How Processed Food Manufacturers Get You Hooked to Their Products….
I recently posted about how food portion sizes and calories are much higher in the United States compared to England. The same exact products in the U.S. have substantially more calories! Seems hard to believe but it’s true. Why? It’s due to something known as the bliss point.
What’s the Bliss Point?
To maximize your enjoyment of processed foods, the food industry works hard to formulate their products to maximize the endorphins rush. Scientists use focus groups to try out different recipes before a product is released. These scientists tweak salt, sugar and fat content until the maximum enjoyment level is reached. This means the greatest number of endorphins produced. There’s a fine line between maximum enjoyment and too much. Scientists call the point of maximum enjoyment the bliss point, beyond it, the yuck point.
Sounds A Lot Like Drugs?
If you think this sounds similar to drugs, you are right. It’s a substance that gives the maximum pleasure possible and provides instantaneous gratification. However, not long after, the crash and cravings start. I cannot open a bag of potato chips or Doritos and have just a few. I finish the entire bag. You too???? To some extent, it’s because of my genetic pre-disposition to always want more. However, it’s also due to how products are manufactured, making it almost impossible to have just one or a few.
Portion Size and Tastein the United States
The person credited with pioneering research into the bliss point and how it can be manipulated was carried out by Howard Moskowitz, a Harvard educated scientist who went to work for the soda industry in 2004. After working for years in the soda industry, Moskowitz developed bliss point markers for other industries and products including spaghetti sauce, soups, salad dressings, pickles, and pizza. Over time, as you consume more sugar, your bliss point continues to change. It takes more sugar to achieve the same endorphin rush. Hence, the palate of Americans has changed over time as sugar has been included in an increasing number of products. More sugar, more calories. Not just calories but empty calories without any nutritional value.
What’s the Solution?
The solution is eating more whole foods and staying away from processed foods. It’s also possible to satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sweeteners, some of which contain antioxidants and other healthy substances, and which won’t spike your blood sugar. If you’re interested in learning how to eat healthy to enhance your recovery and reduce the chances of relapse, check out my book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery. In Spiritual Adrenaline, I discuss why it’s important to transition from processed foods to whole foods and provide a number of healthy sweeteners as an alternative to refined sugars (Pages 23-25, 89-92). To empower yourself in recovery, check out Chapter Nine and my list of Recovery Superfoods. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
References: The Extraordinary Science of Addiction Junk Food, The New York Time Magazine, Michael Moss, Feb. 20, 2013; How The Food Industry Helps Engineer Our Cravings, National Public Radio, Dec. 16, 2015.
If you are serious about having a kick ass body and tearing it up at the beach next summer, there is no better gift you can give yourself than cutting out the alcohol. This is one of hundreds of important health related topics I cover in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery and on my website http://www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
So why does being sober help make the body you always wanted attainable? Here is what science tells us.
Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. Carbs contain 4, proteins contain 4, and fat contains 9. So only fat contains more calories than alcohol. Moreover, while rich in calories, alcohol is deficient in nutrients and contains almost none. So really, calories taken in by alcohol cannot help you achieve any goal in the fitness context. It can however, undercut your goals.
When alcohol metabolizes, it converts to acetate and acetyl coa. These substances signal the body to not burn any fat or sugar.
By drinking large amounts of alcohol and creating an imbalance of acetate and acetyl coa, your metabolism slows down, which interferes with fat burning and other body functions. As a result, you retain rather than burn fat.
Moreover, alcohol makes us crave food and even more alcohol. We all have gotten the munchies and sought out comfort foods while drinking. Often when I was drinking, I didn’t remember eating comfort foods until I found the wrappers or mess in my apartment the next day. So even indirectly, alcohol increases overall calorie intake, and likely increases the intake of foods that are counter productive to strength training and fat loss.
So let’s make the most of our training now that alcohol is no longer undercutting our workouts and health.
There is one other benefit for people in the program. Early on, when people outside of recovery circles would ask me why I wasn’t drinking, I would tell them I was in “training.” This was true, and gave me an out for having to lie to them about being on an antibiotic, or telling them that I was “sick,” or making up some other excuse to avoid telling them that I wasn’t drinking because I’m an alcoholic.
I much preferred having a healthy excuse, such as weight training, than pretending that I was “sick” and on antibiotic or some other medication. During my years of using, I had played the sick card as an excuse when I overslept, missed work, or was just barely functional. In recovery, I wanted everyone to know I was healthy and no longer wanted to use being “sick” as an excuse for anything.
In my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, I cover all the basics about how alcohol, illicit and prescription drugs impact your metabolism and health. Chapter Five (Recovery Exercise) is dedicated to going through the science and Chapter Ten (Your Exercise Toolbox) is full of exercise tools you can fine tune to your health and goals. Spiritual Adrenaline can help you not just white knuckle it in recovery, but thrive. For more information, visit http://www.spirituaoadrenalinel.com.
We would love your feedback on this blog. Please send your comments to Tom@spiritualadrenaline.com.
Nutritional Psychiatry, Nutraceuticals, Gut Microitomesand Staying Sober.G
Nutritional Psychiatry is an emerging science led by a small number of neuroscientists and researchers from all around the world. Just this past week, the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (“ISNPR”) convened in London. The ISNPR was formed in 2013 and held its first conference in Washington D.C. in 2017. It was founded by Dr. Felice Jacka, of Deakin University in Australia. Dr. Jacka also founded the FoodMood Center at Deakin. FoodMood is among the leading research institutions in the world studying the relationship between nutrient’s in food, the role of these nutrients to our overall physical and mental health and how nutrients can be utilized as a component of mental health treatment. Dr. Jacka describes the field of nutritional psychiatry as in its “infancy”. Many of the presenters noted that knowledge of nutrition itself generally still in its infancy.
Given many of these terms may be new to you, I’ll define them, so we are all on the same page.
Nutritional Psychiatry: A growing scientific discipline that focuses on the use of food and supplements as a component of traditional psychiatric treatment for mental health disorder. NP is not intended to replace individual or group therapy or use of prescribed pharmaceutics but rather as a component of an overall treatment plan.
Nutraceuticals: Nutraceuticals are a broad umbrella term that is used to describe any product derived from food sources, with extra health benefits in addition to the basic nutritional value found in foods. They can be considered non-specific biological therapies used to promote general well-being, control symptoms and prevent disease.
Gut Microbiota: The gut microbiota is comprised of all the bacteria residing in the gastric system including the large intestine. In the past decade the gut microbiota has been explored for potential effects on metabolism, immune, and neuroendocrine responses. The gut microbiota plays an important role in nutrient and mineral absorption, synthesis of enzymes, vitamins and amino acids, and production of short-chain fatty acids. The fermentation byproducts are important for gut health and provide energy, protect against pathogens and disease and strengthen the immune system.
Physicians Are Often Not Trained in Nutrition
If you feel like you know very little about nutrition, you’re not alone. Even doctors admit a lack of reliable data and knowledge about the role of diet in the health of their patients. A 2017 survey of MD’s in the United States found that 75% of MD’s surveyed felt their training, in regard to nutrition, to be inadequate. An even smaller percentage believe they understand the complex structure of the gut microbiota, fungi and other living organisms contained in your digestive system and how these organisms and brain function (I refer to these organisms collectively as gut microbiota in this article). Lastly, 85% of the doctors who responded to the survey felt additional nutrition training should be provided as part of a medical school curriculum.
Spiritual Adrenaline: A Self-Care Lifestyle
The underlying foundation of the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle is self-care, in the context of what you eat and your exercise regimen, can play an important role in achieving happiness in sobriety, while dramatically lowering relapse rates. My book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, contains extensive chapter notes to support my recommendations. This is important because there’s so much misinformation on social media and a tendency for well-meaning, but misguided advocates, to parrot back things they hear or read online, rather than conduct their own independent due diligence. Writing Spiritual Adrenaline took five years because of the time it took to locate reliable, peer-reviewed studies, that addressed the science underlying nutrition and exercise, in the specific context of substance abuse treatment.
That’s what made attending the ISNPR 2019 conference so interesting! Having so many of the leading researchers in the world in one place, at one time, was remarkable. I felt like the proverbial kid in the candy store, trying to attend as many of the sessions as possible. I have lots of “homework” to do in the weeks and months to come. I’ll be reading many of the more than forty studies released at the conference! Many were presented at the conference for the first time publicly and are yet to be published. I’ll also use the data for my Spiritual Adrenaline 2020 Update which will come out in January 2020! I want to make sure Spiritual Adrenaline is an up-to-date resource you can count on for reliable information. I’ve omitted study citations in this article but will include them in the January 2020 Spiritual Adrenaline 2020 Update. To learn more about the science behind the benefits of integrating exercise and nutrition into your recovery, visit our YouTube Channel, Facebook page, Instagram feed or website at www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
Because your health is so important to me, here are some key scientific updates that I want to share with you now!!!
Diet, Addiction & Disease
Medical knowledge regarding the role substances play in disease common in individuals with a history of substance abuse is changing. For example, it was long thought that the ethanol in alcohol was the direct cause of damage to the liver, resulting in disease of liver, including alcoholic fatty liver. Research has now confirmed that rather than the alcohol (ethanol) causing the damage, it’s how the alcohol impacts gut microbiota, that is the actual cause of liver damage. In other words, the conditions caused by excessive alcohol intake in relation to gut microbiota is what ultimately causes damage to the liver, not the ethanol itself. Given this ground-breaking change in our understanding of how liver damage is actually caused, it’s possible that new treatments, including modification of diet to impact gut microbiota, can be developed.
Fermented Fiber & Addiction Recovery
In Spiritual Adrenaline, the import of fiber is explained at length, i.e., stabilization of blood glucose as well as colon health. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 3, pages 21-36. Recent research confirms fiber contained in fermented foods enables your body to create a wider range of healthy metabolites, which enhances the biodiversity of your gut microbiota. Although science has recognized the import of fermented foods and fiber for years, the research is among the first to fermented foods to diversification of gut microbiota.
Substance Abuse Treatment & Diet
To date, there is no clinical trial research that confirms the relationship between modification of gut microbiota and more favorable substance abuse treatment outcomes in humans. 1990 was the last time nutritional guidelines for treatment of substance abuse disorder were updated. The consensus among researchers is that as a discipline, we are not “there yet” with the science to the extent of promulgating dietary guidelines. Given the dearth of updated recommendations, presenters at the ISPNR conference focused on two separate areas of nutrition: during early treatment and in long-term recovery. Presenters also recognized that the line distinguishing “early” and “long-term” recovery will be different for each individual and a subjective, rather than objective, standard. Also, that recommendations in whatever guidelines are ultimately adopted should distinguish between short and long-term recovery.
Drug Use and Microbiota
Studies have already confirmed that cocaine, meth, Opioids and alcohol all have major impact on the composition of gut microbiota. Moreover, Opioids dramatically impact the function of the gastric system by substantially delaying the digestive process. For example, some Opioid addicts will not have a bowel movement for up to two weeks. Combine this with the well-established fact that when Opioid addicts eat, they favor sugary foods and drinks. The gut microbiota of Opioid addicts in active addiction and how this can impact their brain function, cravings and other associated behaviors, needs further study. A second major issue ripe for research is the impact of commonly prescribed medications in early and long-term recovery, on gut microbiota. In Spiritual Adrenaline, I looked at how medications often prescribed in addiction recovery can impact nutrient retention. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 7, page 76. Science is now broadening that understanding to include how medications can impact gut microbiota and they in turn other biological function including brain function. This area will continue to develop in the years to come.
Gut Health, Hormones and Cravings
When a person enters treatment, the cessation of the usage of their drug of choice can impact the production of hormones and other substances in the body relating to behavior. An example is the hormone Ghrelin which can have a direct impact on impulsivity, anxiety and depression. Alcohol cessation is known to increase Ghrelin production. This is thought to play a major role in cravings and anxiety experience by people in early recovery. In the long-term, managing gut microbiota may empower treatment providers to better help those seeking treatment to have more direct control over Ghrelin levels. For example, science has proven that unprocessed foods suppress Ghrelin levels. The challenge will be to come up with dietary guidelines that promote the creation of positive gut microbiota while creating a diet acceptable to the palate of someone in early recovery.
Studies Nearing Publication
Publication of two studies of great interest to this community are expected in the near future. One is a study of the impact, if any, of a ketogenic diet on cravings in the first six months of recovery. A second study followed people in recovery who ate a plant-based diet for a period of one year to determine if their diet had any measurable impact on relapse rates.
Impact of Diet on Depression
Given the prevalence of anxiety and depression in the addiction recovery community, I prioritized attending presentations relating to research studies on these topics. What I learned was fascinating. Ten years of extensive studies have shown a strong link of increased risk of depression in adults who consume a highly processed diet. In fact, a yet unpublished study confirmed a 30% reduced risk of depression in people who eat a healthier diet, irrespective of bodyweight. The study also found that diet quality has a direct correlation with increased rates of depression as people age. Those who consumed a Mediterranean or Japanese diet, had substantially lower rates of depression, than those who consumed highly processed foods common in a western diet.
Impact of Gut microbiota on Depression
Researchers fed laboratory rats a highly processed “western type” diet along with sugary water, to mimic soda consumption. The rats were fed this diet for a period of six weeks. Over those six weeks, the rats manifested behaviors consistent with depression, i.e., lack of activity and reduced socialization (rats are very social animals). Researchers then removed gut microbiota from these rats and injected the microbiota into a second group. The second group were not fed the highly processed and sugary diet and had not manifested depressive symptoms at the time of injection. After being injected with gut microbiota taken from the depressed rats, this group also developed depressive behaviors. The study confirmed the direct correlation between diet, gut microbiota and brain function. The study’s conclusion is consistent with findings of other studies that gut microbiota are able to penetrate the blood/brain barrier and impact brain function.
Impact of Diet on the Brain
Researchers sought to understand the Impact on the hypothalamus, the part of the brain responsible for a number of critical functions, including prompting production of hormones, of foods common in a western pro-inflammatory diet, over a short period of time. In the study, one group of rats were placed on this diet for a period of eight weeks while another control group were fed a healthier diet (consistent with Mediterranean diet). The heavy sugar intake resulted in hippocampal inflammation in the brain, in only five days. Eight weeks on western pro-inflammatory diet resulted in the rats developing hypertension.
Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Depression
Research confirms that an increase in daily intake of Omega-3 fatty acids relieves symptoms of major depressive disorder (“MDD”). Researchers measured markers of inflammation, including C Reactive Protein (“CRP”), in overweight individuals who were also diagnosed with MDD. One group of study participants was given 4 grams of Omega-3 each day while following a Mediterranean diet. The other followed a similar diet but did not receive supplemental Omega-3. Dosages of 1 to 2 grams of Omega-3 per day were recommended as a supplement for this group. However, those participants who received 4 grams a day, had the greatest reduction in CRP markers. The correlation between a reduction in CRP changes and group that received 4 grams a day. Researchers also noted substantial potential for use of Omega-3 as a preventative treatment for those with a higher risk of MDD.
Impact of Omega-3 for PTSD and Anxiety
Researches in Japan sought to ascertain the impact, if any, of Omega-3 intake on people diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) and/or anxiety. The study was comprised of residents of Japan who were diagnosed with PTSD and/or anxiety immediately after a major earthquake. Researchers integrated daily Omega-3 supplementation into the treatment plan for one group while a second group were given a placebo over a period of several weeks. The results of study found Omega-3 supplementation, even up to 4 grams per day, had no impact in relation to reducing symptoms of those suffering from PTSD. However, the study confirmed that for those diagnosed with anxiety, symptoms were relieved in those taking between 2 to 4 grams of Omega-3 daily. Therefore, the study recommended Omega-3 fatty acids in the range of 2-4 grams to alleviate anxiety. Current treatment protocols recommend up to 2 grams.
A final study of interest to the addiction recovery community involved non-nutrition interventions to address anxiety. The researchers made the following statement at the ISPRN Conference: “Regulation of lifestyle is step zero. Not step one, it’s step zero. Lifestyle medicine for people with anxiety and depressive disorder includes…drug and alcohol cessation, diet and nutrition optimization, physical activity regulation and smoking cessation.”
Conclusions & Dietary Recommendations
Each of us is unique, as is our past health history, current health and long-term goals. The uniqueness of each person is referred to as biodiversity. In the context of gut microbiota, our biodiversity is magnified. Each of us has trillions, not billions but trillions, of organisms comprising our gut. No two human beings have identical gut microbiota. The science is mind-boggling. Although there is no one-size-fits-all approach, certain overall dietary recommendations are in fact supported by science.
Here are my recommendations to: enhance your overall health; thrive in your recovery; and, diminish your chances of relapse. All of these recommendations are consistent with the recommendations in Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen and Nourish Your Recovery. I cite to the relevant pages of Spiritual Adrenaline so you can utilize my book as a resource to learn more on these topics as well as integrate exercise and spirituality.
Here are my recommendations:
*Recommended dietary fiber intake per person/per day is 30 grams. If you’re not currently eating a high fiber diet, increase your intake slowly over time. For example, 2 grams a week to build up your palate and the tolerance of your body to fiber. For many, this will be a major dietary change. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages 112-120.
*Not all dietary fibers are the same. Get the full range but at least half of your daily dietary fiber intake from fermented fiber. Fermented fiber permits your body to create a wider range of healthy metabolites, which enhanced the biodiversity of your gut microbiota. Increase intake of fermented foods which have been established to enhance diversity of gut microbiota. Sources of fermented foods include kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, Kombucha (non-alcoholic), Miso, Tempeh.
* Increase intake of Inulin, a type of fiber comprised of chains of fructose which has long been known to be beneficial for colon health, has been shown to assist in enriching gut microbiota, reducing inflammation and improvements in mental health. Think of Inulin as a fertilizer for healthy gut microbiota. Inulin can be found in asparagus, garlic, artichoke, onions and beans. SeeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages 112-120.;
*Omega-3, Omega-6 are critical to the health of your body and brain. As confirmed by study after study at the ISPNR 209 Conference, not only do these fats enhance your overall health, but they help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and can even be used for prevention of these conditions. Recent studies suggest the dosage to maximize benefits is 4 grams of Omega-3 and Omega 6 vitamins daily. Good sources include olive oil, nuts, eggs, red meat, cold water fish, flax oils. For food choices and information on Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, seeSpiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 3, pages 34-35, Chapter 9, pages 117-119.
*Increase intake of Polyphenols: Polyphenols can be found in dark chocolate, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, pomegranates, black beans, white beans, hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, pecans, red onions, artichokes, spinach, chicory, soy, black tea and green tea. See Spiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages 112-120.*
*Follow traditional dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean, Norwegian and Japanese diet.
*Increase fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds. See Spiritual Adrenaline, Chapter 9, pages. 112-120.
*Limit the intake of ultra-processed foods. Remember, eating whole foods, will suppress Ghrelin levels.
If you or anyone you love will benefit from this information, make sure to purchase a copy of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com. Make sure to look for my Spiritual Adrenaline 2020 Update in January 2020 as well. This guide and all the other free resources provided by Spiritual Adrenaline are funded through sales of my book. I don’t take money from any corporate entities. This keep the information I provide honest and unbiased. By purchasing Spiritual Adrenaline, you enable me to continue to serve as a valuable resource to the addiction recovery community.
If you are looking to supercharge your recovery, join other sober adventures as we hike the four day Inca Trail from Cusco to Machu Picchu. This is a hike, not a technical climb, so no prior climbing experience is needed. So far, the age of those who have signed up goes from 30 to 70 years old. No one has any prior climbing or major hiking experience. What all of them have in common is the desire to do something new, challenge themselves to step out of their recovery comfort zone, and be with other people who are supportive and looking to do the same. For our day-to-day itinerary, visit http://www.spiritualadrenaline.com and check out the adventures page. You didn’t get sober to be bored. So join us on this bucket list adventure.
We woke at 3:30 a.m. on the final day of our hike with the goal of getting started by 4:30 a.m., to beat the sun and allow some hikers who were having trouble more time to ascend. I packed up my tent and camp for the final time and was excited to embrace the challenge this day would bring. I said my final goodbye to Indian Garden and The Plateau and silently thanked this place for hosting me for the previous night. I recognized the privilege I had been given as I embarked on the last major portion of the hike. I decided to break with my group for the day and challenge myself to ascend as fast as possible. I still have a heavy load of about fifty-pounds in my backpack. However, I want to see just how hard I could push my heart and lungs and what they are capable of.
The final ascent was harder than I anticipated. I had seen many-out-of-shape day hikers come down into Indian Garden and then head back up and thought to myself if they can do, it must be a piece of cake. However, I hadn’t realized I saw them after they came down, not after they went back up. The ascent is a consistent incline and continues all the way up. I pushed myself and continued to motor up. As we started out so early, I did not pass any other hikers who were on their way up. I also didn’t pass many hikers who were on their way down until I was almost all the way to the South Rim. I felt amazing! My body was still able to perform after four days to rigorous activity. I could feel my heart pounding. I thought to myself how blessed I am to have a heart capable of such physical activity at the ripe old age of 51. My lungs never failed me and I kept breathing deep, in an out, without any wheezing like eight years ago. I kept thinking to myself how miraculous the body truly is and how it can heal itself with self-care and time.
This got me going on a full-body mediation. I started with my toes and made my way all the way to my head. As I hiked up the switchbacks, I tried to pay close attention to how each body-part felt, the work each was doing to help me ascend and to identify the other parts of my body that were working together to make all of this possible. For example, I really focused on my how my calf, quadriceps and hamstring muscles all worked together to permit me to lift my feet. The more attention I paid, the more I realized that each-and-every-step is a miracle. How each and every breath is in-and-of-itself a miracle. I was sofocused on how my body was functioning one step at a time, one breath at a time, that when I looked up, I was almost at the South Rim. Hours had seemingly turned into minutes and I was very close to my goal. Just as I was about to reach the South Rim, a young man who I gotten to know over the last couple of days of passed me and said: “Ha, ha, I’m going to beat you up!” I was so impressed by the fact that he beat me, I bought him breakfast. Turns out, he is also in recovery. His drug of choice was crystal meth and he has been sober for two years. I then met his Dad, sister and nephew who were hiking with him. His Dad had twenty-years in recovery from alcohol. I thought to myself, what a small world. I also thought to myself, miracles are all around us if we chose to recognize them. I have seen so many miracles over the last eight-years and know that by continuing to live the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle, I will be blessed to see many, many more.
My Final Gratitude List and Reflections
As we drove back to Flagstaff, my brain was overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is the Grand Canyon. It’s a lot to take in and I think it will take me a long-time to truly digest all of what I experienced over the last four days. I am grateful for being in the natural splendor of the Canyon, which reaffirmed my belief in a higher power. I am grateful for the people I met in the Canyon and shared the journey with. I met a father and son who were hiking together and enjoying an experience that neither would ever forget. I could sense their love for one another and that each recognized the opportunity to share this experience together as something incredibly special. I’d have given anything to have the same experience with my Dad, who passed away fifteen-years ago. In a way, watching the two of them allowed me to imagine what it would have been like for me to have been able to do this with my Dad. This was a very special and unexpected gift.
I watched members of my small group struggle to get through each of the days but never quit. I watched as things got tougher and we all supported one another. What became important was not that Imake it to the South Rim, but that we, collectively as a group, make it to the South Rim. The power is in the collective, rather than individual experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have been of service on two days, and carried the backpack for another hiker who was struggling. I am grateful to have met other members of the recovery community along the trail. This reinforced my belief in the power of combining exercise and nutrition, a/k/aself-care, into an addiction recovery program. Also, the power of being in nature and way from the concrete and crowds of the big city. Lastly, I am grateful to no longer have my life confined to a small and unhealthy comfort zone. I’m grateful that I now recognize that life truly begins outside of my existing comfort zone.
People, places and things matter. I am grateful for all of the people, places and things, I experienced over the last four days!
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press in January 2019. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
Another wonderful morning waking up to the sound of the flowing creek near our camp and the magnetic red rock all around us. We began our day early once again to maximize our time without direct sunlight. Our challenge for the day: An area known as “The Corkscrew”. After a hearty breakfast of pancakes and syrup, plenty of sugar for fuel, we began by crossing a suspension bridge across the mighty Colorado River. We had seen the creeks and other tributaries that feed into the Colorado. However, the Colorado’s power speaks for itself.
On the way up we pass an abandoned mine that brings back days long-ago when the canyon was mined for cooper and other valuable minerals. We continued up a winding series of switchbacks that comprise the “Corkscrew”. As you make your way up, the full majesty and scope of the Canyon becomes obvious. All obstacles to a full and complete view are removed and the natural wonder of this place becomes clear. The reality is this is not just one canyon, but many that combine together to create a very grand canyon. There are so many levels to the rocks, each foot encompassing ten thousand years of earth’s history (outdating human occupancy by more than two billion years). The Canyon has a way of right sizing even the biggest of egos by silently reminding us that we are not so important in the larger scheme of things.
At Indian Garden, we headed out to what is known as “The Plateau”. The Plateau has what is generally regarded as the most spectacular view of the Grand Canyon. You can see the trail to The Plateau from the South Rim. I had seen years before when I brought my mother here but never thought I’d actually be standing there. From The Plateau, it’s about seven miles down to the raging Colorado River. The only real noise you can hear is the Colorado and it’s rapids. While on The Plateau, I kept thinking to myself “if these rocks could talk!” I imagined the Native American ceremonies that took place here as well as the civilizations that pre-dated the cultures that we know of. People have lived here 15,000 to 20,000 years ago and we know nothing about them. To be standing temporarily on this sacred spot again reminded me of how small and irrelevant I am in the larger scheme of things. It reminded me to make the most of the very brief time I will present on this planet and hopefully make some minor contribution to making it a better place. Some stayed to watch the sunset, but I decided to head back to camp and get ready for the final day of hiking, almost straight up vertically on a series of switchback’s, all the way to the South Rim.
As I laid in my tent that night, again watching the stars in the clear night sky above me, I came up with my gratitude list for the day. On my third day in the Canyon, I was grateful for: the privilege to spend time in such a miraculous place; the sense of comaraderie that had grown in my group; a father and son who I got to know very well that day who were hiking together and making a beautiful memory that neither would ever forget; my body permitting me not only to make my way up to Indian Garden, but to then head back down the Corkscrew to help another hiker who could not make it; the cool water of the creek that kept me from over-heating in the brutal mid-afternoon sun; and, anticipation of the day to come and accomplishing the hike without any concern that I would not be able to make it.
I slept like a baby last night at the Cottonwood Campground. From inside my tent, I could see the star’s shining bright up in the unobscured night sky: It was magical. I woke very early and watched as twilight started and a blue silhouette arose above the red rock cliffs all around me. The sky turned slowly from black to blue and then the sun came up with beaming rays of pink and purple, before turning to an unobstructed blue sky over Cottonwood and the Grand Canyon.
After our grilled bacon, egg and hash brown breakfast, we packed up and set out at 6 a.m., for another day of hiking along the Bright Angel Creek. The only way I can describe the cathedral like red-rock walled canyons surrounding Bright Angel Creek is spiritual. The area is known as “The Box”. Being in The Box felt like attending a mass or sermon in a beautiful natural cathedral. I felt as if the rock canyon was speaking to me. Being here reaffirmed my belief in a power greater than myself. Some call that a higher power, others call it God and still others call that the Creator. For me, I spent many hours communing with the Creator as I made my way through this spectacular place. Towards the end of our hike, we pass the world-famous Phantom Ranch as we arrived at our next campsite: Bright Angel.
We anticipated a 90+ degree day and lots of sun. It turned out to be 106 degrees! The heat was exhausting but both Cottonwood and Bright Angel are near creeks with ice cold water. I got in the creeks as frequently as possible to avoid overheating. It’s an all-natural form of air conditioning and cooling and worked perfectly well.
I’d always heard of Phantom Ranch and was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see it in person. The Ranch is a 1930’s retreat with cabins and dorms. The Ranch has become an icon of a bygone era. It’s like going back in time. It’s limited number of accommodations are in high demand. The only way to stay at the Ranch is to win a lottery or like us, stay at the nearby Bright Angel Campground along the creek. The camp is full of adventurous, sunburned, outdoor enthusiasts, most of whom are having the time of their lives. No alcohol is allowed in the camp-sites so the environment is not loud and crazy. The lack of alcohol also has a lot to do with the fact that you’d have to pack it in and pack it back out. Carrying alcohol adds lots of weight to your pack so you’d have to be a real alcoholic to bring a large amount with you. The Campground is peaceful and contemplative. I’d describe it as an oasis of serenity surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. \
Some in my group decided to head to the Phantom Ranch. I decided to turn in early and enjoy the relaxing sound of the creek, review my amazing photos from the day and put together my gratitude list. Here it is: I’m grateful for: the natural beauty of the red-rock canyons that mesmerized me today: my wonderful guide Julie and fellow hikers who I laughed with continuously throughout a challenging day; getting to visit Phantom Ranch, which I’ve heard so much about and never thought I’d get to see; the cool water of Bright Angel Creek that made 106 degrees bearable; my lungs which have now permitted me to hike many miles from the North Rim to Bright Angel Camp without difficulty and a fifty-pound back on my back; the twelve steps and sober activity community which has inspired me to push myself and always do more rather than less; overcoming my fear of heights and not letting fear keep me from hiking here; the absence of internet, text messages and emails that would distract me and take me out of the present; and, a willingness to live a life outside my comfort zone.
As I climb into my tent after one of the most rewarding days I’ve had in my entire life, I get excited to put self-care first. I went to bed at 7 p.m. rather than heading back to Phantom Ranch to hang out until late. I’m also excited to look for the Big Dipper through the screen on my tent and enjoy looking at all the other stars without city lights or pollution. I’m excited to wake up tomorrow which wasn’t the case when I was in active addiction. I’m truly blessed and smart enough to know it. I’ll have sweet dreams given the beaming gratitude emanating from my heart. Good night!
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.
It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m in a van heading for the northern most point in Arizona to begin my four-day, three-night, hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. The sun is coming up over the horizon. There are no buildings or other traces of modern “civilization” for as far as the eye can see. As we enter the Navajo reservation, I cannot help but think of how blessed I am to see the beauty around me and to be getting started on this magical adventure. I am getting quite emotional as I am overcome with gratitude, for the gift of health that permits me to be here to enjoy this experience.
It was only eight years ago that I had difficulty walking a city block without wheezing. My lungs were damaged from twenty-four years of smoking and eating unhealthy foods. My lower gums were bleeding from putting cocaine on them. I had constant chest pains from the cocktail of deadly substances I ingested as well as the processed and comfort foods that comprised my active addiction diet. I was so sick in May 2011 that on the way to Conifer Park, a drug and alcohol rehab in upstate New York, I had to be taken by ambulance to the cardiac unit at Ellis Hospital near Albany. I spent two days there for observation before being released and transferred to Conifer. I stayed at Conifer for twenty-eight days. Fast forward eight years and I’m on my way to hike across the Grand Canyon. Last year I hiked to the Mount Everest Base Camp and before that to Machu Picchu, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier and other smaller mountains.
My trips to these places are called “Gratitude Trips”. When I go on vacation, I try to focus on places I’ve always wanted to go, but only talked about and never followed through. I focus on celebrating my health and embracing the recovery process: A process of health, hope and healing. My gratitude trips reinforce the radical change in my physical and mental health that happened once I let go absolutely of old ideas that led me to dark places. The lifestyle I lay out in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish & Strengthen Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press, is the plan I followed. It incorporates the twelve step into what I eat, how much I exercise and my spiritual program. I’ve learned that self-care is the opposite of active addiction. In my book, I share with you the tools that I utilized to radically transform my life and got me started on my journey. I invite you to join me for the next four days.
We arrived at the North Rim, our start point after a four hour van-ride through the Navajo reservation and rolling empty dessert hills as far as the eye can see. Fear always tries to exert itself when I am starting a hike. Fear starts to tell me “you shouldn’t go, you’re not going to make it”, “your too old for this” and “turn around before its too late”. I usedto listen to fear and believe its self-limiting message that sabotaged me on so many levels. That has changed over the last eight years. Given all that I have accomplished, I tell fear to go f*?! itself and I push on down the trail into the Grand Canyon. Fear no longer has the power it used to have. It’s been replaced by the confidence that comes from succeeding one day at a time for the last eight years. As we descend into the Canyon, the landscape looks more like the moon. The rocks and cliffs in the distance give you perspective on the millions of years it took to create this place. It’s awe inspiring no matter which way I turn. I also realize that I am not getting calls, receiving texts or emails and am totally present right here, right now. No external distractions from back home and my professional and private life to interrupt the spiritual connection I am having with nature and my creator. I have my phone in airplane mode, which I write about in Spiritual Adrenaline. To me, airplane mode is a spiritual tool that enables me to practice mindfulness. As we carefully head down seven miles into the Canyon, I focus on my breath and how my lungs feel so strong, without any wheezing. I focus on my steps and think of something I am grateful for each time I take a step. I meditate on how radically different my life would have been if I had not gotten sober. I realize I’d probably have had a stroke by now and maybe COPD. You cannot hike the Grand Canyon with an oxygen tank! These meditative practices always bring me back to my breath. My breath brings me back to gratitude.
Today’s hike was no walk in the park. It was exhausting with the sun shining and temperatures hovering around 100. The sun heats up the rocks, making the terrain even hotter and more challenging. I had high expectations for the beauty of this place. They were not only met, but exceeded, on my very first day. The color of the rocks and the vegetation come together in a kaleidoscope that had me mesmerized. The scope of the place also had me in awe. Geologists confirm that for every foot of sedimentary rock is equal to 10,000 years of earth’s history. We started at the North Rim, where the rocks are 250 million years old. We camped at Cottonwood Campground for the night, seven miles down and surrounded by rocks that are 1.7 billion years old. The scope of this place is almost impossible to comprehend.
I made a short gratitude list at the end of the day to memorialize how I was feeling. I am grateful for: my health, my sobriety: my family: my sense of adventure; friends who are wonderful and extremely giving; people in my life who inspire me and challenge me to be a better person; the amazing people who I’ve gotten to know from Spiritual Adrenaline; nature; god; and, being born in the United States.
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press. Spiritual Adrenaline is available on Amazon or at your local Barnes & Noble Store.
Ignite Recovery, based in Wisconsin, is the latest sober active group that has successfully integrated a healthy lifestyle into an overall addiction recovery program. I interviewed the founders to find out how Ignite came to be and to learn about Ignite’s mission. Here’s my interview with the founders of Ignite.
What are your short-term goals and long-term goals for Ignite?
Our short-term goals are to increase the capacity and membership of our sober active lifestyle community. We are also involved in community outreach to reduce the stigma around addiction and recovery. We are accomplishing these short-term goals by increasing our class offerings and expanding Ignites’ reach. This has been a grassroots recovery movement and we have been building partnerships throughout southeast Wisconsin. Through these partnerships, we have been able to find new locations to offer our classes.
Our long-term goal is to start planting recovery outreach centers through Wisconsin. Our plan is to start small, but we are striving to create the Ignite model for these recovery outreach centers. Our dream would be to have space with a warehouse-style gym, yoga studio and cafe that serves healthy foods. We want to create a space where people can connect with one another and grow in physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.
The inclusion of Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”) is unique. I am not aware of any other similar type program here in the United States! How does MMA fit into an overall recovery program? People think of yoga and meditation when they think of recovery but not MMA. So, let’s enlighten them to the benefits since what you are doing is unique.
All of our offerings are about serving, mobilizing, and empowering the local recovery community. When we launch a class or group it is really about what the local community wants to do. Offering MMA classes came about because a person in recovery reached out to me about being of service. He is certified as a personal trainer, he trains people in jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, etc. and he wanted to give back to people in recovery. For Ignite, it is really about us being able to empower himto help others. When we talked more, MMA is about self-discipline, embracing pain, and becoming a better, stronger person. Before we launched the first MMA class, “Fight for Recovery”, we started asking our community what they thought and if people would be interested in attending. The overwhelming response was yes!
For us, Ignite Recovery is about creating opportunities for people to connect and find their tribe. Nobody is pressured to do anything they do not want to do. If you want to do MMA – do that, if you want to do yoga – do that, if you want to train for triathlons – do that. As long as it is about creating community and growing in recovery together, we will probably support it.
Shari is the mother of someone in recovery. I asked her how a sober active community can benefit the families of people in addiction recovery?
For almost 4 years I’ve been co-facilitating a family support group for those with loved ones who are either in active substance use or in recovery. My sole credentials for first working with families was that of being a mom of a person in recovery.
Ignite embraces both harm reduction and the ideology of the evidence-based CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy) approach. There are three things at the core of this: First, is a need to pull families out of their unhealthy entanglements with their loved ones — yes, we get too close and try to micromanage everything. Second, we share with them some of the best strategies for moving their loved ones toward treatment (no, you can’t force them to do anything). And third, we teach them some of the best ways to support a family member in recovery (lean in when you can, step back when you have to). So, those who embrace CRAFT, also embrace the idea that there is value to understanding as much as they can about their loved one’s condition. For many families, these basic concepts are game-changers and Ignite plays a part at in each.
Having a sober active community is the first line of defense when your loved one is using, and you need self-care. Take a yoga class. Go on a Sunday morning hike with people who are journeying toward recovery (and see what possibilities are out there). We also provide a valuable resource. Family members can sit in an open meeting after a class. Listen and learn from the experience of others Finally Ignite is a useful tool for reconnecting with a family member once they’re on their recovery path. For example, at one of the Ignite classes, I met a mother and daughter who were doing just that. They were taking one a yoga class together because they had been looking for a place where they could just “be” together. Ignite provides a neutral space where people can be safe just being themselves.
Given the reality of so many student athletes getting hooked on opiates for sports-related injuries, I wanted to know how Ignite could benefit this growing demographic within the addiction recovery community.
The benefit is enormous. Many young people struggle to connect with the treatment world, particularly with AA. While all of us at Ignite are huge proponents of the program (for family members, of course, t’s the community of Al-Anon), we know that many struggle with the feeling that AA was the only community for addicts. So, if you’re not sitting in a church basement somewhere talking about your issues, you’re not healing. Often, a person is scared or uncomfortable to open up in a small room filled with chairs in a circle. It’s difficult to develop relationships, true relationships with individuals that way. For an athlete, it’s easier to work out, sweat, feel pain together and at the end there is this connection over something common you did together. And, after a few times, it grows from a “Hello”, to a “How was your weekend” to knowing intimate details about another person. It’s funny, because it’s almost like dating. There is a fear of opening up at times, specifically in the meeting rooms. But once you do, it changes your life. And if that connection you made at Ignite reaches out and goes to a meeting, that person may feel stronger to open up because they have support with them. There’s a lot of healing that can be done in experiential communities — a lot of bonding that can happen while hiking, climbing, working out at the gym.
Adam lived in a sober house for a period of time and that experience helped him stay sober. I asked Adam about how he benefited from that experience and how others could as well.
When I first found recovery, I was a mess. Living in a sober house help me learn how to live life again. I got connected to 12-step recovery groups and I launched myself on a path spiritual progress. Being active was also a big part of that early journey that has continued for the past now 8 plus years. I began going to the gym with another guy in the sober living and working out became a consistent part of my life. I also got connected with a recovery softball team (where I met Tim), got back into rock climbing, and started playing beach volleyball. It was really about doing all the activities I loved to do, and the disease of addiction had gotten in the way of. Working the steps, sponsoring guys, and being active has always been a huge part of my recovery. I was always trying to grow and be a better person. I am also pretty competitive, so I spent a few years training for beach volleyball and competing in tournaments. The importance that being active has had on my journey and my physical, mental, and spiritual growth is what led us to launch Ignite Recovery and create an inclusive active lifestyle community. We just know how important fitness has been to us and we want to help others find fitness in recovery.
Ben has shared publicly in the past about how his addiction to pain-killers began at the dentist. I asked him what advice he has for others about pain killers for dental visits or other routine medical procedures?
I work in the medical field as a Veterinarian and have many friends on the human medical side as well. The government is doing a great job at restricting the access of prescription pain medications. Most practitioners are starting to avoid opioids as a first line of defense for pain management and opting for other, non-addictive substances. But, more than likely, there will be a time in almost every child’s life when they will be prescribed opioids. And rather than blindly doling them out without fear of consequence, parents should educate themselves as much as possible. The same care they give to what their children eat, and what they watch on TV really needs to be given to what medications they allow them to have — even more so. They will need to research addiction and understand its causes and causalities.
The first Vicodin (Hydrocodone) I ever took was prescribed for my wisdom teeth. I remember it vividly: Sitting in a living room chair, staring at the wall, thinking this was the greatest thing ever. But, as stated earlier, education is key. Because of this experience I definitely had a genetic component in me that would have reared its ugly head at any time. The next thing to consider is that while my prescription was only for 5 days, I had easy access other opiates. The problem arose when I realized my mother (who had a significant medical condition and has had many operations), had a cabinet full of Vicodin (hydrocodone) that she never finished. I had direct access to something that my parents never in their wildest dreams ever thought was a problem. It was not locked up, not thought about, or ever checked on. I stole that medication for months with no one being the wiser. Herein lies the larger issue. Potentially, if these unused prescriptions were disposed of correctly, or accounted for in a lock box or safe box, itmayhave slowed my progression. But as an addict, I would have found a way. I would have bought them or lied in the locker room to get them.
Most parents think, “never with my child” and I had a white collar, privileged upbringing. That is how my parents thought. But addiction doesn’t care about income, race, sexuality or any defining factors you can think of. Its all-encompassing and can affect anyone. So, if there are controlled substances in the house. Lock them up. Keep track of them! Do not put them under the bathroom sink and forget about them.
I asked Tim about how got started and why CrossFit has become an important part of his program personally and at Ignite…. Here is what he had to say.
A good friend who I met through a co-ed recovery softball league came to me with an idea about a community non-profit that was based around fitness. He showed me what The Phoenix (then known as Phoenix Multisport) was doing and how it was centered around CrossFit. I thought that idea was great! I have my CF-L1 and I also coach classes at CrossFit Waukesha which is where Ignite holds its functional fitness classes right now. I’ve been to prison twice which is where I found time to do correspondence courses through ISSA. Ultimately, I received my personal trainer certification. Almost seven years later, with a lot of work by a lot of people, we’ve launched interest meetings doing CrossFit and it has blossomed.
Why is CrossFit so popular in the addiction recovery community? How does it benefit members of that community?
So many reasons! In general, CrossFit is about fitness. Our physical, mental, and spiritual health are all interwoven. I love how CrossFit talks about fitness being beyond wellness. Where wellness is normality, being healthy, and the absence of disease. Fitness is having a heightened defense against disease. When we look at our physical, mental, and spiritual wellness we actually want to be FIT. We want physical, mental, and spiritual fitness to provide a heightened defense against the disease of addiction. Like you would say, we want to supercharge our recovery – and CrossFit enhances our fitness.
CrossFit naturally creates community. Tim, Shari, and I along with some others in our community all belong to CrossFit Waukesha and the structure of classes create opportunities for people to connect. It is not like going to some chain gym where everyone is listening to music on headphones, their face is in their phones, and they just want to work out and leave. At CrossFit, people are talking, connecting, encouraging each other. They connect with those who work out at their box and they notice when somebody misses a class. CrossFit’s ability to build community and relationships is perfect for the recovery community.
CrossFit is both a physical and mental test. Physically it’s about the sport, there is infinite room for improvement and growth. Everything is measurable so you can really see where and how you are getting better. Nothing feels better than a new PR – hitting a big lift or smashing an old time. At the same time, CrossFit is just as much about the mental aspect of the sport – the sports psychology. It’s about embracing the pain and knowing what your body can do. So many times, it’s about a mindset. My legs, arms, and lungs will be on fire and my mind will tell me to stop, yet when we embrace the pain and keep pushing a breakthrough is often waiting. Nothing feels better than physically doing something your mind tells you that you can’t. This carries over into our recovery journey. We are going to deal with pain and things that are uncomfortable and being fit helps us overcome adversity.
CrossFit is often referred to as “functional fitness” and many of us in the recovery aren’t just looking for something that helps us tone or look good — for many of us ‘fitness’ is about being able to function in the world and to do the work that has been given to us to do. So, the term “function” takes on a whole new meaning. It really fits us.Ultimately, CrossFit enhances our physical, mental, and spiritual fitness so we can have resilience in recovery!