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The (not so sweet) Truth About Sugar

Episode 3: Today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects, and that’s sugar


Well hello friends and welcome back to the podcast! I’m super excited to be here with you today, teaching you what you need to know to lose weight and more importantly, keep it off… and today we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects, and that’s sugar.

So I have to give you a little background.

I told you this in a previous episode of the podcast. I”m a sugar junkie. I love sugar. LOVE it.

It started when I was very young. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and my mother’s favorite store was the Hostess Bakery outlet. I mean, who doesn’t love that place right? Our house was filled with that stuff. That, and Russel Stover candies, and hydrox cookies. We were always eating ding dongs, hohos, twinkies and hostess cupcakes. I grew up Catholic and every year for Lent, I’d give up the hydrox cookies for 6 excruciating weeks. Except on Sundays. Sundays were not part of lent, so Sundays didn’t count, so they were like a free day… and i’d eat an entire package of those cookies every sunday during lent.
Growing up, there was chocolate everywhere. And ice cream. I learned to bake and decorate cakes when I was about 12. We had dessert with every lunch and every dinner. It was just the way we did things. And I never questioned it.

So yes, I absolutely LOVE sweet things. As I got older I gave up all the hostess stuff but I’d still find myself face down in a bowl of ice cream every night or if I was really feeling down, I’d find myself eating most of a tube of raw chocolate chip cookie dough for dinner. Yes, you heard that right … raw cookie dough. I also found myself - after a party - digging mostly uneaten pieces of cake out of the trash can and snarfing them down quickly before anyone could see me. I knew this wasn't normal behavior, but they called to me to be eaten… and it was as if I just couldn’t help myself.

Of course I’d wake up the next day with this horrible hangover, which I thought was due to the wine, but I now know it was because of all that sugar. The fructose in sugar gets processed through the liver through the exact same biochemical pathways as alcohol and the byproducts that cause hangovers are exactly the same.

Now, if this happens to you, I don’t want you to beat yourself up. I’m going to explain what was going on in my brain, and what’s likely going on in your brain too.

Neuroscience research is now showing us that sugar is a powerfully addictive drug. Sugar stimulates a powerful release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is the pleasure hormone. When dopamine is released in the brain, we feel a sense of pleasure and well-being. When it comes to sugar, animal studies show that it’s 8x more powerfully addictive than cocaine. As a matter of fact, cocaine addicted rodents actually prefer sugar water over more cocaine.

When I learned this, everything about my experience with sweets made sense. I would watch myself have these intentions at a party, to just have one bite of a piece of cake. But I couldn’t stop. Once I got that taste, I’d eat the entire piece. And then I’d be off for another piece. And volunteering for clean up so I could eat the little bits from the serving platter.. Once I discovered that sugar is an addictive drug, I started to think about all those hostess cakes and hydrox cookies and russel stovers candy that I grew up with a little differently. There really wasn’t anything nutritious about them, right? They aren’t really food. They’re edible, but they’re actually drugs. Edible drugs. Think about that. Cookies and candy are not food, they’re edible drugs. Even the girl scout cookies. Holy crap the girl scouts are selling drugs and they don’t even know it! As a matter of fact I like to joke that I was once a drug lord. Drug lords have other people sell drugs for them and they take the profit. Well, I have 2 daughters and I was the girl scout cookie mom. Those little kids were selling a highly addictive drug and we were taking the profits. Unbelievable when you start to think about it like this.

Now I want to explain that this understanding is controversial. I’m not sure why, because those of us who experience it totally get it. Even the Addiction Medicine specialists haven’t come on board with this understanding yet. A friend of mine in Addiction Medicine just took her board certification exams and there was no mention of sugar as an addictive drug. Which I find interesting given the science of it and given my own experience with this powerful drug.

The neuroscientists get it though. They can scan the brains of people who are addicted to all kinds of street drugs and people who are addicted to sugar, and the brain scans look exactly the same, just more powerful with sugar.

The other thing I want you to understand is that flour can be equally addictive. Especially white flour. So foods like pizza and pretzels and bread and pasta that are made with flour, they don’t taste sweet, but they stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue and on down into the digestive system and give us the same dopamine hit.

Is it possible that you could have an addiction going on and this is the reason lasting weight loss is so hard? Think about what happened on your last diet. Surely you got off these addicted foods. What happened when you had a splurge or a “cheat day”? Did that send you off the rails and into the abyss?

Here are some of the telltale signs of addiction:

*Craving: Do you crave candy, ice cream, bread, cereal, pasta, chips, pizza?

*Withdrawal: If you try to stop eating these foods, do experience withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, irritability or headaches?
*Do you go out of your way to get certain foods?

*Is it difficult to imagine your life without these particular foods?

Here are some other questions that might help uncover an addiction:

*Do you have a History of addiction to something else? Alcohol, nicotine or other drugs?

*OR do have a family member with addiction?

Again, this is very very common, and something I think most people realize on some level, but haven’t really thought about all that much.

So I like to suggest to my clients that they identify what I call their “drug delivery system of choice.” Is it pure sugar - like one of my clients who was addicted to Life Saver candies. I think that’s kind of an interesting name - Life Savers? The brain does feel like that when it’s in withdrawal… like this candy is going to SAVE MY LIFE. Pretty clever right?

Some people are addicted to the sugar/caffeine combination. So it’s sodas, energy drinks and specialty coffees.

Some people are addicted to sugar and fat, so it’s ice cream and chocolate.

Some people are addicted to sugar and flour together. This is me, It’s the baked goods that get me every time.

Some people don’t care for the sweet taste at all, they like flour products like bread or pasta or pizza or crackers or pretzels.

Whatever your favorite form of this drug is, I’d suggest just paying attention and watching yourself.

Now, here’s a little secret.

Diets don’t work with addiction. Think about a diet. It’s a short-term restriction in food intake for the sake of weight loss. Once you achieve a certain “goal weight” you stop the diet and go back to eating “normally.” Usually there are cheat days built into the diet, where you allow yourself to eat foods that are otherwise forbidden on the diet.

Now let’s think about this from the standpoint of sugar addiction. Compare this thinking with other addictions. Could you imagine telling an alcoholic who’s gotten sober that it’s OK to have a drink on a cheat day? Or that it’s OK to drink during the holidays because everyone else is? Or that he or she should just accept gifts of wine or beer or gin because it’s impolite not to? That’s not going to work, because it’s brain chemistry. There’s a sensitivity there that has to be taken into account and a cheat day with alcohol - even just a little - will lead to a relapse.

For many people, the same thing is true for these highly addictive foods. A cheat day leads to more cheats and before you know it, it’s a full-blown relapse.

So I want you to think about your own brain. Just objectively, and without judgment. How sensitive is your brain? What happens to you with these foods? Think back to the last diet you went on. Surely you got off these addictive foods and you lost weight. Did you “fall off the wagon” as soon as you had a splurge, or were you able to have just a little and be OK? You have to know your own brain. Not everyone is an alcoholic, and not everyone’s brain is super sensitive to sugar and flour. You need to know your own brain.

If you do feel like you might actually have an addiction going on I want you to know there is help. It is almost impossible to stop eating sugar on your own, remember it is 8x more addictive than cocaine, and it’s tempting you everywhere. You’re going to need help dealing with this. So I’ve developed ways to help. Remember I experience this every day and I have my own struggles.

So the first way to get help is to join my free facebook community called sugar and flour busters society. All of us are working in there to support each other in living sugar and flour free lives. It’s a really remarkable place to be. Lots of great recipes. It’s a place where eating nutritiously is normal, so you won’t feel like you’re doing anything special when you stop eating cookies and ice cream and bread.

The other thing you can do is to go to Journey Beyond Weight and sign up for my free course. This will get you started on your weight loss journey the RIGHT way, backed up by science.

While you’re there on the JBWL page, go to podcast episode 3 and leave me a comment and let me know your experiences. Do you think you may be addicted to sugar or flour or both? Be sure to ask any questions and I’ll get back to you with an answer.

Listen, if lasting weight loss was easy, everyone would be skinny. You’re going to need support. So please join me in sugar and flour busters society on FB and download the free course, and I’ll see you next time!

Dr. Angela


This episode was produced and marketing by the Get Known Podcast Service


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