When you hear the word addiction, you probably think of things like alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. It’s less widely accepted that someone could have a food addiction. But looking back, I can 100% say I was addicted to food - namely sugar.
Sugar has the same addictive qualities as cocaine. Under a brain scan our pleasure receptors light up more in response to sugar than they do cocaine. So if you ever feel silly for feeling the need to drive to the local petrol station to pick up a bar of chocolate when the cupboards are bare, don’t, you’re addicted, just like I was.
Now the difficulty with any addiction is getting over it. It’s not just about making the decision to cut out the sugar; it’s about sticking to that decision. Many would argue that all you need is willpower, and while this definitely plays a huge part, you’re fighting against your body’s hormones so you need every bit of help you can get.
It’s been shown that it takes roughly 21 days to reset your body’s pleasure receptors. So essentially if you manage 3 weeks without sugar, you’re far more likely to be able to make long-term changes and deal with cravings.
Here’s what helped me get through those first 3 weeks;
Tell your friends and family what you’re doing- let them know you’re trying to cut out sugar, this should mean that not only will they refrain from shoving a biscuit under your nose, but they’ll also be able to keep you on the straight and narrow should you have a wobble.
Plan your food - Don’t put yourself in a situation where you’ve got no choice but to eat rubbish. And make sure the meals you’re eating are some of your favourites, just because you’re cutting back on sugar it doesn’t mean you have to have salad for dinner everyday. But equally don’t be filling your plate with high GI carbs, these only turn to sugar in your body and will hinder your progress.
Keep yourself busy! - Boredom and binge eating go hand in hand. How many times have you found yourself eating because you’ve got nothing else to do? This is one of the things I found helped the most, in the first three weeks of giving up sugar, I did more socialising, overtime at work, exercising, cleaning and pretty much anything else than I had in the year preceding it.
Find an alternative - Going completely cold turkey works for some, but it wasn’t something I could do. So I had to find something I’d look forward to and enjoy but wouldn’t see me going into a downward spiral. Personally, I always like something sweet after dinner. So instead of a mountain of milk chocolate and puddings, I replaced this with a small amount of dark chocolate or a small bowl of low sugar granola. I had to make sure this replacement wasn’t anything I’d typically have, it had to be something new, as then it was easier to not associate it with previous binge behaviour.
Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face - Just because you screw up a little bit, don’t let this lead to a major meltdown. If we prang our car, we don’t then go and drive it into a wall to finish the job off. Similarly don’t do this if you have a little slip up. Maybe you succumbed to some treats in the office, don’t then pick up a family pack of crisps, a stack of profiteroles, a bag of skittles and half of the patisserie section of your local supermarket on the way home. Understand that your slip up will cause you to crave more sugar, accept this, and get back on track. You’ll only feel proud of yourself when you finish the day knowing you got things back under control.
Read those quotes and success stories - Our motivation isn’t necessarily the most resilient thing, we need to keep reminding ourselves of why we’re doing this. I read an ungodly amount of pinterest quotes during those three weeks, and my entire weight loss journey (if you want to call it that). I’d literally google motivation quotes and read then over and over to keep my head in the right place. It might be viewed as a little sad but I know it made the difference.
Remember failure is only final when you’ve stopped trying altogether and giving up any addiction is incredibly hard. So cut yourself some slack. There were moments when I felt pretty low, and was frustrated that it wasn’t all happening overnight, there were days where I felt my body and hormones were conspiring against me, and there were times where I was just plain grumpy. The biggest emotional or psychological thing that got me through was acceptance and understanding. I had to accept that my hormones were making me crave sugar and I had to understand why it was happening. Doing that alone gave me strength when being weak and giving in seemed like the only option.