, no matter how difficult that might seem, at first. And over time, it's like a muscle that develops. Collect evidence of success. Don't let the pig focus you on how you made this mistake, or that mistake, and learn what you can and move on and spend a lot more energy collecting the successes that you've had and the failures and start to be inspired, and you'll get better and better.
Melanie Avalon: That is so incredible. I really, really love that concept of the space in between. So, identifying the pig voice, I personally don't ever really struggle with identifying it for what it is, I'm pretty in tune with being like, “Oh, this is not me.” I do have friends who say that they really struggle to identify it. They find themselves having these ideas or planning to not listen to the pig, but then they find themselves in the middle of a binge or in the middle of--
Glenn Livingston: Melanie's, sometimes that has to do with ambiguity in the food rule that they're using. So, if your rule is something like “I avoid chocolate.” It's not really clear what that means. Sometimes, you have it, sometimes you don't and then, say, “Well, it's just the pig or whether it's not the pig.” Rules need to be 100% crystal clear. It's like 10 people should be able to follow you around all day and beside whether you were on plan or off plan.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, we're still on the same page. That's where I was going with that. I was going to say that I love what you said about the need for the crystal-clear lines because then it makes it very obvious when it's not part of the plan. So, thank you so much. This has been amazing. We only got to probably not even half of the questions.
Glenn Livingston: We can do it again. I'll trade you. You have to come back on mine.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, I would love to. Listeners, again, the show notes for today's episode will be at melanieavalon.com/bingetriggers. I'll put links to everything that we discussed there. There'll be a full transcript. Get Never Binge Again, get any of the other books that the amazing Glenn has written. They're all incredible, life changing. I cannot thank you enough for what you're doing. I'm so honored to know you. Thank you.
Glenn Livingston: Melanie, I'm honored to know you too.
Melanie Avalon: What is something that you're grateful for?
Glenn Livingston: Today, I am grateful for you, how’s that?
Melanie Avalon: Oh, thank you. I'm grateful for you too. Okay, this has been amazing. Enjoy the rest of your evening and maybe we can talk again in a future now.
Glenn Livingston: Absolutely, in a future now [laughs] because the future is an infinite string of nows.
Melanie Avalon: It is. Okay. Bye.
Glenn Livingston: Bye.