Great Escape Podcast episode 39 - Mike Collins escaping the tyranny of sugar

addiction great escape Oct 19, 2019

You can contact Mike here:

His book on Amazon - it's free in the US.

- And on this episode of "The Great Escape" podcast, I'm talking to Mike Collins, and I'm gonna let Mike introduce himself. So Mike, tell us a bit about yourself, and what your life was like before you decided to make some change.

- Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me, and thanks for doing this work that you're doing. We talked a little bit before the episode, and it sounds like an exciting project that you're on, and I appreciate you having me on. I have a podcast version, I'll do it, you know, as succinctly as possible, but, you know, as far as the alcohol and drugs, I'm going to reverse engineer this a little bit. But when I was, you know, about 13 or 14, I was using, basically, I mean, maybe I shouldn't reverse engineer. Maybe I'll do it all the way through and so that people maybe see a new, maybe it catches people. One of the things that's happened in my practice is that when I became out, if you will, open about my substance use disorder, then the business of helping people get off sugar seemed to accelerate for people who were at one time in recovery or are still. So the short version is, you know, my mom was a sugar junkie, and she was the sweetest, wonderfulest mother that you ever had, but she definitely, she didn't drink really. And she had this very, pretty severe sugar addiction. And she was just, when she was about eight, her mother died. That was kinda tragic. And they moved in with an aunt, her and her father. And across the street was an uncle who owned the general store, and because she was so, you know, young and everything, and they were working, she thought that it would be okay that anytime she walked over to the store, she could have anything she wanted, and they had an account for her. And so she didn't even have to pay. So she would just go over and get her candy every day, and that started a lifelong sugar addiction. And for me, and for us kids, the same thing happened, right? We, you know, we had sugar on our cereal, it was like half-an-inch on the bottom to scrape up, and we had sugar and butter sandwiches, and we had Kool-Aid. We made the Kool-Aid with the almost amazing amounts of sugar, not anything like the recipe, you know. And so that went on. And I didn't realize, I think most people don't realize, and my theory in my practice is that sugar is the original gateway drug. It's the original way to change your state, right? To change how you feel about things. And it's because it's free, almost, or damn near free, and ubiquitous, and everywhere, you can always access some, whether in the home or out, for very little money. And so a culture has developed that since a child, who is crying, instead of leaning down, and getting with them, and saying "What's wrong, honey?", we just stick a cookie in their mouth 'cause we're busy, right? And so we create this lifelong change of state with the substance use. And over the last five years, this has been proven out that this is truly affecting your brain chemicals and your emotions. So in my life, when I turned about 13-years-old, there's a, you know, beer came into the picture. And I was able to talk to girls, and something changed again, and another state change evolved, right? There's a great quote going back to the sugar and the sugar sandwiches on YouTube. Eric Clapton talking with Ed Bradley of "60 Minutes", and they're at a $70 million treatment center in Antigua and they said, and Ed said, "So this all started with heroin, right Eric?" and he says, "No, Ed, it started with sugar." And Ed says, "Sugar?" And he says, "Yeah, I used to eat bread and sugar sandwiches "when we were, when I was young, "I would change my state." Well I did the exact same thing. It was so amazing that he was eating these same sandwiches that I was eating. So anyway, I'm gonna short circuit, and you can ask any questions you want about the drug and alcohol part, because honestly I don't think the substance is relevant. But when I turned 13 and was drinking, and, you know, drank all the way through high school, college, ran some large night clubs in college, and then literally was in the night club business running really large night clubs 'til I was about 28. I substituted alcohol and drugs for the sugar in my life. And it was more powerful, it worked better, until it didn't, and I'm sure you know that experience. It stopped working, and the negative results were worse than the positive results. But in essence, I hadn't changed anything except the substance, right? And when I got off the drugs and alcohol at 28-years-old, I substituted, I came right back to the sugar. I was drinking, and caffeine, and flour, and I was drinking 16 ounce, I don't know if they have it over there, Mountain Dew, 16 ounce Mountain Dews. Highest caffeinated soda on the market before the energy drinks came out. And it was like six or eight of those a day plus candy, and sugar, and pizza, and pasta. I didn't really eat any meat or any vegetables, it was all pasta and sugar products. And I'm a thin, athletic guy, and I gained 25 pounds really quickly. And, you know, my face was all red, it was worse than when I drank, and dark circles under my eyes, and here I was thinking I was getting quote unquote sober, and I was beatin' myself up more. So I started studying a little bit and I got a book called "Sugar Blues". And "Sugar Blues" was written by a guy who, he was at a cocktail party one time, or an event, or movie, and he was getting two lumps of sugar in his coffee, and behind him, a voice says to him, "I wouldn't have that in my house let alone my body." And he knew the voice, it was Gloria Swanson, the famous movie star, right? He turns around, they start talking. Anyway, he ends up marrying Gloria Swanson as her fourth husband. And they, together, after the book was printed, promoted the book, she helped him promote the book, and I read it. And I just kinda, it caught my interest, because to me, it was the exact same thing that I had been through in recovery from drugs and alcohol. I went through normal kinda meetings and that kinda stuff. I didn't go to treatment, but I was very heavily into the meetings. And it really helped, and I've been sober now for almost 35 years, 34 years. But the sugar thing was like, I mean, I just became aware, and then quickly, I married a woman in recovery, and we raised two sugar-free children. I literally used my own children as guinea pigs from the womb 'til they were six-years-old, no flour, no sugar, no caffeine. And the experiment worked. I just believe that first thousand days is so important for folks to help, for the brain health, and the development of a child. And so I went on to have a regular business life. I did okay in business. I was still active in sobriety. I didn't use sugar, my kids never used sugar, and after six, only once a month, the outside birthday parties, and I just had a regular life. I sponsored, you know, I helped people with addiction, was kinda a regular life. So about 10 years ago, I grabbed the domain, and I started putting out products, this information. Kinda like "Sugar Blues", I wanted people to have that a-ha moment that I had. Well I didn't get much feedback, and I didn't get really much results. Until about two or three years ago, I decided, what do I want to do with my life, you know? Pushin' 60-years-old, and, you know, what do I wanna do with my life? And I decided that, you know, I wanted to help people get off sugar. So I started coaching, and helping people get off sugar, and started small groups both in person and online, and then the magic started happening. So in essence, I was replicating the exact same recovery that I did for alcohol and drugs for sugar. And so that evolution, you know, like I said, that's the podcast version, the short version of the whole thing. I'm open to any questions, I'm pretty open about it all. Any questions about it. But it's been just an evolution and an understanding. I'm a big believer in evolution, I think recovery, you and I were talking about it before, that, you know, things change as people, as the science. I do wanna add one last thing is that in the last five years, there's been huge advances in the brain sciences. And it's dopamine, it's serotonin, oxytocin, andrenal glands even, norepinephrine, God, all these things that basically drugs hit, you know? It's not the drug that gets you, or the alcohol that gets you, or the sugar that gets you. It's what they do to these reward systems in the brain. And with sugar being, now, with the advent of high-fructose corn syrup 30 years ago. And fructose is the worst, I mean, fructose is the offending molecule, as the say, and I believe a psychoactive drug. When that's poundin' the dopamine system, day in and day out, all day, the dose dependency is really messin' with your brain chemicals, and your, you know, causin' anxiety and a lot more than what people believe is just the diet, and the diabetes, and the over weight, and these other things that they cause. It really is, in our world, in my world, I'm the chairman of the board of a food addiction institute that's been around, non-profit, that's been around since 2005, and our stated goal is to make people understand that this is a substance use disorder. This is not you're eatin' too much, this is not you got a little sweet tooth. For about a third of people, this is a biochemical reaction that they just can't handle in their body. So anyway, and again, it has a lot more to do with the mind than the body, so, anyway. That's the short version, I'm, again, open to any questions.

- Well I guess the key question for me, there was a point where you thought, both with the alcohol and the drugs, and then with the sugar, "This has to change". And I'm interested in what that trigger was for you that you said, you know what, this life can't continue like this.

- Yeah, I do have the trigger moments, the a-ha moments, I always wanted an epiphany, I always wanted a a burning bush, but I never got one. It was slow, actually slower-- well, no, that's true. One of the things is I tried by myself for a long time on a lot of it, and an interesting addition to the drugs and alcohol. I quit drinking alcohol when I was 23-years-old. I did drink a little bit for a couple times, during the times, the five years between 23 and 28, but this thing that helped me stop alcohol was, I would wet the bed . I would drink a case of beer, and I would be so blasted that I didn't even realize that I was, you know, and my body probably was anesthetized to the point where it didn't realize it until halfway into the evening or the morning that I'd done this. And that is just not acceptable, right? And I hear, I don't hear many people talking about it, probably really wise, but, I don't really care anymore, 'cause I'm tired of substance use disorder of every kind on the planet. It's not something we need, and life can be much better. And so, the drug thing, I continued with pot, and coke, and everything, and all kind of stuff back then, different stuff. Luckily I didn't hit the crack-cocaine stuff or the opioid crisis. I might not have made it out. But the drug thing, cocaine brought me to my knees. I was able to smoke pot every day, all day, but cocaine was just... I was really skinny, and I was like, it was just ridiculous. I was runnin' one of those large night clubs, and, you know, the dealers would use my office to transact business, and I would get a little cut, you know? And I walked out one time and there was five of 'em standin' at the bar. I went out the back door. And I went to a meeting. Not that night, but the next day. And that was pretty much it, so. But when I got to the sugar, I was, there was not a lot of support back then, right? So the turning point was I would try by myself every morning, and I get this on my e-mail, and messenger, and in the groups all the time, is that, you know, you start in the morning trying to quit. And then by four o'clock you're back in the sugar, right? And then, so, it's like anything, alcohol, or drugs. But, and I really couldn't do it. I mean, so I started a weird protocol, and I quit caffeine first, and then sugar second, and then flour third. I put it in order, and we follow that protocol to this day for folks that are havin' difficulty. But the short version is that I was, like I said, I was up about 25 pounds, my face was pimpled all over, I was in my, you know, early 30s and I had, you know, dark circles under my eyes. It was insane what I, that I was trying to get sober, hanging out with these other people, and they really didn't support me. They would say, you know, they'd call me the weird addiction specialist, and they're like, "Are you sober today, Mike?" I'm like, yeah. Well, forget about the sugar, you know. Meanwhile, they're gettin' diabetes, and they're having, you know, problems with their weight, and everything. So, yeah, I mean, it was just an awareness, it was that book that I mentioned, but it was also the idea, the fact that, I couldn't do this alone. I mean, I, literally took me a year to quit sugar, a year to quit, you know, a year to quit caffeine. Between eight months and a year in each case. Sugar, flour, caffeine, right in a row, back-to-back. I would start in the morning, and then I couldn't, you know what I mean. When I couldn't quit the caffeine for a while, and then I couldn't quit the sugar, I realize, now, that this is, it was more observational antidotal back then, but I'd just come out of not being able to quit cocaine or pot on my own and needing help of a group, so I realized that this addiction was just as strong. 'Cause I couldn't, you know, couldn't seem to do it, so. That's about the, you know, it wasn't a burning bush, you know, it rarely is for, I don't know, at least for what I've heard.

- Yeah, and the think you described about people with drinking too much alcohol and waking up in a wet bed is far more common than we hear. It's a story that I've heard a number of times. Actually, a lot from spouses of alcoholics.

- Yeah, right, exactly.

- Waking up next to a soggy mess, yeah.

- Yeah, exactly.

- So that's, you know, that's definitely a thing. And I think the thing you say about needing help, very few people actually make that transition from substance addiction to being clean without some kind of external help. It's actually very rare.

- Absolutely, I mean, a lot of folks like... We were talking earlier before the broadcast that, you know, I believe in evolution, so there is a lot of change out there, and I think a redefinition of recovery, while I believe abstinence is required for some people, I think some people, the concept that some people outgrow substance abuse and stuff, sometimes you can't. I mean, sometimes, I... The numbers and the sugar thing are pretty married to the obesity rate both here and in your country. And that what we've discovered at the institute is that about a third of people are biochemically unable, really, to process this, right? And they just sets up cravings. And these are the people that call me, and write me, and message me, that they're 100, 200, 300 pounds over weight, losin' limbs, goin' blind, have diabetes diagnosis, and they still can't quit sugar. They literally know it is killing them, and they cannot stop. So that group is a third, and that mirrors the obesity rate that's about a third of people. And then there's about another third who can go either way, right, and that's kind of the over weight group. That, you know, two thirds of the country is over weight, one third obese in our country. And so that third can go either way. And a lot of those people just buck it up, and they're fine. You know? They get some education, and then they're done, right? And then there's another third who we all hate both in alcohol, drugs, and sugar, who can put a cookie, half a cookie down and not, or half a beer, and just leave it. And like, that's it, they're done. And we don't, I don't, we don't understand. Us, we don't understand those people. I don't, anyway, those addicts.

- I cannot leave a cookie or a piece of chocolate. If it's on the plate, it has to be consumed, it has to be finished.

- And you're not alone. You're definitely not alone.

- Yeah, no I, I kind of almost solved the sugar thing myself by switching to very, very, dark chocolate. So that contains a lot less sugar, and you kinda need a lot less of it, rather than just plowing my way through a great big, you know, bar of 50% sugar chocolate, which is basically what's out there. So you've built this new life which, fascinatingly, is based around helping people with the problems that you identified that you had.

- Yeah, exactly. It took, it was a long time comin', but it finally came around, you know?

- Was that deliberate? Or did that just kind of drift in, and then one day you realized, "Hey, I'm doin' this."

- You know, like I said, I mean, I had some success in business, and a lot of it was online in the last 15 years, selling software and that kind of thing. And so I was kind of aware of how to get some information out. But yeah, really, as I mentioned, I raised the kids sugar free, and one of the things that's kinda hurtin' my heart out there, is the obesity rate in children. And that I realized that a lot of my mentors in this, the scientists, right? The scientists are, a lot of them have worked with children over the years, and they've discovered fatty liver in children, which is traditionally an alcohol disease, and that, you know, the obesity rate of children, and you know, kids can be mean. And, you know, when you're young and over weight. When I was young, there was like one or two over weight children in a school of 3,000. And so now it's a third of children, and two thirds of 'em are obese, a third are obese, you know? And so, it just, I just can't abide it anymore. And it's like something that I'm willin' to be a foot soldier in helpin', you know, change this. And my mentors there talk about a 30-year tectonic shift, like condoms in bathrooms, seat belts in cars, drinking and driving, smoking in public places, things that in society evolve to scientifically, seat belts, and smoking, and second hand smoke, and, you know, the communicable diseases, the sexually transmitted diseases, that, you know, we had to be more open about this kind of stuff, and that if we took precautions, we could save a lot of people. And then the stigma had to change around it, you know. And sugar, man, the enculturated 300 years, in the book they describe the, you know, basically the giant English cartel that was grown from the slave trade in the Caribbean, like exploded all over the world. And then it just, it was no longer a substance for kings and queens, right? Now is 150 pounds or some crazy number, and everybody, it just got birthdays, celebrations, weddings, everything, food, dessert, everything revolves around sugar, and now, 80 plus percent of the products in the supermarket have sugar in it. And so it's impossible now, almost, unless you're a pioneer, or involved in another group who is separate from, and I don't wanna say society, but I do, and society, and even your family, they believe in this damn moderation thing. And some people cannot moderate. We know it in alcohol and drugs, and now... One of the things that I am, or trying to become, from one of my mentors is basically an anthropologist, or a student of 12-step groups. And 40 years ago, 50 years ago, OA was founded, but OA didn't seem to work for a lot of people, because they let you name your own abstinence, right? But off of it shot four groups that did name their abstinence, and that's no flour, no sugar, and some of them weight and measure, but that's not really required, I don't believe. But the people who did not use flour and sugar in these dusty church basements, over a 40 year time, have evolved to the point that if they adhere to this, abstinence based recovery in sugar then flour, they end up as a, you know, in the right sized body with very little health problems, you know? And they have the normal life, but they have to go through the same kind of recovery that an alcoholic and drug addict would have to go through. It's emotional turmoil, they have, you know, there's just a lot of things they have to go through as they lose the weight, and they stay off the sugar. And so this evolution happened in an anonymity for 40 years, right? And now the science is here to back it up, right? They didn't have that science 20, 30, 40 years ago, when they were all workin' it. Now we have the science to back up what they did antidotally and they did ritualistically over time. So yeah, it's an interesting puzzle I guess? It's an interesting, you know, like, evolution of everything. And I'm just happy to be part of it, be a foot soldier, and, you know, the e-mails and the calls you get for thanking you after somebody's lost 100 pounds or, you know. It's, you know, money's a cool thing, but that's much cooler.

- Absolutely. Mike, thank you so much for a really interesting discussion, and we'll make sure we put your contact details and links to useful organizations in the show notes.

- I appreciate it, man, I'm really happy to do it. And I'm glad you're doin' the work you're doin'.

- Thank you. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of "The Great Escape" podcast. You can find other episodes at all the usual places, on iTunes, Stitch, or on Spotify, or at the website, And if you'd like to contact me to talk about any element of this episode or others have covered, please go to and you can find all the ways of getting hold of me there. And if you're stuck in a situation, and you can't find the way out, please go there, send me a message, and let's see how we can work together to get you unstuck and moving forward with your life again. Please do share this podcast with your friends and family, other people you think might appreciate it. And comment on episodes, or send me a message. I'd love to keep the conversation going.

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