Moving away from a vegetarian diet transformed Randy Webb’s health

Keto Chat Episode 14 is with Randy Webb, Licensed Professional Counselor in Arizona and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Washington. Randy was my counseling internship supervisor when I was completing my graduate degree in 2012, and at that time, he was a vegetarian. When I went to visit Phoenix in March 2016, I was excited to talk to Randy about a couple of  the therapies he’s passionate about. But then I discovered that he had a big surprise for me regarding his diet!

What we talk about:

  • Randy’s surprise development of metabolic syndrome, fatigue, sleep trouble, and kidney issues when he was eating, what he thought was, a health diet.
  • His journey from a low-fat, high carb, vegetarian diet to a lower carb, omnivorous diet
  • Who inspired Randy to look at his diet and give up oatmeal and consider eating sardines for breakfast
  • What health improvements he’s seen since changing his diet
  • Which dietary change had the biggest impact on his health markers
  • How Randy became interested in hypnotherapy
  • How trauma can lead to mindless eating, emotional eating, or stress eating and what can be done about it
  • How EMDR therapy empowers a person to build their own internal resources for health and well-being as opposed to other talk therapy that focuses on identifying and changing what is “wrong” with a person

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Depression and Food Cravings in Winter

I received word yesterday that a friend from long ago had committed suicide. The news hit me hard.

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This time of year (February) in the Pacific Northwest can be particularly hard for anyone who experiences depression. We’ve just spent the last 3 months going through the darkest, wettest, and coldest part of the year, and for many it can bring out or intensify depression. So much so, that some people feel like their feelings of despair are beyond their ability to handle them.

I feel sorrowful to know that my friend was one of those people. I feel despondent knowing that another human felt that level of emotional pain.

I can actually identify with what my friend was feeling though, since depression runs in my family. Most winters, my family and I notice a marked increase in depressive feelings around this time of year. In the past, I managed my depression by ensuring I ate adequate protein for blood sugar balance, adding in some targeted amino acids, plus B vitamins, which worked well, but this time of year was still always a struggle.

This year is my first winter since going on a ketogenic diet and I can tell a HUGE difference in my mood. In the past, I often used food to comfort, numb, and dissociate from my winter depressive feelings. While I still feel that familiar depression nipping at my heels right now, it is nothing like I’ve felt in the past. I feel hopeful, happy, calm and peaceful most of the time, whereas in the past I always felt quite despondent this time of year. The change in my mood since going keto also makes it much easier to follow through with the things I know are healthy ways to experience and regulate emotions.

At first I did everything “right” last night as far as healthy ways of handling my dismal mood. I noticed and named my feelings (sad, unhappy, sorrowful, despondent, and so on) and I sought out consolation in friends and family (love you guys), I attempted a mood state change and emotional regulation (watched a comedy movie), and even had a visceral release of my emotions (yay for crying!). And even though all of that felt healthy and appropriate, I still fell into an old habit of seeking out comfort and numbness in food.

Now, I did not “cheat” and go off keto and overeat carbohydrates. But I did overeat some keto-friendly foods when I wasn’t biologically hungry. I knew in the moment that I wasn’t hungry and I was eating because I wanted some comfort, to feel better, to numb the emotional pain.

Turning to food for comfort is not right nor wrong. I mindfully accept what I did without judgment. The issue for me comes down to reducing long-term suffering and being authentic in my keto life. When I turn to food for comfort, in the long run, it increases my suffering because it increases cravings and the likelihood that I will do the same again. It reinforces the habit that I want to let go of. Plus it jeopardizes my ability to remain in ketosis, which is key to maintaining my health right now.

Habits are hard to unlearn. It takes awareness, commitment, and determination. I’ve made a lot of progress in my emotional regulation skills, but I’m not perfect. I’m human.

And Northwest winters are a bitch. And Depression is an asshole.

Please ask for help if you need it.


 

If you or someone you know is feeling depressed, suicidal, anxious, lonely, having issues with drugs or alcohol, or just needs someone to talk to, call the Crisis Line 24 hours a day:

Call 866-4-CRISIS (1-866-427-4747)

Overcoming Cravings

Many people starting a new dietary approach that is radically different from how they’ve eaten in the past struggle with staying on track with their eating plan due to cravings. They could be following a ketogenic diet to treat epilepsy or diabetes, an elimination diet for food allergies, a gluten-free diet for Celiac, a Specific Carbohydreate Diet for SIBO, or any number of other restrictive eating plans. For some, cravings are merely minor annoyances, but for many, cravings cause considerable distress and lead to overeating and perhaps even binge eating.

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My goal with this blog series is to help you understand where cravings come from and then learn some healthy and effective strategies for minimizing cravings, all the while reducing suffering in your life and instilling a sense of calm and peace around food.

What is a Craving?

People have many ways of describing or naming cravings. Some people identify strongly with the word “craving” and describe it as a very strong desire to eat some food, typically “off plan”. Cravings can build over time, or seemingly come out of no where.

Other people may describe themselves as “stress eaters” or “emotional eaters”, being aware of specific triggers for cravings.

And even some deny that they have cravings, despite “needing” desserts or other sweet or pseudo-carby foods. They may use the terms: desire, want, need, like, or think about.

However you describe your cravings, they typically have little to do with true biological hunger (need for energy and nutrients) and have more to do with psychological and biochemical reasons. They have multiple origins and usually require a bit of work on your part to unravel and learn new skills.

Cravings Expertise

Having studied psychology for many years as part of attaining my master of science degree from Bastyr University in both Clinical Health Psychology and Nutrition, I understand both the biological basis for hunger and the psychological basis for “hunger”, AKA, cravings.

Additionally, following a ketogenic diet myself since May 2015, I have experienced what you are going through, including intense cravings! I have learned a lot and will share all my tips and tricks for overcoming cravings and not just the “book learning” side of cravings.

Overcoming Cravings Series

Here are topics that I will cover as part of this series:

  • Where do cravings come from? (5 senses, habit, situation association, addiction, thoughts, to numb/avoid/dissociate from feelings)
  • What are “highly palatable foods” and why do they make it nearly impossible to resist overeating them?
  • How does the addiction/reward center of our brain work and how can we use this knowledge to WIN over cravings?
  • Don’t feed the raccoon! How fat bombs and keto-friendly desserts only reinforce cravings and make them come back with a vengeance.
  • Finding a WHY that is bigger than your cravings.
  • Mindfulness Skills: how labels and judgments cause cravings, how tuning into our physical and emotional feelings can minimize cravings, and how being in this moment (rather than worried about what we’re going to eat next, or guilt about what we just ate) reduces hunger and cravings.
  • Emotional Regulation Skills: learning how to identify and feel emotions and feelings without turning to food.
  • Effective Communication Skills: learning to talk to others in ways that we are more likely to be heard and understood. Often people who are ineffective communicators turn to food to “stuff their feelings” as a way of not having to confront others.
  • Distress Tolerance Skills: how not giving in to every craving whim makes you happier in the long run. (This skill makes me think of Pink’s song “Try” with the lyrics “But just because is burns, Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die”)
  • Transitioning to using food as fuel instead of entertainment or excitement. Here is where we explore feelings of being “bored” with food choices and what that means in our lives and begin to redefine our identity around our eating habits.
  • A cool flowchart about Mood Dependent vs. Goal Directed Behavior that helps us understand why we keep using food to soothe, comfort, numb, or dissociate from our feeling and how we can learn to do something different.

And a lot more!

Where and when do you struggle with cravings? Which of these topics are you most looking forward to?

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