Dr. Michael Brown and his wife Nancy have released a new book entitled Breaking the Stronghold of Food.
In their first-ever jointly authored book, Michael and Nancy share the inspiring, practical, and humorous story of their own journey from obesity to vibrant health. The book is designed to set you free from the stronghold of food and discover a wonderful new way of life.
I caught up with Michael recently to discuss his new book.
How does a person know if they are addicted to food?
Michael Brown: I put together a checklist for food addiction. Take the test and see how you do.
1) The thought of giving up your favorite, unhealthy food(s) for an extended period of time (like a week or a month) is almost terrifying to you.
2) You have a negative, emotional reaction when you go without your favorite unhealthy food(s).
3) If you don’t have your daily coffee or sweets or other habitual foods, you get headaches and even experience withdrawal symptoms.
4) You know that if you ate differently you’d be healthier and would likely live longer, but you’re not willing to change.
5) You’ve lost weight in the past (perhaps many times) only to gain it all back again.
6) You’re embarrassed about being overweight but find yourself unable to change your diet for any length of time.
7) You deceive others about your food choices, keeping a hidden stash of your favorite “forbidden” foods or eating them when no one is watching.
8) You make excuses for your bad eating habits in ways you would never do for other areas of your life that are undisciplined.
9) You have physical cravings for certain foods and you need to eat them to satisfy those cravings.
10) You live in denial concerning your bad eating habits, blaming others or minimizing your problems or claiming that God is fine with your unhealthy diet.
If any one of these 10 items apply to you, you’re most likely a food addict. (Sorry, but that’s the truth!) In the past, I was probably 10 for 10. Now, by God’s grace, I’m zero for 10.
Tell us what provoked you and your wife to write the book. Tell us your story.
Michael Brown: Nancy and I have experienced a radical change of life through changing our relationship to food, and we want others to experience radical change as well. So many people are sick because of unhealthy eating, so many die prematurely, so many are worn down all the time. Obesity is far more deadly than drinking and smoking, and in many ways, unhealthy eating is harder to change than other habits. For me, it was easier to give up shooting drugs in 1971 than to give up chocolate in 2014, but the same grace that helped me in 1971 helped in 2014.
In August of 2014, I weighed 275 lbs. Less than eight months later I weighed 180 lbs., losing more than ten inches around my waist. I cannot tell you how wonderfully vibrant I feel!
Over the years, my cholesterol was as high as 240. Fifteen months after I began my lifestyle change, it was down to 123. My blood pressure got as high as 149/103. Today it averages 105/65. I used to get headaches two-three times a week. I have not had a headache in more than two years.
For Nancy, being overweight was not only a health issue but it also paralyzed her. She didn’t even want to go out of the house. For me, there were definitely health issues beginning to surface – especially high blood pressure – and I was getting more and more tired with the busy ministry schedule I kept. Now, I literally feel as if I’m getting younger. My immune system is massively better and my energy level incredible.
Also, I was embarrassed by being overweight, since I lived a very disciplined lifestyle. My problem was lifelong unhealthy eating more than gluttony. Being thin and fit now lines up with the way I live for the Lord.
How is your book different from other books on diet and food addictions written by Christians?
Michael Brown: I believe what is unique about our book is that it is written by Nancy and me together, and she chimes in throughout the book with her unique insights, total candor, and amazing wisdom. So, it’s like sitting across the table from us where one picks up on the other’s story. This seems to help both male and female readers alike.
Also, our book is both spiritual and practical, identifying what is sinful and giving readers steps to help break free – based on the Word – while also pointing to practical steps that every believer can take. And for those needing detailed recipe and food plans, we have lots of helpful links.
We also focus on the “why” of eating, with the goal of helping people change their relationship to food, not just change what they eat. Sometimes the “why” of our eating habits is just as important as the “what.”
Are you saying in the book that a person should never, for the rest of their lives, eat a piece of cake at a birthday party or for any other occasion? If so, please give your reasoning for this and do you think this is really feasible for most believers? If that’s not what you’re saying, please clarify.
Michael Brown: It’s different for everyone. For me, I don’t plan to have another piece of chocolate or another french fry or another slice of NY pizza for the rest of my life – and I’m 100% fine with the thought of that. First, I had more than enough bad food for several lifetimes already. Second, I love the foods I eat now and really enjoy them. Third, and most importantly, I don’t know what would happen if I ate some of these foods again. What if I was drawn back in? What if old addictions were suddenly awakened?
I was speaking with a colleague a few months ago who told me that sugar (especially chocolate) was a real stronghold in her life and that for six years, she was totally free, not eating any chocolate. A friend convinced her that one piece of dark chocolate wouldn’t hurt her, and from that day on (which is now several years back) she’s been addicted again. Why play with fire?Nancy made the food change before I did and was doing great, also allowing herself periodic splurge days (maybe once every month or two), planning out exactly what she would eat on those days. She did fine for a while, but then one day became two, then three, and before she knew it, she had gained back a lot of the weight she lost. She found it much harder to get on track the second time around, and she’s interacted with many people who share the same story.
So, we recommend that people go all in, without exceptions. That also gives them the full health benefits of this new lifestyle. But if someone could eat birthday cake once or twice a year or another favorite indulgence once a quarter and never get pulled back, good for them. What’s interesting is that when you eat totally healthy long enough, you might just get sick if you ate something bad one time (meaning, have stomach pain or something else). Your body isn’t used to the poisons.
What do you say to the person who simply cannot make all their meals from scratch at home?
Michael Brown: Actually, I’m constantly on the road and have to plan ahead, so I know there are many challenges. And then there are moms who want to eat well but their husband and kids don’t, making for other challenges. But I’d say first that everyone can buy fruits and vegetables and almost everyone can prepare a salad. As for other meals, if they can’t cook, there are websites and stores that sell healthy meals too – for example, we buy some super healthy veggie burgers that you can microwave at home, and another friend buys super healthy soups that he just needs to heat up. So, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
It’s also important to remember that your taste buds will crave what you feed them. I love to eat foods now that, in the past, I would have paid you to avoid (seriously). I was a super picky eater, virtually never eating fruit and being very limited in terms of vegetables I liked. If I could change, anyone could.
For those who read your book and conclude they should only eat plant-based foods, what do you say about Jesus eating fish?
Michael Brown: I have about six ounces of grilled meat once a week (although sometimes I actually forget to have it, since it’s not that big of a deal to me anymore), so we have no issue with Jesus (or anyone) eating fish. We are not total vegans in that regard, although we eat a heavily plant-based diet, which study after study confirms to be of foundational importance for health, both physical and mental – meaning, having a healthy brain.
I would say, though, that meats today are not like meats in Bible days (because of genetic modifications), while fish can have more pollutants today as well. But from what I understand, if meat or fish makes up less than 10% of your weekly caloric intake, it’s not an issue. (For the record, I’m not talking about pork, nor am I talking about having fried chicken or some steak smothered in unhealthy toppings.)
Related to the last question: how does a person get vitamin B12, Creatine, Vitamin D3, and DHA if they only eat plant-based foods?
Michael Brown: Again, we’re not advocating a plant-only diet, and I get lots of my protein from beans (about a cup and a half a day; again, I would have paid you money not to eat beans in the past), but I do take a daily, multi-vitamin supplement, along with a DHA-Omega Fatty Acid supplement. And I get my blood checked once or twice a year. Once my iron level was slightly low, so I took a supplement for that.
All that being said, I think we’re focusing on the wrong question here. Why not look at the radical, positive changes that come? Why not look at what happens to high blood pressure, what happens to clogged arteries (yes, you can completely unclog them through healthy eating), what happens to Type II diabetes (it can be 100% reversed), what happens to other chronic conditions, what happens to those unneeded pounds – the list goes on and on. How about being here another 10 or 20 or 30 years for your family and your ministry? God has put so many amazing things into this world He created, and the more we take advantage of them, the healthier we will be.
What push back have you received from readers and what has your response been to it?
Michael Brown: Thankfully, we’ve been flooded with testimonies of people whose lives have been dramatically changed – and I mean dramatically. They write to us in tears, talking about the new lives they are living, and we are humbled by the responses.
As for negative pushback, a few think they we are insisting on a totally vegan diet, which we’re not; a few others (very few, actually) say the book is condemning despite our constant tone of encouragement (we make plain that the pages of this book are a “no condemnation zone”); a few others have been upset that we did not give the reader a day by day plan for several months. But that was not the intent of the book, and we do give out lots of practical guidelines, also linking to free websites we recommend as well as to books and other resources we find helpful. We also did not want to say that the way we do things is the only way – although we highly recommend it.
What else do you want readers to know about your book?
Michael Brown: Our health is not something to play with, and the vast majority of Americans eat a very unhealthy diet. We are literally killing ourselves with our unhealthy eating, and surely as God’s children we can do better than this. And this is a real stronghold in the church as well, since so much of what we do revolves around eating. (Think of it!)
So, let’s be honest with ourselves and, with God’s help, seek to make some radical changes. And for those who are hopeless and who have tried everything, we believe this book could be the impetus for lasting change. That’s one of the most gratifying things we hear: “I had tried everything and given up hope, but this book has renewed my hope and my resolve.”
We pray that every single reader will be as radically changed as we have been.