Carbs trigger food cravings…YEP!
Okay, I don’t mean to be a cynic — but, really?! Some of us know this and live it every day.
The June 27, 2013 New York Times article titled: How Carbs Can Trigger Food Cravings, seems a bit late to the party. It reports a new study that shows all calories are not created equal and that “sugary foods and drinks, white bread and other processed carbohydrates that are known to cause abrupt spikes and falls in blood sugar appear to stimulate parts of the brain involved in hunger, craving, and reward.”
I’ve been reading this type of research, blogging about it and experiencing the reality of it in my own life this past year. This is not “new” news, but it is welcome news. It is very real for so many people. And I am grateful to the New York Times for shedding a light.
The article cites the renowned American Journal of Clinical Nutrition — publisher of the research by Dr. David Ludwig of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center. I’m sure that’s why it is getting covered. The truth is, it will help many people better understand and combat sugar addition and that’s why I am sharing the full article here. Read more.
My personal battle with sugar
As many of you know, it wasn’t until I reached my goal weight last spring — after losing -211 lbs and nearly 50% body fat — that I came to terms with my addiction to certain sugary and processed foods. From May – Dec. 2012, I watched my carb cravings get out of control every time I re-introduced sugar in any type of “goodie” – cookies, brownies, cake, ice cream, chocolate – you get the picture.
The myth is that you can eat what you want in moderation after you lose weight. I heard so many times, “As long as your good choices, outweigh the bad ones, you are fine.” NOT! For those of us with addiction to sugary carbs, this is simply not true. And I would argue there is far more sugar addiction in this country than we believe. I see it every day in the people I coach.
Each time I ate a morsel of those sugary foods it was as if someone set a timer and I was challenged to see how much I could eat in the shortest amount of time. The binging ensued until I would feel sick. Because I was so determined to succeed at my weight loss, I knew I had to get right back on the healthy eating path and get the carbs out immediately after the binge. It would take me a day or two of 100% all in to fight through the intense cravings and get those carbs out of my diet – literally white knuckling it through intense craving to get back on track. It was only then – after a couple of days of no starchy, sugary carbs – that the “urge” to eat them would subside. For me, eliminating sugar all together was the only way forward and the only way to maintain my weight.
Four, five or more times over the course of a few months I inadvertently “tested” this theory. I would eat one morsel of sugar, experience wild cravings for carbs, binge on them, and then go through the process again of “white knuckling” it to get them out so that I could go back into fat loss mode to lose the weight I gained in the binge. Not a fun way to live.
It turns out, I got quite successful at doing so. But, I knew there was way more at play than “willpower” and I finally accepted that I had a full-blown addiction to sugar that I could not “control” or manage with this approach long-term. Indeed, I was one of those people with whom the study refers when it says – “in addition to raising blood sugar, foods that are sugary and highly caloric elicit pronounced responses in distinct areas of the brain involved in reward. … “the nucleaus accumbens (a region of the brain known for its role in reward, pleasure, reinforcement learning, laughter, addiction, aggression, fear, and impulsivity), lights up more intensely for a slice of chocolate cake than for blander foods like vegetables, and the activation tends to be greater in the brains of obese people than in those who are lean.”
I was not aware of this specific food addiction or what it meant for me for most of my adult life when I was obese, probably because I wasn’t paying attention. When I finally discovered it, accepted it, and didn’t hide behind it as an excuse — I was successful at maintaining my weight with more comfort and ease.
Yes, this determined girl was going to do something about it for myself and to shed a light on it to help others. I was/am determined NOT to hide behind sugar addiction as an excuse for putting the weight back on. Not happening. No excuses in this new life. Just 100% all in.
So, in January 2013, I eliminated all refined sugar and most processed carbohydrates from my diet, period. Dessert for now includes fruit, peanut butter (w/o sugar), and certain sugarfree gum. I treat it exactly as if it were alcohol to an alcoholic – because for me, it is. And it is the single most important factor in my being able to maintain my -200 pound weight loss for more than one year. Plus, I don’t have to live every month with a binge and then diet to maintain. It’s a more even and natural flow to life and I love it. It is not always easy. It’s just my reality.
Progress not perfection
I am not 100% perfect all of the time at keeping sugar out of my diet. Meaning, I’ve had a couple of sugar relapses in the last 6 months. Here’s how that goes. I have on occasion (usually due to emotional stress) fallen off the wagon, just as I did in fat loss. And when I do, inevitably the sugar binge ensues. I can go up 8-10+ pounds in one sugar binge (not all weight, some retention…).
In these instances, just as I did in fat loss, the key is to RESTART. So, after the binge, I don’t beat myself up or make excuses, or even feel bad emotionally — though I do feel tired and lethargic physically for a day or two. I simply get my head back in the game. I acknowledge this is real for me and something I will likely always battle…and then I RESTART. And when I do, I know that I will have a full one to two days ahead of me of pure “white knuckling” it through the carb cravings, and then I will be fine. The key is not to give in a second and third day, no matter how tough, because that just makes it worse and prolongs the inevitable. I must get back on track, sugar free as quickly as possible. Not beat myself up over it. And not use it as an excuse.
For me, the only way forward is to get back to clean and healthy eating and exercise and water intake, and to keep refined sugar and processed food out of my diet all together. After just a few days, I feel great again and am back on track living sugar free. This is my new life in “maintenance” after transformational weight loss. I am so much smarter, more aware and more accepting. And on most days, I can stand in front of the bakery case or a chocolate counter and say: “I don’t eat that stuff.” On the tougher days, I remove myself from those situations all together so as not to be tempted. And when I slip and fall, as I inevitably will, I get right back up and start again.
Thank you New York Times for shedding a light on this important topic. And to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and Dr. David Ludwig of New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center for the research.
I would love to hear from you if you, too, struggle with an addiction to sugar or are wondering. Let me know if I can help.
Read some of my other blogs about food addiction:
NOTES: Special thanks to Jim McCorkell, avid reader of the New York Times and my dear friend and supporter, for alerting me to the article. Thanks to weightlossninja.org for the graphic.