Addicted to Sugar – How Sugar Addiction Affected Me and How I Stopped
Sugar Addiction was my new Alcoholism
When I first got sober from alcohol I understood nothing biochemically regarding sugar addiction; The neuroscience of anything was of no concern. My life was a self-hating, low self-esteem oozing pile of shit and it was all I could do to not drink alcohol. The fact I’m ordering a slice of cheesecake for lunch as my A.A. sponsor ordered a nutritious salad with a bowl of protein filled soup did not register anything except maybe a “Why the hell would she order that when she could have a cheesecake?”
Easily one of my top life-changing episodes, was when I learned how sugar affected me.
I began trying to discover what was wrong with me when I began noticing I was tired all the time. I had just given up alcohol and was sleeping every day from about 2:00pm to 4:00pm. It took talking to somebody who knew what I was eating for lunch for it to be pointed out to me: “You’re eating a blueberry compote Belgian Waffle with whipped cream and syrup around 1:00pm every day.” When I got up from my naps I was cranky and mad. It began occurring to me I had replaced the sugar from alcohol with the sugar from food.
Trifecta of Sugar Addiction, Voluntary Starvation, and Alcoholism
My issues surrounding food and the sugar problem was that when I was not eating sugar, I was not eating nutritious food (or if I were, not very much). And of course, when I was drinking alcohol I was also not eating. Even years before I would seek the help for ‘alcohol addiction’ [aka alcoholism] it would be a couple times a week struggle to figure out if I needed to eat food or if I could just start my drinking.
I needed to balance the alcoholism with the eating disorder because I was exactly both. Watch how my alcoholic mind worked:
If I was in starvation and started drinking, I’d move quickly from pleasant buzz to drunk in no time and pass out. And I hated that. If I ate too much – because I have a small stomach – and then started drinking, I’d vomit or otherwise would feel like crap and not want to drink which would ruin my social plans for the day or evening. THIS was the battle I dealt with on a daily basis.
The thought that if I could just quit drinking I could lose an easy 10 pounds off my already small frame was the operational backdrop of this thing doctors would call anorexia thinking. But I couldn’t quit drinking because that would be ridiculous. [And of course, that’s the alcoholism.] So my solution was to eat only if I, on a very physiological level, needed to eat.
Those few times in my life when I did successfully give up the alcohol for a period, I’d compulsively exercise; 20 miles of rollerblading daily, 2 hours of daily aerobic sweating; Sometimes I’d adopt starvation and diet pills for good measure. Another once in a while, because I burn sugar easily, I’d eat sugar [candy, desserts, cookies] – unknowing I was doing this in the place of drinking. Of course, I was not in awareness of these patterns when I finally did quit drinking as a permanent solution to alcoholism.
After reading The Sugar Addicts Total Recovery Plan by Kathleen DesMaisons in 2004 (or 2003?) after getting sober and finally getting into eating disordered recovery, I discovered that this seemingly cross-purposed combination of alcoholism, anorexia, and sugar addiction made retrospective sense in my life.
Neuroscience and the Biochemistry of Addiction
Author Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D. (Addictive Nutrition) gears this book toward all sorts of ‘bodies’ and when you see why, you will love it. I have seen why with my own experiences as well as with the sense it made. She gears it toward ADHD, anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilating, alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and even obesity.
Brain Chemistry: Beta Endorphin & Seratonin
Beta endorphins are a naturally occurring opiate neurotransmitter released by the pituitary gland when the body is under stress [pain, trauma, exercise, or other forms of stress]. Referencing this abstract: “Many references to these studies in the literature have thus demonstrated that beta-endorphins play a role in certain behavioural patterns (stress, alcoholism), in obesity, diabetes and psychiatric diseases.”
Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) is another neurotransmitter biochemically derived from tryptophan. Serotonin is responsible for mood and behavior. Low serotonin levels look like irritability, anxiety, depression, and lack of impulse control while good serotonin levels look like a general feeling of well-being, mellow, and the ability to talk yourself out of a negatively affecting decision; like cake for breakfast or alcohol for lunch.
DesMaisons gets into the science in her book in an easy to understand language complete with examples and diagrams. But let me put it in my own language using myself as an example.
- I was 16 or 17 and still not drinking alcohol after I escaped a well abusive cult my parents thought was a rehab. Unknowing I was even an alcoholic, much less food disordered, I naturally (in retrosepct) adopted not eating and over-exercise. It was natural for me to not eat and overexercise because now knowing the above, and after reading The Sugar Addicts Totally Recovery Plan I get why. I kept my body in a stressful state. And in a stressful state, I was releasing needed ‘feel good’ beta-endorphins to myself.
- When I was in the psycho cult, I began ripping hair from my own head. Some people might think this strange but I found out later that children have been known to do this when they are under duress. Beta Endorphins. The physical pain tells the body to release the ‘feel good’ chemical.
- Which explains why I could have alcohol and feel SO awesome that I’d have to drink more. So now my Beta Endorphin receptors are taking too much in and have to shut down. “We can count on her to keep things going so we don’t have to release as much or receive as much.” So that when I am NOT drinking [or am trying to stop] I am a mess! I have no seratonin, no beta-endorphin, and I hurt easily! So I would adopt over-exercising, sugar, or starvation [which leads to self-mutilation] and what I call ‘fat brain’ courtesy of starving brain. The Cycle.
That’s not an extensive summary but I hope can you a basic idea; Why A.A. meetings might have sugary snacks or why alcoholics gain weight when they quit drinking. Why self-mutilation can be a side-effect of anorexia. Why binge eaters binge. Why people feel better after eating chocolate.
My Current Sugar Scream
A friend of mine right now is suffering from depression and I was reminded of this book again as well as when another friend and I were talking last week about sugar, how it reacts with me, and my desire to make a Banana Pudding. I shared how when I am ‘in sugar’ but not eating any at the moment, I am filled with feelings that feel so bleak and depressing, one would call it suicidal. The slightest problem in my life – when on sugar cycle – triggers a thought over the slightest upset, “I need to kill myself.” So then I eat more sugar.
Yes I made (like my great grandmother’s) banana pudding from scratch. And I ate quite a bit. So right now – although NOT “depressed”…My brain IS feeling the sugar scream [the LOW] that accompanies a sugar extravaganza withdrawal. The difference today from – say 9 years ago – is that I am prepared to go through the LOW and not ‘answer’ it with more sugar. [Which leads to a depression cycle.]
My Sugar Detox Solution
I know to double up on protein for meals. I know to drink more water than usual. I know to use aspirin/ibuprofin for the headaches I’m having. And to exercise even though I do not ‘feel’ like it. This will last for about three days from the last sugar. But if I answer it with more sugar and go on a ‘sugar relapse’/’sugar binge’ [daily sugar] for a period of time the withdrawal will last about a week and it will get very ugly.
And had I been following The Sugar Addicts’ Plan over the past few months – like I did when I first realized I lived in a sugar sensitive body, I know I would have never craved the idea of making this banana pudding. But as it is, I do have the solution.