If you can’t stop eating sugar or other simple carbs (like potato chips or bread) once you start, or if one bite of sugar makes you crave more, you may be sugar sensitive. According to Kathleen des Maisons, author of Potatoes not Prozac, and one of the leading researchers on sugar sensitivity, when your body is biochemically sensitive to sugar, eating sugar in moderation is next to impossible.
I was a life long sugar binger. From childhood on, I ate massive amounts of cookies, candy, sodas, cakes, pizza, bread, crackers, pretzels, potato chips, ice cream, Cheetos, french fries, and tortilla chips. My sugar addiction caused me tremendous pain and suffering – eating disorders, yo yoing weight, shame and self loathing. It worsened over time, becoming out of control in my 20s. I finally reached a point of surrender in my 30s, when I faced and healed my sugar addiction.
Here’s how they work together. You need four things to heal from sugar addiction:
1. Physical distance from sugar.
First, you may need to support a base level of physiological healing from sugar. This may entail minimizing your sugar intake. According to Kathleen des Maison, this step, combined with eating regular meals of whole, healthy foods (many of us who have sugar cravings also have low or volatile blood sugar), heals your brain chemistry. On a brain level, you’re not wanting the sugar so much.
The arena of physiological healing is not my area of expertise, but folks like Kathleen des Maisons and Dr. Mark Hyman have helpful tools about this step, and I invite you to explore their work. You can also explore the work of Dr. Julia Ross, who offers suggestions on how to use nutritional supplements to support this phase of healing (try her books The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure.)
2. Emotional distance from sugar.
And yet, in my experience, abstinence isn’t enough by itself. In order to heal a sugar addiction at the root, we have to heal and soothe the emotional brain. We need to soothe ourselves emotionally without food – any food.
This is important because life is dynamic and unpredictable. Without this level of emotional healing, when life gets stressful, we go back to sugar or turn to another coping mechanism – like overeating non sugar foods – to soothe ourselves.
3. Belonging – safety, support and love.
I know that the thought of giving up sugar feels terrifying and impossible – overwhelming, too, as our culture is surrounded by sugar. That’s why you need support. You need the voice of someone who’s been there, as well as the voice of someone who’s traveling the same path, so you can feel reassured when you’re feeling discouraged or afraid.
You also need care, belonging, and deep listening. In my experience, many of us who are struggling with overeating are attached to food. Food represents unconditional love and nourishment – our “mother” – as well as belonging – safety. In order to let go of the food – the sugar – we need to attach to something else. We need to feel belonging, unconditional love, and nourishment with people. First with ourselves, and also with others.
Do you have people in your life who offer belonging? Do you offer yourself belonging – unconditional love and acceptance?
4. Recognizing that this is a process, not an event.
I wish I could give you a tool that would make all your cravings permanently disappear. But I care, and because I care, I need to be honest.
Mindful, conscious eating is a process, a practice. To have conscious relationship with sugar, we need to be mindful about what we’re eating. This doesn’t mean being obsessive or neurotic about food. It does mean finding awareness and paying attention.
One of the biggest roadblocks for me is continual, ongoing acceptance. Healing from sugar means that I have to keep doing the things that keep me sugar free – those things that honor my sugar sensitive brain chemistry and keep it healthy and whole. If I don’t eat regularly, if I start eating lots of processed food, if I skip meals, I’m going to crave sugar – which can lead me right back into it.
I think of healing more akin to putting gas in your car – something you do over and over again – rather than fixing a broken muffler – something you do once and then it’s done. It’s the only way I know how to do this long term.
I don’t always love being sugar sensitive. I accept times when I resist eating this way; I know it’s not personal. We all feel this way!
At the same time, I try to open my heart to even this – a different way of eating than the way many people eat. I try to embrace my limits as love in action, as a way to honor and love and care for myself, the tender human being that is me.
Wanting more resources?
- You may enjoy these pages here on healing your relationship with sugar, healing your fear of cravings, and understanding what drives overeating and binge eating. You may also enjoy exploring this free video course on fostering healing with sugar.