Food addiction and my one-day healthy eating challenge

By Graham Simpson M.D.

Despite our best intentions, it is very hard to eat healthy nowadays. Let’s be honest, the unhealthy choice is more often than not the more enjoyable one. Given the option of a nice big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs drenched in a sauce that is often loaded with sugar and eaten with a side of garlic bread and a glass or two of wine; or the healthy option which would be tucking into a grilled chicken breast with a green vegetable salad and a glass of water: Well, I think we all know which meal the majority of the population would want to pick (the first one, of course), and indeed most would choose some sort of variation of most of the time.Single day of healthy eating

The same is true of snacking. What do we usually reach for to quell the afternoon hunger pangs? A chocolate bar or a bag of crisps or a muffin? Or the healthy option which could include a handful of almonds or some carrot sticks or a hardboiled egg?

Traditionally, the advice has been to be disciplined – after all, food is primarily for nutrition, and not every meal has to be a decadent and enjoyable experience. However, the reality is that it is just not that easy. There’s a reason we reach for these foods, and it is mainly down to the pleasure centres in our brains.

I’ve said it before – these are not foods, these are drugs

Much like addictive drugs, certain foods trigger the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Over time, this chemical release creates a reward pathway, which equates eating these foods with feeling good. The comparison with drug addiction may seem excessive, but I assure you it is not. Food addiction is very real, and those dopamine-releasing foods go to work on your brain much like cigarettes and alcohol and cocaine would.

While studies out of the US have suggested 5%-10% of the population has food addiction, that is all very dependant on how you define “food addiction”. If you ask me, pretty much every human exposed to the Western diet full of grains and sugars and processed foods will quickly become addicted to this type of eating, because every snack and meal gives us that familiar “lift” that comes with spiking our blood sugars and getting that dopamine release.

Needless to say, food addiction is usually closely linked with obesity. Or another way to put it: Because we cannot stop eating these bad foods, we have naturally become an obese society. And it is important to note that not only are small amounts of these foods bad for us, but it is very hard to eat small amounts of them. That’s because these foods have the effect of getting us to eat far beyond the point of being satiated.

Many experts would go so far as to say that the beloved food industry has gone out of its way to engineer these foods to get us to want to eat more and more – and more – of them. Chemical flavour enhancers and ridiculous amounts of added sugar have a very predictable result, and we – and our poor children – are, dare I say it, powerless. Specifically, what we are powerless to is something referred to by the industry as the “bliss point” (aka, addiction point).

The result? Obesity rates have doubled over the past decades and continue to rise. In the UAE, 66% of men and 60% of women are overweight – more than double the global average. Sadly, as the “rewards” of eating poorly are often hard-wired into our brains, almost all of us stick to poor dietary patterns despite the obvious negative consequences – which include putting us at a much higher risk for developing non-communicable disease (NCDs) including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And to harp on this point just a bit: I, like so many of my physician colleagues, believe that more than 50% of the global population now have “insulin resistance” caused by poor eating habits, and that this is the underlying cause of most chronic disease.

The one-day health eating challenge

Can we get out of this pattern? It is hard. Different techniques work for different people, but to make a significant change will essentially come down to being highly disciplined. First off, know what is bad. For me and my clients, that is anything outside of the Paleo way of eating.

Now the “Paleo Diet” is just a term for what I consider healthy eating. Let’s put it in its absolute simplest terms: Paleo foods are natural foods. Meat and fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, healthy oils, and water. For more details, write to me at and request my book on Paleo eating, which I will then send you in digital form. And vegetarians you indeed may also apply. We have plans for you as well.

Getting people to eat like this all the time – which means giving up all those dopamine-releasing comfort foods – is something we have to work towards. One particular tactic I like to start people off with is single days of 100% healthy eating.

The benefits of just one day of healthy eating can be felt almost instantly, and it is this which then becomes the driver to turn perfect eating days into a more consistent way of healthy eating over the long term as you strive to find a balance that works for you.

So with that as our aim, pick a day this coming week and eat exactly as below. Please note that I want you to prepare your meals and snacks the night before, or at least get all things ready for easy access, so there can be no excuses for not completing this rather basic task.

Breakfast: An omelette or two hard boiled eggs with some carrot slices and cucumber slices. A glass of water before the meal is ideal. You may drink a cup of black coffee as well.

Lunch: Let’s go with a leafy green salad with some hearty additions such as meat (chicken or fish, for example) goat cheese, or walnuts – or a mix of the lot. Ideal with an olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette. Vegetarians can simply remove the meat and add another hard boiled egg or two. It may be easiest to find a restaurant in your area that serves up salads of this type so you don’t have to fuss with the preparation. To drink? A water is fine, as is a green tea.

Dinner: Roast beef or chicken or fish (pick one) and a side of green vegetables (let’s make it broccoli to again keep it all very simple). For the vegetarians I want you to select a vegetable stir fry. For choice of vegetables, again request my Paleo book by writing to me at and you will get a good overview on the healthiest and most nutritious vegetables to throw in the mix. And no cooking with olive or vegetable oil. You may use butter or coconut oil. Oh, and to drink again? Yup, water, and again a tea – this time herbal.

Snacks: Throughout the day – mainly mid-morning and mid-afternoon – I want you to snack only on raw nuts. For this day we will go with almonds and walnuts. A handful in the morning and again in the afternoon will keep the hunger pangs at bay and will fill you up with the right kind of nutrition. Also prepare some celery sticks. Yes, I know how bland they taste, but they are one of the most amazing vegetables with tremendous health benefits. For something a bit sweeter and more enjoyable, feel free to have a bowl of blueberries – the “super fruit” if there ever was one. And drink a good amount of water throughout the day – up to two litres – is good for the body and also good for controlling hunger. If you are a very regular coffee drinker, you are ok to do this, but only black coffee please, and don’t overdo it. Three cups for the day is plenty.

Stop eating for pleasure

Lately I have been giving much more thought to just how often we eat purely for pleasure, and we all need to consider this. As you can see from the above food plan, perfect eating does not have to equate to boring eating, but without a doubt it does mean cutting out those foods that make us feel an almost “orgasmic” level of pleasure (ok, maybe that is the wrong wording, though probably not too far off).

But seriously, we have to stop expecting to get so much pleasure from eating. We have to tone that down. To truly eat healthy, we need to be eating a variation of the above about 95% of the time, and that means you will not be experiencing those dopamine releases – which is why transitioning to healthy eating is so hard.

Which is also why I cannot give you a “top ten list of tricks and tips” to use to start eating healthier and for avoiding those bad foods. We know the enemy. It is us. Put those foods in front of us, and we can almost not resist.

But I say “almost” because with discipline and practice, yes, you can get there. So let’s try the one-day eating challenge and see how you feel. Some of you may have a hard go at it, but it’s just a single day, and of one thing I am certain: You will feel something positive. You will get a taste, so to speak, of how perfect eating can reward the body.

From there it is up to you to move from 10% healthy eating to 30% to 50% to 95% – which again, is where you need to be. As for that 5%, those are your cheat meals and cheat snacks. Use it if you want to, but if you can avoid that, then do avoid that.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said, “When a patient is sick, treat with diet first – if that doesn’t work then use medications.” Today, I am pretty sure Hippocrates would say something like this: “When a patient is sick, he or she likely became that way because of the Western diet. To treat the symptoms, use medicines. To cure, use Paleo.”


Graham-150x150About Dr. Simpson

Graham Simpson, M.D. is the Chief Medical Officer of West-Martin Longevity. He is also the Founder & Medical Director of the innovative Intelligent Health Center, Dubai, UAE.

Dr. Simpson graduated from the University of Witwatersrand Medical School in Johannesburg, South Africa and is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Age Management Medicine (A4M). He is a founding member of the American Holistic Medical Association (AHMA) and is a licensed homeopath. Dr. Simpson has also taught as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Nevada, Reno.

He is the author of WellMan (Live Longer by Controlling Inflammation); co-author of Spa Medicine with Dr. Stephen Sinatra; and the forthcoming Reversing CardioMetabolic Disease.

Dr. Simpson was the Founder of PrimalMD; the Founder of the Eternity Medicine Institute; Paleo4me; and the Inflamaging Physician Network. He is a Consultant to Cenegenics, Inc

He has practiced I.N.T.E.G.R.A.L. Health for many years and remains committed to delivering Proactive Health to physicians and clients around the world.

Sign up for our Video Newsletter & Informative Reports