Sugar is addictive! From a recovering sugarholic, I know It is a known fact that the dopamine in sugar is the same chemical in illegal drugs. It's the feel-good response - and that in cases of sugar can turn into addiction without realizing it. Are you addicted to sugar?
I think this is probably one of the funniest and most honest posts I have ever written! It's condensed into story form, but please keep in mind this sugar addiction took a long period of time since childhood to accumulate and evolve into an addiction. And only after recently going Paleo, did I realize I had one.
As of now, I follow the Paleo diet strictly and eat clean. That means I don't eat anything processed. I stick with animal protein, seeds, whole veggies, healthy fats, and on occasion low-sugar fruits like berries. It all started with my childhood. My parents never had obvious sugar in the house. Soda was a random occasion allowed at the movies only. Fruit Roll-ups and candy were never seen at my house unless on Halloween, and even then we could only eat that stuff for a certain amount of time before my mom took it away. "Candy rots your teeth"! Ugh, how many times did I hear that one? The best we could find at my house was yogurt-covered raisins (yuck), I'd lick the yogurt off and spit out the raisin. (Have you ever listened to Jerry Seinfeld's Stand-up Comedy? He has the best bit on Candy and Kids and how important candy is to a kid. It's downright hilarious, and I laugh so hard every time I listen to it. If you are a Seinfeld fan or love candy you must listen!! The bit is called Halloween and can be found on audio in iTunes, or the actual book Seinlanguage)Then middle school happened, and I started getting $10 a week for allowance. And I was definitely a buyer and not a saver. So what did I buy? CANDY. There was a new girl in school and she came to town and flaunted that she lived next door to a candy shop (my dream come true!). She started taking orders and you can guess who was first in line! ME!. I hoarded gobs of 3Musketeers and sticks of Starburst in my locker. I gladly handed over my allowance and said get me all the candy you can with $10. I happily awaited my treats, and when she delivered I was in heaven, stuffing my cavity-filled mouth with sugary goodness, and hiding the rest in my locker so my parents wouldn't find out.
In Summer Camp, I traded my swatch watch to a girl that promised to give me an entire bag of Watermelon Jolly Ranchers! Swatch Watch or candy? Um, hello! Candy. Naturally! I did get in trouble for that, and when my mom found out I traded an expensive watch for candy she made me get my watch back.
Later in High School, I discovered drugstore crap candy. Russell Stovers was all the rage. Peanut butter cups and caramels. And again, hid in my locker for safekeeping. This was of course before I found out I was Celiac.
When I had play dates with fellow classmates I'd raid their pantries super excited that they had all the goodies I'd only wish my mom bought! Fruit Roll-up is HEAVEN!
Our house NEVER had the bad stuff. We didn't even have sugar cereal. The closest I got to sugar cereal was Frosted Mini-Wheats or Kix. I can't tell you how many times my mom pushed Puffed Rice cereal on us. Ugh. As great as my parents were regarding our nutrition, I only drank juice. And what is juice filled with? Sugar. I never drank water. Ever.
In December 2013 I found a new doctor. I had run into some troubles post Celiac and my health was at stake. My new Integrative Functional Doctor/Holistic Wonder told me I am and was and always have been ADDICTED TO SUGAR! Eek. Had you told me this pre-Paleo I would have thought you were a fool! There was no way I was addicted to sugar, how could that be? I'm gluten-free! I'm all about nutrition and wellness! I'm studying to be a Health Coach for G-D's sake! But after 2 months with the strict Paleo diet on my back, I knew he was right. And I even admitted it for the very first time. I said "I know! But I didn't know until Paleo"! And I didn't. I never thought past chronic yeast infections were related, or constant illness, or poor immunity and bad skin, even when my dermatologist and Endocrinologist would say "it's the sugar"!! "stop the sugar". -Well, I never thought eating jars of homemade jam with a spoon was a sugar addiction! I mean, it was from the Farmer's Market!! I was blinded by the sugar crystals. When I compared myself to others, I was a saint! And so I continued to think despite their words that they too were just fools. Um-Earth to me! Clearly-I was the only fool here.
But actually, in all fairness, it is a known fact that the dopamine in sugar is the same chemical in heroin. It's a feel-good chemical. And in the brain, it's the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure center. What does that mean? It means sugar is addictive, and that chemical makes you want more, and more and more…until the jar of jam is totally empty and I'm thinking "Did I just eat a jar of jam with a spoon and nothing else"?. Ewe.
In September of 2012 (after a breakup) I decided to have my movie movement and I'd eat a whole pint of Haagen Daz Coffee Ice cream in one sitting numerous times and didn't even bat an eyelash. I didn't like frozen yogurt, I wanted the real creamy sugary stuff. The good stuff. Where the fat went, I have no idea, as I'm pretty slender…but when I think about that now I am totally grossed out. Just think of all that sugar. That's not normal. Lucky for me the Ice cream craze only lasted for a few months before I ditched the idea of "Ice Cream Does A Body Good", got my shit together, and stopped buying it altogether. There was no way that I could just keep it in my freezer for dessert or special times. Please. I had no sugar boundaries! I had to remove the culprit. And I haven't had ice cream since. Phew!
But then I started going out to trendy restaurants like Beauty and Essex in Manhattan's Lower East Side and splurging on the decadent Butterscotch pudding bowl. I wouldn't eat it all, but seriously, who needs dessert after brunch? Come on. Between the dessert and the wine, I am sure I was on sugar overload!
When I enrolled at the Institute For Integrative Nutrition, it all just stopped. I was enlightened! Finally! I felt vibrant, I ate the rainbow of veggies and fruits and I left Sugartown. Yippie! Who knew life could be good without sweets!! Yeah!! I was riding the amazing healthy wave.
Until I learned about Raw Chocolate. Raw Chocolate is heated at a much lower degree, therefore keeping the nutrients, vitamins, and antioxidants intact-reaping more benefits than the artificial processed chocolate I had been eating, and well all hell broke loose. I started with a little. Then a little more. Then more and before I knew it I was buying raw chocolate bars every time I went to the specialty markets because you couldn't find Raw Chocolate at a regular grocery store. This stuff was special. Again, the good stuff. And I had to have the good stuff. Oh boy, without realizing I had fallen off the wagon again!
When I think about my "healthy" diet pre-Paleo, I realize I wasn't as healthy as I thought. Yes, I ate veggies, fruits, proteins, healthy fats, grains, non-dairy milk, etc…but my balance was so off! I was going often to the Gluten-Free bakeries! S'MAC Gluten-Free mac and cheese opened up by my apartment and I became even more of a glutton for sugar. Crumb's Gluten-Free opened, and of course, I had to go there 1, 2, 3, and 4 times in the matter of a month!! Don't even get me started on Pip's Gluten-Free Cakery that opened up in my hood as well. Mmmmm Lemon Bars. Those were dairy-free too-even more of a reason to enjoy them! Dairy-free and Gluten-free? They must be healthy!-NOT. Oh. So. Good. Yum. That became a ritual with my cousin. We would eat Pips and watch True Blood on Sunday nights. Suddenly sugar became a part of Sundays without fail. It was weird if we didn't watch True Blood with sweets. Consider it a catastrophe. Well, I did at that time.
Then suddenly after a while, running to the dermatologist every week to get cortisone injections because of the cystic acne grew tiresome. My new BFF Sugar was really letting me down-WTF. I didn't feel great. I wasn't my exuberant self. I was dragging. Now, of course, I had vitamin deficiencies but in addition, my diet was not good at all and I'm being humble here, as I don't want to judge myself too harshly. No amount of veggies can compensate for that much sugar. But I was in denial. Or I just wasn't educated enough (to stop) in what sugar does to our bodies. And I really wasn't. These are the things you should know, and always hear about, but never really put two and two together or associate with yourself. And that's what I did. Sugar addict? Never, not me!!. I'm a smart cookie! (no pun intended), but clearly not so much when it came to a healthy life without sugar. You never want to listen to your parents that tell you, that you eat too much sugar. It's like "can it ma-yada yada yada (as George Costanza played by Jason Alexander from Seinfeld would say).
When you think about sugar, or at least when I did, I didn't think it was something that was considered or could be considered an addiction. We never see Advertising Billboards that say "Don't drink, and do sugar". And we never see Television commercials that speak about the downfalls of sugar and how addicting it actually is. We don't see commercials like "This is your brain. This is your brain on sugar, any questions?". We see commercials about drugs like crack, cocaine and heroin, and even cigarettes. Nicotine kills. Well so does sugar!! (Sugar is the leading cause of obesity and Diabetes type II). We don't lose our jobs over sugar overdoses. It's not taken seriously at all. The advertisements we see on sugar are paid enhancements portraying the illusion of how amazing sugar can taste, like those Nutella commercials that show a family and a mom saying it's healthy to eat hazelnut chocolate butter spread that is processed with tons of sugar and artificial additives as healthy breakfast for kids! That's what we see. But the truth is, is that Sugar is so bad for us. Our bodies cannot digest it. It wreaks havoc on our immune systems, our bodies, our skin, our bones, and our digestive tract. We underappreciate the amazing foods from mother nature, and instead, run for the additives and processed chemicals used to make artificial sweets! Remember in the 1970s, Sesame Street had that part of the show called "Which one doesn't belong here" and there would be 4 squares on the television screen, and one would not belong? That's sugar.
In all fairness I am human. Health Coach or not, we all have our weaknesses. Just like you, I also succumb to the sweet goodness of sugar found in chocolate, fruits, cupcakes…these would be the obvious ones. The un-obvious would be all those processed supermarket brands whether they be cookies, crackers, chips, mixes, salad dressings, drinks, alcohol, sauces, and more-they had added sugar too. Sugar lurks everywhere. It's almost impossible to escape if you don't realize you fell through the rabbit hole. You have to catch yourself and pull yourself up and out by cutting it out! And the good news is that you can! I did! I have kicked refined sugars completely (with the exception of one incident, called Babycakes, but that's for another post coming soon). I'm not going to lie-I miss it. But these days I can have chocolate bars sitting in my freezer untouched. I have sugars, sweeteners, and cake mixes just sitting in my pantry for later use and I'm not running to it ripping the wrappers open. Huge improvement. Instead, when I am really craving sugar, I sub in some Raw Cacao nibs which are 100 percent dark chocolate with zero sugar directly from the Cacao Seed, totally unrefined and unprocessed (lowers insulin resistance, reduces blood pressure, reduces the risk of stroke, boosts your mood and is rich in minerals like Magnesium, Iron, Calcium, Zinc and more). It's a huge change in taste. Have you ever tasted real 100 percent dark chocolate? Trust me when I say after a few nibs, you're done. It's very bitter.
The good news. You can detox from sugar. Because that's what it ends up being. Detoxing from sugar? Expect it will be a few weeks of detox bitchiness. No one tells you about that part. You feel the withdrawal. You get pissed, angry, agitated, irritable-you just want to slap the person in front of you, grab the chocolate and run! Run for your life with the chocolaty goodness and never look back! Stuff your face, it tastes so good…until later when you feel so sick. The kid in you took over! You had to have it! All those years growing up with parents that said NO! And now you can have as much as you want! And then after two-three weeks, the cravings are magically gone. POOF. You feel like yourself again, not Jekyll and Hyde, and then and only then-not eating sugar become effortless.
When I started Paleo-the first two weeks was a disaster. I felt deprived. I couldn't snack. No processed. I didn't know what to eat. I had to be in the kitchen much more than I ever was, and sometimes I just wanted something sweet. But I think it was more about the fact that I wasn't allowed to have it, as per doctor's orders that made me want it more. It's so psychological! And things that are easy to reach for have sugar, including those protein energy bars that advertise as healthy-please. So not. But... once those two weeks hit, I felt great! I didn't drink coffee or caffeine anymore, I had green smoothies and I had energy like never before. My Acid Reflux and Eczema went away and I thought my love affair with sugar had ended.
Until one night THE MANGO INCIDENT HAPPENED. I just wanted a little bit of frozen mango. Little did I know that mango is one of the highest fructose sugar fruits, and on actual sugar-free diets like I Quit Sugar by Sarah Wilson, that fruit is a no-no. But at the time, I didn't know. And I thought what's wrong with a little Mango-it's natural… I had 1 serving which is equivalent to 1 cup of diced frozen mango, which is equivalent to 24 grams of sugar. Then I had some more. A few more here, a few more pieces there…I was reading a magazine and I didn't realize I had eaten the WHOLE BAG OF FROZEN MANGO! Who does that?! I never even eat frozen fruit, talk about desperation. In all fairness I was horribly PMSing, but still. After that my stomach hurt so badly because I had eliminated sugars for two whole weeks! and then loaded it back on in, in just one sitting. System overload! OMG! What did I do to myself? I was embarrassed that I'd have to confess this to my doctor. I had failed. I felt terrible about myself. And I was so mad at myself. As I'm sure you can imagine, all of my crazy acid reflux, eczema, and bad skin came flashing before me, and this time so much worse than It started out. Talk about inflammation! My face blew up!! And I had to start all over again with the sugar detox! Nightmare!! Because this time, my cravings were so much worse, and instead of it taking two weeks to detox, it took a month! Doing a sugar detox the second time around was so much harder.
But, this was and still is a journey. And journeys take time, and learning lessons does not happen overnight. Do you know that saying "Rome wasn't built in a day"? Well, that saying applies here. I kept up this diet and still going because the end goal was and is to heal my gut, which would therefore heal me, and my symptoms. After my doctor didn't judge me like I feared I carried on. And I continue this Paleo lifestyle because I know there is a bigger picture that is larger than my cravings.