Some people think that if they could just lose weight, their sugar addiction and binge eating would be cured. That’s pretty backward.
After I had lost 150 pounds, I experienced the worst food obsessions in my life. This fixation on food was something I never experienced as a plus-size woman. In fact, I didn’t even care much for chocolate before I started my weight loss journey.
There were a handful of reasons why I developed such intense cravings for sugar and why I fought with it for a few years (while trying to maintain my weight loss).
It all started with a rigid diet that ended in a 150-pound weight loss over the course of just 11 months. I mostly ate really clean foods (in a smaller calorie range) and worked out daily. I rarely indulged in sweets unless it was the holiday, my birthday, or a super special celebration.
I implemented all of the no-sugar advice I could find because I wanted a flatter tummy. Little did I know how crazy it would make me feel on an hourly basis.
I constantly thought about what I was allowed to eat, what I wasn’t allowed to eat, when I was going to eat next, where I was going to eat, who I was going to eat with, and if all of it was going to be the best choice.
Night and day, sugar consumed my thoughts. I daydreamed of buffets of brownies, chocolate cake, ice cream of all flavors, pancakes, waffles, candy bars, and donuts. In times of high stress (usually involving studying for school exams), I would find myself giving in to major binge eating on these favorites.
My binge eating rituals used to be humiliating to admit to anyone. It’s like having a private food party all by yourself. I used to go to two or three different grocery stores to acquire my drugs of choice. I couldn’t bare the thought of a clerk seeing everything I was buying, so it needed to be purchased in multiple locations. When I arrived home (mouth salivating all the while), I rapidly arranged the food on my coffee table and started the feast. Even though I often set out to make an all-day event out of it, I always ate rapidly… until I felt sick. I would wait an hour until the discomfort seemed to pass and snack on whatever was left.
Because my weight loss was still so fresh and new, it was a constant fear that this type of behavior would result in putting back on all of the weight I lost. The fear was entirely rational. Studies suggest 95% of all Americans who go on a diet and lose weight gain it all back (plus some) within just five years.
To minimize the impact the binges would have on my waistline, I increased my exercise. It was the only thing I could think to do at the time. I know now that it only fed the fire and made it worse for me.
I started reading every book and scientific study ever published on sugar addiction and food cravings. My reading confirmed to me that sugar was an addictive substance, and I should continue to stay away from it.
I felt like I was missing a key piece to the puzzle. Was it a lack of willpower? Self-control? A new diet? Maybe I just needed to tighten down my grip of control on my food?
I sought out support by attending Overeater’s Anonymous meetings once or twice a week. The women in these groups were mostly morbidly obese and there I was weighing 160 pounds and looking “normal”.
At first, I enjoyed the community of women who seemed to understand my struggle. But the obsessive food thoughts only worsened while attending these meetings. Talking about something I couldn’t have (sugar) and the experiences I had with it just intensified my feelings for food. I left most meetings feeling hopeless. They end each meeting with the serenity prayer, which is supposed to be calming and help you loosen your death grip on control, but it only made me feel defeated.
After less than a year of attending OA meetings, I bailed out. I was done with the same old complaining about our problems, calling myself a sugar addict to fit in, and being around women who appeared to be either hopeless or control freaks. It took some time and a few more binges, but I was finally done with binge eating and calling myself a sugar addict. I still have cravings from time to time, but they don’t control all of my thoughts and actions.
How did I get to the place of being at peace with sugar and my food choices? It was mostly ALL psychological. I didn’t have a mental disorder– I had a vulnerability to listening and believe what I’ve been taught about food my entire life by the diet industry and manipulative marketing. This might be part of your problem, too.
The very first thing that helped me break the crazy cycle was dropping the stupid “sugar addict” label that I had placed upon myself from the moment I walked into OA meetings. This label made me feel awful about myself. It was disempowering. Because of this label, I was on constant look out to avoid any sources of sugar. I thought it would send me into a downward spiral if I even smelled it.
The second thing that opened my eyes to my relationship with food was the moral labels I placed on my foods. I had been over-identifying with my foods for a very long time. If I ate a healthy salad, I felt like a healthy, good person. If I chose to eat a candy bar for breakfast, I was a disgusting, bad person. I learned to spot this messaging everywhere: in magazine ads, on diet websites, all over social media… we’re being fed moral label junk by the media, and we’re listening to it and re-sharing it.
It’s in my nature to be a rebel. So I started saying NO to labels that didn’t make me feel good about myself. I started pointing out the flawed logic of “you are what you eat” messages. And wouldn’t you know? The guilt and shame began to disappear.
In its place, moderation was possible. For the first time in my (thinner) life, I’m able to eat dessert after a nice dinner and not feel compelled to secretly eat all of the sweet things in my home afterward.
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