Welcome to another episode of “10 Words or Less,” in which I ask brief questions of interesting people, and ask for brief answers in return. Usually, I can describe the guests in a phrase or two, but with Pamela Peeke, today’s guest, I barely know where to begin:
She’s a doctor, and I start there only because she did. But she’s also an assistant clinical professor in medicine at the University of Maryland, was a Pew Foundation scholar in nutrition and metabolism during a post-doc fellowship, and the first physician to be a senior research fellow at the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine.
That oughta be enough, but she’s also WebMD’s lifestyle expert, and chief medical correspondent for Discovery Health TV, and a New York Times best-selling author whose latest book is "The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction.”
Dr. Peeke is also senior science advisor to Elements Behavioral Health, the nation's largest residential addiction treatment network, where she has developed their first residential program to treat food and addiction. Her work was recently seen on the "Today Show" profiling her work with the Promises Malibu Vista center.
I should also mention, although It’s barely a hill among all these mountains, that Dr. Peeke has blogged about me and my book, “Fat Boy Thin Man," a couple of times, and we had dinner together with other friends after the recent food-addiction conference sponsored by the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
After that long list of credentials, I have to ask: Don’t you ever get tired? " They say that if you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s me.”
Born when and where "The when will never be disclosed, but I’m a Senior Olympian triathlete, so I have to be over 50. And I was born in San Francisco, California."
Resides now Bethesda, Maryland
Family circumstance "Married, Mark is my handsome hubby. He comes from the land of law enforcement. He was SWAT, executive protection, and crimes systems analyst like the guys on CSI. We’re known as cop and doc.
What did you want to be when you grew up? "It already happened. Is that 10 words or less?"
A news event from childhood that left an impression "JFK’s assassination. I remember exactly where I was, singing in the choir at St. Brendan’s. As young as I was, I cried too, because JFK was a very important icon in our family.
"Your first paying job "That would be with my parents. They owned their own companies, and I actually got a little something for working for them. I helped keep the books. ‘Zero Equals Zero’ was my middle name."
Wisdom you retain from that job "The value of work. I was never given anything. I never felt entitled. I felt it was important to be able to show effort and be rewarded for that effort.
Someone outside your family who was a strong influence "Dr. Henrik Blum at the University of California at Berkeley. He was one of the great names in the school of public health. I met him early on, and became kind of his quasi daughter. He helped guide me as an undergraduate. When I became a graduate student with him, where I got my master’s in public health, he was an incredibly important mentor and I suppose a father figure as well."
Something you’ve learned from being on television "Wear the right shoes. When I did my first ‘Today Show' with Katie Couric, we were going to talk about the science of boredom. So here I am, working on all this science, great sound bites, it’s a five-minute segment, etc. When I waited to see what the feedback would be, instead of saying, “these were brilliant comments,” — well, they said obviously I did well with that — they said, 'Killer shoes! Where did she get them?' I thought, ’now just a minute here! Where are the priorities?’ That's multimedia for you."
Tell me a flaw with medical education "It excludes the three great pillars of integrative medicine. Not enough concentration on how to help people with stress resilience. The second is nutrition. And the third is physical activity. I call it 'mind, mouth, and muscle.'"
How often are you in the classroom at U of Maryland? "Depends on the class schedule. Oft times I’m working with 3d and 4th years, so they’re learning to apply what they’ve learned in the clinical setting, which is where I love to do it. I like to take those applications and make them real."
How do you define food addiction? "Particular food and beverage products in vulnerable brains cause organic changes in the reward center as well as in the prefrontal cortex, and all of this is associated with behavioral changes. These foods are commonly referred to as the hyperpalatables — sugary, salty, fatty food combinations — although frankly, it could be any food or beverage product."
How does one know if one has it? "Thankfully, there’s something called the Yale Food Addiction Scale, developed by Ashley Gearhardt of Yale University [now, the University of Michigan]. Using the classic questions asked of all addiction as a template, she then asked questions that were nuanced especially to food. But sometimes what I like to do is drill down to make it simple. So I ask everyone to challenge themselves with two questions that are true of all addictions: When you’re looking at the food or beverage in front of you, ask yourself: After consuming this, will I feel loss of control? Second question: After consuming this, will I feel shame, blame, and guilt? If the answer is yes to one or both, that food/beverage product isn’t working for you and most likely will lead to binging, overeating, and basically addictive-like eating behavior."
Do you experience food addiction? "Absolutely. In my book “The Hunger Fix,” I say it’s almost un-American not to have some problems with the hyperalatables. As I mention, so much of what starts the cycle is emotional trauma, and that’s oft times front and center. You can define trauma any way you want to. In my case, it was illness in the family, one of my siblings, and it really traumatized me. So I self-soothed with the hyperpalatables. Tuna on a bed of lettuce wasn’t going to cut it. I’m more of a sweet-toother than a salty-fatty type. The self-soothing led to an addictive cycle, but happily, once the emotional trauma was resolved, I was able to identify what transpired and really treat myself in that integrative fashion, identifying the process, becoming mindful of cues, now beginning to realize that certain foods just don’t work for me, and developing a lifestyle that helped support all that. So in my case it was emotional- and trauma-based, Other people may have a strong genetic predisposition to addiction per se, and that amps the risk of food addiction even further. So if you add that on top of trauma, good grief, that’s a tough one."
I asked a friend of mine, Casey Hinds, if she had a question for you, and she asked, "How can parents guard against food addiction in their children?" "There’s the $60,000 question in a war zone of hyperpalables out there.
* One of the first things, you have to be a mentor and a model. There can be no hypocrisy. It just doesn’t work.
* No. 2, to be able to involve children in the entire process of the sensual act of eating, and developing a healthy relationship with food is so important, in a world of grab ’n’ go, dashboard dining and mindless eating. Teach them this at a young age. Help them understand how to draw their own limits and boundaries when they're with their friends.
* The other issue is that trauma and emotional stress will drive them to self-soothe. It’s very important, trying to develop a foundation for them to define their relationship with food.
* The worse thing you can do is come on like the food police, when all they hear is no no no. I’m a yes yes yes person. Yes, you can have this fabulous, wonderful, tasty food that I prepared for you or that we prepared together.
* Also, have a place in their lives for treats. Now, define what they’re going to be. Is it a Ho-Ho or a Twinkie — which I don’t even think have a food category; I consider them science fair projects — or a made-from-scratch birthday cake with all natural ingredients — yeah, man, bring that on. It shows you love that child. They have to see the value of all of this."
How do you become a NYT bestseller? "You have to hit a nerve. And you’ve got to hit the nerve with a twist people have never heard of before."
The best part about being an author "It gives me great pleasure to share feelings, thoughts, wisdom, wit, with the ultimate goal of touching someone’s life."
A part you could do without "The moments where you stare blankly at the page, and say, 'Oh my God, I ‘m not sure where to take it.'"
Something people don’t understand "Fairness in life is a moot point. Some people may have an easier go out it, but for every single person out there, it’s work we all have to do. Sometimes you gotta do what you don’t want to do, in order to do what do you wanna do."
Someone who should be more recognized/appreciated "Dr. Nora Volkow, the director the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Clearly, among her peers, she’s one of the greatest scientists on the planet. She's an addiction specialist and a psychiatrist. She’s also the one who got the ball rolling on food and addiction, through her brilliant brain scans in 2000 that really began to birth this new field. She is humble, a superb speaker — if you can understand Russian with a Spanish twist, since she is Leon Trotsky’s great granddaughter, born and raised in Mexico. I would like the whole world to give it up for Dr. Nora Volkow, who literally has changed the face not only of food and addiction, but helped us understand the commonalties of all addictions as they affect the brain."
Someone who’s overrated "Dr. Phil! … Oh, my goodness gracious. People who make it sound too simple. The kind of cliche tough-love stuff. None of it works. Quit reading it, quit listening to it. The stuff you see on the cover of most magazines is a lie. Life’s an incredible journey with countless twists and turns. Embrace them all and reject anyone offering a quick fix."
Something you wish everyone would just get right "I want everyone to bag the diet mentality, the quick-easy-fix thing. Name one thing in life that was worth doing that was quick. It all involved work, effort, reward, joy, happiness, but it was a patient gradual process. Every single biological mechanism in the human body is based on this.”