You may recognize Dr. Mike Dow as the co-host of Freaky Eaters on TLC or from his regular appearances on Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray. A cognitive-behavioral psychologist, Dr. Mike has helped thousands of patients overcome food addictions and eating disorders, and his new book, Diet Rehab: 28 Days to Finally Stop Craving the Foods That Make You Fat, explains how.
Diet Rehab differs from most diet books in that it focuses on the brain chemicals—serotonin and dopamine—that are triggered when you consume high-sugar or high-fat foods. Much like a drug, unhealthy food alters your brain chemistry, which makes it painfully difficult for most people to change their eating habits. As the book cover says, “You’re addicted to bad food, and it’s not your fault.”
Diet Rehab is also unique in that, rather than asking you immediately to start taking things out of your diet, the only changes you make during the first week involve adding nutritious foods into your diet. As you gradually add “booster foods” (foods that naturally boost your brain’s serotonin and/or dopamine levels, depending on which one(s) your brain isn’t getting enough of), you continue to eat your favorite “pitfall foods” (the sugary or fatty foods that you’re addicted to).
Additionally, Dr. Mike encourages readers to add “booster activities” to each day; these can be as simple as taking a bubble bath or phoning a friend. The activities boost brain chemistry as well so that, as you follow the Diet Rehab program and begin to gradually reduce your intake of addictive foods, your brain is making the chemicals it needs, and you don’t experience any withdrawal symptoms.
By the end of 28 days, most people will have lost weight and will have completely changed their lifestyle so that they can successfully continue or maintain this weight loss.
We first heard about Diet Rehab when, earlier this month, ABC’s Nightline ran a segment in which 30-year-old Kalyea Moss followed the advice of the book, with the help of Dr. Mike. As part of one of Kalyea’s new “booster activities”, she decided to try out a gym, and she chose Lucille Roberts in Harlem.
We were thrilled to be featured in the Nightline segment and became interested in learning more about Diet Rehab. So we asked Dr. Mike whether we could speak to him about it, and he graciously agreed to talk with us by phone from Los Angeles. Below is our interview with Dr. Mike!
Lucille Roberts: Who is Diet Rehab designed for?
Dr. Mike: Diet Rehab is really designed for most of the country because two-thirds of the country is overweight. My target is primarily women because they are who tend to buy diet books, but I was also hoping that if wives, girlfriends, or moms bought it, that it would actually have a trickle-down effect. I hope that it’s going to help the millions of Americans who need to lose weight.
LR: What is the youngest age that it’s appropriate for?
DM: Diet Rehab is designed for adults. That being said, I really believe that if parents follow Diet Rehab, they end up stocking their kitchens with healthier, non-addictive foods, and, in the thousands of patients I’ve treated, I’ve noticed that change does indeed happen with families. It really is a family affair—getting healthy, eating well, and working out.
LR: Is Diet Rehab a program that a person can do by herself?
DM: When people get started, there’s a contract page [in the book], and there’s a line for an accountability buddy. I really recommend doing it with somebody else if at all possible.
Ideally, find a gym buddy. Find a friend who also needs to lose weight, who also wants to go to the gym with you, because studies show that goals made in public are much more likely to be kept than goals made in private. So, just that fact that you are saying to somebody else, “I want to lose 8 lb. this month,” or, “I’m going to commit to that 7 p.m. class at Lucille Roberts on Tuesday nights, and let’s do that together,”—that is really going to increase the likelihood of compliance and weight loss.
LR: Is this book appropriate for women who’ve just given birth and who want to lose baby weight?
DM: Absolutely. There have been some women who have followed Diet Rehab who are trying to get those 15 baby pounds off, and it’s very helpful. Why? When you are pregnant, your taste buds recalibrate to put on more calories because obviously you’re eating for two. Sometimes it is a little bit tricky to go back to your old eating-for-one diet, not only physiologically but psychologically. The concepts of gradual detox are going to help you to gradually recalibrate your taste buds, to recalibrate your body, to get back to that healthy eating-for-one sort of diet. Of course, also follow any post-natal vitamin recommendations from your OB/GYN.
LR: Does that hold true even if the mom is still nursing?
DM: Again, consult with the OB/GYN. If she’s deficient in iron or something like that, supplements are a great idea. But, that being said, all of the booster foods are just so healthy. You’re still eating carbs, proteins, fruits, and vegetables, so there’s really nothing that’s off-limits. It’s really just switching to healthier sources. So, for a woman who is nursing—if she’s switching from white rice to brown rice, if she’s switching from orange juice to whole oranges, if she’s switching from fried chicken to grilled chicken—all of these things are going to help her child to be healthy and to promote healthy nursing.
LR: At the end of the 28 days of the Diet Rehab program, you still allow the person to eat up to two “pitfall foods” per day. Will a person ever get to a point where she doesn’t want pitfall foods at all?
DM: Some people go on my program, and they are eating addictive foods for breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks in between, and they can’t even imagine a day without it. So, in Week 4 and in the maintenance phase, I always allow up to two servings of pitfall foods a day.
Why? Scientifically, there are two reasons. Number one, the food addiction studies show that occasional exposure does not cause food addiction in the brain. The other reason is that, in treating binge eating disorder, which is the most common eating disorder, when you tell a patient who has any history of binge eating that you can never have this food, it actually increases the likelihood of a binge. Just having that ability to have up to two servings of pitfall foods per day actually helps people to comply with healthier eating.
I will say that, yes, many people find, especially in the maintenance phase, that they may go days without eating any pitfall foods. But the option is always there. It allows people that flexibility, which I think in the real world is a really good thing.
LR: What about people who are already being treated for things like depression and who are taking antidepressants to improve the serotonin or dopamine levels in their brains? Is Diet Rehab appropriate for them?
DM: Diet Rehab is designed to be used in conjunction with those medications if you’re already on them. It is not a replacement. Diet Rehab is not designed to address panic attacks or major depressive disorder; however, the cognitive behavioral therapy tools in Diet Rehab have been shown to be very, very effective in conjunction with medication. Nothing that you’re doing in this program is going to jeopardize any medications you may be on. In fact, it will just be enhancing them.
LR: You sell some supplements on your website, like serotonin and dopamine supplements. Can you explain a little bit about what those are for?
DM: For the ingredients in the supplements, which I’ve co-marketed with The Body Well Integrative Medical Center where I’m the Clinical Director, we’ve partnered with a laboratory that does pharmaceutical-grade supplements. The ingredients are precursors to seratonin and dopamine, and they’re supportive nutrients, such as B vitamins. In patients hospitalized for depression, we see correlations [with depression] when people don’t get these supportive nutrients.
The supplements work in a different way than antidepressants. Prescription antidepressants like SSRIs (Prozac, for example) do not really support your release of serotonin like 5-HTP or B vitamins would. What the medication does is block the reuptake of serotonin. So, the mechanism is a little bit different. People will find that these supplements are really helping to support healthy seratonin and dopamine production in the brain and in the body.
LR: When you say the supplement ingredients are precursors to serotonin and dopamine, what does that mean exactly?
DM: Things metabolize into different chemicals in the brain. A lot times you need an amino acid or a protein to make a neurotransmitter. For example, 5-HTP in the brain becomes serotonin. So, a precursor is something that helps you to make that next substance.
LR: You mentioned that binge eating disorder is the most common. Does Freaky Eaters focus on extreme instances of this problem?
DM: You are right. A lot of people on Freaky Eaters had not only binge eating disorders but something else going on. They all had food addiction. Many of them had binge eating disorder. Pretty much all of them had an underlying depression or anxiety. But some of them would even have OCD-like tendencies around their food of choice because it becomes so ritualized.
Freaky Eaters really deals with some of the worst-case scenario cases, and I don’t think the show really showed how severe the cases were sometimes and just how much work we had to do.
LR: How common are those kinds of severe addictions?
DM: I think the cases on the show are a bit rare, but when people become addicted to food for years, you’re going to see more and more of these very strange symptoms sneak into your life. I would say there are a lot of Americans out there that are struggling with them.
LR: There seems to be a feeling of shame that accompanies those unhealthy eating patterns.
DM: Shame and guilt are some of the most common symptoms we see with food addiction and overeating. You are as sick as your secrets, and there’s something so freeing about telling somebody else, which is why I recommend doing Diet Rehab with somebody, such as with a therapist or in conjunction with Overeaters Anonymous. When you can start to not keep this a secret, you can start to put some of that shame and that guilt away. And I think that that is one of the first steps in coming to terms with something and admitting your powerlessness over this behavior or this food. It really does help people to be successful in the long run, even thought it’s difficult.
LR: Do you have any statistics that show the success rate of people who follow Diet Rehab?
DM: I will say people are very, very happy, and I do have a very high success rate. I don’t want to give any stats because I haven’t gathered any stats in a scientifically viable way, but I could safely say that most people who follow this program will be successful.
It’s easy. I think a lot of people are on programs that are very difficult to maintain, and then they fail, and they beat themselves up, and that sets them up on that cycle of yo-yo dieting and weight loss and gain. I think Diet Rehab is very common sense, and it’s very easy to maintain.
LR: Anything else you’d like to add?
DM: Just to tell your gym members, be sure to get one of those booster activities at least four or five times a week at Lucille Roberts. Some of the self-consciousness and shame around body issues are really common themes that I see in patients, so I think that there’s something really valuable in offering an all-women’s gym. I would just encourage your members to keep up the good work!