It’s not you, it’s the food and the way you’re wired to want it. Experts Dr Jen and Dr David Unwin explore how you can change your body and mind in the year to come.
Combining psychological expertise on food addiction and medical experience in providing a drug-free alternative to type two diabetes treatment with a low-carb diet, Dr Jen and Dr David Unwin are at the forefront of health professionals boycotting sugar. Beyond earning them a combined X (formerly Twitter) following of 123,300, they have also had their work covered in the BBC documentary The Truth About Carbs which was viewed by four million people and have collaborated on advising in five low carb cookbooks.
It’s commonplace to have a tumultuous relationship with food which cycles between craving, satisfaction, guilt, repeat. David even admits its common for him to see patients cry with relief after discovering food addiction knowing that they haven’t just suffered a series of failed diets, but they have an overriding issue which provides the answer to everything.
Jen recommends the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) six criteria for substance abuse to describe food addiction: “If you had to ditch all the other criteria, the last would be the most important which is continued use despite knowing it’s doing you harm.” David interjects: “But even just identifying with three out of the six, you would be considered to have an addictive relationship with food.”
This continuation of harmful habits is often the time we introduce self-criticism and judgment, but what we should be turning our judgements towards is our food companies and cultural perceptions of food. David provides the tip: “Don’t eat anything you ever saw advertised. If you can’t even guess what the ingredients are, it’s a monstrous Frankenfood.” His argument is a sound one; when was the last time you saw an advert for eggs?
Our inclinations for sugar are also deeply rooted in our survival instincts. Jen reflects on our brain function on sugar, saying: “We have these urges which are non-verbal, we just feel them without thinking. They get combined with a message to your frontal lobes, the intelligent bit of your brain, to quiet it down.” This might not make sense that our brains would dumb us down when making decisions, but as Jen adds: “Sometimes we would have to do dangerous stuff to get food, so it’s a good idea that we’d be driven to do it without thinking or else we wouldn’t have done it and starved.”
“If you can’t even guess what the ingredients are, it’s a monstrous Frankenfood.”
Acknowledging that our brains switch off our better judgement means it’s not our fault for misunderstanding our eating habits. David advises: “You can’t moderate something you’re addicted to” which Jen joined with: “The four times it’s really easy to make poor food choices is when you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired which you can remember with the acronym HALT.” Being prepared for these times is what the Unwin’s provide as their biggest tip – “Plan for success,” they both say.
Don’t forget your relationship with food is a lifelong experiment to which everyone’s path will be different. Even after over 10 years of axing sugar Jen says she still feels the cravings creep in, admitting: “I will always be a hardcore sugar and carbohydrate addict. For many years they were, in some way, the best thing in my life. Now I realise that one is too many and 1,000 is never enough so I just don’t have the first one.” Whereas David had a different experience with withdrawal confessing: “It took at least a year to get over Christmas. But now I don’t really think of biscuits or bread as food anymore, I just look at them dispassionately.”
On X @drjenunwin and @lowcarbGP