Right now I’m on my last three days of the 21-Day Sugar Detox (more about that in a few weeks). I love programs like this because they give me a fresh start and force me to work out my problems with logic and not with three pounds of cherries and a bar of dark chocolate (my “healthy” way to emotional eat). But I’m tired of people saying things like, “I don’t even want sugar anymore. It’s not even a struggle. It’s not even hard to resist.” I’m calling bull crap on that one. Maybe there are those super disciplined people out there, but I guess I’m not one of them.
I “gave-up” sugar almost two years ago. By gave up I mean, I only consume sugar in natural forms like fruit, and only have desserts sweetened naturally with fruit, honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup on Sundays. On special occassions I’ll have the conventional treat like at a birthday or Christmas party. I still have splurges and regrets, but for the most part I eat a sugar-free diet the majority of the time. Yet after two years if you show me a cookie, I want it. The idea of the soft, bready, chocolaty, sweet cookie in my mouth is SOOOO tempting to me. Luckily I’ve exercised my self-control muscle to the extent that I can resist. I can say no and go without the treat, but it’s not because I don’t want said treat, because I do. It’s still a temptation.
The first problem is, we don’t treat sugar as an addictive substance in society. When we see a drug addict or an alcoholic we want them to get help and we’re saddened by their state. When we see an obese person (because that’s generally caused by sugar), we judge them, wondering why they can’t just stop eating so much. We make jokes about them and consider ourselves better than they are for having the self-control we do. The fact is, sugar is an addiction.
A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that when we eat sugar, the same part of are brain fires up as it would if we were to take drugs or gamble. The point? Sugar is an addiction. This is real. This isn’t just a society with a lack of self-control and a need for instant gratification. Sugar addiction is a genuine condition.
I feel that! Sometimes I want sugar so badly I can’t stand it. I can usually resist but if I don’t, I get that instant gratification of joy. It’s true. I feel so happy…. for a while. Then the sugar crash sets in and I’m tired, crabby, bloated, have a headache and want more sugar. It’s that what an addiction is???
And the hardest part is, it’s EVERYWHERE! Not just in cakes, cookies and candy, but in things like BBQ sauce, ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressing. You don’t have to work hard to avoid drugs at the grocery store, but you do have to work to avoid sugar.
So is there no hope? That is ABSOLUTELY not the case. I am living, healthy, sugar-free proof of that. But if you decide to go off sugar, I don’t want you to feel defeated if your sugar demon never fully disappears. You have not failed. You are normal and you just need to keep doing your best.
The first step is to know what you can handle. I know I can’t go into a bakery or ice cream shop without indulging. I’d like to be that person who can take their kids out for ice cream and just sip lemon water, but that’s not how I roll. So I either have to avoid those places or make the decision to indulge that time. I also know I can’t go somewhere with treats when I’m hungry. I either need to eat before I go or put something in my purse.
Also, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I work with a lot of people who say this is too hard and they’ll never be able to quit sugar. Do you lift weights? Do you lift the same weight you did three years ago? Two years ago? Six months ago? Think of self-control like a muscle. The more you work at resisting, the stronger that muscle will be. Also, the more you resist, the more you start to realize you can. When you say no to the donuts once, you know you can the next time.
I have to set rules for myself. This may not work for everyone, but my personality type loves rules. So if I decide in advance what I will and will not do, it helps me. I’ve made a rule that I only eat dessert on Sunday so I follow that rule. Just like the muscle, it didn’t always work out perfectly. But the more I set and follow my rules, the easier it gets. The more you do something, the stronger the habit. I’m now in the habit of resisting sugar, so it’s more common that succumbing to my cravings.
Give yourself time and don’t be too hard on yourself. And get help if you need it! Addiction is a real thing and there are people out there designed to help people with addictions. Don’t write it off by saying, “It’s just food. If I can’t handle this on my own, I must be weak.” You’re not weak. You’re human.
Also, accept who you are. I hear a lot of people say, “I just need to stop being addicted to sugar!” I’ve completely accepted that sugar is something I will ALWAYS struggle with. Just like a recovering alcoholic will always be tempted by alcohol, I’ll always be tempted by sugar. But I know I can resist. I’m actually less hard on myself now that I’ve admitted I have a struggle. I don’t have to look at a cookie with indifference to be healthy and fit. I can look at it, want it, but know I want something more and that is to be healthy and happy. Accepting myself for who I am has made me much stronger than berating myself for still wanting sugar.
I don’t write this to be discouraging, but to be encouraging. Getting control of your sugar demon is TOTALLY possible, but don’t feel bad if a year from now you still want that Snickers bar. The addiction may not get weaker, but with time, patience and dedication you can get stronger.
Thanks for writing this. It is a real encouragement for me.