Monday, July 7, 2014

Candy Girl

Hi, my name is Kim, and I am a sugar addict. 

 I know this because I meet DSM 5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorder

Criteria for Substance Use Disorder
You only need to meet three of these criteria for a diagnosis.
I easily meet five of these criteria, and possibly more:

1.       Taking the substance in larger amounts or for longer than the you meant to
                      a. YES: Once I start eating sugar it’s hard to stop. I often have seconds after                                telling myself I can’t or wont
2.       Wanting to cut down or stop using the substance but not managing to
                     a. YES: I have been trying most of this year to stop eating sugar and always fail                           after a few days. This is the longest I have been able to manage so far this                             year (11 days)
3.       Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of the substance
                     a. No: It’s not hard to obtain sugar
4.       Cravings and urges to use the substance
                     a. YES: I have definitely cravings for sugar
5.       Not managing to do what you should at work, home or school, because of substance use
                     a. NO: luckily sugar addiction does not render you incompetent at work or life (until                    all the related illnesses kick in, then you will start missing work and be unable
                         to accomplish things you used to be able to do).
6.       Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships
                      a. NO: So far it really hasn’t caused me problems in relationships – but more on                        this later in the post*
7.       Giving up important social, occupational or recreational activities because of substance use
                      a. NO: Sugar is often a central part of these activities
8.       Using substances again and again, even when it puts the you in danger
                      a. NO: Eating sugar does not put one in immediate danger
9.       Continuing to use, even when the you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by the substance
                     a. YES: Sugar is poison. I know this, yet I continue to eat it
10.   Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance) 
                     a. NO: I do not feel I have to eat in excess in order to feel the benefits of sugar
11.   Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
                     a. YES: I have been off sugar for over a week now and have been experiencing                        mood swings, headaches and trouble sleeping. Crazy to think that sugar can                         cause this many withdrawal symptoms when you stop.

Some of you may not believe in the reality of sugar addiction but let me give a brief description of what happens when you eat something sweet. When you eat something sweet, your body releases chemicals that bind to sweet receptors in your brain to release a beta-endorphin and serotonin. The beta-endorphin is a natural pain killer (ever wonder why you crave chocolate when you have cramps, ladies?). It also produces a sense of wellbeing, increases self-esteem and settles anxiety. Serotonin makes you feel mellow, relaxed, hopeful and optimistic. Sounds wonderful huh? Well there’s a reason for it. Way back when our ancestors were wandering around hunting and gathering food, sugars were scarce in nature but offer a quick, efficient source of energy. When something sweet was available our body adapted to let us know how important it was, and how essential it was to our survival. If you need proof, just take a look at this study: Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward 

Now, when I talk about sugar, and being sugar-free, I am talking about processed sugary sweets. I am still allowing myself to eat sugar in its natural form through fruit. The fruit exception is because fruit contains fiber. The higher the sugar content in the fruit, the higher the fiber content. Sugar cane, in its natural form is basically a stick. It would take you all day to gnaw on it for about 10 grams of sugar. The fiber helps you to slow the absorption of the sugar into your blood and avoid blood sugar spikes. This is the kind of sugar that our bodies have adapted to, so if we eat it the way it is intended it should not have the harmful effects that sweets do.

This is not the first time I have gone off sugar. I usually give up sugar for lent. Even though I am not Catholic, it gives it a little extra meaning. Plus, when you tell people you've given up sugar for lent they are less likely to try and convince you that it's okay to have a little bit of dessert, or one piece of cake wont hurt you. Other people can become strange when you tell them you are quitting sweets. Often they tell me that I don't need to because I am thin (as if quitting sugar meant I have an eating disorder). Some will declare that they would never do that to themselves because it would be too hard. It is hard. And I think these typical reactions indicate that the thought of giving up sugar makes people uncomfortable. Further proof that there is a real sugar addiction problem in our society. The first time it occurred to me that I might have a problem with sugar is when my husband (then boyfriend) told me that he was going to quit sugar for a while. I was shocked. I was the person thinking "why? why would anyone do that?" It made me angry that he was doing this. Partly because he COULD quit sugar, and partly because it made me feel guilty for eating it. My reaction was similar to how I believe an alcoholic would react if one of their friends said they were going to go sober for a while. *This is why I say that sugar hasn't caused me any real problems in my relationships the way that other substances disorders do, but it definitely did put some strain on me when Eric quit sugar. But it also gave me the idea to do the same for the first time. 

The problem with avoiding processed sugar is that it is in everything! Bread, peanut butter, condiments, pasta sauce, etc… EVERYWHERE. So I admittedly have not been super strict with my diet when it comes to these things. For these first 11 days I have been avoiding candy and sweets. I am now to the point where I am going to start checking the labels of my food a little more carefully for added sugars.

Also, watch out for something labeled “lightly sweetened.” There is no FDA regulation for what “lightly sweetened” means. Starbucks has started selling bottled iced coffee drinks in stores. It looks innocent enough. The front says “Coffee + Milk” “2% Milk”  “Lightly Sweetened.” That sounds nice. Like a basic iced coffee I might order at their cafĂ©, and add a little milk and sugar of my own. But if you look at the back, it packs a whopping 21 grams of sugar in the 12oz bottle. TWENTY ONE GRAMS. That’s roughly SEVEN packets of sugar if you were to add it yourself. Who in their right mind would consider that “lightly sweetened”??

Some of you may have already made the switch to artificial sweeteners when it  comes to your beverages. I don’t want to get too deep into the artificial sweetener topic. I have been using artificial sweeteners to help stave off my sugar cravings. But we actually don’t know a lot about artificial sweeteners. To get approval from the FDA, they test the pharmacokinetics (what our body does to it) of the artificial sweeteners – which tell us how it is absorbed into the body, distributed and excreted. Basically we know they aren’t poison and do not have any immediate ill-effects on our body while they are in our system. What we don’t know about artificial sweeteners is the pharmacodynamics – or what they do to our body. We do not know the longer term effects or what reward systems in our brain they might be triggering. The FDA isn’t requiring these studies to get these products approved, so the companies who make these products are certainly not going to conduct these studies and potentially uncover some negative aspects of their product. It is very difficult to get independent funding to do this kind of research, but researchers at Washington University School of Medicine have found that artificial sweeteners do produce an insulin response in your body. There is still more to be discovered as to what this means, and how/why it is occurring (Huffington Post Article). But harmless or harmful, for me the bottom line is this: Using artificial sweeteners only perpetuates an addiction to ‘sweetness’ and that is why my next step is to slowly wean myself off of these artificial sweeteners as well.

Quitting sugar is tough. Especially when someone has brought in homemade peanut butter cookies that are sitting in the break room, probably left over from the holiday weekend. I had been putting off quitting sugar because there always seemed to be a celebration coming up that was sure to have sweets involved, but I finally had to get serious about it and just quit. There will always be excuses to have sugar, there will always be justifications and rationalizations and minimizations. But all they really are is excuses. No more excuses. No. More. 

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