Friday, 7 September 2012

Kicking the Sugar Habit for Good

Back in May, I wrote a little bit about my sugar addiction.

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:
  • Tolerance - the need to engage in the addictive behavior more and more to get the desired effect
  • Withdrawal happens when the person does not take the substance or engage in the activity, and they experience unpleasant symptoms, which are often the opposite of the effects of the addictive behavior
  • Difficulty cutting down or controlling the addictive behavior
  • Social, occupational or recreational activities becoming more focused around the addiction, and important social and occupational roles being jeopardized
  • The person becoming preoccupied with the addiction, spending a lot of time on planning, engaging in, and recovering from the addictive behavior

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?


Shauna said...

Wow! That's amazing that you don't want the sugar anymore. My husband and I went off desserts for almost four months, but i still had jam and some breads with sugar in them. I mostly missed the dark chocolate. Now I'm back to where I started after we broke our "fast," and I have pimples all over my forehead! Hello, I am 30 years old, not 15! But I down a handful of chocolate chips 3-4 times a day. I eat very healthfully otherwise: LOTS of fruit and veggies. As I've improved my eating habits over the years, I find I don't even want junk food. If I'm going to have a dessert, I want a good, high-quality one.

I'll have to do more research on the b-complex vitamin. I'm not a huge fan of supplementing; I prefer to get what I need from plants. Can I eat something with a lot of that vitamin? The only thing I'm taking now is a prenatal.

Mortons said...

I'm one of those who is either in denial or not fully addicted but somewhere along the line. Getting married really helped me as my parents are sugar addicts and so a lot of food in the house contained a LOT of sugar. I grew up on the stuff I think. My husband can take it or leave it and prefers healthy eating. We try to cut out all processed foods and cook from scratch to avoid too much salt and sugar (it's in everything!) and we've upped our vegetables and fruit and grains. We've stopped all evening snacks and eating after 7pm so no more chocolate runs for us. I do get cravings for sweet things almost daily though. Maybe I need to keep a diary or something to check how much I'm still consuming. I haven't thought about quitting, but again maybe that means I am dependent? I would be worried about giving up some of the things I love about sweet treats - birthdays and other celebrations and my baking hobby would be changed forever. Not sure I want to give up on all that really. hmmm. Lots to think about.

Raisin4Cookies said...

Shauna - I have a wall chart that lists the foods that contain various vitamins and minerals. For B Group, including B1 (Thiamin), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B6 (Pyridoxin), Folic Acid, Pantothenic Acid, and Biotin it lists the following foods:

Bean sprouts
Whole grains
Yeast Extract (eg, Marmite)
Beans & Lentils
Green leafy vegetables (eg, Kale)

A plant-based diet or one that is really light on meats and processed foods would probably include most of that list above. Hope that helps!

Roxanne - One thing that helps me with birthdays and holidays is baking with Xylitol. It is far more expensive than sugar, but it doesn't affect the body the way sugar does. I made a pumpkin pie with Xylitol and didn't have any reactions to the sweetness like I do with sugar. It is used just like sugar, and if you wanted to make icing I think you could even use a food processor to blitz the granules into a powder like icing sugar. (I've read you can do that with normal sugar, so I'm assuming it would be similar with Xylitol but I haven't tried it myself) Our local Sainsbury's carries it.

I have a book called "Sugar Free Toddlers" that isn't in print over here but I managed to find it used on Amazon. It has lots of recipes that use things like honey, date syrup, maple syrup, etc. Those products can be a great "stepping stone" in giving up sugar entirely.

I know how hard this is. It is something I've been working on for a very long time -- I used to have a blog called 30 Cakes in 30 Days! Baking was a big part of my life and even my identity as a person. I loved baking something for a gathering and getting showered with praise for its deliciousness.

What I've talked about has worked for *me* and won't necessarily be practical for anyone else. x

Enjoy Birth said...

I definitely hover near a sugar addiction. I am at a point that if I don't have it in my house, I am fine. If I am out at book club, I will have a treat and it is OK, because I just have one. BUT, if I bring chocolate in my house I am a lost cause.

It is just chocolate for me. So for Halloween I only buy lollypops, but when my boys come home with their "treats" it is SOOO tempting and I often binge.

So I have found a way to control my addiction, but again I am on the edge. I will certainly research b-vitamins!

Raisin4Cookies said...

It's great that you've found a way to control it.

Sugar bingeing is hard, for me anyway, because I feel that it dulls my spirit as well as my body. The aftermath is horrible, and while I know that the after-affects aren't worth it, it doesn't necessarily stop me from eating all that junk....