May 7, 2013

You Are My Candy Girl

I'm severely addicted to the white stuff - and it ain't crack - it's sugar, baby.

For as long as I can remember, I've used food as a comfort.  It was innocent enough - mum always tried to make me feel better with something sweet when I was down... and my mum was a professional baker!  I think most people find this to be true.  Trouble is, I became severely depressed, and the only comfort I knew was food.

It became a problem when my weight went up and despite a lot of effort, I still had the strong compulsion to satisfy my inner pain with food.  And I developed an eating disorder.

I didn't realize I was trying to stuff the hole that was inside me.

After participating in an intensive DBT group, I had new skills to use: I learned the healthier ways to tolerate distress - the ones that don't do any damage the way drugs, alcohol, over-eating, over-shopping, gambling, and promiscuity do.  So I thought I was okay.

But I still had this problem with food and could not figure it out.

I then participated in an eating disorder group, which helped tremendously by emphasizing meals 2-3 hours apart all day long so that you don't get hungry - hunger in a binge eater is like setting yourself up to fail.  It also emphasized that we do not stigmatize any food as being "bad" food.

I improved. But I still had the problem. I still used food for comfort.  And it wasn't salad either, it was always sugary carbohydrates in some form or another: cookies, cakes, ice-cream, chocolate, breads, etc.

Not only could I not figure out why it was so hard for me, but I also became complacent - it was so normal to me to eat these kinds of foods when I was feeling bad (and I felt bad a hell of a lot) that I didn't think about it - The compulsion was too strong and when I ate the food, I went numb, and then I felt better for a bit.

Of course, health is really important to me, and I'm always trying to make sure I eat well.  I gave up animal products, processed foods, gmo foods, etc. in this pursuit.  But no matter what, I eventually reached for the sugary treat when things got bad enough.

I didn't know I was that depressed.  I thought I got depressed sometimes, but looking back, I think I was just trying to cope - and sugar helped me.  It also made things so much worse.

And now I'm sure that the reason I don't reach for a healthier method of tolerance or comfort is because I've never tried anything that has worked as fast and as well as the food.  Sex works well too, but food is easier to come by.

Last year, when I got into the Nutritarian diet (Joel Fhurman), I learned that when you eat any processed foods, it makes it harder to follow the diet - he strongly suggests refraining completely for best results.  And I pretty much did just that.  Then one day, Brian's daughter came to visit and I thought it would be nice to make some banana bread.  So I found a really healthy recipe and made a loaf.  And I ate a piece. And after that, despite being perfectly content and satisfied without that stuff for months, I felt so strongly pulled to have more... and I did.

And after that, my healthy diet went downhill.

Trying to get myself back on track felt impossible - it seemed that no matter how much I wanted to be healthy, the compulsion to eat the sugary carbs was even stronger.

As I finished off my third? (I don't even remember how many) honey bun, feeling disgustingly sick and full but still needing to finish it, I realized that this was an addiction.

And I don't mean that I'm addicted to food - I'm sure that may be possible, but we sorta need it to live.  I mean addicted to sugar.

I know an addictive behaviour - I've had it with cigarettes and still struggle.  Why I never realized I had the same relationship with sugar as I did with cigarettes, I don't know, but my guess is that it was such a part of my life - right from childhood, that I'd no reason to suspect.  Everyone eats. Everyone needs to eat.  Therefore I just had an eating problem, not an addiction.

The reason I suspected it was sugar and not something else?  I needed sweet things, the sweeter the better - those were what I went for, those are the foods I couldn't stop eating, those were the foods I craved obsessively.

So when Brian came home, I had a talk with home and told him my discovery.  He agreed and said he'd help me in any way he can.

Then, after doing some reading on the topic, I decided to cut out the sugar completely and for good.  This meant any sugar, even honey and maple syrup.  And I had to closely monitor my starchy food intake as that is the type of food I have the problem with.  Starch converts to sugar and ends up having the same effect.

I learned a lot about sugar, and why it is so addictive.  It reacts in the brain the way drugs do.  It's process directly through the liver, like any other toxin.

I learned that Queen Elizabeth was so addicted to sugar that her teeth turned black.

I learned so much that I can't even begin to explain it here and so I'll share some important links/information in future posts on the subject.

The day after I had my realization, I obstained from sugar of any sort.  I didn't even eat bread for the first week... I made Brian hide his bread from me.  I didn't drink coffee because I usually liked it with copious amounts of sugar.

Let me tell you, that first week was horrible!  In all the times I've tried to quit smoking, I have never gone though withdrawals anywhere close to what I went through with the sugar.  If I wasn't addicted to sugar, why would I go through such a bad withdrawal?

My skin wouldn't stop crawling; I was sweating; I couldn't stop clenching my jaw; I was nauseous; I was miserable, moody, depressed, and tired - completely void of energy (even more so than usual and that's saying a lot); and oh my god was I hungry!  All the time.  That deep hunger pain you get when you're just starving - well I had that almost constantly.  I was still eating, but it didn't matter. I later learned this was the body trying to regulate itself since it's been so accustomed to regular doses of sugar my entire life.

During that first week, I felt like I didn't know what to do with myself - like something big was missing inside me and that I would not know how to live without the sugar - not because of the cravings, but because I felt like I was walking around with a giant gaping hole right in the center of me and I just couldn't comprehend feeling that way for, I believed, the rest of my life.

I'd been filling that hole with sugar.  I didn't know any other way.  And now the hole was no longer being filled, and I had to deal with that, I had to deal with how that felt.

I want to touch on that more, but in another post.

I don't remember all my withdrawal symptoms, but I remember what happened after just a few days of no-sugar: food started to taste sweeter.  Just natural food, like vegetables, so much sweeter and more delicious. Everything tasted better in a way that quitting smoking could not even compare to.

Don came over with coffee and so I decided to try it without sugar anyway... the coffee tasted almost as sweet as it did when I was drinking it with a crap-load of sugar!  I thought this was amazing.

I also plan to make a post about the effects of going off of sugar, so look for that one if you're curious.

In the meantime, here's a list of behaviours that someone with an addiction portrays (taken from various sources), all of which are true of myself when it comes to sugar:

  • Inability to limit use of a substance or activity
  • A craving or compulsion to use the substance or activity.
  • Recurrent use escalates to achieve the desired effect, indicating tolerance.
  • Attempts to stop usage produces symptoms of withdrawal
  • Becoming preoccupied with the addiction, spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior 
  • Secretiveness
  • Lying to hide the addiction
  • A pattern of avoiding and binging
  • The person takes the substance and cannot stop - in many cases, at least one serious attempt was made to give up, but unsuccessfully.
  • Addiction continues despite health problem awareness - the individual continues taking the substance regularly, even though they have developed illnesses linked to it.
  • An addicted person commonly feels they need their drug to deal with their problems.
  • Obsession - an addicted person may spend more and more time and energy focusing on ways of getting hold of their substance, and in some cases how to use it.
  • in many cases the addict may take their substance alone, and even in secret.
  • A significant number of people who are addicted to a substance are in denial. They are not aware (or refuse to acknowledge) that they have a problem.
  • Excess consumption
  • Dropping hobbies and activities - as the addiction progresses the individual may stop doing things he/she used to enjoy a lot.
  • Having stashes - the addicted individual may have small stocks of their substance hidden away in different parts of the house or car; often in unlikely places.
  • Taking an initial large dose. For example, the individual may gulp drinks down in order to get drunk and then feel good.
  • Relationship problems
  • Feel guilty or ashamed.
  • Have friends or family members who are worried about your addiction
  • Need to partake in the substance in order to relax or feel better.
  • Regularly consume more than you intended to.
It's been over three weeks since I've had any sugar.  I don't regret it.  In fact, I feel so much better.  But I'm going to have to be diligent about it for the rest of my life because it is so easy to stray, as I've learned.

<3 M


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