The other morning as I walked along this white sand beach I was thinking about the things that bind us up. I began to think about substance abuse. (Because doesn’t everyone think about substance abuse while walking on a pristine white beach with a breeze blowing a balmy 35 degrees? That might be the first clue to my need for some help.) This has been on my mind a lot lately because I have an addiction that I just can’t seem to kick and I feel my health demands that I do so. I come from a family with a history of alcoholism. I never began drinking because I feared I’d become an alcoholic too. The danger was high and I wasn’t willing to risk it. That didn’t keep me from marrying one, but that is not the subject of this blog post.
I am completely addicted to sugar. I have quit it before, and as long as I stay away completely I can stay off. I feel way better when I’m off sugar. When I mention that I have to completely avoid it, some well-meaning person will say “That’s not realistic. You need to be able to have a treat sometimes. Just learn to control yourself and only have one _________ (fill in the blank with anything sugary). I quickly agree with them, and help myself to whatever the treat is. And maybe I’m content with that the first time. But there always comes a second and and third and pretty soon I’m taking extras in my pocket for later on, or I’m casually helping myself to a second portion, as though the first one wasn’t a thing, or as if I won’t go off the deep end. I take some home for later, and maybe just pop into the supermarket for a carton of ice cream. Organic ice cream is okay, right? No. It’s not okay because I know that I will have to eat at least half of the carton at one sitting. Maybe even the whole thing. For a sugar addict like myself there is no such thing as just a tiny little bowl of ice cream. I always marveled at my mom who could have a little ice cream in a custard cup and two tiny Trader Joe’s cookies and be satisfied. I would have my ice cream in a big bowl and eat all the cookies. No question about it.
As I write this I hear the voice of a friend of an alcoholic offering just one beer, not realizing that there is no way that will only be one beer. Or one hit of meth or whatever nasty thing a person is addicted to. There is no way a person who is not an addict can understand the needs of one who is. Someone who can have only one just doesn’t get someone who can’t. That is not a failing of that person, but we who are addicted to something have to know better than to listen to them.
I hear you. You who are suggesting that my equating an addiction to sugar to that of alcohol or methamphetamines is bunk. You think I’m being overly dramatic, making a mountain out of a molehill, and I get it. You can buy sugar at every single place that sells anything. You can buy it at any age. How can it be like a controlled substance? Well, it is and it isn’t.
It’s like it because I can’t say no to it. Or maybe I can for a little while, but once the idea of it is in my head it will buzz in there until I go get the thing. For example, someone mentions Junior Mints, and how they always used to eat them in movies. That will begin the buzzing. Hm…Junior Mints aren’t that bad. The chocolate is dark and they are really small. Well if you only ate one or two maybe it wouldn’t be such a big thing, but I know I will want a movie size box of them. And I won’t quit eating them until all are gone. And then I’ll look around for what other sweet treat I can eat. Maybe some organic ice cream…
Sugar isn’t like alcohol or other drugs because it isn’t a controlled substance. Bingo! It isn’t controlled so it’s socially acceptable to be addicted to it, unlike drugs or alcohol which are controlled by the law. You can’t buy drugs within the law at all. And alcohol is at least controlled for age. I don’t think a recovering alcoholic would think that is enough control, but I don’t know enough about being one of those to even talk about it. None of the alcoholics I’ve been related to ever recovered from it.
The thing about sugar is that it is responsible for so many bodily ailments. It is highly inflammatory, and that leads to all sorts of illnesses. If you Google “Effect of sugar on…” you have a choice between brain, body, blood pressure, liver, skin, mood, health and plant growth. Okay, leave out plant growth. I didn’t read the whole thing, but apparently it’s not so good for plants either. Listen to all this:
- Your Brain: Eating sugar gives your brain a surge of dopamine, which feels really good. But in order to continue to get the same level of good feelings you need more and more sugar. This helps create that addictive craving for sweet treats.
- Your mood: When you first eat sugar you get that dopamine ‘high’ and you feel great. But as it is absorbed, you ‘crash,’ which leads you to feel anxious. Eventually this can lead to depression.
- Your teeth: Your mom undoubtedly told you all about sugar and cavities so I won’t. But it’s true. Eating sugar causes cavities.
- Joint pain: Sugar causes inflammation which can cause your joints to ache. Studies show that sugar consumption can actually lead to rheumatoid arthritis.
- Your Skin: As sugar attaches to proteins in your bloodstream they create something called AGEs (advanced glycation end products) which make your skin look old. In short, it causes wrinkles!
- Your Heart: Oh my, this is huge. The excess insulin in your bloodstream can cause your artery walls to grow too fast, causing damage to your circulatory system. It can lead to heart attacks, heart disease and strokes.
- Your pancreas: When you eat too much sugar your pancreas tires out from putting out all the insulin that is needed to process it. Eventually it shuts down, setting you up for pre-Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
- Your kidneys: If you have diabetes, too much sugar can lead to kidney damage.
- Your liver: Fructose can trigger your liver to build up fat around itself, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This was rarely seen before 1980 when sugar consumption began to be so huge in the U.S.
- Your Body Weight: Ugh! Do I ever know this story. The more sugar you eat, the more you weigh. Especially watch for sugar sweetened beverages. They really pack on the weight.
- Sexual health: Too much sugar can make men impotent. This goes back to the part about circulation problems. The blood can’t get to where it needs to go. Enough said.
- Cholesterol: There is a connection between excess sugar consumption and the elevation of bad cholesterol. I think this has been surprising because people have always connected bad cholesterol with fat consumption, but studies are showing a connection that involves sugar.
- “Type 3 Diabetes:” A Brown University study found a connection between a high-fat diet, insulin resistance and Alzheimers. They likened it to “diabetes of the brain.” In this case the brain’s ability to use glucose and produce energy is damaged.
- Sugar makes you hungry: When you regularly eat too much sugar, your body loses the ability to tell when you’ve had enough to eat. You still feel hungry even when you are overeating. Back to the overweight thing.
Have you read enough yet? It’s overwhelming isn’t it? I’ve included links to the articles I read so you can read the plethora of details for yourself.
Once again, I’m convinced. I can easily forget all these things when I’m on a roll with sugar, but I never don’t know it. I just look the other way. So what am I going to do about it? It is clear to me that I need to quit eating it. I was pretty much sugar free for the past week while on vacation, not because of virtue, but because of availability, so I guess this is a good time to keep it going. The thing to remember is I have an addiction to the stuff, and I can’t just decide my way out of an addiction. Cold turkey only lasts until I pass the ice cream freezers at the supermarket, so here are a few things I will do, in case you might want some suggestions too.
- Drink more water. When you crave sugar there is a good chance that you are thirsty. As we get older our body disguises thirst as sugar craving. So I will try drinking a big glass of water whenever I crave sugar.
- If I am craving emotional comfort and look for some sugar to assuage that desire, I will try EFT tapping. I have done a little of this and it is very calming . It isn’t just for sugar cravings or weight loss, but that is one thing that it is useful for. There is an excellent book about this by Jessica Ortner called The Tapping Solution for Weight Loss & Body Confidence. I got it on Audible, and I obviously can’t practice tapping while I drive, which is when I listen to books, but I will be setting aside time to listen and practice at home.
- Sometimes people recommend using a sugar substitute like Stevia or honey or maple syrup. While I love those ideas just like I love sugar, they are just a substitute. For me, that will just lead back to the real thing. So I won’t be substituting some other substance for sugar. It’s the habit and practice I need to change, not the taste.
- I think it’s a no-brainer to say that I’ll remove all of the sugar from my house. The ice cream in the freezer, those Kind bars I got at Costco, all of it. It will lurk until I eat it, so out it must go.
- I always begin the day with a breakfast that has fat, protein and vegetables. That will continue. It makes me feel balanced and solid as I start the day.
- Meditation. Purposeful calming and centering will be a helpful way to divert my energy from emotional eating, which always involves sugar for me.
- Walking. When I walk regularly, even for half an hour, I feel centered and solid and less likely to have the emotional fluctuations that will lead to gobbling sugar.
This could go on forever. Thanks for hanging in with me until the end. This is such a big topic, and it affects so many of us that I think I have to just stop, rather than think I can actually finish. I will return to this topic as my quest continues, and would love to hear anyone else’s experience and suggestions about it.