Can You Be Addicted to Sugar?

I was going to title this “My Struggle With Sugar,” but then I remembered that “Mein Kampf” means “My Struggle” and… well, I didn’t want to sound like a diabetic Hitler.

I realized something yesterday while reading a particularly inspiring post by Kris Gunnars over at Authority Nutrition: I might not be in control of my piss poor eating habits. I don’t want to overstate this, but I’ve been making myself sick from eating sweets since I was old enough to be left alone with my Halloween pillow case.

Oh baby...

Hell yes I used a pillow case, am I supposed to use a little plastic pumpkin like a chump?

My parents kept a somewhat tight leash on me when I was growing up, but things changed when I hit college. It turned out that no one could stop me from drinking 3 Cokes a day (and stacking the empties like a fratboy with something to prove), or from going to Waffle House at 3 AM for hashbrowns and a slice of pie. I gained the Freshman 50, and in under 6 months.

My depression was brutal. My motivation was nil. I’m not sure which direction causation ran (I imagine the weight gain and the depression were reciprocal), but it was a rough time.

I cleaned up my act (my depression followed VERY quickly), but I still do the candy binge thing. As I said on my Facebook pseudo-blog, if it’s in the house, it won’t last longer than 48 hours. Full pints of ice cream, huge bars of chocolate, cookies, anything sweet. I’ll sometimes buy a lot, just to “make sure I’ll have enough,” but it’s never enough. 48 hours, and it’s gone, no matter how sick it makes me.

Not normal, right? Sure, but I’m thinking that some of you can relate. This is disordered behavior, but it’s not uncommon. Some people do it with drugs/alcohol, some with gambling, some with shopping. Too much is never enough, and it makes me wonder what the hell’s wrong with me. Did I seriously just compare sugar to a drug addiction?

As my astute colleague Erica House pointed out (check out her fitness blog!), it’s apt. Here’s the article she linked me to, and it’s not the only one. Sugar lights up the reward centers of some brains like a slot machine jackpot, in much the same way that cocaine does. If a rat is unfortunate (fortunate?) enough to be in a study with limitless cocaine OR sugar, it will dose itself to death.

So, what’s the answer? The article by Gunnars says that some folks simply need abstinence. He compares it to his past struggles with alcoholism, saying that sometimes moderation is impossible. In that spirit, I’m keeping sweets out of my house. If I’m offered dessert in someone’s home, I’ll enjoy it (I don’t turn down food lovingly made and offered, as a rule), but I’m not taking any home.

So, what do you think? Is abstinence the answer when it comes to people with problem eating? Should I come at it from another angle, or just have some self-control? I’d like to hear your thoughts.



7 thoughts on “Can You Be Addicted to Sugar?

  1. I think it’s entirely individual. I, like you, do best with mostly-abstinence. I’m good at working hard at something if I put my mind to it, but I don’t think self-control will ever be my strength.

  2. Pingback: Homepage
  3. You and your blog strike quite the chord with me. Seems you are living my exact life? Lol. I fancy myself to be something of a poet, and the first poem I ever wrote, at the tender age of 6, goes as follows:

    Bree, Bree, you always see me
    At the shopping mall
    Buying candy, candy, candy
    And that’s all

    To this day, every day, I’m buying candy candy candy. I don’t have the weight issues, though, because I eat ice cream and chocolate bars to the exclusion of all those non-delicious calories like meat, blech. Somehow I thrive physically. The doctors told me years ago it’s because all those Lucky Charms are heavily fortified with vitamins. Who knew!

    You’re a good man, Charlie Brown! (Or Ian, if that’s what you’re calling yourself.)

    -Bree Sabbath

  4. I don’t think abstinence is the answer. I have somewhat of a unique perspective, having 12 years of recovery from anorexia. Eating disorders are unique in that they don’t involve drugs or alcohol but are just as addicting. You have an extra challenge in eating disorder recovery vs. other addictions in that you can’t just abstain and avoid food. You have to face it head on, make peace with it, and learn to strike a balance of how to incorporate food back into your life.

    There is a really good book I read in treatment called “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole which talks about the power we give food when we deprive ourselves of it. In today’s diet culture, we label foods as “good” or “bad” and castigate ourselves with guilt based on our “bad” food choices- even going to the extreme as to apply it to our own sense of self- worth. (i.e. “I am so bad for eating this dessert.”)

    Food plays such a central role in our lives. Food is nourishment. Food is life. Food is intertwined in our social connection with others (eating out with friends or enjoying holidays like Thanksgiving). The problem with food is when we use it to numb our feelings (through both starvation or over-eating.) The shift in my thought process needed to be “how do I manage my depression/anxiety in a healthy way?” instead of numbing. No feelings are bad. No food is bad. I needed to feel the fear, the discomfort, and the pain to break free.

    Our bodies are able to tell us what we need- we just need to listen. I had to re-train my body to know what hunger and fullness felt like. I had to rid myself of the power I had given food and realize that controlling food was also controlling (and destroying) my life.

    We did this exercise when I was in treatment where we chose a “fear food” (which for most of us was cookies, candy, or ice cream) and ate that same thing for every meal for just one day. The point was to prove to our body (and to our minds!) that the craving/that hunger would not last. (FYI most of us were sick of it after 2 meals.) 🙂 The body wants a variety. It want’s fruits and veggies or a nice chunk of protein. The feeling that you won’t be able to stop once you start eating peanut butter cookies will not last. You’ll get full. You’re body will say “thank you, but I don’t want any more.” And you will hate peanut butter for a while… 🙂

    I’m not saying go binge on M&M’s until you feel sick. I’m just saying be kind to yourself. Eat those M&M’s when you feel like it. Check in with yourself when you’re feeling especially low and ask yourself “What am I feeling? What do I need right now?”

    I don’t follow diets. I don’t keep track of calories. I work out 4 times a week. I buy sweets with my normal grocery shopping. I’m fit and at a normal, healthy weight. And most importantly, I give myself more self-directed kindness. I am not my eating disorder anymore.

    Obviously my experience is more on the extreme side, but if I could offer some advice, it would be to keep the candy. You deserve to enjoy food when you want to, and your body will provide the moderation.

Comments? Stories? Write something!