Thursday, March 1, 2012

Fighting Sugar Addiction

I read an article several years ago about a woman and her struggle with sugar addiction.  The article, titled “Sugar Rush”,  played on the similarities between her addiction to sugar and the characteristics of drug addiction.  The article was written with an air of humor (an accompanying illustration showed policemen gunning down a cupcake), but the seriousness of sugar binges, withdrawals and cravings was certainly not downplayed.

After reading the article, I felt an odd sense of comfort in knowing that I was not the only one who could eat over half of a cake in one sitting.  I felt the same sense of satisfaction after seeing the famous Sex and the City episode in which Miranda pours dish soap on top of a cake in order to stop herself from eating the entire cake.  Although there was comfort in knowing I was not alone in my sugar addiction, there was nothing comfortable about the accompanying mood swings, fatigue, headaches, and self loathing.

The first time I really became conscious of my lack of self-control in the presence of sugar was on Thanksgiving several years ago.  I had finally reached my desired weight and headed home for the holiday feeling very “in control” and proud of my accomplishments.  What I didn’t realize was that I had been living in a controlled environment, a diet bubble, where things like pie did not appear on the counter.  It turned out my ability to control myself around sweets had not truly been tested in a long time.

I thought that the biggest test of my self-control was going to be Thanksgiving day itself, and after a day of only minor indiscretion, I claimed victory.  I thought I was home free.  Then I woke up unexpectedly in the middle of the night and headed to the kitchen for a glass of water.  I spotted a pie plate on the counter.  I lifted the wax paper covering the pan to find a maple pecan pie with only a single slice missing.

It started innocently enough, I cut just a small sliver of pie to go with my water.  Once I realized how good it was, I cut another sliver.  The next thing I knew there was only the equivalent of one or two slices of pie left in the pan.  I went to bed that night hating myself, and woke up with a giant headache.  This was the first time I consciously put together the relationship between my feeling ill and the obscene amount of sugar I had consumed.

I wish I could say that the pecan pie incident was isolated, and that I have not experienced a “sugar hangover” since that ugly night, but if I said that I would be lying.  What I can say is that I have found ways to manage my addiction and change my habits enough so that I can maintain my ideal, healthy weight.  

-I try to eliminate as much added sugar (and artificial sweeteners) from my diet as possible.  The less sugar I eat on a daily basis, the less sugar cravings I have in the long run.  A lot of foods contain large amounts of added sugar (think soda), which is why Americans consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day.  Some items with high sugar content that may surprise you include: ketchup, baked beans, jarred pasta sauce, fruit juice, dried fruit, bottled tea, granola and granola bars, some cereals, coleslaw, flavored yogurt and flavored instant oatmeal.  

- I have learned not to use sweets as a reward.  If you always reward yourself with sweets, your body will associate sweets with pleasure even more than it already does and you will risk increasing your cravings for sugar.  So next time you deserve a reward, buy a nice pair of shoes.

-I found that eliminating sweets altogether is what leads to eventual overindulgence.  To avoid this, I allow myself one small treat (usually under 100 calories) daily.  Even with this treat I always make sure to stay within my daily calorie count goal.

-With things like birthdays, holidays and just plain human nature, occasional over indulgence is unavoidable.  If I have a random day where I eat half a batch of cookie dough, I chalk it up as a loss and work towards making sure that it stays as a lost day and not a lost week.  For me, once the sugar ball starts rolling, it is really hard to stop.  I’ve learned to recognize that, and I work extra hard the days following an indulgence to stay busy and keep sugar out of sight.

-I used to chew gum to avoid eating random treats (Trident watermelon flavor was my favorite).  I also used this trick when baking because if I had gum in my mouth, it was harder to sneak bites of cookie dough.  I try not to chew gum anymore because I have heard that  it is bad for your teeth, and they say that you swallow a lot of air when chewing (which leads to stomach bloating).  It did, however, really help when I was first starting out, so it may be a viable option for you.  

-Exercise seems to really help my sugar cravings, especially running and spinning.  Taking a walk when you are experiencing a sugar craving can sometimes help as well.

-Healthy foods that contain natural sugars can sometimes combat my cravings.  I like carrots, bananas, berries, plain yogurt, skim milk, and apples.

-When we have candy or baked goods at our house I have my husband hide them from me.  This prevents me from mindlessly nibbling throughout the day.  Sometimes out of sight, out of mind really does work.

Managing sugar cravings is a very difficult feet, but the good news is that it gets easier with time.  Believe it or not, this last year I did not have a single piece of pie on Thanksgiving (or the night after). :)


  1. I saw a Pin that said: If the food can go bad, it's good for you, if it can't go bad, it's bad for you." So instead of added sugar & diet stuff, I do fruit for a substitute.

  2. Thanks for your post. I struggle with sugar addiction too. I had 3 great months with it under control, slipped and am struggling again with it. Its good to know I'm not alone in my behaviour.