Oh Sugar!

It starts slowly, a cookie here, some dark chocolate there. A piece of homemade plum tart on my birthday. Traveling, I find our hosts have provided a cookie jar laden with Oreos. Somewhere along the way, the dreaded switch gets thrown in my brain. I’m craving sweets, thinking about the next snack or treat. It’s hard to go through the supermarket without looking for cookies or candy, pondering what might satiate this yearning.

Some of this response is mental “I want, I need, I’ll feel better if. . .” I’m a little edgy, more irritable than usual, sensitive to sound and light, so physically impacted as well. All this after cookies with my bedtime herbal tea? Yes.

Years ago, an acquaintance was defending her habits of cigarettes and alcohol, condescendingly informing my ignorant self that sugar was “much more toxic” than her particular vices. At the time, as a family doctor who had spent time working in a substance abuse treatment center, I was doubtful to say the least, and probably just as judgmental in my response to her, whether spoken aloud or in my head.

Many years later, I continue to hold that tobacco and alcohol are not good choices for health. There’s way too much solid scientific evidence for me to decide otherwise. I am also coming to understand that too much sugar is not good for one, either. We have ample evidence that I’m not the only one who has a problem. Obesity is a worldwide health issue, particularly prominent here in the US. Type 2 diabetes is a huge problem, as are heart disease and cancer. All show an increased incidence with increased sugar consumption.

The biggest problem for me with sugar is the cravings that start developing. If I’m eating my normal diet of lean protein, lots of vegetables, and some fruit, I do pretty well, and don’t have a lot of food cravings. And if I do have a “treat”, if its modest in size and infrequent, I can tolerate it. If, on the other hand, I have cookies, and do it a few days in a row, then I’m in trouble. I start thinking about more sweets: cookies and candy, and start craving bread and pasta. Ice cream, what about some ice cream, ice cream would be great! Again, on an occasional basis, I’m okay with this, but once its daily, I start losing control.

So what? Well, the big problem is that I don’t feel as well. I get more irritable, am more prone to a depressed mood, and my body doesn’t feel as good, I’m achier, and some of my joints that have had injuries in the past are more prone to hurt and swell a bit. It becomes easier to skip an activity and just hang out, maybe have another snack. Things can snowball out of control quickly. Bottom line, the quality of my life is deteriorating and I’m not showing up in the world as well as I can.

I wrote most of the above in October. I got off of sugar again and was doing pretty well.  Then it was Thanksgiving. A little treat here and there. Stuffing, a bite of pie. And since then, the seductive allure of holiday treats–chocolates, baked goods, caramel. Not good. Its helpful when I read again what I wrote 2 months ago. The symptoms are the same, with a very similar sequence of events. SSDD (that’s same shit, different day). Not subtle.

My blogging friend Cat wrote about this a few days ago on her site: https://cathbradley.com/2017/12/10/making-peace-with-my-sugar-beast/, and we corresponded a little about this issue we share. We both agree that many of the  responses to sugar are those of addiction: craving, taking in more than you want/intend to, feeling bad without the substance in your system, and having undesired consequences from ingesting the substance, to say nothing of the withdrawal symptoms when stopping. And then there’s another of the tell-tale addictive behaviors: being secretive about it–no need for anyone else to know that I’m eating cookies.

It’s clear to me, sugar and I are not friends. Tastes good for a little while, but then it deteriorates from there. One approach would be no sugar at all. I’m not so good with absolutes, and it may come to that. In Cat’s article, she states that she keeps it for an evening treat, and generally limits it to weekends. My friend Seven has Friday as treat day, when he eats whatever he chooses. What will work for me?

In the spirit of curiosity and experimentation, here’s my first experiment, with its accompanying logic (or lack thereof). Current state–moderately hooked. Not good, and I’ve definitely been worse. Goal–to feel better and not be craving. Plan–stop all sweets and refined carbs (bread, pasta, rice) for the next 10 days. I need to clear things out of my system. Support myself by tracking symptoms (mood, body pain, sensory sensitivity, energy, cravings) as well as by drinking lots of water, keeping up my exercise routines, and getting the rest I need.

I’m choosing the 10 day time frame to give me time to clear things out, and am also recognizing the those 10 days will end before Christmas, so if I choose a treat or two, it may be okay. I also give myself the right to decline all sugary foods, if that feels better to me, even if that leaves me in the position of being an ungracious guest.

Here I go, stay tuned for progress updates. Oh Sugar, I’m so over you, we’re breaking up.

19 thoughts on “Oh Sugar!

  1. I relate to this post so well- I have the same problem especially around the holidays, and seasonal depression. Sweets are an easy way out, and my brain tries to justify chocolate over drugs and alcohol! Thank you for this post- 10 day cleanse sounds like something I want to take accountability for.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m going through my own struggles with sugar at the moment, and reading your post Steph, it sounds very similar. It’s my ability (or inability) to moderate, and that’s when a single Oreo (or biscuit) can turn into a pack devoured in no time at all.

    It’s very challenging for me because I do feel like moderation and variety is the key. I’ve gone for a few months unconsciously keeping it very light on sugar-heavy food, and then there might be two weeks where the floodgates open and I gorge.

    It’s an ongoing process for me, but I think I’m going to make progress by continuing to work on impulse control (daily meditation practise has been huge for this), asking myself ‘are you actually hungry/do you need to eat this?’ and recognising (in a non-judgemental way) that going excess on the sugar/snack train is going to have a detrimental effect on my marathon training and general day-to-day feeling of wellbeing (bloating, energy level reduction, etc).

    I haven’t caught up on blogs for a week or so but I had a little dialogue with Cat in the comments about something similar, so planning to read the blog you linked to here as well.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. The non-judgement is important: I’m typically quite resolute and disciplined with myself, but acknowledging it’s a process as helped. For example, I bought a big box of Oreos from CostCo yesterday. That’s probably not the ideal course of action, but rather than getting stuck on that fact and devolving into devouring the box, I’ve adjusted my expectations: can I make this last until Christmas? Can I stop myself from gorging on them? Previously I wouldn’t have got this far in the process and instead just start getting to work on eating. All incremental, reminding myself of that has helped and just want to keep progressing with that.

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  3. This is something that I have always struggled with. Same as you, I am perfectly fine if I don’t eat sugar. I can even have an occasional Mounds or some other Dark Chocolate without any consequences. Cookies and other candy with corn syrup are my nemesis. If I have those for a couple of days, I am a goner. I find that I am hungry with that deep, unsatisfiable hunger, for week. I cannot get enough food. I wonder if anyone has studied the chemical changes in the brain after eating sugar, or other hormonal reactions to sugar? It is so strange, and so unfortunate. I love candy and sugar. It does not love me. I will do the same for the next ten days with you, Stephanie! Good plan! (And I guess I should throw away the frosting that is left over from the sugar cookies before I eat the whole can…)

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  4. So many can identify with this. I’ve somehow found that my sugar consumption stays in check when I’m regular with training. The cravings come in when I’m lazing around or skipping workouts – more psychological hunger than real hunger. I don’t keep sweets in the house, make something on the spot if I feel like eating – the process of cooking/baking takes away half the craving. Plus, being a nutritionist, I use alternative ingredients and try whip up something healthier.

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  5. I’m at the point where I get a headache every afternoon until I succumb to the sweets! I hate it and don’t want to go through detox AGAIN. This has always been a battle for me but definitely notice a change in the way I feel with it in my system now.

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    1. Best wishes to you on this journey. So painful. Will a piece of fruit be an okay substitute? An apple and some almond butter does okay for me, when I stay present to myself and remember that I’ll feel better (eventually, if not immediately) if I stay away from the processed sugar!

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  6. I definitely notice that sugar and I don’t get along well. I’ve had about a week of crappy eating and had just decided I needed to deal with it when I read your post. Thank you:)

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  7. TOTALLY RELATE!!! I read your post (and Cat’s too) about this the other day and have just now had a few moments to respond – but I’ve been thinking about it. I think you guys are right that it’s definitely an addiction and that there must be some kind of physical component that drives the desire for sugar once you start eating it. I think it must have something to do with the gut and the bacteria there wanting to feed on sugar and sending your brain signals to eat more! Totally guessing, though. I’ve noticed, too, that my attitudes/moods shift when I’ve had a lot of sugar versus when I haven’t. It’s nuts how it affects not just how you physically feel but mentally as well.

    I look forward to hearing about your 10 day experiment!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad its resonating, Michelle. Yes, lots of research questions there–what happens in the gut and the brain being two biggies. Day 3, and I am delighted to note that my mood and energy are both better and the craving is less. Stay tuned. Holiday temptations are teasing me.


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