Is sugar addiction for real?

I decided a few weeks back to rid my body of excess sugar, white flour, and refined carbs.

I had walked this particular journey many times before because of an ongoing struggle with binge eating disorder which started in college. However, regardless of lots of experience with the process, starting is never easy. The weekend before kick-off Monday turned into a full-blown binge. I ate junk food all weekend long to “prepare” myself for the inevitable deprivation.

 

MONDAY: “I will beat this sugar addiction!”

Monday morning came, and I was prepared:  I packed a healthy lunch, without my regular sugary snacks, to get me through a full day of work. I underestimated the power of my cravings though because around 11:00 am I desperately wanted a Twix bar to go with my second cup of coffee. My old brain (the one who listens to no reason) kicked in, and I made a beeline for the vending machine, only to realize that it was out of order. I was ticked off and irritated.

However, a half hour later, as I was eating my healthy lunch, my “new” brain (aka prefrontal cortex) finally came online, and I was grateful that I didn’t eat the Twix bar after all. I honestly didn’t want that sugar in my body, because the added sugar tends to leave me lethargic and bloated, and I usually need another pick-me-up before I drive home. This was a painful reminder of how much stronger those old brain memories and urges are and how little control I have when it takes over.

Later that afternoon, as I was stuck in commute on my way home, it took everything I had not to stop and pick up something to eat. I felt tired, sad, angry, and extremely anxious. Every fast food restaurant was calling my name.

This struggle continued into the next two days: I felt depressed when I woke up, knowing that I wasn’t able to eat something sweet and gooey for breakfast. I was exhausted all day, every day, and I felt emotional and irritated. I could feel the withdrawal and could see how my whole body and mind was grieving sugar. It felt like life was not worth living without the sugar and days went by so slow. I had to drag myself toward sobriety one hour at a time, let alone one day at a time.

Day 4 and 5 was a little easier. My days were full, and I had no time to think about food or feel sorry for myself. Also, I prepared for these days by taking salads with me and putting food in the crockpot, so we had a hot dinner ready when I got home.

FRIDAY: “I will never be rid of my sugar addiction!”

Then came my first Friday and my resolve melted like butter in the hot sun. Friday is movie and pizza night at our home, and this always includes hefty helpings of brownies or ice cream. I felt so sorry for myself, and so the bargaining commenced: I was only going to eat one slice of pizza with salad. After the first bite of pizza the memories of previous Fridays kicked in, and my old brain took over, convincing me that I needed much more than just one slice of pizza to survive.

The sad part is that I am so familiar with this process, and I knew exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t care, I couldn’t hold off any longer. I knew the excess sugar and fat was bad for my health, my weight, and my emotional well-being. I also knew that by putting that stuff in my mouth I was essentially slowly killing myself, but it made no difference.  All I could think of was the taste of melted cheese and chocolate in my mouth. I wanted to eat it all, and no one was going to stop me.

I woke up with a sugar hangover (tired, heartburn, and slight headache) on Saturday and even though I felt deep remorse I was already thinking of pancakes drenched in syrup. I knew I was in trouble, I could not do it alone, I needed help. So I called a friend who had been through this with me before and who has the same struggle, and we decided to meet up for a walk. It turns out she has been stuck for a while too and was ready to stop as well. We talked about our struggle, our shame, our pain, and finally our hopes for sobriety. I felt such relief, and it affirmed again to me that two are indeed better than one during tough times. I knew from experience that an accountability partner is a crucial element of change for me.

 

OVERCOMING FOOD ADDICTION IS A JOURNEY, NOT A SPRINT

We committed to walking every day until we at least got through 7 sober days. Every day, without fail, I didn’t want to walk and just wanted to quit, but then I texted my friend, and she validated my feelings and encouraged me not to give up (and some days I did that for her). I seriously only hanged on because I knew that I was not alone and someone else was counting on me. I was still very tempted to have sugar every day around 4 pm, so I made sure I had substitutes such as fruit or protein bars to get me through those vulnerable times. It worked and it stopped the cravings.

Slowly the sun started breaking through. After the first seven sober days, I started waking up with a feeling of relief and gratefulness instead of depression. I found myself thanking God for giving me another sober day. I was taking baby steps out of this jungle that I’ve been lost in for the past six months. I have now been sober from sugar for five weeks, and I feel joy creeping back into my life. When I’m stuck in addiction, I always forget how amazing it feels to be free.

FREEDOM FROM SUGAR ADDICTION IS POSSIBLE

In the past when I worked with clients at homeless shelters, I was acutely aware of my own struggle with food. If this was so hard for me, I could not even imagine how much more difficult it must be to withdraw from highly addictive substances such as alcohol or drugs. Getting sober is an extremely difficult endeavor. Each person needs to get to the end of themselves in their own time, and not even a court order can hurry this process along. However, when someone is finally ready for help, they need all the help they can get. I know that if I did not humble myself and called my friend, I may have remained stuck in the vicious cycle of; starting, failing, feeling ashamed, and starting over again.

I’m not exactly sure what usually brings me to a place of wanting to change. It seems to be something different every time, but it usually starts with an “act of surrender”  to God or a higher being as described in the first few steps of AA.

Bottom line: I need to be ready to change.

Are you ready to change or maybe want someone to help you get to that place? I have experience working with people who are addicted to a substance, and also those who have a dual diagnosis (another mental disorder that goes with the addiction).

Please contact me if this is you. It will be an honor to meet you and help you.
Heleen Woest, MA, NCC
Professional Counselor

 

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