“Sugar addiction is the term for the relationship between sugar and the various aspects of food addiction including “bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization”. Some scientists assert that consumption of sweets or sugar could have a heroin addiction-like effect.”
Dr Christopher M Olsen, PhD
In my last blog, I touched on the idea of a middle line between a sugar low and a sugar high, and the unrealistic expectation that off sugar, the mid-line would continue to exist as was. I revealed the difficulty that I was experiencing in reaching ‘a happy place’ in the absence of sugar, and trying to come to terms with the realisation that without sugar, this ‘middle line’ between lows and highs was much lower than I had expected it to be.
Having spent a large part of my life in a state of sugar-induced happiness, it has been a challenge to come to terms with a new normality. After all, years and years of excessive sugar consumption had given me a skewed and unrealistic notion of what it means to be happy.
It’s taken me a while to face up to it, but the truth of the matter is this: The ‘happy’ I felt on sugar was fake. It was not a realistic measure of life, or how it ultimately works, for all of us. Reaching for sugar for ‘help’ with the least event, either in anticipation of it, or to deal with the fall-out from it, created an unreal life, one where I was in my own happy-but-oblivious state. I thought sugar made it easier for me to think clearly. I used sugar for comfort, emotional support, and reward – an age-old cycle familiar to most of us.
Exploring this on the Internet, I came across some very interesting articles, particularly this one by Dr Christopher M Olsen –
“In rats that were trained to press a lever to receive intravenous self-administration of drugs, highly palatable foods such as sugar and saccharin were shown to reduce self-administration of cocaine and heroin, and these natural reinforcers have been demonstrated to outcompete cocaine in choice self-administration in the majority of rats tested. This would suggest that sweet foods have a higher reinforcing value than cocaine, even in animals with an extensive history of drug intake.”
“During repeated access to sugar, escalation of intake is observed, a phenomenon previously associated with cocaine and heroin self-administration. Escalation is an increase in intake that occurs during the initial phase (e.g. the first hour of a six hour session) of self-administration after a history of repeated sessions, a phenomenon thought to mimic human patterns of drug intake. Following removal of sugar or fat access, withdrawal symptoms including anxiety- and depressive-like behaviors emerge. After this period of “abstinence”, operant testing reveals “craving” and “seeking” behavior for sugar or fat, as well as “incubation of craving”, and “relapse” following abstinence from sugar. In fact, when given a re-exposure to sugar after a period of abstinence, animals consume a much greater amount of sugar than during previous sessions. This deprivation effect was originally described for alcohol, and is thought to be another preclinical model of craving and relapse.” Natural Rewards, Neuroplasticity and non-drug Addictions, Christopher M Olsen PhD. Full article, complete with references and links, at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139704/
Wow. It’s hardly surprising, then, that removing sugar from my life caused genuine withdrawal symptoms, and ‘finding my happy’ has been harder than I thought it would be – because I was not in touch with the unreality caused by sugar-addiction, and was not aware that the happy I thought of as normal was anything but.
Even this realisation was a start. Acknowledging it, and subsequently accepting it, has meant that I can work on it. And this work starts by being kind to myself. In the words of Karly Randolph Pitman –
“Eliminating sugar will create a vacuum; better to fill it with something positive – self love and self care – than something that is hurtful, like self sabotage. Care for your tender self so that you feel nourished, capable, rested and strong.
“While yes, your body may be sugar sensitive, and while, yes, you may gorge on sugar, it’s not “you.” It’s just a coping mechanism: how you learned to care for yourself when life felt painful, overwhelming or scary. This is probably something you learned when you were very small. It’s not your fault. Being addicted to sugar or bingeing on sugar is not a character flaw – proof that you’re a terrible person. It’s simply a form of self protection, how you’ve cared for your tender heart.
“When we release the blame – and most of us blame ourselves, and terribly so – we find we can also release the sugar. It creates a spaciousness where we can act differently, where we can respond to sugar in a different way and let go of its hold on us. Forgiveness and compassion are the only way I found peace with sugar. It’s the only way I found that I could stay sugar free long term.”
Thank you, Karly. That helps.
Today marks the end of my twelfth week without refined sugar, and I think I am doing well. I have slowly reintroduced fruit (not every day, and only in very small amounts), and it has been a pleasure to feel that burst of fruit-freshness in my mouth once again. There is no food on earth that can replace that. Today, the humble strawberry looks better and tastes better; and I find myself actually looking at it before I eat it, and actually tasting it when I do.
“You will probably enjoy your food more, so don’t worry about not enjoying your meals. You’ll need less, and appreciate real food once the sugar fog has lifted. With your mouth no longer craving sugar, your taste buds will be able to experience an intensity of flavour that you may never have known.”
Most importantly, I am no longer plagued by sugar cravings of any sort; these have gone completely. Life without the white stuff is … good. Actually, it’s better than good. My days are passing with a calmness I could never have imagined I would achieve.
Slowly but surely, the ‘mid-line’ between the sugar-induced high and the lack-of-sugar dip has risen. Happy is no longer an unreachable, ‘up there’, concept. Today, it might even be only a conscious decision away.
I am sugar free, and I can finally choose to be happy.