My sugar addiction and how I quit, is a story I’ve never fully shared. Every week I talk to women who struggle with sugar cravings in the afternoon and at night. They will eat to the point of feeling sick, feeling like they can’t stop. They’re frustrated that they can’t be consistent enough to reach their goals. They’re sick of cycling between days of eating too much or depriving themselves on a restrictive diet. I hear this so often that I felt inspired to share my personal struggle and how I overcame binge eating, disordered eating and sugar addiction.
Popular diets tell us we need to have more willpower, drink a magic supplement, track all our calories and macros, cut out entire food groups, and weigh and measure all our food. But we know this isn’t the answer, diets don’t lead to permanent fat loss, but instead years and sometimes a lifetime of diet hopping.
I’ve had a sweet tooth all my life. As a child it was cookies or brownies in the afternoon and ice cream after dinner. But when I started to become disciplined in my diet, and told myself I couldn’t have sugar was when binge episodes appeared and when food would control my life from age 21 to 24.
The biggest triggers were after drinking alcohol or trying to follow a restrictive diet that cut out entire food groups or held me to a specific calorie count. At holidays or events, I’d usually go crazy on drinks and/or sweets and then come home and continue to eat more. I’d go for the chips, ice cream or cookies first, but since I don’t keep unhealthy foods in the house, I usually binged on cereal, oatmeal, protein bars, yogurt, brown rice pasta, chocolate chips, and “healthy” homemade desserts like paleo banana bread.
I was obsessed with trying to be perfect with my workouts and tracking my calories and macros. I was so fixated on food, that it became debilitating. I remember trying to follow restrictive diets that cut out entire food groups (carbs, soy, dairy, eggs, sugar, gluten, etc.). But then I’d go out to a restaurant and it was impossible to enjoy myself because I’d be worrying about things like if there was dairy or soy in the salad dressing.
I would track calories during the day and was under-eating, so I’d have all these extra calories leftover at night. I’d eat things like peanut butter and chocolate which would immediately put me over the daily calories. I was obsessive over what I was eating and would make zero progress.
Many nights I’d eat non-stop from 8pm-11pm and then barely sleep and wake up feeling awful, not even hungry sometimes for 2 days after a binge. Wondering why I kept overdosing on sugar and feeling like I failed. My body felt awful mentally and physically after a binge. After overeating I’d feel so full, tired, and irritable. I was disgusted with myself. This went on for years, going from one binge to the next and in between trying to be very healthy and go on a sugar detox, but inevitably I’d always just eat more desserts the next day.
Despite my “clean” diet during most of the week and exercising 4x/week, I had a continuous fluff around my midsection, even my face was puffy. My energy was terrible and I didn’t feel like myself. I was totally frustrated because I felt like I was putting in all the work, but my inconsistency was preventing me from getting the results I wanted. It felt like fitness was taking over my entire life in order to have my ideal body and lifestyle.
After every binge I would journal and blame myself, saying all I needed was more self-control or willpower, that I just needed to stop. While eating healthy and exercising made me feel amazing, which was enough motivation for me to do so, I was also telling myself I couldn’t have one single cookie. When we tell ourselves we can’t have something, it’s literally all we can think about. And then when we allow ourselves to finally have one, the floodgates open and we feel like we can’t stop.
The biggest shift came when I focused on eating for health and longevity instead of trying to attain some fitness model’s physique. It was a practice to stop under-eating during the workday, to stop obsessing over being gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free, to stop watching the clock to be sure I ate every 2-3 hours. I allowed myself to have the real thing instead of making “healthy” desserts that I’d overeat because they weren’t satiating.
Eventually the binges got further apart to where I couldn’t remember the last one. I realized I was finally not thinking about food after dinner and no longer had sugar cravings. I learned how to be easier on myself, and how to eat my favorite things in moderation and find balance. I can finally enjoy parties, birthdays and holidays and not stress over it. Having self-compassion and letting go of the perfectionism self-talk was key to finding balance.
I wish I’d reached out for help sooner instead of taking all the blame. One of the reasons I’m so passionate about helping my clients learn how to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, is I never want anyone to feel as frustrated or helpless as I did. We shouldn’t feel like a failure because we have a slice of homemade apple pie on a holiday. If you suffer from uncontrollable cravings or finding a healthy balanced lifestyle and workout routine, I would love to help you with Private Coaching.
Sugar Addiction: How I Quit Mine for Good in 5 Steps
Ditch the Diet
Diets have a 95% failure rate. The problem is most diets are highly restrictive, and when we come off of them we put back on all the weight. If we can't eat the way we're eating for the rest of our lives, it's not sustainable. I thought if I could be more perfect in my diet that the binging and cravings would go away, but dieting made it worse. I was food obsessed, in a cycle of restricting and binging. Instead of dieting, we can eat nutrient-rich unprocessed whole foods that naturally regulate appetite and satiety.
I began to eat like an adult. Lean protein, vegetables and healthy fats at every meal. Complex carbohydrates based on how active I was. When we eat mindfully, we can recognize when we’re full or when we need to increase calories because we’re more active.
Sleep is my anchor. If I don’t get 7 to 8 hours, my body feels totally out of balance. I get cravings and become less driven by my goals. When I was binge eating late at night I’d get poor quality sleep and was always in a cycle of being exhausted.
Lack of sleep directly increases cortisol, the stress hormone. It also disrupts hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, that regulate appetite and fullness. For more ideas on how to get better quality sleep, read this article.
Break the Habit
A habit is any behavior done automatically and repeatedly without really thinking about it. Usually we are in a state of reacting to our subconscious beliefs. Once we become aware and decide to consciously respond, we can change our habits which will change our realities.
I unconsciously used food and alcohol as a way to soothe and distract myself from whatever emotion I was feeling. For most of my disordered eating I was at a job I was unhappy and completely bored with. I relied on food to create that happiness. When I pursued a career I was passionate about, and focused on the type of person I needed to become in order to be the best coach and trainer, I felt more creativity, happiness and excitement.
Realistically we can’t all leave a job because it makes us unhappy. But we can implement new habits that make us feel good. Instead of going into the kitchen we can: draw a bath, read an inspirational book or watch your favorite TV show. When we make time for more things we love during the week, whether it be walking in nature, a yoga class, calling a friend, we feel happier and more fulfilled without having to turn to food. Make a list right now of 10 to 20 things that make you feel good. What did you love to do when you were a kid?
As an extroverted introvert I can only last so long at a party. When I stay too long I find myself reaching for more drinks or food to take the edge off. I decided to stay at home on the weekends more and watch a good movie and go to bed early, instead of mindlessly partying and drinking. I also made a point to surround myself with positive people.
Eat for Health and Longevity
When we decide to eat and train for nourishment and strength, it becomes a lifestyle. The sustainable path to results is one where healthy habits are compounded over time to where they become who we are. When I started to view food as fuel and nourishment and practice portion control, being lean year-round became more effortless.
Moderation and balance are a practice. We don’t wake up one day and learn how to eat just one cookie or even a few bites of one. This looks different for everyone. It took time to get rid of the mindset that I needed to reward myself with food because I was “good” all week.
There are still times I’ll turn down dessert, but now it’s not because my “diet” says I can’t have it, it’s because I choose not to because maybe I’m full, not in the mood, content with a cup of tea or it’s not my favorite flavor. Instead of eating 100% clean all week, I eat a 90% unprocessed diet and enjoy 10% flexibility for my favorite things which are high quality treats like cheese, dark chocolate or wine. Indulgence is now a choice not a failure.
The first and most important step is to speak with someone about your disordered eating. Consult a counselor or psychologist to uncover the emotions behind binge episodes.
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