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Health and Wellness: Avoiding the Pleasure Trap

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February is American Heart Month. To help members focus on their cardiovascular health, CLA’s Health and Wellness Committee received permission to republish this forward to The Pleasure Trap, a guide to changing bad habits. 

By John McDougall, MD

The Pleasure Trap has helped me solve the most challenging problem of my medical practice: Why is it so difficult for people to adopt a healthful diet and lifestyle—despite the obvious and overwhelming benefits? Since 1976, I have known how people can lose weight without ever being hungry; cure most cases of arthritis, diabetes, and hypertension; and reverse serious heart disease. Furthermore, for almost three decades it has been no mystery to me how one can prevent cancer, osteoporosis, heart attacks, and strokes. The common denominator for all of these medical problems is the modern Western diet—rife with foods so rich in high-calorie, refined ingredients that before industrialized times they were consumed only by kings and queens. This diet must be replaced with one consisting of whole, natural plant foods. Add to this seemingly simple step a little daily exercise, and you now have a medical tool more powerful than bypass surgery and drugs.

The title of my first book, written in 1978, was Making the Change. That tile was a reflection of my clear understanding that the primary obstacles to healthy living are the challenges we must face when we make changes. The Pleasure Trap helped me to understand these obstacles, and more importantly, I now know how to help my patients clear these hurdles. After reading this book, you will have the knowledge to make long overdue improvements in your life.

The Pleasure Trap is about the nature of your own struggle for healthy living. Get over the idea that you are emotionally or mentally defective with some sort of obsessive-compulsive eating disorder – that your hunger drive is your enemy. There is no flaw in your basic human design. Unfortunately, this design evolved over millions of years to work within an environment where calories were hard to come by, and these calories only came as whole natural foods.

One of the ways our ancestors managed to survive was to eat calorie-packed foods, so our bodies developed an innate preference for these foods. The high-calorie choices our ancestors had access to were limited, perhaps an occasional helping of the fat of dead animals or the milk of goats. Today the supermarket shelves are lined with over 60,000 items packed with sugar, salt, and fat, and high in calories. How are we supposed to fight millions of years of evolutionary preference for foods concentrated in calories? It doesn’t happen easily. As a result, many people suffer from poor health and obesity. And losing this fight with Mother Nature results not only in poor health, but also in low morale: “I lack self-discipline and can never make progress.” Both health and happiness are undermined.

Investing a few hours in The Pleasure Trap can be your defense against the temptations of modern life. In this remarkable book, you will learn how to live in a world where your instincts can no longer be trusted. You won’t have to give up enjoyment of life, but instead will merely focus on pleasures that are not destructive. You will see how to distinguish between health-supporting and health-destructive behaviors, and how to get pleasure out of those that are beneficial. You will learn effective techniques for helping you stand up to unhealthy social pressures. With this book as your guide, you can chart a new course in life. You can look and feel your best, living life as it was meant to be lived.

Before you get started on your journey through this life-changing book, I would like to spend a moment helping you prepare for the information you are about to read. You will learn the honest truth about what it takes to get healthy and happy. It takes effort. This book is not a sugar-coated fantasy.

More Than ‘Bad Eating Habits’

Probably 98 percent of the people I see in my practice tell me they have “bad eating habits”—and therein lies the problem. They think of their troubled relationship with food as a “simple little habit,” rather than a “life-destroying addiction.” In reality, this is a behavior that causes pain and suffering greater than tobacco addiction, alcoholism, and heroin dependence combined. Eating the wrong kinds of food is the leading cause of death and disability in the Western world, resulting in obesity, heart attack, strokes, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, stomach pains, headaches, and constipation. Yet, we treat food merely like a bad habit. After all, everyone eats the rich Western diet, even chefs, doctors, and dietitians. Thin, apparently healthy people do too. It is served in hospitals, schools, restaurants, and the nicest homes, worldwide. How could something so widely accepted be a problem on the magnitude of heroin, alcohol, and tobacco?

One major difference between food and substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and heroin is that most people (especially those not under the influence of those substances) can see the insanity in them. However, the actual users or abusers of these substances are rarely free to see the harmful effects of their addictions. Think about the almost insurmountable obstacle that would confront a drug-addicted person surrounded only by other addicts to tobacco, alcohol, and heroin. They might actually consider their own addiction as normal and not see any need to change. Unfortunately, when it comes to food, 99.9 percent of the people living in developed societies are caught up in this damaging behavior, making it especially hard for someone wanting to “kick the habit” and become healthy.

In addition to the overpowering influence of friends and family, there is aggressive advertising by the food industry, far greater these days than the promotion of alcohol and tobacco. Increasingly, what do you find on supermarket shelves? Junk, junk, and more junk. You can add to this the foods served in almost every restaurant and fast- food eatery. In The Pleasure Trap you will learn how these foods are actually addictive – that they hijack the brain’s pleasure pathways in the same manner as addictive drugs. It is a devastating trap. But those willing to mount the proper degree of effort can out-maneuver these land mines too. 

People addicted to powerful substances are slaves. They cannot leave these substances alone, regardless of the havoc that is wreaked in their lives and the lives of loved ones around them. They are in denial, and part of this denial is that they cannot admit that they are out of control. The key to solving uncontrolled battles with food is to recognize the real power it has. Just as an alcoholic in a twelve-step program must admit, “… we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable,” people overpowered by modern artificial foods must come to this realization. Ask any cigarette smoker how they quit. They were never successful while thinking they merely had a bad habit. They will tell you success came from putting every single ounce of energy they muster into breaking free of their addiction. So if you want to win your battle over food, you must muster that same energy—stop thinking you merely have “bad eating habits.” Get better acquainted with your adversary, your obstacles, your demons. Learn to master them. The way forward is mapped out in the pages that follow.

Making the Change

There is a simple beginning to the process of making positive changes. Make the decision: “I do not want to be the person I am (fat, sick, lethargic, incapacitated, dependent on medication, etc.). I want my health and personal appearance back.” Making this decision is the hardest part of permanent change. Once made, however, the rest of the battle is comparatively easy. 

Betty Ford, our former First Lady, deserves recognition for helping millions of people choose a better life. Because of her personal experiences with alcohol, the Betty Ford Center was created and has helped multitudes of people from all walks of life solve serious addiction problems. The Betty Ford Center is a residential facility where people can get completely away from a devastating trap: the world of addictive substances.

The authors of this book have a similar oasis for food addicts—one of the few places in the world where people can completely free themselves from their dependency on food through fasting. You will learn about this ultimate therapy in this book, and some readers may well find a trip to the True North Health Center to be the fastest and most effective way to make the change.

Regardless of where you have looked for better health and how much trouble you are in now, you can begin to put it behind you by reading The Pleasure Trap and put yourself on a path to enjoy the life you deserve.

John McDougall is is a physician, speaker, and best-selling author who teaches the importance of a whole food, starch-based diet in order to halt, reverse, and heal chronic disease. He is based in Santa Rosa.

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