Jun 9, 2015

Sugar Addiction Update

I figured 2 weeks into the refined sugar avoidance plan was a good time for an update.  And I never really explained what I was doing.

A quick recap: I believe my relationship with sweets goes beyond indulgence and off into unhealthy addictive behavior land.  I'm attempting to break that addiction both physically (craving sweets) and mentally (wanting "rewards" or deciding I don't care).

My plan for doing that was fairly simple.  I noticed that my addictive behaviors are triggered primarily by refined sugars: candy, baked goods, chocolate, etc.  I don't think I've ever binged on granola bars or fruit, so I saw no need to cut out those foods and, realistically, if I didn't have any sources of sweetness, I'd be unlikely to make it.

So I wanted to stop eating things that lack any sort of nutritional value.  I realize that's a little vague, but it allows me to taper off slowly as my perception changes and I raise my standards for how nutritional foods should be to meet that criteria.

Example: a chocolate chip cookie has no nutritional value.  And they make me want 5 more.  So cookies are out, but something like a Fiber One brownie might still be considered acceptable (although after scrutiny of the ingredients, those are probably out too, as soon as this box is gone).

The next step would be cutting out the pretend healthy snacks (Fiber One brownies, most granola bars, etc).

2 reasons for focusing so heavily on refined sugars: 1) They digest quickly, giving you that sugar spike and messing with your insulin levels 2) Probably because of that quick sugar high, they trigger my addictive behaviors far more than natural sources of sugar.

I've been getting frustrated because I talk about cutting out refined sugars and then people say things like, "You know fruit is high in sugar."  Yes, yes it is.  But it's not REFINED.  And it's nowhere near as bad as a candy bar.  Let's do some comparisons.

Apple                                   95 Calories                  19g Sugar
Fiber One Brownie             90 Calories                  8g Sugar
Snickers Bar                        250 Calories                27g Sugar

Apple > Snickers, obviously.  But at first glance you might think I'd be better off eating the "health" brownie than an apple.  Here's the thing, though.  You can't binge on apples.  I mean, maybe someone can, but I can't.  I don't think I could physically eat more than 2, and I really don't have any desire to eat more than 1.  But I can pretty easily handle 4 or 5 brownies, if I'm on a rampage.  (The math comes out to about 40g sugar and 450 calories if I ate 5.)

Plus the fact that that apple is natural sugars that won't be like a shot to my bloodstream, whereas the brownie is refined grains and sugars that my body will digest too quickly, leaving me hungry and with my insulin working hard to deal with the sugar spike I just gave it.

And I think that's a huge part of the problem with the way a lot of our health food is packaged.  The stats look good.  It legitimately seems like a healthy option.  But the more we've f***ed with it, the less sure you can be that the contents are actually good for you.

But I digress.  The point is that I'm not avoiding fruit.  I'm not avoiding all sugar.  I'm putting a huge dent in my consumption of specific things that contain a lot of refined sugars (or grains) and nothing else of value.  And I'm doing my best to retrain my body and my taste buds to be satisfied with the more natural sweet taste of fruits.

It's an interesting challenge, because it's both mental and physical.  My body is used to consuming a high quantity of the sweet stuff.  Our office is packed almost continually with cookies, themed treats for every holiday, donuts, ice cream, and various chocolate-y items.

Physical Symptoms

It's difficult to say for sure.  I mentioned in the last Sunday Sweats post that I couldn't tell the difference between withdrawal and caffeine jitters one day, and sleep deprivation the next.  In general, I've felt worse than I expected but had fewer/less intense cravings, which is an ok trade off.  Feeling crappy isn't fun, but it requires less willpower to deal with than fighting down physical cravings.  The few that I've had have been easily stopped by using the big, scary "a" word (seriously changed my whole perspective on this).


This has been really interesting.  I'll catch myself thinking, "I'm stressed, I should get a ___."  And it's like an aha moment every time.  I also tend to go for something sweet after meals, and before bed.  I wouldn't call it a physical craving so much as a mental one.  I wanted it, but my body wasn't screaming for it.  I had a couple backslides, where I indulged in my unhealthy habit, but with a different food item (like chia pudding instead of cookies) and while the food wasn't as satisfying, I don't think I should indulge the habit at all.  I think the mental connection between activity/timing and sugary foods is too strong, so simply replacing one food for a better one isn't enough.  The whole habit is unhealthy, unnecessary, and it needs to go.


I'm glad I'm finally doing this.  The effects I've been experiencing are enough to convince me that sugar addiction is a legitimate concern, and that this lifestyle change is long overdue.  I'm also glad I don't feel the need to do something terribly restrictive.  I don't think carbs are the enemy, or protein, or any one particular component of my diet.  I'm making a point to continue including whole grains in my diet (oatmeal and brown rice are my best friends for preventing hunger pangs) and I've got no problem with natural sugars (thank goodness, because fruit keeps me happy).

I'm also not saying "never" to refined treats without nutritional value.  I am saying "not every day," which removes the addiction aspect of it.  I don't want to feel restricted or like I'm missing out, especially for special occasions, like Sister2's wedding last weekend.  And when you talk to people who have successfully changed their lifestyle and lost a lot of weight, they rarely say, "Oh yeah, I just implemented this super restrictive diet and stuck to it without fail, forever."  They usually talk about reducing portions to reasonable sizes, and eating primarily healthy things.

So that's what I'm doing.  The goal here isn't to lose a ton of weight and become the Hollywood version of beautiful (although my blood pressure would probably thank me if I weighed a bit less).  The goal is to make the healthiest choices for my body while still enjoying life.  And sometimes that means the occasional piece of cake.

Have you successfully made it through sugar withdrawal?  What symptoms have you noticed?  What ways do you practice moderation?

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  1. Sounds like you are doing great with your challenge and learning that there is something to not having the un-nutritional stuff often because, really what is the point past a short stint with satisfaction from taste/sugar high. I am learning big time that real foods keep me fuller much longer and that my old snacking tendencies are basically gone. I used to love granola bars, fiber one bars and the like, thinking they are healthy because of marketing ploys. But when you read the ingredients its like nope, never mind!!!

  2. I absolutely need to start doing this. I feel like lately, my sweet tooth is out of control, and I find myself constantly wondering, hmmm what delicious this can I consume next? Strangely the fact that I'm running regularly has actually made me feel BETTER about eating the sweets, as I justify it. Oh, I'm running in the morning, I can have this soda. I need to cut back pronto! It's funny how in general, sugar isn't looked at as an addiction, but it most definitely is.

    1. You know, I've felt that in the past. Basically moving from one snack to the next. And still I never thought of it as an "addiction" until recently. I guess our society just doesn't see food that way. Running makes me less likely to want to eat, but I know what you mean about how it gives you "permission." I mean, I just burned off 700 calories, so how bad could it be? But in the end it's not entirely about calories (although that'd be nice; it'd simplify things a bit).

  3. I use to be addicted to M&M's. Now I rarely ever eat anything sweet


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