I was addicted to sugar, 100%.
I took a quiz on a popular food psychologist's website to prove this to myself, and sure enough, my score was 7 out of 10 (1 being not addicted and 10 being super addicted). 7 wasn't the highest possible score, but it was high enough for me to confirm that my inability to eat just one cookie from the plate or one bowl of ice cream instead of the whole container, was the result of sugar addiction. Thankfully, because otherwise it would have meant I just lacked willpower (and that was just too shameful a thought).
So I cut out sugar.
I took a two-month long online course to help me drop my sugar habit. I had the support of an excellent coach and online community where we could could share our struggles in what was a very hard process at times. Overall the course was great, I learned a lot about nutrition and tried foods I'd never had before. I kept sugar-free for several months and like most of us tend to do when we've found the "fix" or "cure" to something, shared my new found knowledge with everyone about how I had finally kicked my sugar habit. The solution was basically "just don't eat it". Because that's what you do with an addiction right? You treat it with abstinence.
But then I slipped...
It started slowly. A cookie here, a slice of white bread there (oh sweet delicious crusty Italian white bread!), and before I knew it I was back to eating sugar again. And I felt like a total failure. When I commit to something, I tend to commit hard, so this felt epic. Here I was preaching how I found the "cure" and I was back to square one. I felt shame, and I wanted to hide.
So like you're told to do, I got back on the wagon.
I enrolled in the course again (it comes with a lifetime membership so - sweet! (no pun intended, or was it...?) However this time it was harder. My heart wasn't fully in it. Because well, I liked eating sugar and it was hard to just never have it again. But if I DID eat it again I'd go back the down road to sugar addiction hell and well, I didn't want that. So onward with the course I went.
But this time my results were even worse.
It takes a lot of commitment to go sugar-free. I was told that eventually I would want it less the less I ate it, and to some degree that was true. Like if I knew it was just totally out the question to eat sugar, my memory of it and how it tasted would become more fuzzy and the pull was less. And plus, I had "great" substitutes like banana "ice cream" and any dessert you could think of just made with dates instead of sugar. And you know what, when you know nothing else, those things do taste pretty good, because that was the only form of sweetness in my food-restricted world. But that's thing, my world was restricted. It was stressful, and not very pleasurable to have to say no to birthday cake or white bread or worry how much sugar was in the salad dressing I was eating. I was supposed to be sugar "free", but I didn't feel very free at all.
But then it happened - I actually over came sugar addiction!
It began when I started to come across coaches online (like Isabel Foxen Duke) who had walked a similar path. They too had restricted sugar and now were on the other side eating sugar, and apparently not addicted to it. What? How? I had to know more, and so I read and learned and put into practice what became my "3 Step Process to Overcoming Sugar Addiction". And you know what? It wasn't what I thought it would be, at all. I actually was able to eat sugar again and NOT go crazy eating all of it. I could have boxes of cookies in my cupboard and they would still be there a week later (never used to happen). My life began to open up and I no longer feared food with the intensity I once had. I finally found my sugar freedom, and it was by eating sugar that did it.
3 Step Process to Overcoming Sugar Addiction
STEP 1: Realize there is No Such Thing as Sugar Addiction!
Saaaayy whhhaattt?! I did NOT believe it! What about that study where rats were more addicted to sugar than cocaine? And plus, I had the experience myself of not being able to stop eating sugar so obviously sugar addiction is real. Well, apparently not. The research has not been able to prove that the body experiences a physiological addiction to sugar. At best, the research shows that when we eat sugar the pleasure center of our brain lights up, in the same way the pleasure center of our brain lights up when we listen to music we love or have sex (see, that's why chocolate can be better than sex...). However what they DID find is that when the rats experienced the absence of sugar for a period of time, they wanted ALL of it when it came round again, because well, maybe that was the last time they would ever eat sugar again...
Does this sound familiar? It did to me. It was exactly what I was doing to myself when I would embark on a "healthy eating plan". You know how it goes, Monday you start your food plan so you have your "last supper" on Sunday, eating all the things you know you won't get to eat for long while (because this time I'm going to stick to it dammit it!) and likely in a higher quantity than if you knew you could have those foods at any time. You can fill in the rest - you start strong, then days or maybe weeks later you see those cookies and you have one, and then another then..."sugar addiction" kicks in.
So this bring us to Step 2.
STEP 2: Find out why you are restricting your food in the first place.
For me it could be summed up in one word: fatphobia. I was terrified of gaining weight. I had spent that last 10 years of my life dedicated to "being healthy" and making sure that I stayed thin, because we all know that being thinner is healthier right? Right? Well actually - NOT SO. There isn't a single study in existence right now that proves that being heavier causes poorer health. Seriously. And please, do not take my word for it (I was baffled by this initially too), read Health at Every Size by Dr. Linda Bacon for an in-depth look at the misconceptions about the weight-health connection.
However taking the health piece out of it, I was still left with not wanting to gain weight because, well, being fat isn't beautiful. Growing up in this culture I learned from an early age that being slim, toned, and "fit" was the most desirable way to be. Since I'm a woman, it felt really important to me that I "looked good". If I wanted to navigate this world and receive appreciation and be admired, looking good was important, and looking good meant "thin". I mean look at how successful women are viewed in culture? It blows my mind that I know more about Michelle Obama's fashion sense and her toned arms than I do about her accomplishments (note: they are a lot).
So when I was finally ready to release the vice grip I had wrapped around my body, I was able to move onto Step 3.
STEP 3: EAT ALL THE FOOD YOU WANT WHEN YOU WANT IT!
Whhhoooaaaa did that just cause a wave of terror? OR did it feel exhilarating like "hell to the yeah I get to eat anything I want!"? At first it was the latter for me, then later it was the former (re: fatphobia). But that is what had to happen. I had to give myself full permission to eat everything I had been denying myself for the past 10 years. For me it looked like eating sandwiches instead of salads, cookies, pasta and mostly - ice cream. For three straight weeks I ate a pint of Haagen Dazs every night. Yup. The whole thing every night. I wasn't sure I'd ever stop. Then eventually, I did. I just didn't want it as much any more. The nights (and days) when I ate ice cream were more spaced out. It soon became once a week instead of every night, and sometimes even more spaced out than that. But it was because I knew I could have it any time (yes even for breakfast), that it stopped having a hold over me. I started to be able to eat some of the ice cream and not all of it every time.
It's like if I say "don't think of a pink elephant" what do you think of? If I say "you can't eat ice cream for a month" don't you all of a sudden want ice cream (or insert your food of choice) more? It works like that with sugar. The more we restrict our food intake and the types of food we eat, the more we are susceptible we are to binge-like/addictive behaviours.
So where do you go from here?
For most people this isn't a 3-step process they want to hear about or are even remotely interested in attempting, and that's OK. However if you're someone who was like me - exhausted from trying and "failing" to not eat sugar, someone who just wanted to find peace around food and their body, then I recommend embarking down this road. However I warn you - it's not the easy road. It's not easy to turn your back on a culture that is obsessed with dieting and restriction and "healthy eating". But I can tell you that for me, it's a road to true freedom, and a road that continues to lead me in the direction of unconditionally loving and accepting myself. I needed support on this path when I first started and I hired a coach to help me, and now I'm here to coach and offer that support to others who are looking to embark on this path. If that's you - holla. I'll meet you on the road.