When I became a vegetarian at age 13, I promptly became a carb addict. Basically, I just took the meat out, and filled-in the void with extra carbs. I knew about the importance of protein, so ate some beans and tofu, but the bulk of my diet was refined carbohydrates.
I’d start the day with some granola and yogurt, then have a muffin a few hours later, then a sandwich or pasta for lunch, and a Snickers bar in the afternoon. Little did I know then that this diet was contributing to more than just weight trouble; for 20+ years I not only struggled with binging and my weight, but also gut pain, skin trouble, diarrhea and constipation, and deep mood swings.
When the alternative health community began talking about gluten around the year 2000 (or at least that’s when I began to hear about it), I cut out wheat (and most other grains) and saw a marked improvement in all of my symptoms. Even though I was avoiding wheat, I was still a binger, and was over-doing carbs that were gluten free or otherwise “natural.”
Professionally, I was working in the field of Public Health Communications, and teaching about behavior change marketing on the college level. Around 2013, I began doing research for a book about the role of advertising and policy in creating the obesity epidemic. That research led to an article called After 60 years of marketing, people think McDonald’s is food. [That research will eventually be a book called Health Jacked.]
Still, I was in complete denial of my own sugar/carb addiction. I would ritualize eating treats when I would go shopping, always getting myself something to eat on the drive home; sometimes potato chips or gluten-free pretzels, sometimes “natural” candy bars.
Until one day, I discovered I had a sugar/carb addiction almost by accident. I was finishing up grocery shopping, and looking for what sort of treat I would have. On this particular day, as I was reaching for a dark chocolate peanut butter cup, I heard myself say: You can have that, you worked out today. Now that is a phrase I have told myself maybe a thousand times before, always presented as the Truth. But this time, for whatever reason, I actually heard it as a voice, and it stopped me in my tracks. Who the heck is that talking? I know it’s not me because eating sugar isn’t consistent with my health goals…holy smokes! That’s the sugar talking.
Right then and there I decided to quit, and learn why and how the sugar could be talking to me through my thoughts. I did a deep dive into the biology of cravings, and learned that we can become dependent on sugar in three different ways: physiologically, emotionally and habitually. And it does talk to you: the bad bacteria in your gut feeds on sugar, and when they need to be fed, they send a message up the vagus nerve to your brain, where it comes out in thoughts, like “I deserve this,” and “It’s time for my piece of chocolate.”
It took me about two years (with several back-slides) to feel like I had a “safe” relationship with sugar, meaning I could take-it-or-leave-it, or, if I had a cookie it wouldn’t cause me to get sucked into a carb dependency cycle again. It still tries to sneak back in though….
I put everything I learned into creating the program Breaking Free from Sugar. There’s a week of preparing (which is free for everyone), and then there’s a 3 week guided No-Added-Sugar Challenge to help you break the cycle of dependency (with a small fee). Click here to sign-up for the Breaking Free from Sugar program.
As someone who used to struggle with her weight, I’ve also learned a lot about managing my thoughts. Two current projects include:
- Mind Over Matter: Winning the Mental Game of Weight Loss
- The Brain Science of Self-Sabotage: Three things to know about your brain so you can use them to your advantage.
If you’re interested in either of these topics, please sign up for the Newsletter list and I’ll keep you posted.
About once a month I put thoughts about the pursuit of freedom into a newsletter called Mission:Freedom. You’ll get actionable, health-affirming messages with the goals of cultivating freedom:
Freedom to make healthy choices
Freedom from self-imposed limitations
Freedom from unhealthy cultural norms
Freedom to express and share information so that all people can thrive
Freedom to discover and cultivate your highest self
I hope you’ll join me.