The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #45: 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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6:30 - SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES!
8:20 - Glenn's Personal Binge History
13:15 - The Three Key Factors Challenging The "Love Yourself Thin" Paradigm
14:00 - Food Scientists And Food Engineering
15:25 - The Role Of The Advertising Industry
16:35 - The Addiction Paradigm
17:10 - The Parts Of The Brain Involved In Overeating
19:30 - Alpha Wolf
20:50 - Finding The Emotional "Reasons" Behind Food Issues
25:20 - Fireplace Analogy
26:45 - The Beginning Of The Pig, And The Need For Clear Lines
30:15 - Intermittent Fasting And Bingeing
34:15 - The Experience Of Emotional Eaters: How It Self Perpetuates
36:45 - How Food Shuts Down Anxiety
39:30 - What You Need To Do Now: Rules, Listening, And Disempowering
41:20 - LUMEN - Get $50 Off A Lumen Device At MelanieAvalon.com/Lumen With The Code melanieavalon
44:15 - Types Of People: Does Restriction Lead To Bingeing?
51:20 - The Use Of The Word Never
53:15 - Changing Your Food Plan
54:00 - Societal Pressure And Reframing Deprivation
55:20 - What Are Pig Squeals And How To Identify Them
58:00 - The Importance Of Bright Lines
59:00 - The Problem With "Stop When You're Full" : Guidelines Vs Rules
1:01:00 - The Importance Of Nutritionally Sound Rules
1:03:45 - How To Make Intermittent Fasting Work For Over-eaters
1:11:40 - Defining Binging
1:15:40 - What If You Do Binge?
1:20:15 - FOOD SENSE GUIDE: Get Melanie's App To Tackle Your Food Sensitivities! Food Sense Includes A Searchable Catalog Of 300+ Foods, Revealing Their Gluten, FODMAP, Lectin, Histamine, Amine, Glutamate, Oxalate, Salicylate, Sulfite, And Thiol Status. Food Sense Also Includes Compound Overviews, Reactions To Look For, Lists Of Foods High And Low In Them, The Ability To Create Your Own Personal Lists, And More!
1:21:30 - Binging After Intermittent Fasting
1:25:30 - How To Say No To The Pig After You Break The Rule
1:28:00 - The Importance Of Writing
1:31:30 - Binge Recovery Tools
1:32:45 - What If You're Scared You Might Binge
1:33:35 - Applying The Never Binge Again Technique To Anxiety And Other Issues
1:38:50 - Left/Right Brain Studies
1:40:45 - Why You Should Never Give Up: Failure Is A Part of Succeeding
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1:44:15 - Get The Book Never Binge Again At NeverBingeAgain.com: Click The Red Button And Sign Up For Reader Bonus List
[START OF TRANSCRIPT]
Melanie Avalon: Hi, friends. Welcome back to the show. I am just almost gitty with excitement about the interview that I am about to have. It is with the author of a book which is probably, I was thinking about this, I am also the co-host of the intermittent fasting podcast, and I think this book is probably the book I recommend the most to our listeners. We get a lot of questions about dealing with cravings, appetite, bingeing, food issues, emotional issues surrounding food, and even questions not even related to all of that. I cannot tell you how many times I recommend the book "Never Binge Again" how thousands of people have stopped overeating and binge eating and stuck to the diet of their choice, by reprogramming themselves to think differently about food and listeners. This book is incredible. I am so excited to dive deep into it today. Truly, I think what so many people just need it's a radical different approach, I think, to the whole bingeing, overeating problem that so many people face in today's society. Thank you so much. I am here with Dr. Glenn Livingston. Thank you for being here.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Thank you for having me and for that lovely introduction. I need you to follow me around and tell my dad, and stuff like that.
Melanie Avalon: I could do that. You have other books as well, a whole series, and then Never Binge Again series. To start things off, you have a really interesting background, you are a veteran psychologist, but you're also a longtime CEO of a multimillion-dollar consulting firm with a lot of credits to its name. You do talk about your personal history and Never Binge Again, but for listeners who aren't familiar, would you like to tell listeners a little bit about your own story and your own food struggles, and what brought you to this radical epiphany you had with the never binge again technique?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I would love to tell your listeners that. Let me just make a minor deviation from what you said. I no longer do the research and consulting for big companies. I do never binge again full time these days, but I did for many years I did both a clinical psychologist, and a marketing consultant for the industry. I did that for many, many years. What's really more important for your listeners to know, I'm not just a doctor who decided to work with weight loss patients. I'm a guy who struggled with food his whole life, up until my early 40s. When I was 17 or so, I'm 6'4, I'm reasonably muscular, and I discovered that if I worked out for a few hours a day, I could eat anything I wanted to. The whole pizza or two boxes of muffins, box of donuts, bars and bars of chocolate, lattes, anything you could imagine, if it wasn't nailed down. I often joke that if you happen to pass by the pizza place and they were all out, it's probably because I was there before. It's that kind of thing. I didn't think that was a problem in my youth. I ate a lot, I slept a lot, and I worked out a lot. Because I didn't have that many responsibilities, and I was pretty smart kid, where I could get by school, it was fine. It was really fine, it was fun.
I got married when I was 22. I come from a family of 17 psychotherapists, and psychologists, and counselors, and it's always been critically important to me to be a good psychologist. That's the meaning of life for me. I didn't want to do anything else. As I started to step into that role, I was married, I had responsibilities, I was commuting two hours to school each day in each direction, I was seeing patients, and I was actually helping to run a small business with my wife, I just didn't have the time to work out. A little bit, just a little bit, maybe half hour twice a week. I found that I couldn't stop thinking about food anyway. It's like the food had a life of its own. This really bothered me, not only because I was getting fat, but because it was interfering with my ability to be present with patients. Like I said, that was the most important thing in the world, and the kinds of patients I was working with, especially as I got a little older, were high risk patients.
I worked with couples right after an affair, or I'd work with children that were having nightmares, or I would work with suicidal teenagers. If anybody knows anything about psychology, it's not really an intellectual endeavor. I mean it is, you got to study and learn and piece together why people are doing what they're doing and what might be a better solution, and how you can intervene. Really, people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care. You have to be there to lend them your soul. Melanie, I wasn't, I just... I'd be sitting with these suicidal people, and I'd be working hard at it, but I'd also be thinking about when I could get to the deli and dislodge my jaw and empty the contents of the tray into it. It really bothered me, it was the fundamental problem in my life.
Because I came from a family of therapists, where something breaks in the house, people ask it how it feels, they don't know how to fix it, I really thought that everything was related to psychology. I really thought that there must be a hole in my heart, and if I could fill the hole in my heart, then I wouldn't have to keep trying to fill the hole in my stomach. I was trying to love myself in various different angles. I went to see some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists in the world in New York City. You can imagine from my family that I knew them. I went to Overeaters Anonymous, even conducted my own 40,000-person study at a certain point, in the late 90s. I was just looking at what's hurting me so much and why am I trying to fill up with food. Over time, there were three things that caused me to flip the paradigm and decide that I was not going to be able to love myself then or nurture my inner wounded child back to health, in order to fix this. It was going to be more like having to become the alpha wolf in my own body, and taking charge of this thing inside me that seemed to crave the worst things at the worst times, to the exclusion of whatever plans they seem to make.
Call it a case of the [0:06:52 inaudible], where I just constantly get these, "No, just screw it. Do it. Start tomorrow." that kind of thing. I finally realized that that was not coming from a part of my brain that knew love. It wasn't a hole in my heart. Yes, I had holes in my heart, but that wasn't the cause of the binge eating problem. Here's how I knew that. First of all, I was doing a lot of consulting for Big Food and Big Pharma. Big Food in particular, I saw them spending probably billions of dollars, I never really added it all up, but on the rocket scientists, the best food scientists in the world, who are getting the best money at these big food companies and their job was to engineer these hyper palatable substances, concentrations of starch and sugar and fat and oil and etc. toxins, that targeted the consumers lizard brain, the reptilian brain, the fight or fight feast or famine responses, that said that it was an emergency, that way eat these things. They target the bliss point in the reptilian brain, without giving us enough nutrition to feel satisfied. I said, that has nothing to do with the fact that my mama didn't love me enough, or that I'm in a bad marriage, or anything like that. That's a purely external force, and it's a very powerful force.
Most people think that they are not under the influence of those kind of forces. They don't like to recognize how strong those forces can be, but they're exceptionally strong. Then there's the advertising industry. There are 5 to 7000 messages beamed at us per year about food, over the internet in the airwaves, and maybe a half dozen of them say to have more fruit and vegetables. We're being told that these things are healthy for us. For example, I remember consulting for the VP of a major food bar manufacturer, and he told me, kind of bowed his head and he was embarrassed, he said their biggest, most profitable insight, was when they took the vitamins out of the bar, and they put the money into the packaging instead. I said, "So you mean that you have this vibrant colorful diverse packaging, which in nature, diverse vibrant colors would represent a diversity of nutrients that are available. Think of a big salad with green lettuce and purple cabbage, and maybe some oranges and blueberries and an apple, big red apple... That diversity of nutrients, that's what you're signaling the brain, but you actually took the vitamins out of the bar?" He said, "Yes." I don't need to single them out, that was going on all across the industry, so I said, "These are two really powerful forces that are aligned against us."
Then the addiction treatment industry was telling us that we're diseased, that we're powerless, that we can't control ourselves even if we wanted to. The best we could hope to do, we couldn't quit to get this, we had to abstain one day at a time. I said, "Well, these are three really powerful forces. that are aligned against me, that have nothing to do with my psychological struggles." Yes, I've got psychological struggles, but these have nothing to do with that. It's a wonder that anybody can resist overeating, given what's going on. The final thing that really, why... I also read a book by Jack Trimpey called "Rational Recovery", where he talked about the bipartite nature of the brain, that was The Reptilian Brain and then that was us, and that everything that was important to us as human beings, really lived in the upper brain, and that the lower brain was much more primitive animal.
The way I think of that, having studied a little more neurology, and I'm by no means an expert, I know enough to be dangerous and neurologist would take me to task on this. I'm a psychologist, I'm PhD talk therapist, but I studied enough to figure out that the part of the brain that's responding to food addiction, the survival drive that says, "We need these bags and boxes and containers, in order to live." That part of the brain doesn't know love. That's the reptilian brain and what it knows is eat, mate or kill. The reptilian brain sees something in the environment and it says, "Do I eat it, do I mate with it or do I kill it?" That really struck me. I said, "So, all these years this powerful force inside me, it's separate and apart from the part of my brain that knows love." Love starts in the mammalian brain that says, "Before you eat, mate or kill that thing, what impact is that going to have on the ones that you love and you thrive and your family?"
Then on top of that brain is into your cortex, which says, "Before you eat, mate or kill that thing, what about your long-term goals? What about the contribution you want to make to society? What about your intellectual pursuits? What about your spirituality or your music or your art or leaving a legacy, and that kind of stuff?" I said, "Wow. This is going to have to be a game of me asserting superiority, the same way that I do with my bladder, or my reproductive organs."
If I had to pee really badly right now, Melanie, I wouldn't go, because I'm talking to you, right? We're accomplishing a task, and it's something that's important to both of us. I would tell my bladder, "Look. I know you got to go, I'll take care of it sooner or later. I'm not going to ignore the need entirely, but I'm in charge. You're going to have to wait. You are my subject, you're here to serve me." We have a certain degree responsibility to make sure that gets taken care of, but the bladder is there to serve me. I'm the alpha wolf in my body. If I see a really attractive woman on the street, I don't run up and kiss her. It's a matter of fact, I'd probably never talk to her because I could horribly shy, but that's another story.
There are ways to be civil about that in society. We have responsibilities, we all live with these biological impulses. We accept, as part of our civil responsibility, that we are in charge and they aren't in charge. If you don't accept that, you can get in a lot of trouble, right? If I ran up to an attractive woman and I kissed her, I can get in a lot of trouble, or did something worse.
Being a civilized person de facto means that you have to develop your character to be in charge. I started to think, well, "Maybe this trick was just another story." I also said to myself, "Well, when an alpha wolf is challenged for leadership in the Packers..." That's essentially what's happening. I would make these rules I wanted to follow, or read this diet about that I was going to do on Monday morning, and then Monday afternoon I'm going to be in front of a chocolate bar, Starbucks. This thing inside me would tell me that I could wait till tomorrow and work out hard enough, it didn't really matter. I said, "I'm really being challenged for leadership. And when an alpha wolf is challenged for leadership, he doesn't say, "Oh my goodness, someone needs a hug." It says about growls and it snorts, and it says, "Get back in line or I'll kill you." It's a game of domination.
The last thing that really convinced me was a personal story. I had done this study over the course of about five years, when internet clicks were cheap, and it was easy to get these things done. I had about 40,000 people take a survey, in which they told me the very specific types of things they couldn't stop eating once they started, the types of stress they had in their life. I found that people who were struggling with chocolate, like I did, they tended to be lonely, brokenhearted, or a little depressed. They were struggling with the romantic life. People who struggled with hard crunchy salty things, like chips and pretzels, they tended to be stressed, tend to be stressed at work. The people who struggled with soft chewy things, like bread or bagels and even pizza, they tended to be stressed at home.
I thought that was fascinating and I thought that, "Well, that's a really great piece of diagnostic information, and one of the first things I could ask people if I was going to work with them." Back then I was mostly trying to figure it out for myself, but I said, "Wow, I can just start with, "What do you eat?" and then I know what area of life to probe, and is going to save me some time." I wasn't going to help anybody at that point. I was just trying to figure it out for myself, and maybe I thought maybe someday I would.
I went to my Mom first and I said, "Well, Mom, you've not only raised me, but you're a therapist. What do you think about this? Yes, I'm unhappy in the marriage, and I am a little lonely and depressed, but how could this pattern have been set up? Was there something in my childhood that you can point to, that would have made it so I ran to chocolate when I feel lonely or depressed or brokenhearted?" She looks at me, this is over Skype, she says, "I'm so sorry, Glenn." I said, "Mom, it's ok. It's 40 years ago, whatever it is, I forgive you. I just want to figure this out."
She says, "I'm so sorry. When you were one year old in 1965, they were talking about sending your Dad to Vietnam. For a while, they were not taking...” He was a captain in the Army, he was a psychologist in the Army. “For a while, they were not taking people with even one kid, but they were talking about sending him anyway, and I was terrified. We were trying to get pregnant with your sister, but it wasn't happening. I was scared that they're going to send him to Vietnam and he's going to get killed. At the same time, your grandfather, my dad, just gotten out of prison. I’d adored him my whole life, but it turns out he was guilty, and my whole life fell apart. Half the time when you came running to me for love or even for some healthy food, I didn't have the wherewithal to give it to you. I was just sitting and staring at the wall, feeling depressed myself. What I would do is, I kept a refrigerator with a big bottle of chocolate Bosco syrup on the floor, and I say, "Go get your Bosco." You'd go crawling over to it, and you'd evenly open up a refrigerator, and open the bottle and you'd suck on the top, and you go into a chocolate sugar coma. I could resume just staring at the wall."
If this were the movies, at this point, we would have had a big hug and a big cry and I would never have trouble with chocolate again. Now, I found the reason, now I found the source and now I could go on binge free.
My binges always started with chocolate, by the way. It was always the first breaking point and then, they don't have pizzas and doughnuts and muffins and stuff. What happened was... It was a good moment. It was a god conversation to have. It led me to learn a lot more about my Mom. I certainly forgave her, and I forgave myself, myself hatred died then a little bit after that, a lot. I felt compassion for what I went through and I understood what that hole in my heart might have been about. It was a healing moment, but my binges got worse, particularly with chocolate.
The reason they got worse was that there was this little voice in my head, and the voice went something like this, "Hey, Glenn, you know what? You're right. Your mama left a great big chocolate sized hole in your heart, by not loving you enough when you were little. Until you can find the love of your life and get out of this marriage, you're going to have to keep on bingeing on chocolate. Let's go get some more right now. Yippee."
What I learned from that moment, what I've learned from that story, was that there's a different paradigm to conceptualize emotional eating, that allows you to sever the link between the emotion and the behavior. It's not that there's not an association between the emotion in the behavior. If you think about, say your emotion is a fire, and say it's in a roaring fireplace, so you've got this big roaring fire, this big deal emotional upset, and it's a fire in a fireplace. Well, if there's a good fireplace containing that emotion, that it doesn't matter how big or upsetting it is, it stops even one ash from getting out and burning down the house. As a matter of fact, that fire becomes the center of heart and home. It's actually a good thing, people gather around it to keep warm, they make memories, to tell stories that make memories.
When there's a hole in the fireplace, and I came to think of this little voice is poking holes in the fireplace, then even the smallest fire can allow ashes to escape and burn down the house. It becomes very dangerous. I stopped thinking of my goal as the necessity to put out the fire, and I started thinking about it as making sure there was a really good fireplace built around the fire, so that the fire couldn't do any damage, and it was just a part of life.
Here's what I did. Melanie, this is a little embarrassing and I wasn't going to share this publicly, until I wrote the book five years later, or probably eight years later. I'm a sophisticated psychologist, and I was known publicly for a lot of my research studies and things like that, but the way that I recovered after 30 years of suffering, I decided I had this pig inside of me. I decided to call my reptilian brain [0:20:17 inaudible] and I draw very clear lines in the sand, that would make it abundantly obvious what healthy behavior and unhealthy behavior was.
I would make decisions about how I want it to be with chocolate, for example. Initially, it was something like, 'I will never have chocolate on a weekday again." Very clear black and white line. You could tell from that clear black and white line whether any thought was suggesting that I cross it. If 10 people observed me all month, they would tell you whether I ever had chocolate on a weekday, they'd all agree. It wasn't like, "Well, I'm going to avoid chocolate 90% of the time." It was, "No. I'll never have it on a weekday again." Then I decided that if I was at Starbucks, and there was a little voice in my head that said, "You worked out hard enough, Glenn. You're not going to gain any weight. Even though it's a Wednesday, you might as well have some chocolate. Yippee. You can just start tomorrow."
I would say to myself, "Wait a minute, that's not me. That's my inner pig, and my inner pig is squealing for pig slop, because chocolate on a weekday is pig slop. I don't eat pig slop. I don't know want farm animals tell me what to do.” I thought this was never, I thought this was the stupidest experiment ever. I can't say it was a miracle and I was instantaneously better and just got thin or whatever. I'd gotten up to about 280 pounds and I... triglycerides over a thousand. The doctors were telling me I was going to die. I can't tell you that I immediately got all better.
What happened, though, was it would wake me up at the moment of impulse, and I would suddenly realize that I wasn't powerless to make a different choice if I wanted to. It would give me those extra microseconds to consider what I was doing and I remember why I wanted to set that rule in the first place. It took me out of my lower brain and into my upper brain, for at least a little bit. Sometimes I didn't make the right decision. Sometimes I decided I really wanted the chocolate anyway.
Eventually, I experimented with different rules, because I figured I'm the one making the rules, no one's telling me what to eat. It's kind of silly that I am breaking them. Why don't I just make rules that I'll stick to? Eventually I was soft enough on myself and I came up with rules that I would stick to that worked. I found that there were some rules I was sticking to a hundred percent. That sense of powerlessness went away. I've been told in Overeaters Anonymous that I had a disease, that I was broken, that I was too weak to do this on my own. That all went away and I found that I had the ability to decide the kind of person that I wanted to become around food, starting with these simple rules.
I kept a journal for eight years, about me versus my pig, and the various rules that I would make. You could make a rule that completely excluded a food, like, "I'll never have chocolate again." You can make a rule that just supported mindfulness, like, "I always put my fork down between bites." or, "I never eat in front of the screen." You can make a rule that supported intermittent fasting like, "I don't eat between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m." I know you guys usually do longer windows. I like to start people with shorter windows of fasting. I find this little easier for binge eaters and then I help them to expand those windows later. I actually have to ask you questions about that and we have time.
That's my story. I kept a journal for eight years, and then I was going to keep it private, because I felt like... I actually honestly felt embarrassed that this is how I got better, but I got better. I lost probably about 80 pounds, and my top weight on a scale was 257, but I stopped weighing myself. I'm pretty sure I was about 280. I hover around 200 now. I got better and my [0:24:06 inaudible] got better, my skin cleared up, my [0:24:09 inaudible], psoriasis. I changed to a whole foods plant-based diet and that worked for me. My book is diet diagnostic. I help people with all sorts of different food philosophies. I don't force mine on them. Personally, I'm whole foods plant based, so I experienced a lot of those benefits.
Then when I was getting divorced, I was starting to consider it in 2015, I didn't know what I was going to do. I was running a coach training organization with my wife at the time, and we still have the marketing research business together, although she was mostly doing it. I just didn't know what was going to happen and I wanted to get out quickly. I'm getting divorced and I was a minor partner in a publishing company, and the CEO said to me, "Hey, Glenn, we have to publish our own book. We need to publish a book and show that we really know what we're doing with marketing, so we can attract better authors." I said like, "I have this journal about me versus my inner pig." He said, "Turn it into a book."
I gave it to him. It took about a month to first draft. We didn't publish the first draft. I sent it to him at a horrible name back then. When he read it, he loved it. He was a hundred pounds overweight. He read it and he loved it and he said, "Glenn, don't answer pig slop. I don't eat pigs slop and I don't want farm animals tell me what to do."
He started using the book and he's progressed in a hundred-pound weight loss journey. I think it is 96 pounds now, several years later. We published it and we're both in marketing, so we sort of knew what to do. We had no idea how it was going to take off and where... Now, we're edging up on a million readers and people don't quite recognize my name, but they recognize me from videos sometimes and they come up to me in a restaurant, or a bookstore and they point at me, and they go, "Pig guy."
That's my life now. Now, we've got a whole little... written a bunch more specialty books, and we're trying to help a million people a year to stop binge eating. We've got a coaching network, we've got a coach training network and we're just getting started. It's very effective for... It seems like it's very effective for people, that nothing else has been effective for before. I finally found my purpose. I'm the pig guy. That's what I do.
Melanie Avalon: I love it. That is such an incredible story. It really is radical. I think you touched on so many things. I think just changing that paradigm shift of things you spoke about, like that you have to solve all of your emotional problems, or that it's a disease, it's an addiction that you're born with. One thing I was going to ask you, but then you actually addressed, was I was going to ask you if even if it didn't matter in a way, the emotional aspect, like could the pig still be activated by emotional issues, which you addressed about how yes, but that doesn't change the fact that... does not change the solution in a way. I feel people get so wrapped up and they think once they solve this, like you said, this emotional issue, like you found the story about what happened when you were young with the chocolate, that your bingeing would stop and it didn't. I feel like people experience that so often.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Our experience as emotional leaders is that we get emotionally charged up. Sometimes it's with happiness. Most often it's with depression or anxiety. We feel like, we heard this squeal that says, "Pig slop is the only thing that's going to solve it, whatever your personal pig slop is." Maybe you had a rule that you're not going to eat after eight o'clock at night, and your pig, who we call Pigula in the evening, because it whispers to you like dracula, Pigula says that you have to eat. It's only thing that's going to solve this.
Then you go and you eat and you don't feel as anxious anymore temporarily. There are a few things that the pig says to reinforce that, and there's one critical fact that people aren't aware of, that will help you make that happen.
First of all, if you were to take an animal in a lab, and let's put aside whether this is ethical to do or not, but suppose there is an animal in a lab and you look for the physiological signs of anxiety. Heightened heartbeat, increased respiration, maybe some sweating or panting, and whenever you saw those increased signs of anxiety, you gave that animal some sugar water, or some proven hyper palatable treat, the equivalent of a bag of chips or pizza, or whatever, pick your poison is.
What you would find is that that animal learned to present that set of physiological symptoms more frequently. The principles of operant conditioning increase that physiological response over time, so even though they're temporarily relieved, because the nervous system has difficulty conducting the electrophysiological correlates of anxiety when the digestive system is overloaded, you're actually increasing the likelihood that that response occurs over time.
Eating to quell anxiety when your pig says that this is the only solution, well, it could be that this is the whole problem. It could be that you're anxious in the first place because you've reinforced the anxiety with pig slop. That's an eye-opener for a lot of people, they don't recognize that.
The second thing is that because the anxiety and most emotions will shut down upon overloading the digestive system, the pig's perception is that you're eating for comfort, that you really need the comfort food and that you deserve it, and maybe even working hard all day. [0:30:14 inaudible] anybody there for you. What that ignores is that the pig slop also produces a temporary high. The things we tend to binge on are not steamed broccoli, although some people can, or raw leafy greens, or a couple of pieces of fruit.
The things we tend to binge on are the products of industry. We didn't have Doritos and Kit Kats and Pop-Tarts, and we didn't even have bread or Pizza on the Savannah when we were evolving. There're recent inventions and they're super-sized stimuli that we don't have an evolutionary defense against. That's a nicer word, that's a nice way of saying that they're drugs.
Now, I'm not saying that you can't eat some Doritos, or Kit Kats, or Pop-Tarts or I don't mean to single those companies out, because there are all kinds of things that are delicious, but bad for you. I would fight for your freedom to be able to do that if you want to. I think we fought wars in this country for our freedom, and I think that, among those freedoms, is the freedom to slowly kill yourself with food, if you want to, because you want the enjoyment from partying now.
It's not the choice I would make, but I think in the free society you have to support that. I think that we're denying the high that they produce. If you struggle with emotional eating, and you're willing to change your paradigm, instead of saying, "I'm just comforting myself. I need comfort." It's like your pig is crying and saying, "Feed me. Life is so hard, just feed me." If you're willing to challenge that paradigm and say, "No, this is an addictive paradigm. This is like addict on the street that wants to get high with a needle." That makes the whole thing more [0:32:01 inaudible] to you, and it makes you less likely to continue the behavior.
Changing the paradigm from comfort to addiction, changing your understanding from thinking that food is actually comforting in the first place, to realizing that it's aggravating the uncomfortable emotion, gets people to wake up and start to consider other alternatives, start to sever the link between the emotion and the behavior.
The last thing is that rather than trying to solve the emotional problem, it could take ten years of therapy to solve the anxiety, the sources of anxiety and what anxiety are you carrying from your past and projecting into your present. That can take five or ten years to really work through, on the deepest level. Rather than waiting for that to happen, just build a fireplace around it, which involves creating these rules, listening very carefully for part of your brain that suggest that you break these rules, and then disempowering them.
When the pig says, "It'd be just as easy to start tomorrow." You say, "Wait a minute. I know that by the principles of neuroplasticity that what fires together wires together. If I have a craving and I indulge it, it's going to get harder tomorrow. If I'm in a hole, I got to stop digging. The only time I can stop overeating is now. I always use the present moment to be healthy."
You start to identify those addictive thoughts, and then you disempower them, you figure out what the lie is within them, and then you can start to ignore them. You build this really powerful fireplace around it, which has nothing to do with your history, your past time or your pain, and you sever the link between emotion and action.
First of all, you're going to be much more likely to be able to work through the emotional issues and therapy at that point, because you're going to not be so scared of your emotions, because that will lead to all this damage. Secondly, you're going to be a lot more present in the world because you're not going to be overloading yourself with food all the time. Third, I don't think there is another way to overcome the addiction. I think that when you leave the fireplace open, that even if you can put out the fire, there are always these little ashes running around, so I don't think it's safe to have a fire in a house without a fireplace. That's what I had to say about emotional eating.
Melanie Avalon: No, I'm so glad you touched on all of that and I had never really contemplated the scientific aspect of how, when your digestive system is so full and bloated, there's literally not resources. Is that the case, there's not resources to go towards perpetuating anxiety, basically? Is that why?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: It's harder. The body is harder to, has more trouble continuing to conduct the anxiety when that's the case. It's not impossible and very anxious people will tell you that they could binge and still feel anxious. It's harder.
Melanie Avalon: That's so fascinating. I do have a random curveball question. You said we could do curveball questions.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Yes, please.
Melanie Avalon: Super curveball here. I was just thinking, have you read, is it Gretchen Rubin who wrote "The Four Tendencies?"
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Well, a long time ago. I barely remembered it. If you summarize them for me, it'll come back.
Melanie Avalon: It's the idea that people either fulfill inner versus outer expectations. Some people are rules oriented. There's upholders, I forgot the 4th type, I'm sorry. It's like rebel, upholders, obligors and one more, but it's basically the combination of whether or not you like to fulfill inner and/or outer expectations. I'm just wondering if there was a... with having this plan, if it would work easier. Some people identify as rebels, so they don't like fulfilling inner expectations, or outer expectations, so I feel that type of person might have more difficulty adopting the food plan and talking to the pig or interacting with the pig in this aspect because they don't want to have those inner rules even. They like breaking their own inner rules, but then maybe that's all the pig. Well, I guess if you hadn't read the book, it's harder to have a discussion about it. I was wondering does it matter that the type of person?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I've got a lot to say about that. First of all, there are several approaches to ending overeating, and one of them says, "You shouldn't have any rules at all. Eat anything in moderation, because..." they'll say that, "Any restriction whatsoever leads to a binge, even a mental restriction." That works for some people who are the types of rebels that you're talking about, where they are rebel against their own rules.
Here's what I think about that. I think that most of us, that it doesn't really matter, except understand why different approaches work in different ways. I think that most of us who struggle with food in a serious way, where at some point in our life fed against our own best interest. Whether that's because of the way our parents raised us, or because the opportunities available in college, but at some point, we were probably told that we should eat this, but it turned out not to be so good for us. Maybe our parents fed us too much, or too little, who knows. As a result, we developed a type of rebellion against any rules whatsoever, even rules that we impose on ourselves. It's almost like we became two-year-olds. Anybody who's got kids they know that when they're two, the answer to everything is no so, "No. I won't do this. No, I won't do that" because they're asserting their independence.
One way to deal with the two-year-old is to not tell them no. It's to let them say no as much as they want to, and not tell them no, is an approach to overeating which says, "Learn to be more mindful. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you're full. Be in touch with your emotions. Learn to have them, not, learn to be able to sit with them, see through them." I totally support all these goals and outcomes. They're very valuable psychologically positive things to do.
I also think that that's a developmental stage, and you can move beyond that. I also think that there's a limitation, because that type of approach forces you to keep a lot of things that aren't so good for you running through your body. They would type in and say, people who are proponents of that approach, would pop in and say, "Well, the very phrase not so good for you is wrong. There's no such thing as a good food or a bad food." But having worked in the industries that I worked in, and seeing, for example, that it's legal to put flavored cardboard in our food, I think at some point we all have to stand up and say, "There are things I will eat and things I won't eat." We all have those types of rules anyway. We're actually all rule-makers.
Character is the habitual response to temptation. If you look at other situations in life, a lot of these people who say they are just totally opposed to any kind of rules, well, if I say to them, "What if you walk into a diner and there's a $20 bill on the table, because the waitress didn't see her tip. She said, "I'll be right back. I just have to get your menu." There's no video camera, and there's nobody up front. Nobody would see you take it. Would you take that $20 bill? Almost everybody says, "I'd never do that." I'd say, "Why?" and they'll say, "Because I'm not a thief." I'd say, "Well, you wouldn't get caught." They say, "I know, but I'm not a thief. That waitress worked hard for her money and she deserves it."
I'll say, "So you've got an unwritten rule that you always abide by, which is that I never take other people's money." and they'll say, "Yes." I'll say, "Well, if you've got a rule for that, why wouldn't you make a rule about something that would add to your life in another way? You've decided you're not a thief. You got there by recognizing that you have to follow a rule to do that, even if nobody would see, you even if you'd get no trouble whatsoever. Why can't you do that for other things?" The truth is, I think that people do, they just don't articulate it. I think that there are things that people won't eat even when they are following these approaches. I believe that the ultimate in eating healthy is to build rules that support your character to be who you want to be, with regards to food in the world. I've become a person who doesn't eat chocolate.
People ask me if I'm white-knuckling the fact that I'll never have chocolate again. I don't even have a rule that says that anymore. According to my food plan, I could have it if I wanted to. I had a rule for several years. I fought every last pig squeal. Over time, I lost the physical addiction. I figured out what I was authentically craving when I needed that, which was usually some type of leafy green and bananas.
After I've gone through that long enough, the addiction left me and I just became a person who doesn't need chocolate. That's in my character now. Chocolate looks like a big bag of chemicals. I don't even want a bite. I just don't want it. I think that that's the ultimate freedom. Is it difficult for a period of time sometimes for people who feel like they're not rules-based people to get to that point, to follow rules for a while, and get to the point? It is.
What I tell you is that in this system the rules you create a very autonomous. I'm not going to tell you what to eat. I work with people who eat all sorts of things that I wouldn't have. It's very autonomous and you choose it for yourself, and that way your pig has less to rebel against, because they can't say that, "Well, this diet doctor has... his whole cool diet doesn't work. We're going to have to find another one. Let's binge in the meantime." Also, that we're using the word never.
When I say, "I'll never have chocolate again." I'm setting it up to draw a very clear line around the bullseye, so that I can aim with perfection. Like an Olympic Archer, I can become one with the bullseye and I can know where the bullseye begins and ends, and I know not only whether I hit it or not, but by how much I missed it and in what direction, so I can make adjustments. I commit with perfection, but if I miss, I forgive myself with dignity. I don't shoot all the rest of the hours up in air and say, "Oh, screw it. I'm just a pathetic archer." I use the information to learn from it and I am at the target again.
Most people are frightened of the word never, because they think they're going to box themselves into something that they're going to feel awful about if they don't hit, and that they can't change, that they can't move the target if they want to. We're using the word never in a funky way. It's kind of the same way that you talk to a two-year-old.
When my niece was two years old, I said, "You can't ever cross the street without holding my hands. Never ever ever ever ever ever ever." We all know that five years from then I was going to teach her how to do it, right? The point was that at her level of maturity, I had to present her this rule as if it were set in stone, because I didn't even want her thinking or having the image of darting into the middle of the street, without holding my hand. It's too dangerous.
That's what it's like with our pigs with food. The reptilian brain is a creature of impulse. It's not a creature that has the maturity to think through what's best for you. It's supercharged by the concentrated foods that are available today. We have to treat it like a two-year-old, otherwise, it just runs rapid. We present our plans to our pigs, as if they're set in stone, but with wisdom and experience we can evolve our plans. I always say you should, if you want to change your plan, sit down and write out exactly what you want to change. XYZ rule is going to change to ABC rule, and write down exactly why you want to change and what it's going to do for you.
Sit with that in read for a little bit. Let it sit for at least 24 hours before you let it become law, and save a copy of the old plan, just in case it doesn't work, so you can go back to what was working before. I think that this program does appeal more naturally to rules-based people, but I would suggest that people don't rule it out if you're a non-rules-based person, because I think it has more to offer than the everything-in-moderation approach. My personal opinion.
Melanie Avalon: No, I love that so much. I personally am a rules-oriented person, both inner and outer. I got to follow all the rules, all the time. One of the things I have experienced [0:45:01 inaudible] is, if I do have rules and I have a plan, there's this societal pressure that comes in, that's like you talked about. It's like, "Oh, you're being too strict, you need to have moderation. You need to lighten up, that's not healthy, emotionally healthy."
You talk about in the book, the difference between what is deprivation and this reframe of that idea about what are you depriving yourself from by engaging in things that don't serve you. I think having these rules that serve you, that keep everything the way you like to exist in the world, I personally love subscribing to. Yes, I love your perspective on that. For listeners, you have to get this book, listeners. It's funny. It's hysterical. It's easy. I personally love the, I was telling you Glenn, the audio book version, the narrator's just incredible.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: The new narrator is me. I re-recorded it in my own voice, but you're right, the old narrator was pretty funny.
Melanie Avalon: I have to listen to [0:46:04 inaudible] Yay. This is exciting.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I'm a lot funnier in writing that I am in person. I tend to be a little more serious in person. Everybody tells me the book is hysterical.
Melanie Avalon: It is. It's so funny. You just nailed it, I think because you're talking about all these excuses that the "pig" comes up with, and in the book you call them pig squeals and all of these potential things that your inner pig might tell you as a reason to binge, reason to go off of your food plan. First of all, you can just really tell that you've been there and that you understand, because so many of these things are just so true. Like one of my favorites is, we can't start a food plan until we have all the information. We have to finish the book, so we can just keep bingeing until we finish the book, and things like that.
Speaking to that, one of the things you talk about, is the connection between the parts of the brain and how this lizard reptilian part of our brain, what we're calling the pig, that how it uses language. How it doesn't have any power over us really, and how it uses language to talk to us, because that's the only thing it can do. It can't actually, you talked about this in the book, you're inner pig can't make you drive to the grocery store, get the food, pay for it, drive back, put it in your mouth, eat it. It can't do that. All it can do is tell you reasons to and encourage you along the way to keep doing it.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Yes, you're superior.
Melanie Avalon: To that point, because I think one of the things people really struggle with is how do they... because you feel like it's you. You feel like, "I'm the one wanting this. I'm the one coming up with this excuse. I'm the one thinking this." How can listeners identify in their head what is what you would call pig squeal, and what is the pig versus what is them?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Yes, it's really good question. First of all, you have to accept that this is a trick of mind. I don't really think there's a pig inside me. I hate to disappoint you, but I don't really think there's a there's a pig inside of me. I know that this is a construct that I'm using, but it's a very clean pristine concept, that separates your thoughts from your constructive versus destructive thoughts. You have to buy into that. You're allowed to organize your thoughts anywhere you want to, and that by organizing your thoughts with a very clear line between constructive and destructive with regards to food behavior, that you're empowering yourself to identify with the constructive thoughts and make that more and more part of your character, and purge the destructive thoughts into this fictitious entity we call the pig. How do you do that? You make sure that the line that you're drawing is 100% clear with no ambiguity. Really easy line to illustrate this with is, "I will never eat chocolate again."
If I say I will never eat chocolate again then what is it that the pig could say that will confuse me? If we define pig squeal as any thought, feeling, impulse or image, which suggests that I will ever break that rule ever again between now and the time that I die, if any thought, feeling, image or impulse that says, "I'm never going to have chocolate, even one bite, lick, taste or swallow." what is it that the pig can say, that the pig would say that I couldn't recognize?
The inability to hear the pig, the confusion between what's the pig ad what's me, is an artifact of not having a clear enough rule that draws the line, because of the definition of pig squeal. See, people are used to living in a world where they're saying, "Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full," right? Sometimes they say, "Well, I don't really know. I don't know if that's me or that's the pig. Am I full or am I not full? Am I hungry or am I not hungry?" and the pig will say, "Oh, you're hungry baby. Believe me. You're hungry. You're not full yet."
Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full, is not a never binge again rule, that can be enforced with the pristine clarity we're talking about. It's a guideline. It's a good idea. Guidelines are like North stars that you try to navigate towards, but you can never be a hundred percent on course. If guideline would be, "I avoid chocolate 90% of the time. I eat it 10% of the time." Well, how do you know which is the 90% in which is the 10%? If you're in front of a chocolate bar at Starbucks, is that part of the 90%, is that part of the 10%, then you're constantly having to make decisions which wears down your willpower. It just doesn't work, even though it's a good idea, it's a good guideline. You use guidelines for things where you can't use rules, like eating when you're hungry and stop when you're full. I'll say a little more about that when a particular in a minute. You use rules for things that are real trouble spots, like, "I will never have chocolate again." or, "I'll never have chocolate on a weekday again."
Those are both rules, because 10 people would agree whether I follow them or not. When you have a really clear rule, then you know that it's a pig, because they ask, "Does this encourage me even in the slightest to break the rule?" and that's the pig. The confusion between the pig and yourself has to do with the confusion about the rule. The confusion about the rule usually has to do with the fact that people are creating guidelines and not rules and they don't know it.
Melanie Avalon: Coming up with the rule though, one thing you're talking about is, "Don't rationalize, don't argue with the pig, don't try to debate it." What if the person created an unsustainable food plan, from a health perspective, and so is it possible that the voice that's telling them to break it is actually because they need some sort of nutrient or something?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Yes. You can't make rules that go against your biology. You can't say, "I will never pee again," because your bladder will force you to do otherwise eventually, right? You can't... I worked with a woman who's insisting on going on a 500-calorie a day restriction plan, and I told her that I've never been successful with people like that for more than a couple of months. They always bounce back the other way, because you're not getting, it's just impossible for her to get the nutrition she needs in 500 calories. It's very difficult to refute hunger. The ultimate goal is to be able to ignore the pig. In the book I say, If it's enough to know that a squeal is coming from the pig, because you know that by definition the pig is up to no good, all it ever wants is to get you to break the rule and you decided using your best thinking that your rule was in your best interest.
Now, you do have to evaluate the rule and ask people to consult with the nutritionist, or at least go to chronometer or My Fitness Pal or something, and evaluate whether it's possible to get a full nutritional complement and get enough calories to sustain you at a weight-loss piece of one pound a week or something like that. I don't like when people lose more than two pounds a week, it finally always bounce back. I like them to evaluate their whole plan before they adopt it, to be sure that it's nutritionally and calorically sufficient to sustain them in the long run. I don't want them getting onto the feast and famine roller cursor, because eating too little is as bad as eating too much, in terms of binge eating. You do have to make sure that your authentic bodily needs are met, or none of this is going to work.
Melanie Avalon: It's so interesting because with my background in audience with intermittent fasting and everything, I mean it aligns very well in a way with this whole construct and concepts because intermittent fasting in a way is having this plan and having a never and then always. Like, "I will never eat maybe between these times" or "I always eat between these times" and that works so well for so many people, I think because of having the bright lines and because of all of that. I think that a lot of people struggle still, they have a window but then they just feel like they can't get control of their cravings or all of these things, and I wonder how often it is because of the food plan that they've from what they're eating perspective and their window is not suiting their body long-term. I feel it can be hard for people to figure out where the issue might lie.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I would like to have a discussion with you about this and maybe you could educate me more too. What I find... First of all, I thoroughly believe in and support all of the medical benefits for intermittent fasting. I think that all types of restorative processes engage when we're not eating. I think that you can actually train the brain not to be eating all the time when you're not to be thinking about food all the time when you have longer windows. What I find on an empirical practical basis, is that when people start with a short window of time where they can eat, when binge eater start, then when they break they tend to do worse, because I think that brain perceives... My hypothesis about binge eating is that it's a result of an evolutionary feast or famine survival mechanism, that says when food is unavailable for significant periods of time, that as soon as it's available, we have to hoard up. I think that's why being full could be a trigger to eat too much, because if you think about maybe there was a famine and all of a sudden there was a harvest, and there's all the food available, people probably didn't eat as much as they could when they get it.
I've had the experience that it's a little mini recapitulation of that feast and famine mechanism. For the first four to six months when I'm working with people who want to do intermittent fasting, which I really support again, I find that if they make their window shorter than 12 hours, it's harder. I'm just wondering if is there anything you could tell me that would make it easier for people who wanted to do that or is there anything that you've observed with binge eaters in particular that tends to work with intermittent fasting? You're the first person that I'm having an intelligent conversation about this, so I would love to know what you thought.
Melanie Avalon: I have so many thoughts about this, just because, like you said we see all of these health benefits with fasting, but I do wonder in a way if it is... Well, feel like in a way it is, what you just said that it's kind of recreating this feast-famine cycle and I've often wondered if the reason it does, and saying this sounds controversial, but maybe the reason it does work really well for people with binge eating problems is because it in a way allows them to hold on to this binge eating tendency or pattern. It's like having their cake and eating it too, because they still get to eat at night all they want, so they get to engage in that habit, that activity and the experience from that, and then fasting during the day and so in a way... I'm being really hesitant saying this because...
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Makes up for it and it continues the cycle. Yes.
Melanie Avalon: I know people will also use exercise for example, so they'll eat a lot and then they'll try to exercise it off or something. This is something I think about a lot actually. If a person is, let's say they're identified as a binge eater and they're doing intermittent fasting, and they find a window that's a small window that works for them, and it allows them to eat "all they want in this window" and then be functional during the day, maybe even be losing weight, seeing improved health, is there a problem if it's still in a way a...
Because we get two the scenarios. We can have that scenario, where they're actually getting healthier, it's working for them, it works in their life, but maybe they're still engaging in... maybe it's in a way it's still their binge eating tendency, versus there might be another person who's a "binge eater", who's doing this and it's not working for them, so like you said, especially if they're still hungry or they never feel full, and they do "fall of the wagon" and then... I find it really interesting what you said about that people who have these tendencies. Once they start fasting, if they fall often, it actually gets way worse. I feel like I'm talking in circles, but that's something I think about a lot. Is this in a way a control type of binge eating that actually support the health of the body, and is there something "wrong" with that?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I don't know if you and I are to judge, right? The person needs to judge for themselves. For me, the critical component would be, first of all whether it was supporting the health of the body, and if it is, then I don't think anybody can criticize it. Secondly, what's happening with the food obsession. One of the biggest problem with that binge eaters are bothered by is the constant mental obsession with food, like when I was sitting with suicidal patients and thinking about the deli. I wasn't really living my life. I wasn't being as valuable and productive as I could be or, soulful as I could be, because I was constantly thinking about food.
If having that window helps them to not think about food during the day, so they can just get what they want in the evening, I don't know. I always tell people, "You can eat whatever you want to if you can live with the consequences." If you can live with these consequences and you don't think it would be better to try another way, then I'm okay with that.
Melanie Avalon: Yes. Also to that point, because we are a big proponent, in our approach to fasting, calling it quote "clean fasting". While fasting only water, black coffee, nothing artificially sweetened, because we found that all of these things trigger that hunger still. What you just said, the worst thing is the constant obsession with feeling hungry and just not being able to engage in your everyday life because of that. I think so many people with fasting find freedom from that finally, and it's just such a beautiful moment.
A lot of people, if you're working with clients who do you want to do fasting, I don't know how much you talk about like the window they're picking or their approach they're picking. You could try recommending, because the thing we recommend to people if they're wanting, especially even if they're wanting to do a smaller window, but it's not working for them, is really recommend cutting out, or just doing water or black coffee, super really important. Then we really suggest that what is eaten in the window is nutritionally sound.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Well, that sounds sane and wonderful.
Melanie Avalon: If people are still hungry while fasting and experiencing these, especially inclinations towards bingeing, something's not working, because the fasted state should be a state where you're entering into fat burning. All of the hormones should be adjusting to address hunger, so if it's not, there's a lot of stuff to... that can be tweaks, and we're all about tweaking, like trying different windows, trying different food, we're all open. I love the word [1:01:52 inaudible] like you said.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Do you have a coaching network also, like if I had a client who needed…?
Melanie Avalon: We don't, we just have our podcast and we accept lots of listener questions. I can give you our email, you can tell your clients to say that you referred them, and we'll make sure, because we get a ton of questions, but if they come from you, we will make sure that, if we don't address it on the podcast, then we'll definitely answer it.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Melanie, I would like that. I would like to be able to have you as a resource like that. Yes.
Melanie Avalon: Yes, please. I'll give you the information. For listeners who are listening, you can e-mail questions at ipodcast.com or you can go to ipodcast.com and submit questions there. Yes, definitely for your clients, tell them to tell us that you referred them and we will help them.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: What a great domain name. That's great.
Melanie Avalon: Thank you. Actually, I do have a foundational question that we haven't really talked about. Defining bingeing, because there are all these words, there's been bingeing, food addiction, emotional eating, compulsive eating. Are they all the same thing?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I'm going to skirt the question for a moment, then I'll give you a more direct answer. I think the question, "Do I have a problem or not? I'm a binge eater or not? Have I crossed the line or not?" I think it's a squeal in and of itself because this approach works to help people to stop overeating beyond their own best judgment. I can't imagine who would want to overeat be on their own best judgment. This approach is not about defining a disease state or disordered state. This approach assumes that we're not diseased, we're people with healthy appetites that have been corrupted by industry. It's kind of separate and apart from the DSM5 definition of binge eating.
That said, if you really want to know, you could look up the DSM5 definition of binge eating. What you'd find is that it has to do with the frequency of eating beyond your own comfort level, the severity of like emotional discussed or self-loathing that goes along with it, and a variety of other factors that wouldn't surprise you, and that it's cause sustained discomfort or weight gain, those type of things.
If you want to know have you cross the line to be formally diagnosed as a binge eater, my thing is, well whipty-doo, what if you have it? If you have it, does that mean you're going to keep eating stuff that you know is bad for your body and you wish you weren't eating? Let's take the stigma out of it. Let's not call you a binge eater or not a binge eater, and let's just say, "How do we take charge of our healthy survival drive and redirect it towards where it needs to be?" That's my opinion about that line. There is a clear line if you only want to look it up,
Melanie Avalon: That's the thing, the title of the book is Never Binge Again, and like I said, we get so many questions and I get questions on my Facebook groups, about not just "bingeing" but emotional eating food problems, especially with fasting trying to find the thing that works for them. I'm like, I always have to say, "I'm not saying you're a binge eater," because there's so much stigma around that.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I know.
Melanie Avalon: I'm like, "I'm not saying your food binge eater, but please just read this book, please."
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I probably should have named it Never Overeat Again, which would have been more appealing to a broader audience. I guess because I was clearly a binge eater in the stigmatized group, I most identified with that. I wasn't really thinking like a marketer when I named it.
Melanie Avalon: Well, it still works. You're like almost five thousand reviews on Amazon for the first one.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: It's ridiculously popular. It's so surprising.
Melanie Avalon: It's incredible. Yes, I remember when I first saw it. I was reading the reviews and so many people are just saying how they tried everything, like therapy and all these different things, and then... I know you're a therapist or psychiatrist, but they're just reading this and something clicked, and it's just that much of a radical paradigm shift.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: It's a different kind of book. It's not the book you'd expect a compassionate soft-spoken psychologist to write.
Melanie Avalon: It's honestly wonderful.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Thank you.
Melanie Avalon: One thing I love that you talked about how simple it is, like it's never binge again, you just never binged again. That's the answer. That can seem so simple and impossible, but in a way it's true. You talk about it a lot, about how can you never binge again if you do binge again. To that point, you do discuss the idea of "failure" and what happens if you slip up, or fall off your food plan, and how the pig is actually excited by that idea of failure. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that, the whole idea of, a) how can you never binge again if you might binge again, and b) if you do binge again, why does the pig actually... why is it excited by the idea of that, and what can we do if we do binge again after never bingeing again.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I'll start with a little joke, which would say, the book wouldn't be very valuable if I named it Binge Sometimes, right? What you want to understand is that perfectionism is a part of the binge mentality, but you don't want to stop using it. You just want to use it in a human way, rather than the pig's way. Perfectionism is also a part of a winning mentality. If you'd go to the 12-step groups, you'll hear them say, "Progress, not perfection," but the truth is when it comes to toxic pleasure, if you're setting out to follow a rule or hit a target, progress not perfection means, "I'll try for a little while, until I don't feel like it anymore." It's not a very strong commitment tool. If you get married, you don't say to your fiancé, "I'm pretty sure that I'm not going to sleep with any other woman, but there are a lot of attractive people out there. I'm just being honest, you want me to be honest."
Progress, not perfection, right? There are some commitments that we expect ourselves to make with perfection. There are situations where people got divorced because there was an affair or something like that, and they worked things through, and they decided to get remarried and we take that remarriage commitment seriously. This is not without analogies in our everyday life.
What winners do, in the course of winning... you talk to Lance Armstrong or you talk with another cyclist, or you talk to Olympic Archer, or your talk to a mountain climber, is they visualize their victory and they become one with it. They commit with perfection to achieving that victory. The perfectionism as a commitment tool is actually a winner’s tool. Progress, not perfection as a commitment tool is a loser’s tool because, "I'll try for a little while until I don't feel like that anymore."
After you make a mistake, perfectionism is a loser’s tool. If you accidentally touch a hot stove, if you were to then let the pig tell you, "You're just a pathetic hot stove touch, you might as well put your whole hand down on the stove." That would be a bad idea. What you want to do when you touch a hot stove is figure out, "Why did I touch the hot stove? Where was it that I missed it? How am I going to avoid touching that in the future? How do I have to adjust my aim? What other adjustments will I have to make so that never happens again?"
Then you commit to never touching that hot stove again, and it's not like you hadn't committed to never touching a hot stove before, you committed to never touching it. Melanie, do you plan on touching a hot stove ever again for the rest of your life? You're never going to do it. That's your plan, it's to never touch a hot stove again. Well, if you accidentally touched one, then the best plan is still to never touch it again, not to touch it sometimes. It's a paradox, where you have to entertain perfectionism and anti-perfectionism at the same time. You use perfectionism when you're committing, but you forgive yourself with dignity when you touch the hot stove. You want the pain, you don't want to just ignore the pain. There are kids in this world that are born with the disorder that prevents them from feeling pain, and they don't live very long, because they run into sharp things.
We need the pain as a signal that there's something wrong, that we actually touched the hot stove. If you touch the hot stove, you got to do an analysis and make adjustments. You become anti-perfectionist after a mistake and you say, "I made a mistake. It was painful. How do I fix it?" You take it seriously, you consider that your food rules are sacred, but you come up with them at the time when you’re of sound of mind and body are really thinking things trough. You always take it seriously, you take the time to analyze what went wrong and make adjustments, but then you commit with perfection again. I call it committing with perfection if we're giving yourself with dignity.
The pig would like you to just try when you're setting out towards the goal. Then when you miss the goal, what's really interesting is that it flips on you again, and it says, "If you're not perfect, you're nothing. You're pathetic. There's no way that you can ever do this. You might as well just keep bingeing." It's not that the pig doesn't use perfectionism, it just uses it in the opposite way. Commit with perfection and forgive yourself with dignity, that's how I describe it.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. It made me think of, actually going back to what we were talking about intermittent fasting, so interesting to discuss in the context of this, because with the whole rules and all of that stuff... so you find with your clients that people who begin doing intermittent fasting that are binge eaters, that if they fall of "the wagon" it's worse than before they were intermittent fasting.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I'd say that it's worse than people who aren't doing intermittent fasting in my practice.
Melanie Avalon: You know what I wonder? If that is, and it ties on to what we were just talking about with failure, falling off the wagon. I haven't thought about this before, I wonder if, let's say people are struggling with overeating and binge tendencies and they jump into fasting and having windows...
If they start with a longer window, and then slowly shorten it, I think that can probably work, or if they jump straight into the short window, maybe that can work. I wonder if in being in that short window, if they start having like all the eating attached to this time, I wonder then if it's harder to lengthen that eating window again, because now maybe they associate the eating window with eating, eating, eating. I think one thing that we hear from listeners is they'll say that they started fasting, and it was so incredible and so great, but then especially with the whole COVID thing and quarantine, a lot of people found themselves wanting to soothe their stress, and soothe their anxiety by eating. They would try to lengthen their window, and have a longer eating window.
I think people who had been fasting in shorter windows, having the longer window actually, because they associate this eating time with eating a lot and eating, it was really hard for a lot of people to "intuitively eat" in a longer window, when they've been doing fasting in a smaller window. Sorry, that was like a tangent, but speaks to what you were talking earlier about how our brain has neuroplasticity, has patterns and if we associate certain things with cues and they self-perpetuate itself. I think fasting has such a wonderful place and I think it's a really great food plan in a way, for the timing of things, but I think it does need to be done very carefully.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: What I'm finding just experimentally with the people in my practice is that… we have a lot of people, by the way, that could do that, we try to start them with 12 hours. We don't give any nutritional advice, I should say, because we are not nutritionists or doctors, or anything like that, but we tell people that we find that people that work with this method, tend to do better starting with the 12 hour window, and then reducing it gradually. Reducing the window, lengthening the window that you don't eat, reducing the window that you do eat.
Melanie Avalon: I think that's great. What I'm thinking about is like when you're on the flip side of that, if you're struggling and you have a smaller window, I think it's hard to get out of that, if you want to lengthen your window. For me personally, because I've been doing intermittent fasting for about a decade, I jumped into like a one meal a day, eating just at night. It was radically easy actually, and I have been doing persistently for a decade. When I started to try to lengthen my window, to play around with having a longer window, especially because I read all the stuff about circadian rhythm and maybe it's better to eat earlier and all these things, I could not, I haven't still been able to lengthen my window without... I don't know if I can or not, but I feel like I can't go back.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: You do best on one meal a day?
Melanie Avalon: Before I started fasting, I think, say I was still in my normal eating throughout the day, I could have easily, it wouldn't have been that hard for me to have a longer window. I could have at that time probably done like 12 and 12, and then 16-8, but now, that I've been so long doing one meal because I often think, "Maybe I should have a longer window and try more intuitive eating." It's really, really hard. It's like once I start eating now, I just, it's my eating time. Actually something I want to talk to you about is the difference in the pig squeal between... because I've tried to apply this, I find this method so brilliant. I think it's might be easier for some people, like to hear the pig squeal and say no to it before they've started a binge or got off plan.
Is there a different approach for or a different way you engage with the pig before you've broken the rule, versus, once you start? I think that's so much harder.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Well, it's hard to stop a locomotive. The fat, the sugar, the salt, the starch and the exciter toxins are designed to make you want more and you are, your biological drives are pointing in the wrong direction at that point. I can tell you that it can be done. There are a couple of techniques, or two or three things you can do. First of all, recognize that it's better to have five cupcakes than 15, and a five thousand calorie binge is better than fifteen thousand calorie binge. Every bite counts, every last one. You're going to have to process all the food that goes into your body. By the way, none of this works if you purge.
Not purging is the first rule of never binge again. We can't help people if they’re purging. This is an aside, I was never bulimic myself. You could say I was an exercise bulimic, but I could never purge. I could never put my finger down my throat and so I didn't really have to develop techniques for never purging again. That's where we make a disclaimer, even though a lot of people tell me that they stopped bingeing using my book. I say, "Well, it's not really intended for that." Purging can be very serious, so I don't want to mislead people in any way, shape or form like that. There's a big difference between the five thousand calorie and fifteen thousand calorie binge.
There's a big difference between bingeing for a week, and bingeing for a day. You want to start noticing those fine gradations of success. You want to start collecting evidence of success. It always helps to take a deep breath and let it out because binge mentality is an emergency mentality. It says that we need this food now, or we're going to die. It's really on that level of perception. You're operating in your lizard brain.
The next thing is if you have a pen and paper with you, or smartphone with you, and you write down the next thing that you're craving, just write. Write where you would get it, write what you would have, write while your pig is telling you to do it, just write. Writing is an upper brain activity, bingeing is a lower brain activity. Once you start to write, you might be able to refute it, so that's another way you can do it.
Another thing is that you can re-point your biological drive. I heard Jack Trimpey talk about this whether is working with a smoker, and he said that the biological error in smoking is that smoking is like oxygen, or nicotine is like oxygen, and the lungs believe that they need it to survive in the same way that they believe they need oxygen. If a smoker has a really big craving, have a cigarette and wants another one, if they go out into the cool fresh air and take a very deep breath inside out three times, they're not going to feel the same level of craving.
They're going to feel like they've switching nervous system, you're switching from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. The one that raves you up and the one that cools you down. The equivalent of that with food, I think is leafy green vegetables. Now, there are some medical conditions which prevent people from being able to eat that, so if you have one, or I guess I should say check with your doctor, be sure that this intervention is okay. So many people have told me that if in the middle of the binge they pause and they say, "Okay. Well, I'll order another pizza in a moment, but right now I'm just going to throw a half pound of leafy green vegetables in the blender. I'm not making a salad. I'm not putting dressing on it. Just a half pound of tender leafy greens, not like [1:19:32 inaudible] or things that are hard to digest, but like lettuce or spinach or something like that. Throw it in the blender and drink it down quick like it's medicine."
Suddenly the survival drive gets a jolt and says, "Well, this is what I'm supposed to be having. This is what I need," and it starts to yank it away, to pry it away from the fat, and the salt, and the sugar and cytotoxins, that industry is telling your survival drive needs instead. You can do that. Then there's also the STFU PIG technique, where the pig is saying it needs another pizza, or it needs another chocolate bar, or you just one more this or that and we'll be done.
When you suddenly wake up and realize that's happening and you can do this for real, if you're not in public. If it both middle fingers up in the air and you say, say the actual words, let's not abbreviate it, say, "STFU PIG. Get back in your cage.” It's difficult to access your logical brain during a binge, but you can access your primitive aggressive brain and go, "Shut the F up, pig," and you put your middle fingers in the air. Please don't do this in a store and tell people you're read Never Binge Again. I find people do that. What you're doing is you are asserting superiority. When you're bingeing, you've left society and went to the animal kingdom. You have to act like the superior animal to get your life back. Those are the ways that we're aware of. So far, we're always looking, yes.
Melanie Avalon: I love one of the things that you talk about in the book, is that you provide binge recovery tools or things to deal with cravings, but you always have this caveat about how the pig is excited at the idea of these, because it means, "Well, if we binge, we've got recovery tools." or it's how it turned out.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Yes, that's a squealing in itself, you have to say STFU Pig we're never going to binge again. Even though there's a part of you that might, you have to learn to purge that from your identity. Just so you know Melanie, I've made mistakes over the years. I've not kept it every food rule perfectly for 10 years that I've done this. What has 100% been the case is that I never feel powerless. I never feel out of control. If I make a mistake, it's a mistake and I get right back on and the mistakes got fewer and further in between. There are some things I just never did it again. I never had chocolate again.
Once I got the right rule and I got all the skills that I never had chocolate again, or flour and sugar. There are a lot of things that you just never do. There's some rules that stick a 100% and some rules don't, but you get more and more powerful. You have more and more free will. You develop more and more of a muscle. I'm thin and healthy and I feel so many things and it gets better all the time.
Melanie Avalon: It's so incredible and so empowering. I think, this is something I want to touch on that you said earlier, was you talking about how a lot of your clients that almost the one of the worst things is the anxiety, not even the actual bingeing, but just the feeling of powerlessness like, "What if I binge?" There’s this feeling of this terrible thing that might happen and that you can't stop it, so your book is just so empowering for that.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: The first thing you say when you start to feel like, "I'm afraid that I might binge," you translate that to pig language and you say, "The pig really wants to binge, but I never do. I never will again." Recognizing the agency, recognizing that you're in control and converting that fear into a pig's wish, starts to open up room for you to pull a lever that stops it.
Melanie Avalon: One thing I was actually thinking about last night was, if somebody has, maybe not the desire to binge, but other, and you talk about in the book about applying this to other “addictions”, or other things in our life, but I was thinking I could even maybe apply it to anxiety or worry, and maybe I could give all of my anxious thoughts, or all of my worries thoughts a name. I was thinking I could call them like the salamander, and I could just like...
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I love that.
Melanie Avalon: If I have an anxiety or... I was creating this whole idea in my head last night, I was like that could be the salamander and instead I could have the other animal that I like to listen to, that's one of power and love. Don't listen to the salamanders. I think I could have a unicorn.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: What we want to do in that case, we need a more specific definition of an anxious thought. Want to give me an example of an anxious thought?
Melanie Avalon: What if I get broken into again? Well, that was more specific, but my ongoing anxiety is really that I've been having some health issues and I just don't know if it's going to change and so I get this anxiety surrounding, like, "What if this doesn't improve?" or "What if this doesn't get better?" It's just like a perpetual voice and I realize I don't need to be thinking that all the time. Could also apply to people right now like COVID and quarantine like, "What if this doesn't change? What if the..." just thinking about it.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Can I coach you for just a moment or would you prefer not to do that publicly?
Melanie Avalon: Please do.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: What would you think about saying that you're going to do whatever it takes to heal these health issues and they're going to better, and that any thought that's more likely suggests that they won't get better than that they will get better, is your salamander? Would you be willing to do that?
Melanie Avalon: Okay, so this is so interesting. Ironically that's my, in a way that's my foundational mindset. When you take the intake forms and you list your sense of hope, or your sense of, all these things. Reason I have this podcast, [1:25:18 inaudible] podcast is because I'm just on a relentless search for answers, so I've always been like, "I'm going to figure out what's going wrong and I'm going to take steps to fix it, and we're going to… fireworks." I guess the anxiety that comes in for me is that I feel like because there must be an answer out there, and because I haven't "founded or practiced" it yet, then I must be the problem.
Because I haven't been able to completely resolve everything, it must be something I'm doing wrong, because I think the answer is out there, and I "am going to find it." Anxiety is around, "Clearly, you're doing something wrong. You're talking to all these experts and finding all this stuff out."
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Your salamander says that you're incapable of finding the answer because you’re diseased, or there's something wrong with your thinking?
Melanie Avalon: My actions probably, I think. It's like, "I must not be enacting the correct things."
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Can I tell you a personal story?
Melanie Avalon: Please.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: I had incapacitating migraines for about eight years, to the point that I almost couldn't work. Turned out in the end it was a combination of Lyme disease and a car accident that I had, but there were so many experts... I must have talked to 40 experts and I was just relentless about trying to figure out what the answer was. I don't have migraines anymore, because I was relentless and I just kept on asking. I faced that salamander myself and sometimes there are things that, for me it was a unique combination. It wasn't just one thing and it masqueraded as a lot of other things. They thought it was a gluten intolerance. They thought it would have to do with [1:27:04 inaudible].
There were so many different false, they thought it was orthotics, so many different false roads. By being relentless and telling myself that I am someone who is going to do whatever it takes to solve this no matter what. I didn't quite have the never binge again philosophy down, that it was kind of at the same time I was developing it. But starting to purge all of the thoughts that suggested that I couldn't solve it, it was hopeless or it was pathetic. That's how I solved it. They would tell me if I ever going to get migraine anymore is if I take a long plane trip, but otherwise, it's totally solved. I just want you to know, I don't think there's anything wrong with you. I think sometimes there were a unique causes, I don't know what you're suffering with, we didn't do an inventory or anything like that, but I just wanted you to know that.
Melanie Avalon: Thank you so much for sharing that. I've had the Lyme diagnosis as well. I don't know if there's all this stuff around it and I don't know if a lot of your patients struggle with this, but the problem of feeling like you know too much... Or not, I don't feel like I know too much, but like paralysis by overload of information. One thing I think about a lot is I've interviewed a lot of experts like David Sinclair and people like that on epigenetics. That's why I think if there are all these factors and our genes but epigenetics, so environment is what's really changing things. That's why I'm like, "Oh, it must be something I'm doing that's keeping certain genes turned on a certain way."
One thing I'm fascinated by and I tell the story so much, just because it made me radically change my view on so many things, are you familiar with the studies the left… I'm sure you probably are. The left right brain studies, where people only see things from the left side or the right side, and the left language part of their brain will completely just make up stories about why they did certain things based on what they saw.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: This left brain studies? Yes.
Melanie Avalon: Yes. That was what just completely made me rethink things so much, because basically these people, when their left and right brain communicate with each other, the language part of their brain would see things that they had done and not know why, because of the setup in the study and it would just come up with memories, it would just come up with stories about why they did that, that weren't even true. When I read that, I was like, "Okay. I know nothing."
I literally know nothing about life, and then I had my own epiphany one night. I'm always like, "Maybe if I find this perfect diet, or this perfect thing, that would be the answer to all of these things." One night I remember I had this thought, and I was like, "Oh, I felt really good today and I used that plate last night, so it must have been the plate." and then I was like, "Okay, Melanie. You've got to stop." That's what brain is. It's not exactly the pig, but it's just fascinating.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: We want to find the reason for everything and sometimes it's just that obvious. Yes.
Melanie Avalon: Going back to the subject that we were talking about. That's why I think your plan is so wonderful for listeners, because it brings everything full circle, how we started this. With people want to find the emotional reasons, they want to find the what, they want to find all these reasons when you can still address it with this plan. Having these never cease. In the book there's nevers, always, sometimes, unconditionals issues, it's really, really incredible.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Thank you, Melanie. When I think, in your case, what you can tell yourself is that you're going to keep pursuing the answer until you find it, and when that salamander says, that is not possible or you're doing something horribly wrong, you're open to being wrong, but you're going to keep pursuing until you find it, and you will find the answer. That would be the healthy mindset to maintain and strive for all the time.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. Ironically, you said, because in a way it is my mindset, it's like I'm never going to stop. I just feel like sometimes this salamander gets a little bit more present.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: It's exhausting. It's the only answer, it's the only mindset to have.
Melanie Avalon: Yes.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: It's the same thing with binge eating for some people. Some people fall down 20, 30 times before they get it. What other answer is there? The name of the game is staying in the game until you win the game. What other choice do we have?
Melanie Avalon: That's one thing you talk about, it's how people might think, "I've tried everything. Why would this work?" and then, "I've binged this many times, why now?" But there can be.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: People fell until they succeeded. It's like if you told your child when they were learning how to walk, "You fell down 40 times already. You should just give up and crawl the rest of your life." Failing is a part of succeeding for so many people, for anything worthwhile.
Melanie Avalon: Well, this has been so incredible. Is there anything else that we didn't touch on, that you feel you'd really like to put out there for listeners about all of this?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: There's a lot of things, but I offered the book for free to people on these podcasts. If it's okay, I'd like to tell them how they can get that.
Melanie Avalon: Please, please, please.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: There are actually three things that would be valuable to you. You get them all at the same place, by doing the same thing. Go to neverbingeagain.com and click the big red button. You sign up for the reader bonus list, reader bonus list. Sign up for the reader bonus list. You will get three things. You will get a free copy of the book on Kindle or Nook or PDF. You can also get the paperback or the audible, but there's a charge for that.
Because I wanted you to hear what a compassionate approach this actually is in practice, because I know it sounds really harsh in theory, and you must be thinking why does Melanie have this psychologist saying that there's a pig inside of him. I recorded a whole bunch of coaching sessions. This is all free, what you get when you sign up for the reader bonus list.
I also created a set of food plan starter templates. We thought through all the different dietary philosophies that people might be on, like some people don't [1:32:56 inaudible] these days and there are people who are whole foods plant based, or point counters, or calorie counters, whatever it might be. We came up with a set of sample rules. We call them starter templates, because we don't want to take responsibility for what you eat, so you modify them for your own needs with your own nutritional advice blah blah blah. Go to neverbingeagain.com. Click the big red button and you get all that and more.
Melanie Avalon: Incredible. I'm so grateful for all of that. For listeners, I'll also put links to all of that in the show notes as well. Again, the show notes will be at melanieavalon.com/neverbingeagain. Beyond that, is there any other way listeners can follow your work, follow you personally, and do you have any other books in the works?
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: There are a lot of other ways and a lot of other books, but it all stems from the reader bonus list. If you sign up for that, you'll find everything on the site that you need. We have a podcast. We have a free forum for readers of 5,000 members, we have a Twitter is not very active, we have an Instagram, which has got some good material on it. Go to neveringeagain.com, click the big red button and you'll find everything.
Melanie Avalon: Perfect, perfect, perfect. Well, thank you so much Glenn. This has been amazing. I'm just so grateful for your work. I know my listeners are as well, and you're doing, literally you're changing so many lives, so thank you so much.
Glenn Livingston Ph. D.: Thank you, Melanie. It's been a delight.