Q&A with Brad Lamm
Brad Lamm is an author, celebrity interventionist, and founder of Breathe Life Healing Center in Los Angeles, which deals with drug abuse and food addiction disorders. Breathe is one of only three rehabs in the country to treat both substance abuse AND Binge Eating Disorder (a highly underrated condition many people, both women and men, suffer from). He is Dr. Phil’s on-air interventionist, produced an eight-part docu-series with Oprah called “Addicted to Food,” and did a national bus tour with Dr. Oz. Here, we asked Brad about addiction and changing for the better.
We spend so much time here on The Sweat Life promoting a healthy lifestyle that works for you, but what is the first step if you really, truly find yourself off track, either with food or with addictive substances?
If you start to feel like you’re losing control of any aspect of your life, the very first step has to be asking, "What do I want?" Then, "What is getting in the way of that?” Self-defeating habits fill the space left in intention’s absence. Identify in a word or phrase WHAT YOU WANT, then work backwards to answer what will give you that. If I want to be a morning person, who is bright and driven first thing on awakening, then that intention may dictate putting the wine glass down after one, instead of five glasses. Know what I mean? If reducing age’s impact on the body is an intention, then cigarettes are out, as they’re the number one ager of the largest organ our body hosts: our skin!
How are drug addiction and binge eating similar and/or different?
They both answer a drive: to feel different. A drug is really any substance that changes how one feels. So the differences between “using” and “abusing” are important to understand, too. I quit smoking over ten years ago, and I still miss at times the soothing feeling a lit cigarette gave me.
Also, there’s a huge correlation between that “hand to mouth” routine that defines both cigarettes and food when used to change how one feels. If you’re struggling with Binge Eating Distorder (B.E.D.), you’re going to exhibit impulsivity control issues - and that comes along with the territory of drug addiction, too. Different kinds of substances meet different needs. How you treat yourself when anxious, depressed, or unsettled is useful to notice.
What do you think has allowed food to become as risky for addiction as drugs in today's social climate?
We’ve never been more disconnected from the food source. I advocate minimally processed meals, and a return to the food chain. The single greatest decision is to get your food straight when it comes to living better, longer and healthier. Food addiction and eating disorders are wildly underreported. The eating disorders we actually have been hearing about for years – Anorexia and Bulimia – tend to be seen as the most prevalent. However, B.E.D. along with compulsive overeating and others, are sometimes viewed as more shameful. If you went up to your boss and said, “I need to take some time off to go to rehab for my drug addiction,” you would be taken very seriously and (hopefully) allowed that leave time. However, if you said you needed time off to battle Binge Eating Disorder, we are still finding that language and acceptance. Truth is, when an employer is asked to do the right thing for a valued employee, they step up. In reality, eating disorders shave years and often decades off life and wellness.
What do you find is the most common root cause of these addictions?
Anxiety and depression play a huge role in changing how we feel, so those are common threads. I find there’s often an underlying complex trauma that lives in a person in ways that make them more susceptible to behaviors that are less than nurturing.
What is the first step in treating someone with addiction?
We get all nervous with the notion of intervention, but it’s often easier than you’d think! I always start with a feather and see where it takes me. Once the family and friends come to me and say they’re ready to help the one they love change for the better, the first thing I do is “craft a circle of change.” I select the “voices that matter” in the life of the individual, and we invite the person to a “family meeting” we’ll all attend. We’ll lead with love, give our eyewitness accounts, and then share a "change plan." Love is the best motivator of all.
Are some people more prone to have an addictive personality?
It seemed at times that I was born with a cigarette, pills, alcohol, and eating disorder. But now, more than a dozen years away from all that stuff, I’ve asked that question a thousand times. I think the root is trauma. I seek to change how I feel — and I used to do that with nicotine, food, drugs, you name it. And it worked for years. But it’s no way to live - and it's not sustainable. The answer to your question then really is: it’s one part genetics, and another part exposure to life events, that makes “checking out” a viable option.
What would you tell someone who has a friend or family member they want to help, but don't know where to start?
If you want someone you love to change, you’re going to have to do something different from what you have been doing. Think, "my change produces change elsewhere." Ask yourself what you want to live with, and what you think would be useful for the one you love:
- What is this person’s behavior doing to him or her? To you and your family?
- How is it interfering in any way with your peace of mind or quality of life?
- Does it make you feel depressed or anxious a good deal of the time?
- What has it cost your relationship?
- Have you had health problems because of it? What are they?
- What are the financial costs?
- Who else in your family or circle of friends is being adversely affected, and how?
Any final words or advice for readers?
There are costs to everything we DO and DON’T DO. I have never had a family regret an intervention — not once. Lead with love. Read my book, How To Help The One You Love, to guide you through it, and know that you won’t screw it up. You’re totally qualified to start the change. The way I see it, interventions are beautiful. They allow for an open conversation, rooted in love, that can lead to saving a life.
Brad Lamm is the Founder of Breathe Life Healing Centers. Having undergone his own journey of recovery, Brad is an author, teacher, interventionist, and expert in his field. He produced an eight part docu-series "Addicted to Food," airing on Oprah Winfrey’s network OWN, has made dozens of national broadcast appearances on shows like TODAY, Dr. Phil, Good Morning America and Nancy Grace, and regularly offers his expert commentary on addiction and recovery. He is the author of How to Help the One You Love: A New Way to Intervene (2010) and Just 10 Lbs: Easy Steps to Weighing What You Want (Finally) (2011). In 2013 Brad founded Breathe Life Healing Centers and continues to transform the way addiction is treated in the U.S.