Join Jay in a riveting conversation with Molly about the nuanced world of food addiction as they discuss overcoming challenges and cultivating a healthier relationship with both food and oneself.
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How are you?
I'm so happy to be here
I am too. I'm so glad you agreed to come on the podcast and I just want to welcome you to "You Always Have Choices Podcast".
You know I'm in love with this name.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. So I'd like to tell our people a little bit about you before we get started, okay? Thanks. Today's guest is Molly Carmel. She is a leading addiction and eating disorder therapist and founder of Beacon by MC. Known for her straight talk, no chaser attitude, she is also the author of Breaking Up with Sugar and the former host of the podcast, What's Your Craving. Molly is fiercely devoted to helping people break free of their destructive relationship with food, dieting, and negative body image through the use of DBT. She's also involved with Reiki, breath work, meditation, and so much more. Her work has been featured on shows such as The Today Show, The Dr. Oz Show, Dateline NBC, Anderson Cooper 360, as well as in the LA Times and the New York Times. Welcome.
I'm so happy to be here. So it was nice to just get to chat with a friend.
Yeah, and that's what we are. But I'd like to jump right into it by asking you, so what brought you to this field? What, how did you get here?
Well, I, so first of all, like, I've known that this is what I've wanted to do since I'm 13. Like since I'm 13 years old, I've known that I have wanted to help people heal. And that's largely a function of my own trauma, my own story. And like, so I'm what you call like a wounded healer, I would say I'm like a healed healer, or I'm a healing healer, because I don't think we're ever there's no endpoint of this healing as we both know. But yeah, I mean, so from a really young age, I struggled with issues with food, issues with more. And I think at the time, when I had a lot of trauma in my upbringing, my dad passed away really tragically when I was three years old. And then I turned to food and my mom was so outmatched by that. And of course she sent me to nutritionist and this and this and this. And I can like actually remember being, I don't know, nine, sitting in a nutritionist office with her like teaching me like the size of a, you know, what you should eat for protein. And like knowing like in my soul, like. My problem is not with food. I can't stop eating. My problem is not with food. And so I was sent to all of the traditional treatment that you would send any person, young or old, for. And I just remember, and my mom sent me to weight loss camp, which I have to say was so fun, best time ever. Josh Cohen was my boyfriend. We had the time of our lives. But I also remember being at weight loss camp being like, I'm gonna gain all this weight when I get back. No one was like helping me. They were like running me and feeding me and like having great dances. Like I felt included, like it was amazing, but it wasn't healing me. It wasn't helping the problem. And so I do remember like when I'm 14 and I'm in like home ec in ninth grade in my skinny jeans and like the button pops off of my jeans and like that demoralization and being like. You know, just so hopeless about that. And so I remember when I was 13 years old, I was like at this camp and being like, just had this knowing like, oh, like this is like this is yours to solve, Molly. 13.
And sadly, you know, from 13 to, you know, 30, I had experiences that informed my train, like where I decided to do training as a therapist and how I decided to not just be a talk therapist, but also involve so much more of the mind in my work. And also, frankly, I sort of have two specialties, which is addictions and eating disorders. And my initial training in addictions is because...the singular way that eating disorders were treated when I was getting trained was not something that I thought was useful for me. Like eating disorders and all addictions, really are so individually biological and emotional and spiritual that the one way that it was treated was really toxic for me and it was actually really, and so I knew that I wanted to start to create like a very different paradigm for people who didn't, also didn't find healing in this like intuitive eating, health at any size. And I actually, nothing against that. Like it's just that, you know, if somebody tells you that there's one way, run away. And I knew like an addictions model, that concept, in a very different way than maybe some like alcohol or drugs, like that abstinence only model. It's a very interesting way that I found works for people to help them in their issues with food. But to me it was like, and so my path and my journey as it goes, had to get so ugly and so gnarly because so that I could be prepared and it's pretty fearless in helping other people find the same.
Interestingly as the years have gone on and that, you know, my podcast is on holds right now. It's not like former, but you know, I started this podcast called what you're craving because there's this great slogan and one of the 12 step groups. And it says, you know, it's all about the food and it's not about the food. And I think so many of us really know what's wrong, but getting to the solution is really hard. And that's, I think, where therapy or coaching or spiritual practices or connection or some combination and really, at this moment, right now, I'm really working on helping people with burnout, because I actually think that's fueling so much of our issues, honestly, that we aren't actually like getting to that real root cause, which is we're tapped out emotionally, physically, spiritually. And we like just, oh, it's like we're just constantly self-deading. Like, you know, like we constantly, and so of course we're turning to food. And of course we're like in unhealthy relationships because we can't like get to the bottom of any of it. So that's my, that's like the shortest answer I've ever given of how I got into this, but.
I got into this because basically I was told, you know, like you and your store over there, like it was just told to me and there's never been a moment where I thought to do anything else to be honest.
That's great, that's great. You know, I've always said it. That's what this podcast is about. There's many roads to Rome. And it's not always the same thing for each and every person. Some people have to go this road, that road, or the next. But it seems like that you doing this work, is that helpful to you when you're helping others?
I mean, of course, I mean, it's funny, like, I don't really know another way because I've, you know, like, I've been a therapist since the minute I could be a, I've been a therapist since I'm 22, I'm 46, right? Like, and before that I worked at, like, I ended up working at these weight loss camps, right? So I've sort of, I don't know another way. I imagine...when I think about what other people are struggling and if I ever make a comparison, I think, well, I'm surrounded by it all day. So of course, I'm thinking about it. And of course, but I think the other pieces, I really want to say this to people.
I want to say two things that are really, feel really important, which is me being a therapist and a coach is not me doing my work. Right? Like those are very separate entities to me. Like I do my own therapy. I have my own recovery that is very separate from going to work. And I say this because I feel like people, talk about choices, Jay. I feel like people don't think they have choices when it comes to getting help. And like I have never sat with a therapist in my life where I have not said to them, talk to me about your own self-care. Do you go to therapy? And I don't think people even know they're allowed to do this. If your therapist or your coach is not actively seeking and healing themselves, I wouldn't engage in therapy with that person.
You know, I hear you, I hear you. It's like when I started my own journey, I remember someone that I looked up to, a spiritual leader in my own life. And he said, when you go to a therapist, interviewer them, you know. How long have you done this? Talk about your problem and say, listen, this is what I have, do you think you can help?
I think there's a deeper question, especially in what's happened to the recovery world, where I think many, and I like, listen, I'm not here to judge sober coaching or whatever, but like, are you getting your own help? Like are you coming to is, are you doing therapy thinking like, I don't want to be someone's healing. Like, I want them to be like having their own coach outside of this, having their own recovery outside of this, and then bringing like their best self to the work. And so I have very separate entities. Like I have my own recovery programs. I have my own sponsor. I have my own therapist, and then I go to work. And I don't think that that's every therapist and coach. Right.
Yeah, and to be quite honest, I love this because hopefully we're educating people in that sense. I remember when I first got the store 21 years ago, I'd be working like crazy here. And I put so many hours into it, I stopped taking care of myself. And I realized I'm angry, you know, hungry, lonely. All those things were happening to me because all I did was try to get the store going.
Right. You prioritize the store above yourself. I mean, yeah, you're making a huge investment, not just in money, but in trust. Right. And so it's not just like the experience. Like, listen, I have great experience, but if I'm dry, you don't. One of my patients said to me the other day, like, Molly, you're going to be really mad at me. I'm like, if I'm really mad at you, fire me. Like right now. Like I'll help you find a new therapist. Like. What people are willing to take from their therapists. And I wanna remind everybody of that, like fire them, like go find someone who you feel supported by. And then the other reason I wanna say that is that here's what the research says. It's just like, this is the only piece of research that is true across every board. Right? Because there's some research that says intuitive eating works, there's some research that says intuitive eating doesn't work, there's some research that says abstinence in alcohol works, there's some research that says harm reduction in alcohol works. Here's the research that says, that is across the board. It's going to make so much sense to you. The number one determinant of long-term success is what we call self-determination. Self-determination is us owning it for ourselves. We determine the path that works. So we have an investment. We got a horse, we got a dog in the fight, as they would say, right? So for people to be able to feel empowered. So if you're sitting with a therapist and they're saying, you need to quit, you need to do it this way, and you're saying, no, I need to do it this way, and you're in a thing with them, you're in a power struggle, get out. Get out. Say something or get out, right?
Yeah, yeah. And it took me quite a few years to find someone I really liked and trusted. And what's wonderful is, is she never told me you have to. She just thought, I think you should look at it this way, or maybe, you know, have this type of approach. And it just opened my eyes completely. 100%
Oh, yeah. Well, you got to remember, you know, like, one of my, one of my teachers always says, you know, healers are humans. And you see this in the room. So the 12 steps to you know, someone will relapse and the and the other people just totally freak out about it. And I just am always like, well, that's their stuff, you know, that's not yours. But that happens in therapy, too. Like, there's this thing in therapy called supervision, where like, I supervise everybody who works for me, and I just sit there and we talk through what issues are coming up with them that are preventing them from being the best therapist that they possibly can. And like, that's just normal, right?
Yeah, yeah. So if I came to you and I was just starting out, and I have several different issues, but let's talk about food first. Tell me, what's the process? What would you suggest I do because I just walked through the doors and I'm not even sure how to help myself?
I know. So I want to say like, I think there are a lot. So with the food, I think there are a lot of different ways that we can identify what is happening for us. And the book I wrote, Breaking Up With Sugar. And if that's and if you're feeling like, okay, like it really feels like substance to me, it really feels like when I eat a scone. It doesn't satisfy me. It doesn't sit with me. I just want more. I just want more. And that feels really troublesome to me. I want to say one thing. There's another school of thought that exists with intuitive eating. Intuitive eating would say, well, then you just eat that scone until your body has enough of it that it needs and your intuition will come back. I don't subscribe to that personally. Like that particular way of healing and eating disorder almost killed me personally.
And, and this is like the whole thing. This is why you need to be with someone who's well-researched and comfortable with self-determination. And that way has worked for so many people, right? So it just depends. It's exactly what you're saying. Many paths. Literally almost killed me. Okay. So there are really good evidence-based like, tests that you can take to see if you're on this scale of food addiction. In my book in chapter four, the whole thing is there. There's a, there's, you can go, Google, Yale food addictions, whatever. You can just start to, if that feels important to you, if the knowing isn't loud enough and you're like, am I? Like go take the test, you know, like great.
That's great that somebody has a way to find out, yes, this is, I can identify like in alcoholics anonymous and all of that. Is it the same in food in the sense that, you know, with an alcoholic or a drug addict, their life begins to spin out of control? Is it the same thing with food?
Oh my God, it's wild. Actually, you can take that substance criteria in many ways and really spin it into food in a fascinating way, right? One of my favorite criteria of addiction is use despite negative consequences. And the amount of people that I've treated where they're A1C, which is the indicator of diabetes, is like... 11, 12, 13, and the doctor's like, hey, you gotta back off some of this sugar. It's really impacting your endocrine system and the amount of people that get that kind of information and are still doing it. That's it, you and I know, that's addiction straight. Or this one where it's like, we stop doing enjoyable activities, the addiction prevents us from doing the things that we love. The amount of people I met who loved dancing and I'm like, stop dancing or get really isolated as a result of it. Like there's, there are so many parallels in the diagnostic criteria of addiction that you can do with food.
And then, and then the solution is so different because you can't stop eating. And this is my opinion. I want to say two things. So right when I just talked about intuitive eating, there's another school of thought and food addiction. That's like very. Um, intense, like it's very like rigid and it's like, no, no this, no that, and bring your scale out. To me that doesn't feel like food freedom. I think there's a real balance. And honestly from a research prospective it's called harm reduction and we know with an addiction really what works with so many people. And yet there are some people who need a much more rigid approach. Just like there are some people who need this kind of looser, intuitive eating approach, and that's what's healing them, great. There's some people who need just like this incredibly rigorous approach. It would have me defiant and hopeless and doesn't work for me. So this idea of there being like a complete abstinence, I think is really challenging for a lot of people. So challenging that it's like I shouldn't even start, right?
So the way with the food, which is different than if you're experienced, if you have abstinence with alcohol, you have abstinence with drugs.
You still have to eat.
You still have to eat and of course, like you never really have to eat sugar again. And yet you're probably going to, right? Like in sub, maybe it's going to be like, you know, you have this teriyaki sauce and you didn't know it was full of sugar, or maybe it's going to be like. You had the worst day of your life and you just decided, but, and you just decided to use like the thing that comes in really hard with food issues is diet culture.
And the impact of diet culture on so many of us, which is like, I believe like almost like ancestral, like my mom was on a diet and my grandma, like it's so in my bones to like wanna be skinny and the good and the bad and the morality of it. Like, so it's in our, you know, it's in our mind to say, cause you really can't get recovered from this and be on a diet. And yet to get recovered from this, you need to do... have some structure, probably eliminate some stuff that's really triggering for you. And so you see this balance, right? You see this, and you're, I would say, almost definitely gonna do it imperfectly. And so a lot of the work I do, to be honest, Jay, is teaching people how to do things imperfectly. Because diet culture teaches us, and this is the analogy I use, diet culture teaches us we're driving down the street. We get a flat tire, and this is what diet culture teaches us to do. Diet culture teaches us to get out of the car with our flat tire, get a knife, slice all four tires, light the car on fire, and walk away. It's crazy how we behave with food, right? It's like, oh wow, I had a handful of M&Ms, may as well go at it. There's no wisdom in that. And so a lot of what I teach people to do is just turn their brain on so that we can find some synthesis of a solution, right? That appeals to what's wrong.
Well, what I'm hearing then, so what I'm hearing, are you saying that diets really don't work? You really need to have an overall change of lifestyle.
You have to have an overall change, like they say in the addiction, you have to have an overall change of attitude and of vision and of everything. That's the interesting part. It is really like what we know recovery to be, which is a change of perspective, a change of attitude, a change of behavior. That integration is really important, which is honestly why in the years that done this, it's like, you know what to eat. Clearly, we got to heal something else, right? Like, you know that you, like, nobody's sitting there eating a cupcake, being like, this is amazing for me. And nobody's sitting there eating six cupcakes, which, you know, like at 11 o'clock at night in their house alone, nobody's sitting there saying like, this is really a loving act. So we got to get down to, as they would say, like an AA, right? Causes and conditions. Like, you got to get down to, like, the bottom of it.
And that's really what the work is. And the second piece of the work is finding this balance between creating guidelines, getting you on a tricycle and then a bicycle, and understanding that sometimes we just screw it up and the research of it all.
Yeah, you know, I know, it's so funny when you talked about that analogy with cupcakes. I know at different times I know what to eat. I have the knowledge. I'm intelligent, but I'll choose another way. And then when I choose that other way comes guilt, shame, remorse, knowing that, you know, the next day the scale is going to say something different. I'm going to feel different because I really think it's about what you eat as far as how you feel too. When I eat healthy, I think better, I'm physically stronger, it all comes together. When I eat badly, it impacts me so negatively.
Well, you know, honestly, like I'm all like, I am a therapist, right? So I really deal with the soul and the mind, but there's a lot wrong with our world, but the research that has come out about gut health and the gut really being like an indicator of depression, an indicator of anxiety, like longevity, like so there is something about taking care of our health. I mean, understanding why we're doing this is really important. Right? Any, any, any change, right? And so, you know, wanting to be skinny is not, unfortunately, is just, it's just not going to fit the bill. It's not, it's not going to allow for you to integrate what you need to integrate for long term change. Like it's short term change, fine, but short term change usually comes with like a big rebound, it comes with like, sort of like the donut at the end of the race.
Yeah, yeah, you know, it sounds like with alcohol it's the symptom. It's not the it's not what's going on. I drink. I say I drink because of this reason, but there's so much more behind it. And in order to heal, that's what we have to find out. That's why there's 12 steps. There's, you know, all sorts of different ways to heal it.
There's a man, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist named Michael Moss and his second book he wrote was named Hooked, great book on food addiction. And he actually wrote that book thinking that we were all overreacting a little bit when we were calling food addictive. And by the end of that book, he was like, whoa.
Because you have to remember the psychological implications of food, for example. When you go to a baseball park, what do you think about, other than the team?
And if I say the word like, Dunkaroos to you, like you get psyched, I get psyched. I love Dunkaroos. I wanted to steal them. Look at how attached we are. Now, that attachment, if you think about alcohol and drugs, I understand a lot of people started early, 11 even. But, when we're talking about baseball games and we're talking about Dunkaroos, we're talking about one, two, and three, like talk about like where your brain started to get hooked and the emotional attachment to food. The only thing I'm not talking about here, by the way, is opiates because those synthetic things like, wow. And I don't know, someone was saying, go in here. I mean, you'll appreciate this joke.
But someone was saying to me, you know, they say that like sugar is as addictive as cocaine. And I was like, then you've never done cocaine. Like, you know, like, I understand that theory, but like, we're talking about rats and like, I'm sorry, like, it's just there's nothing as addictive as cocaine and opiates, but food is very addictive. And what I'm, I guess what I'm getting at is, you know, the Hill, we have to be treating this thing comprehensively for healing because it isn't just about food. If it was, this thing would be healed.
So, you know, in this fast-paced world, and I even know myself, I love immediate gratification. So when someone sits down with you and says, okay, this is my problem, can you fix me? How long will it take? Is that because I wanna be fixed right away. I don't wanna wait five years, I wanna be fixed now. How do you let someone understand the process?
Um, I think there's sort of two things that come to mind, which is how long, well, three things like, which is first of all, like how long is the problem and going on, you know, usually when I'm talking to people, they're like 40 and this has been going on since 10 and there's that great Buddhist idea, right? 17 miles into the forest, 17 miles out. I mean, 17 miles into the forest, I think I can usually get us out and like, I don't know, like eight, eight miles. Like we can do it pretty fast.
You got to start with that first step first.
But that urgency, so I've done a lot of trauma training and this urgency that comes with this actually, it ignites the fight response in our nervous system, right? So, and when we're in a fight response, our brain actually is not working accurately. You know, our vision is skewed when we have that kind of urgency. So for me personally, I'm a little irreverent. I've been doing this a long time and I'll say to people, probably not the person you want to work with. If you're on that timeframe, I can't give, I don't know that you and I should work together because I'm not really, short-term solutions are not, like I, that feels malpracticey to me. And there's a lot of, and you know, irreverently I'll say, there's a lot of people, there's a lot of coaches and a lot of personal trainers and a lot of therapists that will do macros with you and all of that, that's not, that's not what I've, that's not where my specialty lies, you know?
You're going in depth. You're not putting a band-aid on something. And if you want the quick fix, that's a band-aid. It's not a solution.
Yeah. Well, a quick fix usually has a rebound and I'm really not invested at this point in my life and my career and my own code of ethics to be contributing to someone's story that they can't get well. And I had a therapist say this to me once, which is very powerful when I was screaming at him and doing my trauma work saying exactly that, like, how long is this taking, Michael? This is taking too long.
And this man, this beautiful man just was like, Molly, it's like asking how long it takes for a bone to heal. Like you would never be screaming at your doctor. The bone takes as long as it takes to heal. And I think for anybody listening that's like identifying with this, like I also want you to understand, throwing urgency into healing delays healing. You know, like that's it.
So it takes as long as it takes. And the more we can stay in what I call a ventral vagal, the more we can stay in this calm, focused place, kind of the quicker it's gonna go. I don't know about all this outcome business. It's just not, I don't know, the older I get, listen, I think there was a time in my life where I had the audacity to buy into that, right? Like 30 days or whatever. It's just, the other thing I wanna say, maybe most importantly is.
You have to have two relationships in this world. Two, you have to have a relationship with yourself and you have to have a relationship with food. There is never a moment in your entire life where you will not be in relationship with food in order to sustain life. So even if there is an endpoint, the day after that endpoint, you're still in a relationship with food. And anything that I know about relationships is that they require management.
So... this urgency that people have is like, to what end? There's no end point to this. I don't, you know, my sales isn't so good, but here we are.
I think you're doing fine.
We're going to wrap it up, but before we do, I'd like to ask you, what should we hold onto? What's your best thought or advice, something that we can put out there to the world to even maybe help them begin this wonderful journey and change their life?
Yeah, I got it. I totally have it. So here's the thing about our relationship with food. The first time you try doesn't always stick. I don't know, you and I have listened to a lot of stories of people. I've listened to a lot of stories of people in my office. I've listened to a lot of stories of people in my own healing journey. And I've heard it hit on the 22nd time. I've heard it hit on the second time.
I've heard it hit on the 80th time. And so if you're struggling with the food, if you're struggling with anything, your commitment is just to not give up. The commitment is just not to give up, to think about it more scientifically, is just to say, oh, this one didn't work. Let me get quiet. Let me take a breath. Let me ask for some help. And let me see if there's somewhere else that I can heal, some other way that I can heal.
My journey was treacherous and then treacherous. And then one day I found the solution and even that's been imperfect. And to start to conceive of healing in less of a black and white way is so helpful to us personally, but also like to the global us which is equally as important. So I would just say like, just never give up. Like that's the deal.
Don't give up. That's a great message, great. And I first wanna thank you so much for being here. You know how I feel about you. You're spectacular. And I want to say to the world, thank you for joining the podcast where you always have choices. Bye, Molly.
Thanks, Jay.Great. Thanks so much, Molly.