Are sugar addictions real? Can we ever really recover? In a previous article I talked about how the body seems to crave sugars and carbs…and what to do about it. Today we finish the conversation by talking how the brain keeps our connection (and cravings) for sugar and carbs so strong – and how to break that bond.
Have you ever headed home from work in your car, pulled into the driveway, and realized that you don’t remember any of the trip? It’s like you drove on auto-pilot (even though your car isn’t one of those self-driving cars)?
That’s not the only thing you do on auto-pilot. As I was typing this article, I tried to recall where certain letters on the keyboard are located (without looking)…and other than QWERTY, I had no idea. Chances are, you type on auto-pilot, too. And get ready in the morning and prepare breakfast in the same way.
Doing things on auto-pilot is what happens to many of us over time – in many areas of our lives. And, thank goodness. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to think about every single little motion or thought?
We create habits (both healthy and not-so-healthy) habits in the same way…by doing the same things over and over again until they become second nature. And, that’s why it’s so hard to break them.
A Spider Web of Connections
Our habits (or “addictions” if that’s what you chose to call them) around sugar, are especially hard because they’re not created just from a series of events…they are often hard-wired to many different things. While many people visualize habits as a chain link…to me, it’s more like an intricate spider web in which habits are connected from a lot of different directions.
Think back to your childhood. Can you recall any events in which sugar, sweets, baked goods, and carbs were central to the event? Perhaps you’re thinking birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Passover, Halloween.
But, those carbs are not just connect through the holiday itself. Our desire is also connected through specific people, places, time of year, smells, sounds, memories, and emotions.
Sugar on a Pedestal
What makes our attraction to sugars and carbs even more difficult is that as kids many of us were rewarded with them. And, who doesn’t like a prize? Were you ever told (and told others):
“If you eat all your veggies (or dinner or whatever), you can have dessert”
“You did great! Let’s celebrate with ice cream.”
“Oh, poor baby, did you hurt yourself? Have a cookie.
At first glance comments like these sound innocuous. But, what they end up doing is putting desserts and sweets on a pedestal as being better than other kinds of foods. They are often used to soothe our pain. Alcohol addictions can start the same way.
What to Do: Breaking the Sugar Connection
Next time you have a craving for sugar, sweets, and carbs, consider these:
1.Be mindful of what’s going on
When the cravings come, ask yourself what’s attracting you to the sugar or carbs? Is it because of a physiological aspect (as we discussed in the previous article) like not eating enough during the day? Is it a habit that goes back to childhood? Does your dinner feel incomplete without dessert? Are you trying to meet an emotional need (for example, are you bored, mad, or sad)?
2. Give yourself permission
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying sweets and carbs…in moderation, of course. Part of the pull of sugar comes from making it “forbidden” or labeling these foods as “bad” or even “junk food.” Sure, sugar is not as healthy as having a fresh vegetable salad, but a small amount every so often isn’t going to kill you – and it might even make life a bit more fun.
3. Eat your “pleasers”, skip your “teasers”
While you may claim to love all foods…or that you’re addicted to anything that’s made with sugar, I want you to narrow down those foods into “pleasers” (the ones you would select first, if they were all on the menu) and the “teasers” (those foods you eat just because they’re around). Dark chocolate is my pleaser. And, I give myself permission to eat a small amount every day. It keeps me from indulging in the “death by chocolate” 1000 calorie dessert…and then feeling sick afterwards.
4. Break and replace
Our sugar-eating habits are interconnected with so many other variables, like a chain link or a spider’s web. Instead of simply trying NOT to eat sugar or sweets when you have the craving (that’s difficult), brainstorm about how to replace the sugar with something that will help with its original goal. For example, if dessert marks the end of a meal, could you replace it with a smaller serving of your favorite? Or could you use a cup of hot tea or a mint as your signal to close your meal? Or brush your teeth? If your sugar craving is coming from an unfulfilled emotional need, could you replace it with a walk outside? Or punch your pillow? Or take a bubble bath or read a good book?
I’d love to hear about your sugar or carb craving. Send an email to [email protected].