The Fit Student—Eat Your Worms

Would you eat worms?  A rat buffet?  Hamburger Helper?  If so, you’re well on your way to a three-thousand calorie day.

My favorite childhood memories?  Me and Mom munching crazy dishes: gizzards, livers, and cow tongues. Even Papa joined the charade, chomping snake meat, frog legs, and other crawlies.  To this day, Papa boasts watching a show about a nine-course rat buffet.

But once, Mom brought me a bowl of writhing worms.  Memories of a documentary on tapeworms reeled in my skull.   Mom whispered, “I’ll tell you what it is after.”  When I humbly handed back a barely eaten plate, Mom let on, “It’s cow gut.” I could’ve stomached guts, brains, bees—but not worms.

Later, as a young adult, I came to live with Mom, my bones visible.  So, Mom fattened me.   She cheered when I gulped liters of chocolate milk in one swallow.  She clapped when I ate not seconds, but third helpings of roast beef dinner.  Yes, I felt that mother-daughter foody bond.  But I ballooned, gaining up to seven pounds in a single month.

Later, Mom shooed me out of her house.  A grandchild needed her love more. “Your weight will level off,” Mom reassured.  But in my new home, I ballooned bigger.  I’d open my fridge every five minutes, wolfing foods I hated.  Kraft Dinner.  Campbell’s Tomato Soup.  Hamburger Helper.

One morning, my weight tipped 180.  I screamed, cried, paced. Twenty-four hours later, I changed my world.  I started swimming backstrokes, a hundred laps each day.  I filled my plates half full.  I timed my chewing to the second hand of the clock.

Half a year later, I lost forty pounds.  But then I turned anorexic.  Then super fit.  Then fat.  Then skinny.  Then sickly.  All during a twenty-year timespan.

Since then, I stumbled on how to stay fit without starving: no sugar, no flour—and daily exercise. Vera Tarman, MD, and Philip Werdell show how to halt food addiction in their book Food Junkies: The Truth about Food Addiction.

  • Why worry about food addiction? “Late-stage food addicts finally realize they have no control over food, although many die before they reach this stage …. But a small number ‘get it’ before the downward spiral happens” (p. 107).
  • The cure for food addiction? “Stop eating sugar, flour, and processed foods and … stop drinking soda” (p. 159).  In sum, “eliminate the major addictive foods, such as sugar, flour, excess fat, and caffeine” (p. 169).
  • What! No sugar?  “No amount of willpower … can withstand the powerful addictive impulses … sparked by … sugars and starches” (p. 158).
  • And no flour? “While many understand that sugar is toxic, people are less likely to identify flour, especially in its ‘healthy’ disguises, such as whole-wheat pasta or multi-grain breads, as a danger” (p. 159).
  • No wheat! Wheat fosters food addicts: “Some clinicians … claim that the gluten in wheat promotes an opiate-like response in the brain” (p. 160).
  • Cut out bad fats, too: “Many fatty foods are addictive … [B]e selective about which fats are eliminated … such as trans fats and some saturated fats” (p. 160).
  • No caffeine, no artificial sweeteners, no salt: “Another substance that recovered food addicts avoid is salt” (p. 160). Plus, they “remove artificial sweeteners and caffeine completely from their diets” (p. 162).
  • What should you eat? “Our proposed diet [is] of green and brown vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats” (p. 169).
  • And record every calorie. Food addicts “constantly underestimate their food intake.  Unless asked to keep a food diary, they forget about their daily cola and morning bagel slathered with jam” (p. 107).
  • Measure everything you eat: “Food … addicts need the discipline of using a food scale or a set of measuring cups and spoons to measure portions of food” (p. 164). Cart your weigh scale to restaurants.
  • And never cheat: “Cheating by having a bite here or a spoonful there is also an excellent way to suffer withdrawal in perpetuity” (p. 169).

Yes, gone are my dreams of barbecued worms, gophers, and bees.  Now, sugar-free, I feel sickened by the scent of cookies; enlightened by the stench of freshly cracked cans of kidney beans.