10 Tips To Deal With Sugar Addiction (After Getting Sober)

I am compelled to write this post because of the many requests I get from people asking the question,

“Why am I bingeing on sugar now that I quit drinking?”

I have broken this post into two parts. Because I wrote too much and it was getting too long. 🙂 Even if you aren’t in recovery, I invite you to read on. If sugar has been a source of frustration for you and you want to know my proven strategies for being able to live a lifestyle where I’ve found freedom and developed an uncomplicated relationship with food, then I think you will find value here.

This is Part 1. Next Week we’ll cover Part 2.

Let’s get started.

While those of you who know my story will know that I used health and fitness as my “guise”–my way of avoiding admitting I was sober–what I uncovered through “pretending” to be a health and fitness enthusiast was the truth that it felt really good to put myself, and my health, at the top of the list for the first time in my life. In so doing, I developed a toolbox full of strategies that I used in my own life that have helped me live a life with an incredible amount of freedom and an uncomplicated relationship around food.

I wanted to share some of what’s in my toolbox with you today and next week. It may be helpful to anyone struggling with a compulsion towards sugar and certainly to my fellow friends in recovery who put down their drug of choice and picked up the bag of Oreos.

First off, cross-addiction or addiction transference is a real thing. It happens when we give up one thing, which leaves us feeling empty, and so we reach for something else. When we give up  our drug of choice, our brain is still looking for that “high”, and many of us find it in the form of sugar. In my experience, until we get to the root of the issue (the reason we drank or took drugs in the first place), we can find ourselves playing “whack-a-mole” with our addictions.

I wanted to share a few words about the addictive nature of sugar from one of my favourite experts on the subject, Dr. Robert Lustig. Lustig is a leading pubic health authority on the impact sugar has on fueling the diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome epidemics, and on addressing changes in the food environment to reverse these chronic diseases.

“In the reward center, sugar stimulates the neurotransmitter dopamine, and dopamine drives reward. But dopamine also down-regulates its own receptor (which generates the reward signal). This means the next time round, you’re going to need more sugar to generate more dopamine to generate less reward, and so on, until you’re consuming a whole lot of sugar, and getting almost nothing for it. That’s tolerance, and sugar is guilty as charged.

The concept of sugar addiction will continue to evoke visceral responses on both sides of the aisle. One thing most agree on is that sugar should be safe—and rare. That means “real” food. In the short term, Americans must watch out for ourselves, and that means cooking for ourselves. The American Heart Association recommends a reduction in consumption from our current 22 teaspoons per day to six for women and nine for men; a reduction by two-thirds to three-quarters. Our current consumption is over our limit and our “processed” food supply is designed to keep it that way. Food should confer wellness, not illness. The industry feeds our sugar habit to the detriment of our society. We need food purveyors, not food pushers.”

While I agree that we need food purveyors not food pushers, it is up to us to seek out those who are truly acting in our best interest. And they are out there! We just have to look a little harder to find them. I love supporting small, local farms. I seek out quality, organic foods. I shop the perimeter of the grocery store, buying food without labels as much as possible, and I frequent farmer’s markets whenever I can.

With all that in mind, let’s move on to the first 5 actionable strategies that have helped me tremendously over the last 14+ years since I got sober and started focusing on my health. Next week, we’ll cover the remaining 5.

#1. Getting REAL. I had to be honest with myself. I had to see that what I was doing by eating sugar was the same thing I had been doing when I drank. I was still pushing down my emotions. I was continuing to avoid the feelings I didn’t want to feel. I used sugar as a drug, because it is a drug. It lights up the same reward centres in the brain and studies show it is 8 times more addictive than cocaine. And it is found everywhere. And it tastes delicious. And we have to eat, because we are human beings who need food to live. So, I had to get real about the drug of sugar and how I was using it. And then I had to figure out what I was supposed to do to stop craving it.

#2. Learn About The Body. I developed a deep understanding that what we eat truly, fundamentally, becomes our body. I can’t tell you how much this one piece of knowledge has affected me. Understanding how the human body digests and uses food has had an incredible impact on my desire to eat good food! I developed a deeper feeling of love and reverence towards my body.

I wanted to love and nurture it rather than continue to harm it. I had come so far in quitting drinking and smoking that I wanted to go further. I learned about the importance that sleep had on cravings (when we are tired, we crave sugar like craaaaaaazy) and I reduced stress as much as possible using various techniques like deep breathing and meditation. I wanted to do as much as I could to nurture and care for my body.

I highly recommend The Body Book by Cameron Diaz for doing a great job explaining what happens when we eat food—and when we eat junk. I also recommend my own book, The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge. I offer the basics when it comes to how food works but more than that, I offer inspiration and support as we go on a 28 Day Journey together where we cut out as many sugar responses as possible. Doing so helps us recalibrate our taste buds and reset our systems, which allows us to find a new normal. Plus, it is truly remarkable how sweet an apple tastes after 28 days without sugar!

#3. Opening Our Eyes. Educating myself on what is really going in the food and sugar industry has been powerful. I have recommended several documentaries and books here on my blog, but if you are just getting started, I highly recommend the documentaries Big Sugar:Sweet, White and Deadly and Jamie Oliver’s Sugar Rush. I also recommend Dr. Robert Lustig’s book Fat Chance: Beating the Odds against Sugar, Processed Foods, Obesity and Disease.

It is a powerful piece of research that explains the obesity epidemic by pointing the finger where it belongs–at sugar–and he backs up every single claim by hard science. He tells the truth we may not want to hear, but instead of blaming obesity to fix obesity, he helps us understand how we got ourselves into this mess in the first place…so that we can get ourselves out of it.

#4. The Power Of Protein. I discovered the powerful relationship between protein and sugar cravings and I leveraged that relationship to help me feel full and happy and satisfied without the desire for sugar. Instead of starting my day with a cup of coffee, I began with a high protein breakfast like eggs, a smoothie with hemp hearts, Greek yogurt and berries, or my recipe for Breakfast Sausages. Aiming for 20-25 grams of protein at breakfast and at each main meal, meant I was able to quell cravings and have more energy to do the things I wanted to do.

#5. Plan For Hunger. I began to understand the relationship between low blood sugar and cravings. When we let our blood sugar drop too low (by skipping meals and not eating at regular intervals), a cookie sounds reeaaally good. I stay “one step ahead of my hunger” by ensuring I always have snacks and meals with me. I don’t imagine that good food will suddenly appear…I have to make it happen! I must prioritize my food the way I organize my time. With purpose.

Each week, I spend a few hours in the kitchen preparing several snacks and meals that are ready-to-go throughout the week because not planning is the biggest reason people eat junk food. It’s so much easier to grab take-out or head to a restaurant than to actually cook–we all know this–but what about the health consequences of those choices?

What about our energy levels?

What about our precious bodies and the stress we put them under when we feed them food that is not food?

What about our desire to fit into a smaller pant size?

Now, please understand me!

I am NOT body shaming  here!

I am NOT saying that all sizes aren’t beautiful. Because ALL of us are beautifully made. Period.

In order to live vibrantly, we must love ourselves at the size we are and accept our bodies exactly as they are in this moment.

We don’t hate ourselves to good health, we love ourselves there.

But what I AM saying is that not all sizes are healthy. They just aren’t. What I’m saying is that when we nourish and nurture our bodies using real, whole foods they know what to do with, we show ourselves love and the size and shape our bodies want to be will naturally emerge from that place.

The size our bodies want to be will evolve out of our lifestyles, and we can live vibrantly and happily in our bodies because they feel so good! They are healthy and energized and exuberant! They aren’t exhausted and pained and inflamed.

And that, to me, is the goal. To live in a body that feels healthy and well. A body that I can trust to do the things I need it to do and a body that can trust me to take care of it.

That, to me, is everything. Everything starts and ends with the relationship I have with myself, and I believe that the way I improve my relationship with myself is to start with the way I treat my body.

I hope this resonates with you, too.

So those are my Top 5 tips. Next week, we’ll cover 5 more. I encourage you to work on these throughout the coming week (watch the documentaries, pick up the books, eat a high protein breakfast, plan your meals) if sugar feels like an addiction for you and has become a source of frustration and misery in your life.

Because I want you to live vibrantly!

Because I want you to have boundless energy!

Because I want you to love your life!

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

P.S. Did this post serve you? If so, I want to hear from you! Comment below and let’s get a conversation going. Also, here is the link to Part 2.

P.P.S. On April 22 & 23, my team and I are running The Healthy Brain and Body Show at the EY Centre in Ottawa! If you live in the area, it is going to be an amazing opportunity for us to learn from, be inspired by, and purchase amazing products from experts in the health and wellness industry. We have hand-selected many of the exhibitors we want at our show, but if YOU are in the wellness space and you want to be a part of this exciting event, we want to hear from you! Feel free to head over to the website, HealthyBrainAndBodyShow.com and download the Exhibitor Package or email me at Sarah@SarahTalksFood.com. I will happily answer all of your questions!

8 Comments

  • Chris Stokes

    Reply Reply February 8, 2017

    Great article! I too have struggled with this processed addiction in recovery. Through meditation, yoga, and choosing to eat real, whole foods, I was able to begin to get to the “core” issue of my addictive behavior. I feel this is a much larger issue that frequently gets overlooked in recovery, so thanks for discussing it and your program sounds amazing!

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply February 8, 2017

      Yes, self care is so key. Meditation and yoga were huge for me, too. I am so glad we are connected here! Well done getting to the core of your issues. Addiction truly is the symptom, not the problem. xo

  • Helene

    Reply Reply February 9, 2017

    Thanks for sharing this Sarah! I have passed it on to the group I’m running (Lose ‘Da Booze 100 Day Challenge)… we’ve formed a great community and the support and feedback has been amazing! The one thing that came up as a recurring theme was the sugar cravings. This will be very well received.

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply February 9, 2017

      Yes, when we stop drinking our sugar, we often look for other ways to find it! Glad you will be passing it on and way to go with your group and initiative!! Awesome stuff. xo

  • Louise

    Reply Reply February 11, 2017

    Thanks for this article. Although drinking has not been an issue for me, sugar addiction definitely is. I am working on breaking this. Thanks for the info.

    • Sarah Roberts

      Reply Reply February 11, 2017

      You are certainly not alone, and the suggestions can be used whether or not alcohol played a role. I am so glad this resonated and that we are connected here. 🙂

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