Courtney woodruff, 34, of evansville, Indiana began drinking alcohol at the age of 13. “I remember meeting my friends at the laundromat where we could hang out and stay warm by the dryers and drink,” she says. “Alcohol expanded to marijuana then onto harder drugs in my 20s.”
Her 20s are also when she met her now fiancé. Courtney soon became pregnant with her daughter Ellie. However, becoming a mom didn’t stop Courtney’s addictive behaviors. She began stealing so she could buy drugs, which eventually landed her in prison.
This was a turning point. “I spent three years in prison, where I became sober,” she says. “I wouldn’t wish prison on anyone, but it was where my life turned around. A desire to become a better mother to Ellie once I got out got me through.”
But although Courtney had conquered drugs and alcohol, her addictive behaviors continued in another form. “Once I got home, I encountered another obsession that would take me to hell and back again,” she says. “It’s perfectly legal, yet its power has taken me places I never thought I could go—food addiction.”
Food Takes Over
In the evenings, Courtney would wait until her fiancé and daughter were out of the kitchen and engage in what I call “black-hole bingeing,” stuffing herself with carb- and sugar-laden foods. She would also regularly get up in the middle of the night and gorge on cookies and energy bars. She would then purge by skipping meals and exercising, only to binge again when her cravings became overpowering. Things got so bad, her fiancé would hide food in the trunk of his car. At the restaurant where she worked as a server, she’d often tell another server that she’d throw a customer’s unfinished food away—and then eat it herself. “I know that is sick, risky behavior,” she says. “But I couldn’t stop. I feared running out of food with the same kind of fear as I once had of running out of drugs or alcohol. I was a free woman, but I felt like I was still in prison.”
The Biochemistry of Addiction
In my 15 years of working with people with food-related health issues, I had never seen a binge-eating disorder (and related sugar addiction) that had taken such a tenacious hold. Courtney desperately wanted to change her destructive behavior, but the will to stop is often not enough, as our addictions are strongly rooted in biochemistry.
Science has confirmed similar brain chemistry reward mechanisms in drug, alcohol, and sugar addiction, which is why so many who get off of one are compelled toward another.
Courtney’s struggles with food reminded me of my own. My personal freedom from my own “food prison” came through a high-fat, no-sugar, and grain-free style of eating that I devised for myself in 1990. In combination with supplements, this turned my life around, and inadvertently corrected the biochemistry that had compelled me to binge and “drug” myself with food. I now share the techniques that saved me through my Total Transformation programs.
Courtney’s Journey Begins
As the winner of the Total Transformation contest (Amazing Wellness, Spring, 2014), Courtney received a spot at the Total Transfosrmation retreat held in Rhinebeck, NY this past May. Two weeks before Courtney was due to arrive in New York for the retreat, she began the program at home with my TeleProgram (a series of personal coaching sessions over the phone). I advised her to begin by cutting sugar, and anything that quickly converts to sugar such as bread and pasta, from her diet, and increase the amount of fat she was eating.
I also recommended several supplements to address health issues Courtney had shared with me. Like most sugar addicts, Courtney was used to experiencing sluggish digestion, yeast imbalances, problems controlling appetite (typically a result of an imbalance of the hormones insulin and leptin), and adrenal exhaustion.
- To help alleviate digestive issues as her system adjusted, I suggested probiotics, as well as an enzyme formula including lipase, and alcohol-free bitters.
- To help balance brain chemistry (key to keeping cravings under control) I recommended the following, all of which are known to enhance brain health: Amino acids including glutamine and taurine; 5-HTP (helps to increase serotonin); L-tyrosine (heals the dopamine receptors in our brain, which brain scans have shown are damaged in alcoholics, drug users, and overeaters alike); fish oil; vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, and benfotiamine (a natural substance derived from thiamin, or vitamin B1).
- An adrenal formula containing adaptogenic herbs to help heal her adrenal glands.
- Melatonin for better sleep.
- Relora (a blend of herbs known to help reduce stress-related eating).
- Zinc (zinc deficiency—which affects the ability to fully smell and taste foods—is notorious in eating disorders and can cause insatiable cravings for sweet and salty foods).
- Magnesium for both stress and digestive issues.
- Holy basil, an herb known to help reduce depression, stress, and anxiety.
Also key to Courtney’s recovery were some new “binge foods” that she could turn to when she experienced cravings. These included celery with herbed cream cheese dip, guacamole, and my sugar-free flavored virgin coconut oil candies (see recipe, above). The higher-fat snacks would help her prevent blood sugar spikes and crashes and help her cravings to slowly diminish.
Editor’s Note: Courtney was under the supervision of a doctor throughout the duration of the program. If you have a food addiction, seek professional help. These recommendations are in no way intended to replace supervised medical care.
The first few days tend to be the rockiest for my clients—digestive disruptions are common, as the gut rebels at being deprived of its favorite poison. Initially, weight gain is also expected as people stop skipping meals and replace binge foods with nutrient-dense, full-fat foods that can truly satisfy and nourish the starving brain. Courtney was no different.
Courtney’s goal in the first few days was to go cold turkey off sugar and binge only on the “approved” foods. Courtney wasn’t used to eating full-fat foods, and felt her new binge foods were “just sitting there.” The supplements I recommended for digestive issues helped. By day three, Courtney noticed that she didn’t get the usual “morning after hangover” from the new foods.
She had cleared the first hurdle, but on the fifth night, Courtney experienced a setback and binged on high-carb, high-sugar foods like granola bars. The brain fog, morning hangover, and sluggish digestion of fat came back full force. It would take a few more days to regain the progress she’d just lost and feel her cravings diminish again.
Throughout the second week, Courtney continued her progress. Although she was concerned that she’d gained “a ton of weight,” she reported feeling more energized. Most exciting was that she began to feel a significant drop in her compulsion to binge at night. She started to have what she called “normal thoughts”—instead of food-dominated thoughts, she was thinking about future plans with her family and activities that didn’t revolve around food. It was also the beginning of reaching a healthy weight through healthy biochemistry and hormone balance, a journey she would continue by working with me at the retreat.
By the time she arrived for the retreat at the Omega Institute in New York at the end of the second week, Courtney was filled with hope. She was able to enjoy her time, connect with people, and get through her nights without bingeing at all.
See Courtney’s progress in the next issue of Amazing Wellness as she completes the Total Transformation program, experiences a turnaround in her weight, and reconnects with her daughter.
Kat’s Sugar-Free Coconut-Oil Candies
This easy recipe uses virgin coconut oil, which is energizing and helps to combat the yeast overgrowth that plagues most sugar-bingers. Just add vanilla, natural flavoring (try banana, almond, peppermint, cherry, or lime), and stevia (to taste) to virgin coconut oil. Pour into molds and freeze until firm. Keep refrigerated.
Health expert and award-winning author of The Truth About Beauty, Kat James transformed her body and health beyond recognition after a 12-year eating disorder, and liver and autoimmune diseases, nearly took her life. To learn more about Kat James’ transformation story, bestselling book, or Total Transformation Programs and TelePrograms, visit informedBeauty.com or call 877-54-TOTAL.