For a few years now, I have told people in a jokey sort of way that I am addicted to sugar. I gave it up completely before I got pregnant with my youngest (so about 3 years ago now) but fell back into the habit - or the sweet, cloying grip of sugar as I often describe it to myself.Some of the common symptoms of addiction are:
If I read through that list with my experiences of eating sugar in mind, I can nod my head YES to every single one.
Tolerance? Check - I was always having to up my intake of junk in order to get the same level of satisfaction.
Withdrawal? Check - I would get headaches, dizziness, mood swings, etc when I went too long without the stuff.
Difficulty cutting down? Check - there is no "consuming in moderation" for me. If I indulge, it is like opening the floodgates to devouring sugar-laden foods at every opportunity.
Focus on the addiction at social activities? Check - I couldn't enjoy myself at a function with food unless I was eating something sugary.
Preoccupation with the addiction? Check - If I was afforded a rare opportunity to be alone in the day, I would always plan on a sugar binge to go with that alone time. I would often plan for it many days in advance.
All summer, I have avoided sugar. I think I slipped up a handful of times, and the cakes/ cookies/ biscuits/ chocolate bars weren't even good enough for me to fully enjoy it! (although the still-warm and gooey rice crispy treats were totally amazing, so there is that...)
But the temptation still existed. Every day, in the back of my mind, I would desire sugar. It was always something I had to control, manage, and somehow ignore.
Living like that is hard work. I would set up little "tests" for myself, like making cakes for the family or buying the kids treats, while I had nothing or maybe a piece of fruit.... not exactly the healthiest mindset, but there it is.
About a year ago, I came across this video:
It is a long one, about 90 minutes, but it is well worth your time. The doctor in the video was recently interviewed by 60 Minutes, a Panorama-type news show, where he laid it out in no uncertain terms:
Sugar is addictive.
Sugar is toxic.
Nobody should be consuming it, at all, ever.
Yikes! It took a long time for me to be brave enough to stare my weaknesses in the face and not only admit there was a serious problem but to get the gumption to make a PERMANENT change in the way I live my life.
What steps did I take to make this happen?
Replacing Sugary Foods with Fatty Foods
Yes, that's right. I read this blog post on Healthy Home Economist (she's pretty extreme in her thinking, but if you can sift through her strongly worded posts there is some good stuff to take away from her blog), and decided to change my palette from it's permanent "sweets" setting to a "savoury" one.
I bought lots of fancy, interesting cheeses. I started using REAL butter (yummmm). When I felt the sugar cravings strike, I went for crackers, butter and cheese instead.
It worked pretty well. I enjoyed some new foods, and didn't feel so left out when my husband had a treat and I couldn't partake. I felt quite smug, actually, when he had a cheap little chocolate bar and I had a plate full of amazing food to munch on!
Eat Lots of Fruit
If I had a sugar craving I couldn't kick, I would reach for my box of frozen mango pieces. Or make some banana ice cream. I would drink a glass of fruit juice, or make an amazing fruit salad. The point is, I ate a LOT of fruit.
It gave me that sweetness I was looking for, but with the bonus of nutrients and fibre attached. Excellent.
That was pretty much it, for the past several months. I didn't follow any "plan" I found on the internet, I just went with what worked for me, picking and choosing from ideas and tips that I came across, and applied it to my life as I saw fit. Like I said, it wasn't foolproof, and I did consume refined sugar a few times during this attempt.
I made a point to fully, knowingly eat the sugar, accept this as a moment in time and not a complete reversal of all my efforts, and just ENJOY the food as I ate it. I refused to feel guilty, and then I moved on.
I also accepted that I would always, always have this monkey on my back. Sugar was my Achilles heel and like drug users or alcoholics, I could never consume in moderation. It was all or nothing. I chose nothing.
(Even as I ate sugar those few times, I felt my control slipping away at an astonishing speed that was almost frightening. I know that if I gave up entirely, I would be back to square one in a week or less. It is that bad.)
Recently, though, something has changed. It all started two months ago....
My husband and I are planning to have another baby, and have been for about a year, but my body wasn't cycling at all because of breastfeeding. I didn't start my cycles again until she was 23 months old - amazing - and I've been doing a lot of reading and researching about how women's bodies normally respond to such a long cessation of ovulation.
It turns out that the delicate balance of hormones needed to ovulate, achieve pregnancy and then maintain that pregnancy can sometimes take a while to get back to normal after a 2 year pause. I have been taking my temperature as described in the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility and noticed a distinct 3-phase temperature shift last month. I was almost certainly pregnant, but started bleeding 11 days after ovulation. My luteal phase was too short, which turns out to be a common issue after lactational amenorrhea.
If all this is getting TMI and technical for you, I'll sum up by saying: If I took a high dose of B-complex vitamins, I would have an easier time of staying pregnant the next time.
So I did.
I have been taking B-vitamins for 3 weeks now, and I'm feeling fine.
More than fine, actually; soon after taking them I started noticing that my cravings for sugary foods had disappeared.
The thought wasn't even in my head anymore. There was nothing to fight against. No secret plans of buying, making or consuming treats without anyone knowing and then hiding the evidence. No longing looks at cakes and candies in the store or at social functions.
I no longer cared.
Now, at first, I attributed this change to my success at resisting sugar for so long. But as I already admitted earlier, I still "caved" and ate sugary stuff from time to time. It was rare, but it happened.
It wasn't until I watched a random food documentary that mentioned the use of Niacin (a b-vitamin) in treating alcoholics that all the dots started connecting.
In the video up there, Dr Lustig explains that alcohol and sugar are metabolised by the body in exactly the same way.
And if Niacin can help alcoholics with their cravings, why can't it help sugarholics with sugar cravings?
I think it can. I think it has helped me.
There are websites out there that talk a little bit about using b-vitamins to curb sugar cravings. I don't know why I never researched this before! I suppose I didn't think that there was any way to kick this besides will power and complete abstinence.
And now? I am going to keep on keepin' on. I will continue to take the b-complex for two reasons now, and live my life sugar free as I was before.
I feel better. My skin is clearer and has more colour. I am truly healthier because I don't eat sugar.
I will never go back to the way I was eating before, and now that the addiction seems to be broken, I will never even desire to. It's amazing!
Do you have a sugar habit? Have you thought about quitting? What worries you about making the change?