I've been meaning to share this link to a news article that ran earlier this month on AOL news online, which claims there is a link between a child's sugar cravings and his or her potential for alcoholism. It's not terribly conclusive, and I'm sure there will be theories to debunk the ones cited here, but I wanted to share the article simply because it got me thinking about my own longtime, complicated relationship with sugar.
Is Sugar the Boss of Me?
While it took twenty years or so for the fact that I'm not about to become an alcoholic and to sink in (which I wrote about last post), sugar has always been a monkey on my back. I have long battled with what I've suspected to be a sugar addiction. Sugar is a delightful treat, and has always been. It's a cheap treat, a quick way to carve-out time for myself during a busy day in which I'm giving bits of myself to everyone around me and without any time to center myself.
But it's not so delightful when I decide to cut sugar out of my diet for a while; I can't believe how insanely hard it is. When I decide to shut it out, I begin to see just how much power it has over me. It's horrifying. (I can appreciate, in those moments, how difficult and humbling it must be to manage a drug addiction.) I don't like being a slave to something so small. Something I can hold in my hand…bosses me around?! Truly, for a chocolate chip cookie or a candy bar to have the power to reduce me to a zombie taking its commands from a lump of sweetness it just…humiliating. And sounds like addiction, too.
Signs Of Sugar Addiction
My "gateway drug" is The Scone. Those times when I've decided to cool it with sugar for a week or month or so, it's often the scone that puts me back on the road to eating sugar again. For some reason, a fews days into discontinuing sugar, I'll decide it's "safe" to have a scone, because it's "bread" and far, far, far from the candy bar category–but the truth is that The Scone is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
How do you know if you have a sugar addiction? You very may well have a sugar addiction:
* If you think you have a sugar addiction (I mean, you know yourself well enough to be right, right?)
* If you generally crave lots of carbs for the 'lift' they give you
* If you fantasize or obsess about sugar (or cakes, pies, candy bars, etc.) and carbs (bread, crackers, chips, scones) right after deciding to stop eating them
* If you are secretive about eating sugar or hide your candy, or you're defensive about your sugar intake
* If you think that you "need" it in order to work, face a certain task
* If you think you'll faint, explode, or die or just have a sense that "something really bad will happen to your body" if you don't eat sugar Right Away
* If you're hypoglycemic
* If you're a recovering alcoholic
Even without reading this, you probably knew the answer. Right?
The key reason for the connection between sugar addiction and alcoholism is that the sugar in alcohol functions just like the sugar in candy and carbs. Here's a short descriptive article about the hypoglycemia. Most alcoholics are hypoglycemic (my mother was, come to think of it, and boy did she love sugar).
Still Not Sure?
If you have any doubts, do this: stop eating sugar for a week. Does the idea of that freak you out? If you're not addicted, then avoiding sugar (and food products that contain sugar), then it won't be a big deal at all. But, if you start to think of excuses for why you need to have a sugar-containing treat, 'accidentally' have sugar when you really , crave sugar, or carbs, and get cranky and desperate…well, there's your answer — your body and mind are addicted to sugar.
You Love Sugar, But Sugar Doesn't Love You Back
For a few moments it might feel like sugar can wrap its arms around you and love you back, but you know that's not true. Is that fleeting moment of "love"when you satisfy the anticipation of a treat and take the first, everlasting bite enough to sustain you deeply? If you use sugar to hide from yourself and avoid your feelings because you don't like something about what's going on with you…you have an opportunity to figure that out. You have an opportunity to learn about being present. Being present is a good idea for a lot of reasons, especially people who grew up with alcoholic parents becasue we're always in our heads and rarely letting go enough to be intimate with the moment and the people in it–even if that person is solely you.
Try being present in the moment right now. Try being present in the moment the next time you want to reach for a treat. This is the only way to find out what you're afraid of. And that's hugely informative. Is it fear of success? Fear of discovering that you're not in the job you want? Fear of things changing? Fear of the enormity of your everyday emotions? Fear of…simply: being without sugar?
Present Moment Awareness
You can, and should, come up with your own tricks for tuning your mind to the present moment, but here's what I do: it seems like the words, "be here," walk through my brain, and I usually take a slow deep breath (and realize that I've been breathing shallowly/not at all) and I feel my eyes relax and 'sit back' a bit in their sockets in an observational, reclined position. This is calming. I also feel my ears open, I'm wanting to listen to the person or people around me. I feel much more creatively-minded, like I can observe people and nature around me in such a way that I can actually learn something through observation, rather than rushing along from one task to the next, nearly blind. "It's okay, this quiet is living," runs through my mind. It doesn't last that long, but it's a wonderful feeling! I feel honest, more like myself, and whatever defenses that seems to be up usually fall away without any effort.
Please try it.
This article from Psychology Today is good: The Art of Now: 6 Steps to Living in the Moment
How to Get Back in Control
The key is to shoot for balance, rather than cutting out all sugar. I used to cut out all sugar from my diet from time to time, and hated the anguish I felt when I failed to keep it up. That kind of extreme action wasn't fair to myself. It was never realistic. If you try to rid yourself of all sugar, you're likely to spend all your time obsessing about sugar–rather than enjoying how much healthier you feel.
If you want to read a inspirational book about the emotional side of eating, you'd love Geneen Roth, author of "When Food is Love" and "Breaking Free From Emotional Eating."
The key to eliminating sugar cravings is to neutralize the ups and downs to your blood sugar, so that you're not "needing" sugar to stay awake or feel 'up.' The focus is nourishing your body, rather than withholding something from it. If your body is satisfied, it won't crave sugar. In this sense, it's shockingly easy to reverse your sugar addiction. If you feed yourself better, your mind won't even have to get involved, and you won't have to "think" your way out of the candy store.
Change What You Eat for Breakfast
Get to know what foods are low on the glycemic index — you won't get the sugar spike/dive from those foods like you do from foods high on the glycemic index.
Check out a couple sites to lear more:
Here's the list from the South Beach diet people, pretty basic and easy to read. I'm not recommending this diet. I don't recommending dieting, ever. I recommend exercising and eating more vegetables and fruits.
If you do one thing to fight sugar addiction, then don't start the day with sugar; do this: eat protein for breakfast. Know that the earlier in the day you can get vegetables into your body, the less likely you'll be to crave sugar.
The classic, quick breakfast is cereal, right? LOADED with sugar. If that's what you're eating for breakfast, then you're jumping on the sugar train from the very start of your day. Even if you've managed to find a cereal at Whole Foods that has no sugar and only two or three ingredients (and congratulations if you did), cereal is still a carb.
Similarly, if you're eating yogurt – unless it's plain greek yogurt – you're getting a TON of sugar in it.
Carbs, like pancakes, waffles, bagels, and scones – all are high in sugar, and put you on the road to needing another 'lift' soon.
What about oatmeal? Fine, but eat the smart kind of oats: steel-cut oats. Don't put sugar on top of it, however; just stir in figs, raisins or other fruit, and milk.
I love how much this guy loves oats, Former Fat Guy, and I have to say that for me, oatmeal means steel cut oats, never rolled oats and never-never 'envelope oatmeal' or instant stuff. There's nothing in it to save your life. Get to know the difference, it's so important.
If you have toast, make sure it's a whole grain toast (read the ingredients, there should be only 3-5 ingredients and NO sugar), and put something like a pure, organic almond butter or a pure, sugar-free peanut butter on it, or cheese, pesto, or an egg.
If you can make time to eat eggs for breakfast, do so — and add spinach or broccoli.
An Asian-inspired breakfast is rice and broth (chicken broth or miso), with a bit of chicken or vegetables — warm and sugar-free.
Sugar Might Shorten (or Just Worsen) Your Life
- Sugar is hard on your immune system – making you more susceptible to illnesses
- Sugar can trigger anxiety and stress
- Sugar decays your teeth (do you really brush after every soda and scone?)
- Sugar can trigger a rise in bad cholesterol
- Sugar limits your body's ability to absorb vitamins and nutrients
- Sugar can lead to diabetes
- Sugar can cause hormonal imbalances
- Sugar can offer a good mood, but leave you in a bad one – and trigger depression
There's a lot more, which you read up on here: 76 Ways Sugar Can Harm Your Health website.
Just the fact that there are 76 ways (holy crap!) makes me want to unslice the slice of chocolate cake I ate between breakfast and lunch. For now I'll just be sure I have organic broccoli with dinner.