May 29, 2015

Sugar Addiction - Cutting the Crap

I feel like it's become more widely known that experiments have been done with rats and sugar, and that the results showed the rats responded to sugar in a similar fashion as cocaine and other narcotics.  Or maybe not - but now you're up to speed with what I'd heard.

I'd also noticed similar effects in myself.  A day or two without sugar (and we're not even talking all sugars, just the super refined sugar and carbs you get in baked goods or candy) and I think about it ALL DAY LONG.  I've mentioned before that I believe I have an addictive personality.  But I guess even with all those little tidbits, there was still a part of me that doubted that sugar addiction could even be a real thing.

Then I googled "sugar withdrawal."

My god!  Sure, some of the articles make a point of saying it's not proven, or theories vary.  But the sheer number of hits for something I thought would be difficult to find!

So let's travel down the winding trail of Google research I just completed.

To begin, I read many articles about sugar withdrawal symptoms, timing, duration, and so on.  But this article from The Conversation sums it up best, and gives more detail on the rat/sugar experiments (with links to the original research findings).  To sum up (for the lazy - for full detail read the article), we've got a buttload of added sugar in our diets.  The more processed your food, the more hidden sugars there are.  Sugar triggers a pleasure reaction in the brain, similar to drugs.

When it's taken away, we continue to crave that chemical reaction and may even experience withdrawal symptoms to the loss of a chemical our body is accustomed to having.  One of the studies mentions the rats displaying depression-like symptoms while undergoing sugar withdrawal.

Isn't that terrifying?

Something about this has really solidified my idea that sugar cravings are more than just a lack of discipline.  Sure, being disciplined or stronger-willed would help, but I've made plenty of other healthy life changes in the last year or two.  I've upped my exercise game, and dramatically improved the nutritional content of my meals.  Why am I struggling so much with this one?

So let's talk a bit more about food addiction.

According to this article from Eating Disorder Hope, there's a lot more to it than just the biological aspect of addiction.  Food addiction, like sugar, can also take on a psychological factor, both caused by and causing low self esteem, a host of negative emotions, and even isolation.  It's a downward spiral, with sugar (or other food) causing a momentary feeling of pleasure, but ultimately more negative and harmful feelings.

I found that last factor, isolation, particularly interesting.  I'd read about another study with rats where they tested susceptibility to cocaine.  In this study, rats were far more likely to develop an addiction if they were placed in an isolated living space, away from other rats.  The rats in the community avoided the addiction and maintained normal relationships.

An article from Everyday Health reinforces that by discussing the factors that made people particularly prone to binging and other food addiction behaviors.  Those mentioned in the article, divorce, death, moving, changing jobs, and hospitalizations, can all be contributors to feeling alone or isolated.

Why am I harping on this isolation thing?  I guess it rings true to me.  I might occasionally pig out in front of other people, but a good, satisfying binge always happens alone.  Partially because it's embarrassing for people to see what (and how much) you really eat, but mostly because it's more enjoyable that way.  I guess this is a little different from the studies, in that I'm not giving into my sugar addiction because I'm isolated, but that I'm seeking isolation in which to indulge it.  But I can definitely see how being alone or upset would exacerbate the problem.

And somewhere in the process of doing this research, I've realized that's what it really is: a problem.  It's not a quirk, unusual eating habits, or even the occasional lapse of discipline.  It's a lifelong pattern of overindulgence and sugar addiction.

So instead of continuing to treat this as merely a dietary inconsistency, I'm going to treat it the way I would any other addiction.  That means cutting out the source of addiction - refined sugars and grains, identifying triggers - wanting sweets after meals or eating in bed, and sticking to it until the withdrawal period has ended - anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, symptoms (for me) will be moodiness and pretty much continual cravings.  Other people will experience different thing - this article from Mental Health Daily goes into sugar withdrawal in more depth.

In the past, my biggest obstacle has been, not caving to those cravings, but not caring.  While I care I stick to my guns and everything is great.  Then I wake up one morning and I don't give a crap anymore.  And I've never known why that is.  But I've never eaten when I didn't want to; it's always been a very conscious choice.

But I think with what I know now, I'll be able to fight that.  It's easy to not care about a small, somewhat unhealthy habit.  It's a lot harder to blow it off after realizing I'm not actually in control the way I'd always thought I was.

And the morning I wake up not caring I'll remind myself: this isn't you talking, this is your addictive personality.

Do you have any unhealthy food habits?  Would you consider them addictions?  Any tips for cutting sugar out or controlling cravings?

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  1. I definitely feel the pains when I try to cut out sugar. I've done it successfully a few times and it was probably the most difficult thing I've done. I want to try again, but I don't know if I can get through that tough time period. It does make me feel better to tell myself my body doesn't NEED sugar, it's just my stupid brain.

    1. I've never made it before, so it'll be interesting to see how this goes. I'm already catching some of my patterns that I never thought too much about before - like when I start feeling stressed, I feel like I "deserve" it or I start heading into not caring land. Knowing that my brain is looking for justifications for addictive behaviors is helping for now, but it's early yet. We'll see in a week or two.

  2. You can totally cut the sugar addiction!!! And know that I am right here with you suffering through it! And grains. And dairy. Because obviously I don't know how to have any fun haha. I am taking the approach that food will not control me. I just need it to fuel my body and feel good. I fully believe that sugar is addicting. No doubt in my mind. Let's break this addiction :)

  3. i am exactly the same as you, like to the whole i purposely isolate myself so that i can eat junk. i don't eat junk because i'm alone. i am definitely addicted to sugar. i've gone almost a week without anything 'bad' (probably still having sugar in little things but nothing outright bad) and the headaches and the cravings were INSANE. they still are.

  4. I have certainly categorized myself as having a food addiction, specifically to breads and sweets. I have come to the point where I cannot buy cookies or anything along those lines because not only will I eat them, I will eat them ALL in one sitting. I have tried to hide stuff from myself, but we all know that doesn't work. It's constantly on my mind. I clearly remember a day back in October when a coworker baked me a pumpkin cheesecake. I went home and ate that cheesecake all week as my dinner. Along with the bag of oero's that was left over form a party I had. I felt SO horrible by the end of the week. My skin was a mess, my mood was awful and all I cared about was eating the rest of that cake. So not I have to monitor my sugar intake. It consumes me if I don't. Good luck with your journey! It really is hard but once it's pasted you're golden!

  5. Surprisingly, mine has never been sugar. I can definitely see how it's a problem - they add sugar to everything! But mine is salt. I have a major salt issue, I'm addicted for sure. I have to do something about it!

  6. I don't really like sweets. I rarely ever crave candy or chocolate. but I am insane over Dr Pepper


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