I have a heroin-level addiction to sugar. I am like a junkie, but instead of sticking a needle in my arm, I stuff sugar down my gullet as quickly as I can.
And it’s not just the foods you would think of—candy, pastries, desserts—although I eat plenty of those, too. It’s bread, milk and other starchy, carb-y foods that cause a quick sugar spike in my bloodstream. It’s those foods that cause me to continue eating even though I know I’m full.
Then afterwards, the withdrawal symptoms start. I feel bloated, tired, cranky, guilty and angry. Angry because I know exactly what makes me feel like that, but I feel powerless to stop it.
It took me a while to put two and two together, but once I did, I researched the effects of sugar and realized that I needed to make some drastic changes to my diet.
And the comparison to heroin? Really? Yes! It sounds overdramatic, but all that sugar releases dopamine, that chemical that’s behind addiction, cravings, anything that gives you that high. It signals feedback from specific things. So when I see sugar, I chase that high to satisfy the craving. In fact, just the idea of it makes me want it.
According to my research, Americans eat 19 teaspoons (about a half cup) or more of added sugar a day. Apparently, we shouldn’t eat more than 6 teaspoons daily, but it’s hard because sugar is everywhere. Obviously, it’s in soda, breads, sauces and other processed foods, but the other day I spent 30 minutes just reading yogurt labels in the grocery store. I was trying to find one with minimal or no sugar and I don’t think I found a single one with less than 30 grams.
About a week ago I started a sugar detox, but it was excruciating. Not just because it was nearly impossible to find foods without sugar—have you spent any time reading labels? Holy hell!—but because the withdrawal symptoms were brutal. I’m not going to lie—my mood was pretty unstable. I was irritable, unable to focus, tired and pissed off. I tried to go cold turkey but holding down a job and managing my other responsibilities just weren’t possible with a full-on detox. What I needed was to be locked in a padded room somewhere, left to wail and cry and pound my fists on the walls.
So I backed off a little and re-evaluated what I was eating and where I could gradually—more painlessly—cut back. Breads were the first to go, which meant I had to stop my Starbucks visits in the morning. On my way into work I’d grab a Venti skinny vanilla latte and a scone or oatmeal or whatever pastry looked good that morning.
And the milk had to change, too. One cup of 1% milk has about 13 grams of sugar, which is like 3 teaspoons. I hate almond milk and coconut milk, and even soy milk has about 10 grams of sugar in it. For now, I’m using a little half and half until I learn how to make my own almond milk. I’m so not a “make my own almond milk” type of girl, but it looks like I’m going to have to learn how to be.
I’m eating more whole, fresh foods, which means more trips to the grocery store (and more money). I’ve been researching Paleo eating because of the carb thing, but, damn, that’s all so much work. I have to admit, though, in the past week, even with the minimal modifications I’ve made, I’ve dropped a few pounds. And although that’s not the real goal, I was happy that it was mostly in my belly, because I had been packing in on there. That scared me. As a woman careening towards 45 years old, that’s a bad thing.
And I feel better. I sleep better. I’m (I think) less cranky and tired and don’t fade out by 3:00 p.m. I still have the cravings though. Hopefully, that passes in a few weeks. Otherwise, this is going to be a long, sad life.