(Disclosure: This transcript was made using AI technology. Please excuse any errors).
Adina Silvestri 0:00
Hello guys it's Adina and we are actually on break from the Atheists in Recovery podcast. But I thought it would be fun to share some of my most popular episodes as well as my favorite episodes from year one. For me listening to some of these old episodes, I always pick up something new and learn something in addition to what I thought I already learned from the guests, and if it's a book review, I love going through book and reviewing the pages upon pages of highlights and sussing out my favorite ideas that I feel are worth sharing. So before you go, don't forget to sign up for the weekly newsletter where we talk about learning to identify patterns of dysfunctional thinking, changing the dysfunctional thinking to something more positive. And I throw in a little homework for good measure and you can find the link to sign up for the newsletter. in the show notes Okay guys, I hope you enjoy this encore episode.
Welcome to the Atheists in Recovery Podcast, where we talk about finding hope in recovery
and now your host, Dr. Adina Silvestri
Adina Silvestri 1:13
Hello Atheists in Recovery land and welcome to Episode 21 of the Atheists in Recovery podcast. And today I am excited to introduce you to Dr. Vera Tarman. Dr. Tarman and I talk all about food and sugar addiction. And I think that you'll find Dr. Tarman's early, spiritual background very interesting and that she was in a convent for a few years in Germany and she talks about how that impacted her sense of self. But she also talks about her journey through addiction and how she would rely on her early Spiritual upbringing to help her with connection and a belief in something what whatever that thing was at the time, and how she found that that was just incredibly important for her and for the people that she that she serves. And then we also we talk about many things, but we definitely talk about the neurobiology of addiction, which is always my favorite part. And yeah, I mean, she just, she's a wealth of knowledge, and I hope that you I hope that you glean some insight from this. Okay, on to my guest, Dr. Vera, Tarman. She is a medical addictions physician in Toronto. She's an author and speaker and works with people who want to break through dependence on unhealthy foods. Over the last 20 years she has been the medical director at a clinic that has served more than 10,000 patients, including 1000 with food addictions. She's the author of food junkies recovery from food addictions and its second edition. Her audiences have included more than 50,000 Health care experts medical professionals and others who learn how to break their food addiction through community and peer support. As a recovering food addict. She has maintained 100 pound weight loss for more than 12 years and has been cleaned from sugar and flour for eight years. You can join Dr. Herman's closed Facebook group Sugar Free for life support group I'm sweet enough and grab her free cheat sheet nine sneaky ways to quit sugar stop cravings and prevent withdrawal at her website. addictions unplugged calm Okay, here we go. Dr. Vera Tarman. Welcome to the show.
Dr. Vera Tarman 3:39
Adina Silvestri 3:40
So I want to start our conversation by inquiring about your spiritual background from childhood. Just give us a little background there.
Dr. Vera Tarman 3:52
Okay, well my background is a little bit complex. I grew up my first three years of my life. I I actually grew up in a convent because I was born in Germany. And I was born in 1957. And in those days, there wasn't a welfare system in the way that there is now it was basically the churches that did the various types of work like, in this case, I lived in a comment that was for mothers and children. So I lived there for the first three years of my life and then came to Canada as a three year old, and I have no recollection of that time period. But I know that it was heavily saturated by convents, like Catholic Church mythology and stories and all that sort of stuff. And then after that went to Catholic schools, because that's what Catholics did in those days. And even until I was 17 years old, had in my background, are going to be a nun one day and I think somewhere in my teens, I just thought, No, what am I thinking it was like this thing in the background that finally popped up as that's just ridiculous. That's absurd. I have no interest in doing that. But because of that it was always in the background as understanding about I guess the church and a lot of people in my generation will talk about how they hate the church, they hate dogma, they hate priests. I mean, there's so much bad press about that stuff now. And I certainly remember getting strapped and you know, disciplined by nuns. They were pretty unpleasant people sometimes, but I have a soft spot in my heart nevertheless, because I must have met some that were very nice to me. So I don't have a sense of churches bad but I do have a sense of I don't believe in church I don't believe in I believe in the idea of method and symbols and rituals, but not actually that it's there's a God behind it. I don't have a knee jerk negative reaction that a lot of people do. But But I'm also define myself as an agnostic, and I think that in my teens and childhood, I was always asking questions like, how is it possible That, uh, you know, we eat this guy Jesus. And you know, he's supposed to be our God like I asked this and never got a good answer. So I always had to develop the sense of I don't really believe this stuff, but I nevertheless saw the power of it both good and bad. So my relationship now from then, and you know, it's continued on. Yeah. When I, when I was a teenager, I finally decided I'm not going to be a nun. But I was very attracted to that I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when everyone was going to India and they were going to, you know, meet a guru and go to an ashram, and all that sort of thing. And so I went to India in search for a guru and let some gurus from those who are aware of, you know, who was around in those days, there was a guy named Shree Rajneesh. He was the guy who later became known as Osho. And if you do any kind of higher power spiritual readings now, you'll find a lot of stuff on Osho. Still to this day, even though he's long since died, but I went there to the office. friends that were there in India and again I had that sense of there's something very powerful about this concept of human nature seeming to need group connection and a belief in something but the actual people that we believe I found very hard to buy into like the guy Rajneesh Yeah, like 99 Rolls Royces. I don't know how heard of him, but he was the guy was the 99 Rolls Royces. And then later we heard of other people like Jim Jones, and all those guys who started off with this amazing pool but then ended up themselves being like not Gods by any means. You know,
Adina Silvestri 7:34
the opposite of it sounds like
Dr. Vera Tarman 7:37
Exactly. So I was always very interested in human nature and my nature of being drawn to this but not actually never really finding something there. But so there's always like, there's the search, but the answers are never are never worthy of the search. So now I see it as human nature is we are built to be seekers. I see myself as a seeker who has not found something and I don't think I meant to find something. I think I'm always meant to ask the question. Yeah, I see my spirituality today. As somebody who is open to further questioning.
Adina Silvestri 8:11
Yeah, I love that. I love how you describe yourself as a seeker.
Dr. Vera Tarman 8:14
And I think a lot of people, agnostics, and not me, I don't know about atheists, because atheists have decided that there is nothing but the people in between that haven't gotten that far are really seekers. And I remember reading, finding the whole literature about agnosticism as being more faith driven than the faith stuff is the face stuff was like, here's the answer. There were no more questions like, here's the answer. So I found that just very interesting.
Adina Silvestri 8:42
No, no, no, thank you. I appreciate that. And I see that too. In in my work, even though people will self identify as an atheist, they will go to church. Yeah. And they'll pray especially, you know, in times of, of just complete and utter despair, and that some of that early childhood stuff doesn't actually leave.
Dr. Vera Tarman 9:06
Yeah, but i think i think i'm assuming that at some point, we're going to talk about 12 step stuff. I don't know.
Adina Silvestri 9:11
But yes, we are.
Dr. Vera Tarman 9:13
Yeah. But one of the things that I see that's similar to what I'm talking about in 12 step is that one of the fundamental principles of 12 step is surrender. Yeah, but it doesn't matter who you surrender a higher power of your own understanding. But it's that concept of surrender, which is like the concept of seeking, who cares what we're actually finding, it's the seeking and the surrendering that I think is the magic of recovery in a good life. Yeah.
Adina Silvestri 9:39
I want to talk a little bit about about your book, which is the reason that year that you're here today. And something that I found so interesting was the very beginning of the book you say that you and and your co author, you're both food addicts and and you struggled to Control your addiction through diet pills, diet, doctors and even diet candy and I thought, wow, this, this is something that so many of us are struggling with. So I wonder if you could take us on that on that recovery journey?
Dr. Vera Tarman 10:14
Well, it was, um, that was with Phil Wardell and he's a person that has done a lot of he's like a pioneer in American the US food dish like he's been writing since the 70s and 80s. There's a few people have been speaking
Unknown Speaker 10:31
Dr. Vera Tarman 10:32
I mean, they're kind of lost now because they spoke there and then we're getting more heard now, but as they're kind of not retiring, but you know, I guess retiring. But he, he and his story and mine to where, you know, solely I trying to figure out how to manage this addiction to food. And oftentimes a previous addiction or a code or there can be just the addiction itself. But food being one that is just so powerful and yet so unrecognized, like so easily dismissed. And there, there are so many solutions that he found like diet pills, diet clubs, diet gurus, diet books, like so many ways to capture a solution that looks like it's going to work in that it doesn't work. And he had that experience. And I had that experience. And then we both came to a common solution, which was, oh my god, this is an addiction. It's not a diet. It's not just being overweight. It's not just pigging out all the time and not being able to control ourselves. We're dealing with an addiction. And both of us coming from different backgrounds, but an addiction background going well hey, if it's an addiction, let's use the tools of addiction like 12 step and and the slogans and all the stuff that comes with recovery in addiction that doesn't come from the diet world or the obesity world. And let's use those tools, which seems like an obvious thing to do, but to try to sell that to other clinicians was the reason for the book and for us teaming up, then also to try to sell it to people who are not. I mean, like, I'm guessing the fact that you and I are talking, you must have felt intuitively that this was your story too, or something about it rang true for you.
Adina Silvestri 12:31
Well, so many of the people that I that I work with, so I have a private practice in Richmond and I work with individuals who are struggling with substance abuse, yes, but I also find that the food is something that they pick up once they the substance down.
Dr. Vera Tarman 12:48
Yes, exactly. So people who have already dealt with that, that struggle, know what I'm talking about, but in the larger population, when people you know, they They see that struggle. Addiction is something stigmatic, and it's not them. It's that it's the crack addict. It's the alcoholic, it's the, it's the smoker, they don't see themselves as being that same thing, having that same phenomena. So the book was also to kind of break that boundary or not that barrier to say, hey, you too, it's not just them on the street with the bags in their, you know, huffing in the corner somewhere, if that's you, what they're doing is the same thing you're doing, you know, open up the fridge late at night, and go, what do I want and you know, an hour later, you're stuffed and you feel sick. It's not any different. So the book was a way to break that barrier. And make food as pertinent. A discussion. Like don't dismiss this, this thing as being silly. It's a real thing in the same way as trying to quit smoking the same way as trying to quit drugs. Yeah, yeah.
Adina Silvestri 14:00
Why don't you think that people are so resistant to this idea of food being an addiction?
Dr. Vera Tarman 14:05
Because Because I think, I guess I guess what I'm trying to say is that the people that you work with, that I work with, who are already addicted, don't have a problem with that, right? They're relieved, but the other people, it's like, I'm not an addict. It's stigmatic, you don't want to take on this, this thing that I'm the same as this person who's on the street, you know? No, I'm not. Yes, you are. So I think there's a sense of stigma, especially if the person is already dealing with obesity, they've got the stigma of being overweight, you're going to add the stigma of addiction. On top of that, people don't like that. It's just it's like yet another burden to carry. And then the other thing is, is if I say if I say, if I convince somebody that they're addicted to something, the implication then is that if you want to get better, you're gonna have to stop doing it. And, you know, no sugar addict is willingly going to stop their favorite bread. Their favorite dessert at night
Adina Silvestri 15:01
Dr. Vera Tarman 15:03
all that means you got to stop all that. And it's like people go, What? Are you kidding? No way. Okay, let a little bit I'll cut down. But you know, I'm sure you know, in your work that there are some people who cannot cut down
Adina Silvestri 15:14
it just doesn't work. It just doesn't work. Oh, it just doesn't work. And you know,
Dr. Vera Tarman 15:19
we live in a world of moderation and harm reduction. And it's all about, you know, you don't have to, you know, we don't want to scare the person away. So it just becomes very muddy on all fronts, you know, huh? Yeah. So that's what the book is. It's a it's a way to give some validation to this perspective. And even to this day, and 19 where are we now? 2019. It's funny that even to this day, when I went to the publisher, I mean, they were happy to do a second edition. But when I said okay, now we got to get some promotion here, you know, get me on the radio, so I can talk about it in Canada. In Canada, that would be CBC and CBC Like Canadian, it's a great venue. And they said no, no, that they're not interested. It's it's a niche topic. It's a topic people don't want to talk about. So even now, that's still today, like this year, we're still battling this view. You know, how can they How can sugar be addictive? It's frustrating.
Adina Silvestri 16:19
It is frustrating, but I think that here, right when when you talk to people who are struggling, and they don't understand why moderation isn't working for them, and you bring up this idea of addiction, it's it's like a, you know, it's like, oh, my god, there's there's hope now. I know.
Dr. Vera Tarman 16:35
Yes. What to do next? Yes. But you don't even you won't get there. That person doesn't get there until they've accepted that, oh, this could actually be an addiction. You know, it sounds like this. You've got to jump that hurdle. And it's a hard hurdle to jump. It is a hard hurdle to jump. Yeah. So what are some things that that you can share that helped you sort of jumping that that hurdle in my case, and in Phil's case, so like we said, we tried to diet books. You know, blah, blah, blah. Like when you reach the end of the line and there's just is nothing left. It's like any any addiction. You talk about the willingness to surrender, you've got it. I guess we say you hit bottom, you don't have anything left. I've tried everything that I can do. People say the gift of desperation, there's a version of God gives the desperation, you have to have a level of desperation that you're willing to try this horrendous idea of abstinence. Yeah. And I am an addict. And until, you know, if there's any room to maneuver to say, maybe I can still control this person is going to go there. It's kind of like they got to reach that point. And that's what happened to me. You know, when I turned 50, I had reached the point where I was just so mean people say morally bankrupt, just just exhausted from every attempt that I possibly could, that I was willing to say, Okay, I'll try this and like, Oh, my God, it was so easy once I did that, and I don't know what that's that's actually the spiritual moment is when when let go of trying to do it yourself and let it let it go to another. I mean, you know, when I teach in class I, you know, I say with step two, step two traditionally being I came to believe in a higher power, which a lot of people don't like that concept. I always say then forget the higher powers came to believe in another perspective than your own. You know, you are not the only one making the rules here and your rules aren't working. There are other rules. Try those. That's step two, as far as I'm concerned.
Adina Silvestri 18:32
Yeah, I agree. I in my work as well, I, I bring in the spiritual connection, a higher power. Yeah, someone living or dead. It could be your dead grandmother. You know that the person that always had your best interests in mind, but what would she say to you at this point? Yeah,
Dr. Vera Tarman 18:47
yeah, that's right.
Adina Silvestri 18:49
So I want to, I think that may be talking a little bit about the neuro chemistry of addiction would be helpful and then I want to jump to a
Dr. Vera Tarman 19:02
In Europe, the neuro chemistry is, you know, you were saying a little bit earlier, people are really relieved to hear that there is something other than just their own poor willpower. In the book I described this, I think quite well in a couple of chapters, and often in my teaching will, will show that this whole tension, this whole torturous struggle between trying to stop by want to stop and like, can't stop, that there's actually a neurological explanation for this whole thing. It's not just you being mentally weird, you know, yeah, there's an explanation for this. And the explanation is that the impulsive need to feel better or to feel good or to not feel bad if you're feeling uncomfortable is hooked to what we call the limbic system, which is essentially our emotional center, which is kissing cousins to our instinctual responses. I do things that I like Because they saved my life, and I don't like things, and I'm afraid of things that are dangerous to me like, it's that's how we're wired. You know, nobody wants to do something that's dangerous, because it's dangerous. I mean, you may get a thrill from it. But ultimately, you're cautious. Like I mean, we're built to be afraid of, to not want things that are fearful and to want things that are helpful. And addiction is a manipulation of that so that good things become too good to the point of danger. But my this part of my brain doesn't get that danger piece. It just gets the this is really good. And that is the neuro chemistry. The thing that makes us want to do things is dopamine. That's our motivator. It's the reason why I want to get off and read a book or walk in a beautiful field or talk to people. It's dopamine. And if I take a drug that will enhance dopamine or eat food that will enhance so for me, it's like going on mega mega walks and meeting mega people. And it's That's a, and it's to the point where it's far beyond what my body and brain can manage, because it's too much. But this part of my brain can't see that that's another part of the brain that sees the consequences. And this part, this limbic system, which is part of our non thinking, almost animalistic part is always more powerful than the intellectual rational part, which kicks in later seconds later, you know, so when you are tortured between something, it's parts of the brain fighting against each other, but one is already I want to just even we say hijacked. I do. Yeah. So that is even more powerful than normal, you know. So, if you put a gun in my face, I'm going to be afraid even if you say, Don't worry, I'm not going to shoot, I feel afraid. And addiction is just making that gun really big. It's like super big, and so my ability to Even hope to see anything else is trampled on. So we're essentially seeing it's very explainable biology point of view. And the whole idea about abstinence is it settles some of that hijacking and eventually I want to say be racist, but it makes the hijacking less and less and less so that you're giving back your natural whatever control you have. You actually have more control when you're obstinate. I mean, not if you're used you can't control and use now but your ability to be rational and have made choices good choices is enhanced once you're no longer hijacked. Hmm, yes. Oh, biology.
Adina Silvestri 22:45
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so are you saying then that when you're abstinent from a food, the longer that you can stay abstinent, the more your brain is sort of healing and the powertrain Yeah,
Dr. Vera Tarman 22:58
absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, and I see it. It's the same as a diabetes or something like if you're a diabetic and you're now eating well, and you're taking your meds and you're no longer eating a lot of crap and you know, your sugars normalize, you'll even look normal. You know, you won't even feel like you're a diabetic anymore. You'll just live a normal life. As long as you don't pick up sugar and stop eating, you're doing your meds and all that. And similarly, with the diction, like with diabetes, we call it insulin resistance. But you can live with an insulin resistant life by eating good food. Yeah, with addiction, you could almost say it's like a dopamine resistance. Something's happened to the dopamine, chemistry, neurology. And as long as we live a normal life, not hungry, not angry, not lonely, not trying to halt and we don't take drugs and we live as moderately as we can not with drugs, but I mean normal life, then you'll look normal, but the moment you add too much stress and drug in, do something. You don't have that ability to bounce back, you're back to being a diabetic, like Immediately your sugars or your dopamine is off, you know, we say one drink is too much and 100 is not enough. Well, one drink will put you off one cheesecake will put you off. Wow, one super big fight or divorce or losing your dog could put you off, you know, it doesn't even have to be a substance. So that's why a person in addiction, then we're going to talk about a that's why the recovery program is that you know, the first step is stopping the drug. And then you got the whole other 11 steps to make sure that I can stay living a life that will make me feel normal. Because if I have a lot of resentments and all sorts of things, I'm not doing the work as it were, then I'm going to pick up again. Yeah,
Adina Silvestri 24:45
that's what we see. Yeah, thank you for that. I want to now talk about treatment. And so let's say that you you find out that you are in fact addicted to food. You know, sugar, whatever the thing is, yeah. Now what?
Dr. Vera Tarman 25:04
Well, step one, Do you admit that you're powerless over sugar or whatever the food is because it may be more than sugar. A lot of times, depending on the level of addiction that a person is at, it doesn't stop at sugar can be flour, which is almost sugar breaks down into sugar pretty quickly. For some people, they can't have even grains, it's too much carbs, like they have to do a low carb food plan. And for some people, they even have to if it's severe enough, because any addiction gets worse over time. And if you let it go for long enough, you may even have to weigh and measure your food because your ability to gauge when you're hungry and what's normal is lost because you've lost it, you know. So depending on where you are on the line, and that's something that you would do with the counselor or a sponsor or a food coach or a dietician who knows food addiction, yeah. Then you would figure Okay, that is the level of abstinence I need to have. So you might get away with no sugar whereas somebody else would have To say, Well, I can't have sugar, flour, grains or even dairy, and you know, Mary over there, she can have dairy, but she can't have, you know, whatever like that. And that's my, that's what I call my abstinence. That's step one, you know, I'm gonna call that my abstinence, and I'm going to keep to it. And now how do I live life in a world where there's drinking everywhere, smoking everywhere, vaping everywhere, eating candy everywhere. And that's where, you know, the social supports the peer support the 12 step groups come in, come into being you know, you go into what oh, a meeting, Overeaters Anonymous or food Addicts Anonymous, and talk about how, you know you were at the party last night and they gave you they wanted to give you all sorts of booze, and all sorts of, you know, pumpkin pie or whatever. And how did I say no, or tell me what I should do to say no, that's treatment. It's it's relapse prevention.
Adina Silvestri 26:53
It is. You gotta
Dr. Vera Tarman 26:55
identify what the trigger is. And then how do I protect myself from that?
Adina Silvestri 26:59
Yeah, yeah. Exactly because the the addiction isn't ever about the substance, right? It's not so much more than that.
Dr. Vera Tarman 27:07
Absolutely, yeah. And when you put down your substance, that's when you see, and food. It's like, it's so easy to pull aside, like if I'm having a hard day, you know, I don't smoke cigarettes anymore. So I can't pull out a cigarette. I don't drink anymore. I can't I can't have a drink. But you know, I can still have candy. At least in society. That's Yeah. But when you don't even have that, most people will say, like, people who are in AA or ca will say, yeah, you know, I'm clean. But they're still eating a ton of candy. And I want to say, yeah, wait till you stop that candy. And then let's talk not to say that they're not clean. Yeah, yeah, but they still don't know what that hole in the doughnut feels like because they're still filling it with candy. And it's been my experience in in my work, like I work in a treatment center as well with just generally drugs and alcohol. And other people who quit. Sugar and food are Much more emotionally needy than the others. Why? Because they have nothing. Wow. And the alcoholics and the cocaine users are still trumping on their Snickers bar and drinking pop. And they still got that little muffler or muffler or whatever it is, they're, you know that that's nothing from away from the sharp teeth of emotion. Whereas we got nothing. It's
Adina Silvestri 28:24
Yeah, time to start seeking. Right. Yeah, exactly. Thank you
Dr. Vera Tarman 28:29
know, we are moving into what do you do? You know, it's been my experience, seeking is enough. You don't have to have an answer. You don't have to have an answer to you know, what am I seeking? Is it God? It doesn't matter. But my experience is that when people go when I sit there, and I go, is this guy going to make it? You know, he's coming and he wants to do it? And I think, you know, is he gonna make it? My hunch is that the person who's open to seeking is more likely to make it because that seeking might come in the in the form of What work can I do that will help people know what it is the fact that they're asking that question is a prognostic it's a good prognostic indicator of success. The one that's just sitting there going, I don't know, and they're going to go home and watch Netflix tonight. Eventually, they're going to go home and call their old buddies and pick up their drug again, if that's my experience.
Adina Silvestri 29:23
Dr. Vera Tarman 29:24
I do think that there has to be something other than the person which we call the higher power in a but it can be a higher purpose, anything like purpose. It could be writing a book, it could be writing a song. I don't care what it is, but other than me, Mm hmm.
Adina Silvestri 29:41
Yeah. The perspective shift is huge.
Dr. Vera Tarman 29:43
Yes, perspective shift is the perspective is just on me. Well, you know what, I know it works food.
Adina Silvestri 29:50
I know it works. Yeah. back to old habits. Yeah,
Dr. Vera Tarman 29:53
yeah. But foods not going to help you if I want to help you and I eat how's that gonna help you? It's not so I have to think of another story. solution and it forces me I want to help others. It forces me to get outside of myself and my own needs.
Adina Silvestri 30:07
Yeah. I love that. Thank you so much. I think this is probably a good place to end. Do you have any final words of wisdom for us?
Dr. Vera Tarman 30:16
Well, okay if there's anybody listening thinking maybe I'm a food addict, I would say first of all, please get my book food junkie recovery from food addiction, but I want to say as a message of hope because I don't know if that's clear in the book that if you think okay, maybe I am a food addict, but oh my god, how will I live without my substance tonight my cheesecake or my is for me is to be a tub of ice cream at night. And even before that used to be a bottle of wine like it didn't matter had to be something to get me through the evening into into that. I want to say that it is only a few weeks, a couple of weeks of discomfort which you can get through a support group and then it gets easier. So it's not like you're going to live the rest of your life feeling deprived. It's only a couple of weeks, and then the relief from the obsession will be bigger than the deprivation. So it doesn't take that long to feel good. That's the message I want to give. It doesn't take that long, to feel good or to feel relieved of the obsession. And I have a Facebook group called, if anybody wants support to quit sugar. It's called Sugar Free for life. I'm sweet enough. And please send me and then become part of the Facebook group. I think that doing a 12 step group is better, but it's a good way to dip your feet in and just hear what people are doing.
Adina Silvestri 31:34
Yeah. I'll link to the Facebook group in the book in the show notes. Well, thanks so much for being on.
Dr. Vera Tarman 31:40
Yeah, thank you.
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