"Potatoes not Prozac" is a cutesy name for a truly wonderful book that will help millions of people heal their bodies and their lives. Her concept of "sugar sensitivity" and her 7-step treatment plan will enable readers to understand and recover from addiction to foods, drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. People who have failed repeatedly at sobriety or weight loss can succeed with this plan, as thousands have already.
Kathleen des Maisons learned about the importance of sugar through her work as a drug and alcohol treatment counselor. She was having the usual low success rate in helping people stay off alcohol. Then she discovered how certain foods lead to addiction to alcohol and drugs, as well as being addictive themselves.
She found that nearly all alcoholics lived largely on pasta, white breads and sweet things. She knew what they were suffering. Her own father drank himself to death at age 51, and she herself weighed 240 pounds and had had problems with drinking. When she discovered the benefits of a diet high in protein and vegetables for herself, she started using it with her clients. Her success rates soared, even with the hardest cases.
She realized that addictive behavior has a lot to do with food, and that sugar was the primary culprit. She believes that some people are born "sugar-sensitive," which means they don't have enough serotonin or beta-endorphin in their brains. Serotonin and beta-endorphin make us feel secure, stable, confident, cheerful. If you have low levels of these chemicals, you are likely to feel badly.
Sugar and alcohol raise your serotonin and beta-endorphin levels. So they make you feel better and more energetic, especially if your levels were low to start with. Unfortunately, eating concentrated sugars or refined carbohydrates causes a rebound effect. Your sugars levels drop quickly, you feel worse than before, and you need more sugar, caffeine or alcohol to pick back up.
Pretty soon you're addicted. You feel alternately great and miserable. The sugar swings stress your adrenal glands. You blame yourself for being out of control and unfocused, for putting on weight or drinking, but actually it's the sugar. It's a physical problem, although emotions do play a part.
Getting off sugar is difficult. Our food supply is awash in sugars and simple carbs. They can't be avoided. Des Maisons gives us a practical strategy based on 12-step recovery programs. Her seven steps are
1. Keep a food journal every day
2. Eat three meals a day at regular intervals
3. Take Vitamin C, B complex, and zinc
4. Eat enough protein at each meal
5. Move from simple to complex carbohydrates, or from "white foods" to "brown" and "green" foods. "Brown" refers to things like whole grains and beans. "Green" means vegetables, of whatever color.
6. Reduce or eliminate sugars (including alcohol)
7. Create a plan for maintenance.
She doesn't spell out a diet or recommend a lot of supplements or medications. She says that, using her steps, each person can figure out for herself what is best for her body to eat. She wants you to go through the 7 steps slowly, not to get impatient and rush ahead. The idea is to build a better relationship with your body and with food, to learn how food relates to your physical and emotional feelings.
Des Maisons writes with a compassion that comes from living with sugar addiction herself. Chapter 3 is called, "It's Not Your Fault." (I also use that title in my book, "The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness.") Her plan is based on "abundance, not deprivation." This means you focus more on adding good things (foods, exercise, prayer, pleasure etc), rather than giving things up. She keeps telling us to be gentle with ourselves, to focus on "progress, not perfection." She also has a great sense of humor and an apparent affection for potatoes.
"Potatoes not Prozac" also gives a very clear explanation of the biochemistry of addiction. She explains how serotonin and beta-endorphin are produced, get to the brain, and are regulated there, and how our food affects all those processes. She cites more than 50 studies in support of her ideas, although most of them are animal studies.
I disagree with Des Maisons on a couple of points. I don't think sugar-sensitivity is all in your genes. Your early environment, including the environment in your mother's uterus, makes a big difference. Also, I'm pretty sure that too much stress or too sugary a diet at any time in your life can create sugar-sensitivity or something very much like it.
I would have liked to see more on why, where, and how to get help. She mentions the need for support several times, but doesn't give much specific advice on finding it or asking for it. Reading The Art of Getting Well or Cheri Register's "The Chronic Illness Experience" will give you those skills. I also would have liked to see more on exercise. Des Maisons pretty much just says, "go do it!" Hopefully, that will be good enough for you, because physical activity is just as important as diet change, in my experience.
But these are small complaints. The author's brilliant insights into sugar and addiction, her clear explanations of difficult concepts, her simple but effective treatment plan, and her generous and positive spirit make this book a treasure that can help with a wide variety of health and life issues. It's wonderful.
David Spero RN wwwdotdavidsperoRNdotcom