You got stressed out. Your unhealthy in-laws came for a visit. Your child was hospitalized. There’s a big project due at work and you’re on a deadline and working 14 hours a day. Your mother fell and broke her hip. Your adult child moved back in. You were sick. A relative or close friend has passed away and you are grieving. If this wasn’t bad enough, you’ve found yourself back into your favorite sugary treats, you’re gaining weight, and you feel even worse. Sometimes there is no obvious stress. You didn’t even notice until your clothes started feeling tight.
You can’t figure out how to get out of this horrible cycle of weight gain, self-judgment and shame. There is no reason to feel ashamed.
There is a good reason why you feel powerless and out of control.
Scientific research clearly shows that sugar is a powerful addictive drug.
In the brain, sugar increases dopamine levels that control the brain’s pleasure responses, exactly like many drugs of abuse – such as tobacco, cocaine and morphine. As sugar addiction progresses, the increased dopamine leads to the opposite, a reduction in dopamine levels. Then you need higher amounts of sugar to get the same level of reward.
One or 2 cookies doesn’t do it any more. You need 5 or 6 – or more – before you feel satisfied enough to stop.
Sugar is so powerful, it is 8 times more addictive than cocaine. Is it any wonder people suffer daily cravings for sugar?
Eighty percent of processed foods contain added sugar. So this means 80% of processed foods are actually what I call “edible drugs.” Edible recreational, soothing, pain-relieving drugs. No joke.
In order to get off sugar, you will need to go through sugar detox as your brain chemistry rebalances itself.
You need a well-developed plan.
Here is a 12-step process for getting off sugar.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Sugar is a powerful antidepressant and pain reliever. Sugar relapse happens to everyone at some point. It’s normal and to be expected.
- Recognize that sugar is hidden in almost all processed foods. It’s hidden in surprising places like granola bars, yogurts, “healthy” cereals, canned fruits, barbecue sauce and cold syrups. It will take a concerted effort to avoid it.
- Get all sugar out of the house. Check your pantry and throw out cookies, chips, candy, cereals, juices and anything with added sugar in it. Check your freezer for ice cream and sweet treats. Throw it all out. If that seems wasteful, imagine that it’s food that’s been laced with cocaine. Let your family members know what you’ve learned and ask them to keep any sugar in their cars and out of the house.
- Set a quit date. Treat sugar like you’d treat any other drug of abuse, and set a date to quit.
- Plan for irritability, anxiety, cravings and headaches. You will be going through a serious detox, as it would be withdrawing from any drug of abuse. Do not make any major life decisions during this time.
- Prepare 4 days’ worth of meals and snacks in advance. Plan meals and snacks with plenty of protein, healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables. Avoid grains like oatmeal, rice and bread. If you are sensitive to fruits (many are) you might want to avoid them while you’re in the detox phase.
- Carry your food with you. This is particularly important when you are in the midst of sugar withdrawal. If you have a craving, and you don’t have food with you ….You set yourself up for a relapse.
- Avoid workplace break rooms or other areas where you know you’ll be tempted.
- If you drink sugary coffee drinks every morning, you will need to find an alternative so you can avoid coffee houses and espresso stands. I make my coffee at home and use full fat cream and stevia.
- Do not keep sugary treats around for children or grandchildren. Do not bake treats for others. I often hear parents and grandparents say things like “I got into the kids’ Oreos.” Or “I was making cookies for my grandchildren.” Really? Now that you know how powerful sugar is, how is giving children a drug possibly OK?
- Know your weaknesses. If you have a favorite form of sugar, (eg ice cream or baked goods or pie), consider it to be what I call your “edible drug of choice,” and avoid it.
- Once you are through detox, celebrate your success! After a week without sugar, you cravings should be markedly subsiding. Now it’s time to celebrate with a massage, a new piece of clothing or some other non-edible reward.
Congratulations! You have beat one of the most powerful addictions known!
6 Steps to Maintaining Sugar Sobriety
Once off sugar, you want to stay that way right? Here are some hints for long-term success.
- If you slip, remember it’s normal. Do not beat yourself up. Just get right back on track.
- Avoid fast food. Almost all fast/convenience/processed food has added sugar.
- Learn to cook your own food. Sadly, this is a skill that is sorely lacking in today’s society.
- Splurge carefully. Consider sugar to be a recreational drug. It’s associated with holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations, and even mourning. You may decide to splurge on occasion. That’s OK as long as you splurge mindfully. Do not keep leftovers at your home or office as you will likely endure cravings and have a “sugar hangover” the next day.
- Take care with alcohol. Avoid sugary drinks like margaritas, daiquiris, etc. Avoid beer, which has the sugar “maltose” in it. Alcohol is a drug that will lower your inhibitions and you will end up eating far more than you intend.
- Plan new ways to manage stress. This is the secret for long-term success. It’s an ongoing process. Susan Albers has written a wonderful book called “Fifty Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.” For long-term help with understanding your specific triggers and better managing stress, stay tuned for our maintenance program called “The Inside of Thin.”
The key to getting off sugar is to remember that it’s a drug. Some call it “the other white powder.” Respect it. Avoid it. Teach others what you know!