I wrote this blog post in 2006, when I was beginning to write about my journey with sugar. At the time, I’d been a sugar addict for nearly 20 years and had also struggled with equal years of eating disorders. During this stage of my journey, I had come to a point of acceptance that I could never eat sugar again. And so I was writing about and exploring my relationship to this limit, what you’ll read below.
Now years later, my relationship with sugar and my food compulsions has changed. Today, I eat sugar moderately, and no longer abstain from it. That is a much longer story, and another ten year journey; the how of how I got to that point is chronicled here at growinghumankindness, too.
So even though this story may not reflect how I eat or even relate to sugar today, I continue to share it as a marker of my journey, for it is a part of it, and it belongs. What remains unchanged – whether I was abstaining from sugar for a period of time or whether I’m eating it moderately – is this: my compulsive, obsessive seeking after sugar, food, and the pursuit of a perfect body had to die. It was a grieving, a shedding, and a healing process, and it meant facing and feeling the holes that drove me to seek out sugar, food, or pursue a perfect body in the first place.
And what also remains unchanged is this: my experiences with sugar are a relationship, something to relate to, and not something to cut out or eliminate. They ask this question over and over: how do I relate to what troubles or scares me? And through that relationship, something is born in me, and in you.
If you’d like to learn more, you can explore this free video course to learn about where abstinence does and doesn’t fit into healing a sugar addiction. You can also explore this page here to learn more about my approach to sugar, and what fostered the transformation I’ve described above.
My childhood memories are punctuated with sugar: bakery donuts on Sunday mornings; a pillowcase full of candy on Halloween; Dairy Queen trips in the summer; pies at Christmas. Our home had a junk drawer brimming with potato chips, pretzels, cookies, and tortilla chips. This didn’t include the ice cream in the freezer, the muffin mixes in the cupboard, the Pepsi in the fridge and the candy bowl on the piano. I ate sugar every day, and thought nothing of it.
I ate raw cookie dough, baked cupcakes, or had popcorn and Coke when I was feeling sad. As a teen, I became bulimic, and my favorite binge foods were sugar-laden: ice cream, candy, cheesecake, donuts, pastries, and muffins.
In my 20s, I became cognizant of my sugar addiction. I was having children, and I wanted to eat better, both for my babies’ sake and my own. I could no longer eat whatever I wanted and still feel and look good. I also experienced the first inklings of depression that plagued others in my family, and was looking for a cure.
I read several books about sugar and its addictive qualities. The information changed my life: finally, I understood why I could eat an entire bag of Twizzlers in one sitting. The connection between sugar consumption and depression was eye opening, too: no wonder my moods were constantly swinging.
And yet, even with all this knowledge, even with all my experience of how terrible sugar made me feel, in body, mind, and spirit, it took me over a decade to find significant healing. I’ve gone on and off sugar more times then I care to count.
Here’s how my script played out:
I’d be sugar free for several months, and then have a piece of cake, justifying my indulgence by vowing to return to my sugar abstinence the next day. I would tell myself I would eat just one serving and put the rest away, forgetting that I have never been able to eat just one slice my whole life.
One cookie would turn to two, then three; to candy the next day; brownies thereafter, then an entire can of raisins. Before I knew it, I was bingeing on sugar, eating out of control, riding an emotional roller coaster of mood swings, depression, and irritability.
Finally, I’d reach my saturation point, and put myself through the painful process of sugar detox. Then the cycle would start all over again.
When I don’t eat sugar, I feel fantastic: my moods, blood sugar, and emotions are stable. And yet I’d go back to eating it because I’d feel deprived; or I’d want pleasure, or I felt like lightening up.
I ate sugar because it connected me to my childhood, and all my happy memories. Or I bargained with myself, justifying that I could handle sugar because I felt so good (forgetting that the reason why I was feeling good was because I wasn’t eating sugar.)
I rode this back and forth roller coaster for many years. Finally, after one too many sugar binges, I surrendered. I realized that I can’t eat sugar compulsively and also have the health and wholeness that I desire.
I didn’t want to accept this. I still secretly wanted to eat sugar, just without the negative side effects. I was heartbroken.
But I couldn’t escape the truth. While some people can have a dessert every now and then, I’m not one of them. When I eat sugar, it eventually leads to a binge, every single time. It eventually leads to obsession (where all I can think about is my next sugar hit) and addiction (where I’m bingeing or planning a binge.) Every. Single. Time. Sugar leads to pain. Every. Single. Time.
I realized that I can’t live the life I want to live if I’m bingeing on sugar. I can’t be the parent (my children will gleefully relay that sugar turns me into Witch Mommy), wife, woman (it’s really hard to feel good about your body when you feel sick and bloated from overeating), writer, or friend that I want to be while I’m depressed and eating sugar out of control.
It became a question of sugar, or my life.
I chose my life.
And I mourned. I mourned what I couldn’t change – that my body doesn’t react normally to sugar. I mourned the loss of sugar. And mourning enabled me to find acceptance. It’s what gave me the courage to move forward, to find the living in my sugar free life.
Yes, there are trade offs. Sugar free living means giving myself excellent self care, support, and nurturing. For example, I eat three to four meals a day, everyday. I do my best to get a good night’s sleep. (It’s hard to resist sugar when you’re exhausted.) When I go out to dinner, I choose a restaurant that has something I want to eat. I carry food with me when I’ll be gone for the day. I plan meals. I eat protein at my meals to balance my blood sugar. I primarily cook whole foods, and so I spend a lot of time cooking for myself.
Yes, this entails effort. Sometimes I get weary. And the effort is worth it, because it gives me my very life; my very health.
It’s much, much harder to look in the mirror and not like what I see; to feel the terrible shame of a binge; to hide myself from the world because I’m depressed and recovering from a food hangover.
Sugar free living doesn’t deprive me, but nurtures me. It’s what sets me free to give, to love, to experience the true joy and richness of my very life. And it’s a doorway that I enter, over and over again, to open me to love. To open me to grace.
Your story sounds just like me…..except I haven't kicked the sugar yet. I'm off to read about how you finally got off the sugar treadmill. Thank you!
wow! You just described my life, except I haven't been able to kick my habit. I'm absolutely addicted to sugar and cannot seem to get off of it. I can't wait to figure out how you did it!!!
Sure….I think the trick is to think outside of the box, and beyond typical “breakfast” fare. I’m not a big egg fan, either, so I typically eat my dinner leftovers for breakfast the next day. Here’s what that looks like—this is what I’ve had for breakfast this week: salmon, brown rice and stir fry veggies; lentil soup with a side of steamed chard; roast chicken, black beans, and a big salad; plain kefir (it’s like yogurt, but it has less lactose—which is the natural sugar in milk, more protein, and lots of good probiotics)with ground flaxseed, walnuts, and almonds; a bison sausage with steamed broccoli and a bowl of chili.
When I start my day with a hearty breakfast with protein, I stay full all morning, have great energy, stable moods, and eat less later on in the day.
If you’re interested in learning more, I’m writing a guide to giving up sugar for good, an ebook that will be available for purchase on First Ourselves next month.
This is a very inspiring post. Do you mind telling us some ideas for a sugar-free breakfast? I am not a big fan of eggs, and don't have much time in the mornings. I feel like all the breakfast items that come to my mind (cereal, granola bar, yogurt) have sugar. Any ideas would be appreciated.
Thank you. That is very helpful. I had not considering thinking outside the box of traditional breakfast items. I appreciate your response!
I don’t use artificial sweeteners or eat dried fruit – the key for me is getting my sweet “hit.” That is the addictive piece for me. I do eat regular fruit, but in moderation – it’s a treat for me, not an everyday food. I actually feel much better limiting my fruit intake.
But that is for me, and for my body. Initially, when I worked on giving up sugar, I just focused on added sugars. Then, over time, I worked on getting off dried fruit – one of my favorite binge foods, because the sweetness is so concentrated.
I am very sugar sensitive, which is why I have to be so careful. This may not be true for you. So I would start where you can, and then listen to your body: what foods make it feel great? What foods make if feel terrible?
I would also try and embrace this journey as an opportunity. My food issues are always an invitation to learn and grow, and, more importantly, an opportunity to come back home: to find myself.
I'm curious, do you eat things that are sweet but sugar free? Do you use artificial sweetener? What about fruit, the natural sugar? I think I may suffer from a sugar addiction (probably caffeine too) but I'm not sure I can give it up….
You are very welcome, Heather. I often eat soup or leftovers from the night before for breakfast. Another favorite breakfast of mine? A baked acorn squash sprinkled with cinnamon, pecans and drizzled with flaxseed oil. I also like millet and vegetables for breakfast.
For more help in getting off the sugar treadmill, try reading my book, Overcoming Sugar Addiction, http://www.firstourselves.com/sugar-support/sugar…
The book comes with the 12 week Sugar Addiction support program, our most popular offering for breaking free from sugar: http://www.firstourselves.com/sugar-support/
I admire your courage to follow through on your intention to live sugar free. I am so proud of you,
I know you can get off sugar. My book, Overcoming Sugar Addiction, explains exactly how I broke free:
I feel like a different person when I'm not eating sugar – as if the switch to binge has been turned off in my brain. I want every person to have this freedom.
In support, Karly
Has anybody tried going to AA meetings during their initial withdrawal from sugar? If it really is a drug, wouldn't that be useful as a support group????
Hi Dawn, I eat a whole foods, low sugar diet. I eat fruit in moderation – too much of even natural sugars (like fruit) doesn't make me feel good. For me, that equals about a serving of fruit a day, and choosing mostly low sugar fruits like berries and apples. Dried fruits like raisins were actually my favorite binge foods because they were so concentrated with sugar – even "natural" sugar: I stay away from all artificial sweeteners, too. They make my body feel horrible and excacerbate the sugar addiction. You'll find that after you stop eating sugar, your taste buds change. So I taste the natural sweetness in almonds, salmon, fruit, carrots, and vegetables. Sometimes fruit tastes too sweet for me! I hope that helps. XO, Karly
Kathleen des Maisons was one of the primary researchers into sugar addiction. (She wrote Potatoes not Prozac, a great book that I highly recommend.) She says that alchololism, is, in fact, a form of sugar addiction. So you are seeing that connection, too. I know some women who are addicted to sugar have used OA (Overeaters Anonymous) or FA (Food Addicts Anonymous) for support and have found it helpful. I think you are right – support is crucial when you're trying to change a painful pattern like sugar addiction – or any addiction. We offer an online support group to get off sugar here at First Oursevles if you're interested: http://www.firstourselves.com/sugar-support/
i am a mother of six .2 years ago my husband of 16 yrs walked out on us. I am engaged now to a wonderful man and will see him,since he lives in the UK, in 4 wks. I am horrified because i am definately addicted to sugar. My mother and grandmother were alcoholics. I feel, with this sugar addiction, that i have duplicated them in a different version. i actually never considered myself a sugar addict til i just read your article…i have been unsuccessfully dieting for yrs. what i need is a diet on paper to follow. i need to see it. no explanation needed..i will follow it. i am 211 lbs now ….5 '4 in height. i want to be below 150….but more important detoxed. can you show me where there is an on paper weekly or monthly diet that is simple…?
I feel so blessed that I stumbled upon this website. I am a mommy to two young boys and am hopelessly addicted to sugar, and have been for a LONG time. I have tried so many times to quit, but I feel so hopeless sometimes. It has only been recently that I have come to understand that I am truly addicted…I didn't think you could be addicted to sugar! How wrong I was! Thank you for this information. It has inspired me more than you know. Tears are coming to my eyes because when I read your sugar story, I completely related to it. Thank you once again!
Thank you for your tender, vulnerable note. I can empathize with your feelings…thank goodness we have each other. Thank goodness we're not walking this journey on our own. I'm glad my story can be a help to you. XO, Karly
moi je croix que je suis affreusement accro au sucre car je peux en manger un kilo dans la journée si je ne me stop pas je ne c pas comment faire pour arreter et la j'arrive sur mes trente ans et je commence a grossir donc ce qui me déplait totalement si vous pouvais me donner deux trois petites astuces pour arreter se serais super
donc je dis au-secour aider moi a arreter svp
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Sugar has been my downfall for my entire life. I am obsessed with the stuff. I feel 100% better when I am not eating it. I can usually go sugar free for about a month, and then the depressing cycle starts all over again. I say Okay, I’ve been good for 30 days now, I will go ahead and have some cake. At first it doesn’t taste as good as I remember, so I keep eating more because I think, how can this be, I love the taste of cake with icing, how come it doesn’t taste as good as I remember…..so by that time after 2 or 3 servings….I am backed to being hooked on anything sugar I can get my hands on. This binge usually lasts for a week. So all of my hard efforts from being sugar free for the month have gone down the drain. And I’m back to feeling awful, exhausted, and depressed. This cycle has been going on for as long as I can remember. Please Help! I will read everything you have mentioned. I know I become a much happier, more in control, and a more confident person if I could just shed this demon known to me as sugar. Thank you!
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I completely relate to your story. I am a teen now and have been addicted to sugar ever since I was a child! But now it’s gotten even worse, all I think about is how I can sneak more sugar to binge on … anything ranging from icecream, cookies, candy, pop tarts, sugar cereal etc. and even though I realize it is unhealthy for me … it is so hard to stop. I have daily headaches and am constantly nauseous and shaky, and I think it has to do with the sugar. I think I am going to go cold turkey like you. Thank you for inspiring me to quit sugar. How long did it take you on your protein/fat diet to get rid of the sugar cravings once and for all?
It sounds like you could relate to my story, and that you’re finding yourself feeling stuck in sugar. I can see that you’re looking for ways to help and support yourself.
I wanted to write as I offer much different advice for children, teens and young adults who are looking for help with sugar than I do for adults. As a parent of several teens myself, I encourage you to share your struggles with sugar with your loved ones – your parents, an older sibling, a teacher, a trusted relative, a friend’s mother – an adult that you feel safe with. Let them help you rather than trying to resolve this on your own.
It’s not something to bear alone!
I would not recommend going on a cold turkey no sugar diet, or trying to solve this on your own, but would reach out for support from those who can help. It’s possible you could use some support from a nutritional standpoint – there may be something going on health wise, like low blood sugar, that’s driving the sugar cravings. A nutritionist or other medical professional could be a big help for you!
Often, sugar cravings arise from things that are happening emotionally or stressors in your life. This is where the support of loved ones is so crucial and important. They can help both in unwinding what’s driving the cravings on an emotional level, as well as getting support on the physiological level.
I wish you ease and lots of support!
Hi Karly – Your story sounds like mine! I steer clear of sugar because I CAN’T have just one bite, but I still think about it so much! I can’t stand it! I tend to want to stay home on the weekends when I’m not busy, busy at work, because I’m afraid I’ll give in to my cravings. I used to allow myself a cheat day on Sunday, but that would turn into a binge ALL day and I’d feel horrible on Monday, which was the day I’d be back on my normal diet through Saturday. It’s been 4-weeks of NO cheat day, and not even eating out. I’ve stuck to my normal diet, but I think maybe I’m not eating enough for my activity level, etc. I just don’t know why I can’t kick the thought of sugar. I feel amazing and so happy without it! I limit my carbs quite a bit and eat a lot of protein and healthy fats. I’m VERY interested in your book and support group! I feel like if I had someone to call or talk to (who can relate) during a hard time I’d be better faster! Ordering your book now.
Sugar can be a frustrating topic for so many! I’m glad you’re finding support here.
You may find that this post speaks to your experience, as I tie together the emotional and physiological – why sugar and food can be so ‘sticky’ and addictive.
You may also be interested in this sugar video course here: https://growinghumankindness.com/sugar-addiction-101/
In this course, I talk about why I eat sugar moderately today, and the healing journey I went through to get to this point.