How did you do with the Halloween candy? Did you print out my little list of burpee equivalents and do your burpees to counteract what you ate? Did you lose count after the 5th piece?
I had a friend in college who did just that with beer. He’d get to 5 beers, then starting counting like this, “Five plus one beer, five plus two beers, etc.” until he got to a number that his poor inebriated brain just couldn’t muster.
And that’s me with sugar. “I’ve had 5 Fun Size Snickers plus…hmm, maybe I haven’t had any. Pass me one.” Should I not admit this as a personal trainer? Let me be honest: sugar is the worst addiction for me. When I have one cookie, my brain craves another. I look for excuses to have more sugar. I convince myself I deserve a(nother) treat because “it’s Friday,” “I’m tired,” “I exercised this morning,” “I have kids,” “Whatever, just give me another cookie.”
According to Dr. Alan Greene, “Medical addiction changes brain chemistry to cause binging, craving, withdrawal symptoms… Excess added sugar can do just that, through changes in the same pathways as addiction to amphetamines or alcohol¹.”
Let’s go through those brain chemistry changes addiction causes, shall we? Let’s see if these same things happen with sugar…
Binging: For those of you who are sugar addicts, this is a no-brainer. I noticed this one the most when my kids were toddlers. When I was tired and frustrated, I’d find myself in the pantry, eating anything sugary I could find. Once I’d start, I didn’t stop until either all of the cookies were gone or I’d shamed myself into stopping. Shame: that’s a topic for another day, remind me.
Craving: Once a couple of years ago, I decided to completely cut out added sugars from my diet. While I generally recommend that people eat diets of moderation rather than deprivation, I do find that I feel my best when I’m consciously removing all added sugars, by the way. It’s not easy to say no to seasonal drinks at Starbucks or cupcakes at birthday parties, but it works best for me. Anyway, I made that decision on Valentine’s Day–not an easy day for no sugar.
On my third day of NO SUGAR, I made a list of all the things in the house I wanted to eat: the kids’ cookies, cereal, marshmallows, chocolate chips, spoonfuls of sugar, brown sugar clumps…My husband pointed out that many of these things were ingredients, not food to sit and eat. Yep. That’s a craving, y’all. I wanted the sugar so badly I was willing to just pour it down my throat.
Withdrawal: Have you ever done a detox? 21 days of no caffeine², sugar, whatever? You know those headaches? All that anger? All the annoying people who weren’t quite as annoying before someone TOOK AWAY YOUR COFFEE?
When you give up sugar, you know. The withdrawal is real.
Can you admit with me that maybe you too are addicted to sugar? Here’s a quiz if you aren’t sure. The sugars that are added to our foods and drinks are pervasive and insidious. According to this Cleveland Clinic infographic (I love infographics so much. So much information. In one graphic! Infographic!), American adults consume about 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, while our kids consume 34.
So, what do we do? No more sugar ever? Is that practical? I can tell you that’s it not for me. There are times when I want to eat desserts, and not the lame artificial sweetener kind. Real pumpkin pie, real birthday cake, real blackberry cobbler.
Here’s my solution for me: stop eating added sugars unless I’m in a special situation (i.e., a family birthday or wedding). This has been such an emotional struggle for me that it’s taken me 5 days to finish this blog entry. While I want to be someone who can have one piece of candy and move on, the reality for me is that one piece of candy leads to 5 pieces plus a bag of marshmallows. There’s no good reason to feed that mindless, unhealthy addiction.
I do believe added sugars are an addiction. Research points in that direction. We can blame food manufacturers if we want to, but this is our reality: very few processed foods don’t contain added sugars. It’s up to us to read the labels and know our limits.
My name is Becky, and I’m addicted to sugar. It’s been 3 days since my last Fun Size Snickers. Sigh.
¹From healthline.com article, “Ask the Experts: Is Sugar an Addictive Drug?”
²This is not even a conversation I can have with you. Stop it. Caffeine is good.