These concepts are the underlying assumptions on which all of The Suppers Programs are based. We have incorporated with gratitude ideas from many fields and organizations, including environmental medicine, nutritional psychology, counseling, public health, the whole food movement, and the 12-step programs. Our literature presents a wellness orientation that emphasizes the health of the physical body and the body’s role as the human terrain on which all other experience takes place. We work with the assumption that certain problems are “health relatives” because their biochemical and environmental causes are so similar. These principles apply, regardless of the diagnosis, to anyone whose health challenges require lifestyle change, including those with depression, anxiety, learning issues, obesity, diabetes, and/or problems with alcohol.
Concept 1: Biological Individuality
Every body is different from every other body
The concept of biological individuality reminds us that everyone’s body is different from everyone else’s body. Biological individuality is seen at all levels of health, mental health, and addictive experience. We honor each other’s individuality by assuming we don’t know what is right for someone else and keeping the focus first on finding our own pathways. The courage and power to change our individual biology lies in the challenging work of diet and lifestyle change. This means subtracting processed foods that light up the pleasure centers in the brain artificially and then let you crash, just as drugs do. It means adding whole foods that build stable, happy brains over time.
Concept 2: The Forgotten Body
Poor health and addiction are the logical conclusion of leaving the body out of the body, mind, and spirit equation
The Suppers Programs seek no more but no less than to restore care of the physical body to its natural place in this equation. The body’s nonnegotiable needs are simple, if not easy, to fulfill. We require a diet of whole foods as they exist in nature, meaningful physical activity, and ways to manage stress, including satisfying human connections. The profit motive for orienting care of the body toward treatment and pharmaceuticals is intense. At Suppers, we remember the body and focus on prevention and repair through diet and lifestyle.
Concept 3: Food Is the First Addiction
Suppers recognizes that food is our most expensive national addiction. In human and dollar calculations, the consequences of the processed, drug-like food supply already surpass the consequences of cigarettes and alcohol. Not only does processed food lead us down the path to obesity and diabetes, the havoc wrought on blood sugar and mood chemistry sets us up for dependence on and addiction to other substances. Experts disagree on which foods have what consequences, whether or not there are good foods and bad foods, or whether there are any nutritional advantages to organic or locally grown foods. Suppers recommends we not be part of their experiment. We know that eating food as it exists in nature is safe; for everything else we are lab rats.
Concept 4: Appetite Foolishness
Desiring and repeatedly consuming things you know are hurting you
“Appetite foolishness” is characterized by craving things that are unhealthy for your body. You experience appetite foolishness if you get repeated urges to consume foods or beverages that temporarily resolve a discomfort but create a greater problem over time. Many feelings we assume are our emotions are really reactions to drug-like food. It is very easy to develop appetite foolishness in a culture that combines a food supply that is more like drugs than food with intense profit motive.
If appetite foolishness is part of your problem, the matching solution will include changes in habits. The solution is simple, but it may not be easy. It calls for 1) a diet of wholesome foods to meet personal nutritional needs, 2) new habits of mind and body, and 3) a community of family, mentors, and peers to support the change process. For some individuals, professional help will be necessary, especially when toxicity is an issue. But even the best professional help is no substitute for support from a community of caring people who want to see their loved ones thrive.
Concept 5: Automatic Choices
The choices you make when you aren’t consciously participating
The concept of automatic choices tells us that if we do not consciously work on change, we will be run by our default settings or automatic choices. If appetite foolishness governs your automatic choices, you are very likely to have health, mental heath, or addiction problems. There are lots of reasons for the gaps between what we know is best and what we actually do. Here are some of the ones that drive the choices we make:
Unfamiliarity. Staying the same is familiar and easy. Changing is strange and hard.
Discomfort. The pain of staying the same is less than the anticipated pain of changing.
The nature of addiction. The forces that make us want to change are weaker than the forces that keep us addicted.
Time. Changes require intention, acquiring information, creating a plan, implementing the plan, and adjusting the plan. These things are time consuming.
Expectations. We expect change to be difficult, and so it is.
The unknown. The grip of addiction doesn’t happen for just one reason. It’s the unknown forces you aren’t addressing that will sabotage your process.
Support. If supports are not in place, changing and maintaining changes is sabotaged by the ease with which we can fall back into the relationship with the addiction. Appetite foolishness will prevail without support.
Your other personal reasons.
You can get help from your therapeutic friends at Suppers by learning to observe how your default settings are running your life.
Concept 6: Health Relatives
People whose problems have similar biochemical and environmental causes, regardless of their diagnoses
Many people with dissimilar-sounding diagnoses are actually quite closely related because the diet and lifestyle changes needed to turn them around are virtually the same. To the extent that health problems are lifestyle-related, The Suppers Programs provide the ideal support for anyone with some combination of depression, anxiety, learning issues, obesity, diabetes, and/or problems with alcohol. These issues tend to cluster in families and individuals.
Concept 7: The Diagnosis May Be Inconsequential
If eating processed foods caused your problem to begin with, the right solution – whole food – may be more important than the diagnostic labels
Suppers welcomes people with a wide array of health and mental health challenges related to diet and lifestyle. Most of us have problems with blood sugar regulation and mood chemistry. Though nutritional requirements vary greatly from one person to the next, we all share a fundamental need for whole food. Determining which whole foods make us feel best will require doing experiments to collect the data. Suppers has nothing to do with the details of dealing with particular diagnoses; that’s up to people and their practitioners. But Suppers has everything to do with providing the support people need to make health-restoring change.
Concept 8: Your Internal Observer
The part of you that notices but doesn’t judge
Inside each one of us is an observer. If you ever tried meditation, you may have learned this already. It is the part of you that witnesses what you’re doing while you do it or shortly after. Your internal observer is your best friend as you try to break a habit. The trick is to learn to make the observation before your internal judge takes over and charges it with uncomfortable emotions. For today, just start noticing that part of yourself that observes what you’re doing while you’re doing it.
Concept 9: How You Feel Is Data
Your body is constantly communicating important information to you, if you would just learn to interpret its language
Daytime fatigue, mental energy, depression, anxiety, cravings, mood swings, and of course good spirits, emotional stability, and freedom from impulses are all important data. You just need to learn to interpret the signals your body is sending you. At Suppers we seek to help you establish connections with the part of you that is constantly trying to send you feedback about what’s going on inside and how you need to change. We do this mostly by teaching you how to do experiments and make observations about how foods and behaviors make you feel. Honoring biological individuality, Suppers does not advocate any particular diet over any other. Rather, we focus on helping people develop a palate for the freshest, healthiest whole food. Of those, Suppers experiments will help you determine which are the healthiest for you.
Concept 10: Addition and Subtraction
Good health is achieved by adding what the body needs to have and subtracting what the body needs to not have
Health challenges at the biological level boil down to two simple functions: addition and subtraction. In simplest terms, addiction, or any disease, is a combination of not having enough of something that’s required for good health (deficiency) and having too much of something that is bad for health (toxicity). Whether the reasons are genetic or acquired, good biological health rests on having enough of what builds healthy cells and not having too much of what destroys cells. The task for people who are earnest about making diet and lifestyle changes for the sake of better health is to subtract the things that are making them toxic and add the things that will restore their brains and bodies to health.
Concept 11: Nutritional Harm Reduction
A gentle transition process that makes healthy change possible
People who join Suppers have at some point suffered because of the addictive nature of the food supply. With food, abstinence is not an option. That leaves harm reduction. We understand that there are many obstacles to change, particularly for those who live in households with others who are not ready to change. That’s why The Suppers Programs are about reducing harm gently, supporting people as they explore their willingness to head in the direction of a healthier life. Let's face it. Are you going to eliminate everything you know is bad for you and switch to eating only things that are good for you overnight? At Suppers we see nutrition as a transitional process. It takes time to learn how to determine which foods work best for you and your family, to learn how to prepare them, and to acquire a taste for, and ultimately a desire for, healthier foods. You will probably experience all kinds of slips, relapses, and hilarious stories along the way. Self-doubt, ice-cream cones, spousal sabotage, secret eating, and rebelling children are all natural steps in the transition process. At Suppers, our stories will help you learn the many ways to reduce harm by becoming aware of automatic choices, facing appetite foolishness, experimenting with better choices and noting how you feel, and adding foods that are healthy while slowly subtracting those that are more like drugs.
Concept 12: Logical Miracle
What takes place in the natural course of things when your needs are met
The dictionary says a miracle is an extraordinary event that manifests divine intervention in the lives of humans. It is highly unusual. “Logical” simply means capable of using reason. At Suppers we assume that miracles are not so unusual after all. We can reasonably expect them to happen when people receive the nourishment and support they need in safe, nonjudgmental settings. Reversal of the progression into diabetes, freedom from food cravings, relief from depression or anxiety, and more rewarding relationships are just a few of the logical miracles we see in people who work our program. Dreams that seemed impossible prior to getting your needs met become ordinary outcomes once your needs are met. They become logical miracles.
Concept 13: Healthier Sources of Pleasure
Alternatives to food, drink, or drugs that trigger your sense of pleasure
People who have dependent relationships with any food or drink that changes how they feel are not experiencing pleasure and comfort in the ordinary, healthy way. They experience false emotions, bad and good. It’s hard for people with normal wiring and biochemistry to imagine the discomfort and desperation of the person who lives in a body that can’t regulate itself or get comfortable. Whether for genetic or acquired reasons, some people return over and over to food or substances that artificially stimulate the brain’s pleasure centers, looking for relief from the inability to feel normal pleasure.
The concept of healthier sources of pleasure calls on us to experiment with new ways of feeling normal comfort. Eating foods that help us feel comfortable in our own skin is just one example. For some it might be socializing, dancing, or cooking with friends. This concept calls us to the family table where we can make satisfying human connections. Any relationship or group experience that helps you feel valued, understood, and connected can provide an alternative to foods and substances as a source of pleasure. At Suppers we have found creativity to be so profoundly healing that we have built opportunities to create into the flexible structure of The Suppers Programs. We have removed all profit motives; the creative energy is focused entirely on personal healing. We invite you to use our ideas, download our literature, and create your own groups.
Concept 14: Planning Is Everything
If diet and lifestyle are central to your health challenges, the solution will require lots of planning
There is no getting around the need for planning when your health demands that you change your behaviors. With the exception of type 1 diabetics, most of us at Suppers have eaten, drunk, and behaved our way into our health challenges. Environmental exposures like heavy metals and pesticides contribute too. It is so easy to slip back into familiar patterns: grabbing a slice of pizza instead of sitting down to a meal, defaulting on good intentions to exercise more, or feeling too busy to prepare a fresh salad. This is why Suppers is a program, not a club or a class. The program can only work if you work it, and that means planning: having good food ready to eat at all times, taking the initiative to buy the best fresh ingredients, making time for meaningful physical activity, and giving and getting support in a safe setting.
Concept 15: Therapeutic Friendship
The relationships that form around doing the work of Suppers
The concept of therapeutic friendship offers people the possibility of becoming the designers of their own plans for better health or recovery with the help of peers. Once we accept that each individual has a biological natural reality, the footwork is up to individuals in relationships.
The concept of therapeutic friendship calls on us to recognize wisdom, but not to identify unassailable experts at the Suppers tables or in the resources we share. Health seeking can get very frustrating when experts disagree with one another. Whose advice should we follow? In a community of therapeutic friends whose purpose is supporting healthy change, we can help each other make the best matches between our diet and lifestyle problems and our diet and lifestyle solutions.
This concept is non-hierarchical, meaning help flows both ways and all roles have value. When the teachers are ready, the students appear; and when the students are ready, the teachers appear. In a recovery community based on therapeutic friendship, individual strengths to lead or follow, learn or teach, listen or speak are equally valued.
Concept 16: The Body Is the Temple of the Soul
The spiritual foundation of The Suppers Programs is care of the physical body, the primary spiritual act. The life we experience here and now is the one we experience in our physical bodies. The addiction we experience here and now is not possible without a body. The thoughts we’re thinking are influenced by the quality of our physical brains. Our spiritual experiences, thinking, attitudes, memories, emotions, joys, and traumas all take place on the terrain of the body and the cells that make it. We all have bodies. And that matters.
Concept 17: Gratitude Begets More to Be Grateful For
The Suppers Programs is grateful to all the individuals, families, programs, researchers, clinicians and writers whose ideas give life to this program. We are grateful for experts who devote their careers to helping us and to the programs that save lives and hold answers for many of us. We are grateful for the accumulated wisdom of all who went before us, giving us more choices for our personal pathways.
Concept 18: Treats and Triggers
Can you do portion control or is abstinence needed? To find out, distinguish treats from triggers.
A treat is something you eat and really enjoy that does not precipitate more eating or other unwanted behavior. Having it feels good, not gleeful. A trigger is something you eat that does precipitate more eating or other unwanted behavior. It feels like a compulsion.
Distinguishing treats and triggers is important work at Suppers. People are designed to seek pleasure, but in experiencing too much of the wrong kind, we can fall into addictive relationships. We want to help people eat with as much pleasure as possible without triggering themselves.
Concept 19: Palate Development
The process of acquiring the desire for healthy, whole food
If your taste buds are adapted to manufactured foods that make you feel addicted, you may be eating more to artificially stimulate pleasure responses than eating to satisfy normal hunger. Real food becomes delicious as eating it loosens the grip that processed foods have on your taste preferences.
As your body lets go of the structures that keep you desiring processed food, it builds the structures that help you enjoy the taste of real food. But it takes time and lots of support to get through the transition if your preferences and identity are wrapped around drug-like food and drink. We don’t promise that the food we make is delicious; we do promise that in working the program your tongue will change and awaken to the pleasure of eating whole food. Through your own personal process of palate development, you will learn to distinguish between treats – the foods you can eat with great pleasure but which do not trigger unwanted eating – and triggers – the foods that do lead to unwanted eating.
Concept 20: Matching Problems and Solutions
Create personal experiments to find food and behavior solutions to health problems.
One of the greatest obstacles to change for motivated people is poor matchmaking between problems and solutions. It starts with assumptions about what’s healthy. It’s easy to have faulty assumptions in a culture where illness is lucrative, businesses thrive if you fail, and the cultural orientation is toward treatment not prevention. At Suppers, we are less concerned with specific diagnoses – that’s up to people and their practitioners -- and more concerned with the biochemical and environmental challenges that created the problem to begin with. If we understand the exposures and behaviors that caused the problem, we can make better matches between health problems and behavior solutions. Each individual will need to experiment to determine his or her unique nutritional requirements, and we remind people constantly at meetings to devise personal experiments to test their hunches.
Concept 21: Healing is a Social Experience
Problems that feel impossible to solve in isolation become solvable with support.
Most illnesses today are chronic illnesses, problems that require behavior change, not magic-bullet pharmaceutical solutions like antibiotics for bacterial infections. We can’t fix diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies and asthma, or addictions with a two-week course of pills. They require change. The assumption at Suppers is that the changes are mostly quite simple but not necessarily easy to make because entrenched patterns are hard to shake. They often involve an addiction-like relationship with favorite foods, and the change process requires support. At Suppers we form groups with the shared intention of living a healthier life. Healing is a social experience.
Concept 22: The people who benefit most are those who serve.
Volunteering provides both social and health benefits.
When you host, facilitate, do email, set the table or make a phone call to someone who needs support, you are simultaneously serving others and yourself. There is a strong relationship between providing service to your community and lower mortality rates, increased function, and lower rates of depression. And the greatest benefits seem to accrue to the older volunteers! Suppers is an inside job. Most of our work is done by facilitators who get the “helper’s high” and volunteers who care and benefit from caring.
Concept 23: It’s Not Just About Food
Logical miracles happen only when enough of your needs are met.
While Suppers seeks to elevate the role of nutrition to its rightful place in the body, mind, spirit equation, we fully acknowledge that it’s not just about food. Ten years into running meetings and with so much research emerging about the role of emotional needs that relate to eating, the various forms of nutrition and hunger, and the healing value of community, we are adding a chapter on the concept that being fully nourished is not just about food. With this concept we ask users of The Suppers Programs to share your thoughts and feelings about the many contributors to your sense of well-being and relationship with food to info@TheSuppersPrograms.org.
Concept 24: Therapeutic Bridge Eating
The food you need in the future may differ from what you need today.
The concept of therapeutic bridge eating recognizes that your nutritional needs are not static, that nutritional needs change with both time and circumstances, and that limited periods of eating in a targeted way can move you in the direction of a more permanent way of eating that is dissimilar from the therapeutic bridge. An example might be the depressed person who is very deficient in the building blocks of good mood chemistry. This person’s needs for high qualify fats and protein to rebuild the brain and good mood chemistry may temporarily be far greater than his long-term needs.