Sugar Addiction

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Check out this article in today’s New York Times about sugar addiction.

Many people who struggle with overeating are really responding to an addiction to sugar. There is a real physical dependency that contributes to our difficulty in giving up these foods. The first step to tackling this problem is to mindfully tune in to what is going on in our bodies and minds during the craving cycle: the before, during, and after phases.

Further Reading: Excellent research based book about how the food industry is making us sick and addicted. Eye opening.

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Here are some questions for each of these phases to begin to examine how sugar affects the body and mind. It might be helpful to write the answers to these questions in a notebook.

Before: what are the triggers or the cues that prompt you to reach for sugary food? Are they emotional, physical, situational, or a combination? Be specific. What is the mental dialogue you have with yourself during this time? How is your environment set up to support/discourage consumption of sugary foods? Do certain foods represent part of your history (comfort foods, childhood favorites, etc.)? Examine your overall diet to see all the sources of hidden and obvious sugar—you are probably eating more than you think. You may be on a sugar addiction roller coaster without realizing it.

During: which foods do you reach for? What is your go-to snack? How does your body feel when eating these foods? Be very specific (it is helpful to have a mindfulness practice—you get really good at tuning in to physical signals). What is the mental dialogue you have with yourself during this phase? What emotions arise? If you continue to eat more than you intended (which tends to happen with sugary food), at what point did that happen?

After: how do you feel after you have consumed sugary foods? Be specific: how does your stomach feel, your brain, your energy level? Do you experience a “crash” shortly after eating this food, i.e. headaches, irritability, sluggishness? What is your mental dialogue like now? What emotions arise?

Sugar is everywhere. It is the legal white powder that finds its way into everything. Sugar is the drug of choice to soothe depression, cure sluggishness, ease loneliness, celebrate, and commiserate. It finds its way into our diets even when we are being careful.

It  is especially hard to avoid if you are a parent. It seems as if the entire food supply is rigged to get kids hooked at an early age. Once kids get a taste of sugary packaged oatmeal–for example– they don’t even recognize what regular oats taste like. They will reject it like a bowl of sand, and lay the foundation for a lifelong habit.

And culturally, there is a lot of judgment and shame out there. People say: “what’s the problem, just don’t eat it” without realizing that for many getting off of sugar is like detoxing from a drug. A drug that is perfectly legal and ubiquitous. The first step to solving this problem is noticing with compassionate awareness.

Let’s use the energy of mindfulness to transform this situation. As Thich Nhat Hanh has said here: “…You have to bring your mindfulness into the present moment, and you just embrace that negative energy: ‘Hello, my negative habit energy. I know you are there. I am here for you.’…Every time a negative energy is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, it will no longer push you to do or to say things you do not want to do or say, and it loses a little bit of its strength …”

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Best wishes on your weight loss journey,

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