Not all Cravings are the same

September 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Yesterday was the first day in awhile that I woke up feeling totally in control again.  No Cravings at all!  When I woke up, I did not immediately have the thought of going for breakfast tacos.  I did not start thinking about donuts, chips, or pancakes.  I just woke up and wanted a cup of coffee.  I went in the kitchen and mixed my coffee with my vanilla protein shake.  I felt totally satisfied.  Throughout the day I was rarely hungry at all.  I packed my shakes, some string cheese and some ham.  All day I felt sane.  Due to some stress in my life, I still had moments where I wanted to eat.  Not out of hunger at all but entirely due to the MENTAL desire to eat for comfort and stress relief.  Maybe even boredom.   It was still hard to resist that.  It still took willpower and work.  However it cannot be compared AT ALL to the intense cravings that come from sugar.

Today I am having a similar experience.  There is a part of me that would love to grab various kinds of food and yet it’s not an insatiable, mind-blowing, powerful craving that comes with detoxing from sugar.  This got me thinking once again about how “hunger” is really something that cannot be defined in simple terms. I think this is why as a community of dieters we often find ourselves not really understanding each other.  All of my life I’ve had people tell me that they struggle with “diets” too.  That they know what it’s like to want to eat off their food plan but yet they just “buckle down” and deal with it.  That they use their willpower to overcome it.  So why can’t I ??

It’s taken me 2  years to fully understand why it is that certain people can go on diets and succeed while others cannot.  What is the difference?  This leads to lack of sympathy in the weight loss community and to be honest I understand it now more than I ever did.  Once upon a time, I thought we all were dealing with the same things.  Physical hunger and Mental hunger.  I thought there was something lacking in me as a person.  I thought I was just somehow mentally weaker than others.  I thought maybe as a person I lacked conviction that others had.  I thought maybe I was just fundamentally weaker.  I even thought that I was just not a good person.  I would blame myself and pack a lot of self-hatred onto my day because deep down I believed that it was all about me.  That I was fundamentally lacking in morals and values to keep myself on track.  Others were better people than me because clearly I reached for the donut when they did not.

Over the course of the past 2 years, I’ve learned that there are several different things going on within my body and mind when it comes to overeating.  And it is NOT as simple as many would have us believe.  When you join almost any diet program, they will talk to you about physical hunger vs mental hunger.  Almost every book, seminar, video, magazine article or other product you will read on this subject discuss mental vs physical hunger.  They will tell you that physical hunger is that growl in your stomach.  That lets you know you are truly hungry.  Mental hunger however is all in your mind.  It is what makes you think you’re hungry because the thoughts of food are there. You think you want to eat when you’re not hungry. So at the end of the day, you just have to conquer that mental aspect.  You have to tell yourself that it’s all in your head.  Yet even in the midst of that knowledge, you find yourself feeling completely overpowered.  At least SOME of us do.  So if one person can defeat that while others can’t…..what does it mean?? That we are mentally weaker than the rest of society?  I thought this through all of my life.

What if there is a THIRD component though?  Not physical hunger and not mental hunger but rather a third option…..an intense craving that is NOT all in your head.  It is FAR GREATER than the feeling of physical and mental hunger combined.  And it’s a craving that can be compared to what addicts feel when they crave drugs?  This is what sugar does to my system.  It is NOT….I REPEAT NOT….all in my head.  In fact, if you ask me it is far less about my mental struggle and far more about a biochemical, physiological reaction that is going on in my body.  It is similar to an allergy.

My daughter is allergic to peanuts.  If she eats peanuts, she will have a physical reaction.  She has to carry an epipen just in case.  Once I had someone tell me that she could overcome this mentally.  That it was mostly in her head.  This sounded ridiculous to me because the first time my daughter had a reaction to peanuts was at about 2 years old.  I gave her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the first time and her entire face started to swell up.  Her throat was closing and she had to be rushed to the hospital.  Did my daughter at 2 years old manage to create a mental issue between herself and peanut butter? Was it all in her head? OF COURSE NOT!!  Her body is allergic to peanuts!  It is as simple as that.

My oldest daughter has always had much stronger reactions to mosquitos than the average person.  If I am bit by a mosquito, I have a normal reaction.  My daughter, however, might have her leg entirely swell up due to a few mosquito bites.  It is not a deathly allergy by any means.  It is just that for some reason her body is far more sensitive than others to mosquito bites.  I don’t know why this is but I just know it’s a fact.

Are my two daughters somehow fundamentally WEAK individuals because their bodies react this way to peanuts and mosquitos?  Should I sit them down and lecture them about “buckling down” and being BETTER individuals by not reacting this way?  Should I tell Annabelle that she has no excuse to react this way to peanut butter when I have no problem with it at all?

“Annabelle, I can eat peanut butter and I don’t have a problem with it.  You need to just stop being so weak.  You need to overcome this with the power of your mind.  Stop all the nonsense and just gain some self respect!  Stop being so darn weak and learn how to eat peanuts like the rest of society without overreacting!”

I would never say this to my daughter because while I am NOT allergic to peanut butter….I totally respect and understand that SHE IS.

And this is how I now feel about sugar.  Not everyone out there in the world will react to sugar as strongly as others.  Sugar most likely affects all of us in a similar way but for some reason that I don’t fully understand….some people seem to be more sensitive to it than others.  The same way my daughters are more sensitive to peanuts and mosquito bites than the average person.  It’s NOT in their head.  It’s a real physical reaction.

In my life, I combat three different areas when it comes to hunger.  I deal with real physical hunger.  I deal with mental/emotional hunger.  And then I deal with cravings that come from sugar.  On any day of the week, I would rather deal with physical and mental/emotional hunger combined over the cravings from sugar.  It is just NOT the same thing at all.  I used to wonder why other people had the power within them to resist overeating when I did not.  I used to pray and wish and dream that one day I could be like them.  And now I am like them.  I have the willpower, mental fortitude and inner strength to handle physical and mental hunger.  It isn’t easy but I can resist it.

AS LONG AS I’M NOT ON SUGAR

It still takes work but I can overcome it.  I now believe I understand what most individuals deal with when they go on diets.  I understand why they think that some of us are so weak.  It’s because they deal with physical and mental hunger but NOT sugar cravings.  Not DRUG cravings. They believe we are all simply needing to resist the first two things…..physical hunger and mental hunger….And if they can do it then why can’t we??  Yet I wonder if these people have ever dealt with the  3rd demon? The overpowering cravings from sugar?  In no way can that compare to the physical and mental hunger the average dieter feels.

What is going on in the body when you are coming off of sugar that makes it so much more powerful than anything else you deal with?  I have read a lot on the subject and I’ve learned that this type of craving affects you physiologically.  It is a very definite PHYSICAL reaction that is NOT simply basic physical hunger.  It is affecting you on so many levels that it can only be compared to the same powerful reaction someone coming off of cocaine might experience.

Here is a good picture of what the sugar roller coaster may look like inside our bodies.  I have attached the source that I got it from because it links to an article that is more detailed in discussing how hormones and other things play into this.

 

Sugar Roller Coaster

Source: http://www.womentowomen.com/insulinresistance/sugarcravings.aspx

Hormones are very attached to mood swings.  No one denies that hormones will affect how you think and feel.  I am sure many people walk around life with hormonal imbalances.  They are moody and feeling generally NOT in control of their emotions. Is it all in their head? Are their mood swings and emotional reactions due simply to them lacking morals and values?  Are they less of a person because they are irritable, angry, or depressed?  Surely some people have issues with their moods which are a direct result of what they choose to think about and dwell on.  However, research proves that many people out there are suffering from mood swings due to a hormonal imbalance which could be improved with medications.  We accept this as a fact but we often don’t apply the same principles to what someone interacting with sugar might face.

I’ve read studies that say sugar is as addictive as cocaine.  I’ve even read studies that say sugar is MORE ADDICTIVE than cocaine! Brain scans show that sugar affects the same part of your brain that is affected by those taking drugs.  Maybe because sugar IS a drug….or at least it acts like one in the body!

I’m not a scientist but I’ve read enough on the subject to gain some understanding.  In our bodies, we have dopamine receptors and they stimulate pleasure.  Research has shown that some of us need much more stimulation in this area to feel good.  I’m not sure why this is but perhaps that is why many of us out there seem to naturally crave whatever it is our body knows will boot up the dopamine…so we can get through the day in a decent mood and feeling like we can survive!  It could also be that once we start using sugar and get that “high”, we become more and more dependent on it driving our desire to keep doing it.

The bottom line is this….sugar affects you like a drug.  It is not just mental hunger.  It is not just physical hunger.  It is an actual biochemical reaction taking place and it is far more difficult to resist than the average mental/physical hunger might be.  Instead of viewing ourselves as moral failures in comparison to those around us, we need to see that we are being affected in ways we may never have realized making this a much more complicated process than the average “diet” program lets on.

So why am I rattling on about this yet again?

I’ve spent months struggling.  Gaining and losing the same darn 12 pounds over and over again.  At first it was 6 pounds.  But as time went on, it increased.  That’s what sugar addiction does to you.  It’s progressive.  The more you ingest, the more you want.  Soon the creep up that scale begins as you find it harder and harder to resist.  I didn’t even realize at first that I had let sugar back into my life.  It wasn’t as if I really meant to do it.

 I will say that this is the ONE area where the mental strength really does come into play.  Where the “mind over matter”, “willpower” and “buckle down” theory DOES work.  It works at the outset.  At the start line.  Before you ever take the first “hit” off the sugar. Because that’s when you have full control.  You can say no to it and you have the strength to do that.  The same way I can say no to cocaine.  I’ve never tried cocaine.  I understand that it might be a pleasurable experience to begin with but I also have heard how dangerously addictive it can be.  So I simply say no to it.  And it’s not a struggle.  Now if I were to say YES instead….I would suddenly be faced with an entirely different set of circumstances.   It would not be so easy to resist going forward once it was in my body wreaking havoc on me physiologically.

At some point, I let sugar back in.  I can’t remember how it happened.  It might have been a slice of birthday cake.  It might have been just simply choosing to eat the bread or bun.  It might have been choosing to eat the tortilla instead of eating the inside of it and scrapping the tortilla.  It could have been almost anything because sugar is just about everywhere.  For someone as highly sensitive to sugar as I am…..it doesn’t really take much. But here is the thing.  I DID let it back in.  Whether I remember how or when it happened doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that I got too comfortable and let my guard down.  And once I did that….the sugar had an open door to once again reclaim my life.

If I choose to let it back into my life….then that is where I have failed myself.  But once it’s back in, I must recognize that the fight will be ON because now it can run through my veins doing its dastardly work once again to pull me into the nightmare that brings me to my knees.  No longer am I in control.  No longer do I just fight a mental battle. Now it’s my body turning against me and driving me towards the all powerful cravings that are incredibly difficult to resist.

Today I am ME again.  ME without the insatiable, crazy, insane cravings.  Today I am in total control.  Getting off sugar for me has always been like stumbling around in the dark to reach the light switch. Getting there might take quite awhile. I might stumble around in the dark tripping over things repeatedly before I finally get there.  Yet once I arrive and flip the switch…..the light is ON! Now I can walk freely through the room in total control.  Not like someone with a blindfold on tripping and falling.  This is the thing to look forward to when detoxing off sugar.  Once you get there, it’s just GONE.  Suddenly one day you wake up and you’re back in control.  Maybe because it’s finally out of your system.

I have tried literally everything to control that crazy feeling of hunger.  Not even prescription appetite suppressants or weight loss surgery could make those cravings go away.  The one and only thing that has ever worked for me is getting rid of sugar.  Once it’s gone from my system, I become like so many people I have admired over the years.  The people that have to REMIND themselves to eat because they just aren’t hungry nor do thoughts of food dominate their day.

This is a lesson I’ve learned for the thousandth time.  I hope and pray that it is a lesson I don’t have to learn again.  I do want to say this.  Sugar cravings are by far more powerful than any mental, emotional or physical hunger you will ever feel.  It is detoxing off a drug but it is NOT impossible to beat.  I have beaten it a thousand times and I have beaten it once again.  But WOW….it is by far one of the most difficult struggles I’ve ever been through in life.  It screws with your mind.  It affects every aspect of your being.  It will depress you and make you feel as if you will never break free.

This is what helps me more than anything in the fight.  KNOW YOUR ENEMY.  Know that the sugar is affecting you biochemically. Understand that YOU are not the enemy.  YOU are not some weak, morally corrupt individual.  The enemy is a drug and it’s going to continue to wreak havoc until it’s out of your body.  But once it is gone….you will suddenly feel as if someone turned on the light.  You will look back and have a genuine sympathy for yourself at having fought such a powerful enemy!

I have no doubt in my mind that the weight loss ticker will start moving again.  I know that will all confidence now because I am not battling the third demon anymore of sugar cravings.  I will still have to fight the first two…..basic physical hunger and mental/emotional hunger.  But these adversaries are nothing in comparison to the monster of sugar.  Physical hunger is normal and it is not something to fear.  We get hungry and we need to eat.  When we recognize physical hunger for what it is—that is not something we should avoid feeding.  When we meet up with mental and emotional hunger, we must use various strategies to combat it.  And it can be done.  But sugar is a drug….and that will take some time to get through.   Just know the enemy and understand you’re fighting something that belongs in an entirely different category from the other two.

This is my lesson today.  I can’t eat sugar.  At no point in my life will I ever beat that.  Just as my daughter will probably always be allergic to peanuts and my other daughter will most likely always have more severe reactions to mosquito bites than the rest of us.  I must know this.  I must know it deep in my soul and never waver because it is not so difficult at all to resist sugar when it’s not already in your system.  No matter how much success I may achieve on this weight loss journey, I must never ever forget the dangers that sugar brings to my life.

If I forget this…I should look at pictures of myself at 417 pounds.

I should strap on weights and carry them around all day to remember how much my back used to hurt.

I should strap lead to my shoes to hear once again the sound of me dragging my feet across the floor because I had no strength to pick them up.

 I should sleep with giant stones across my chest at night to remember what it was like to be unable to breathe in the night and wake up gasping for air.

 That is where my life will be once again if I let sugar have control.

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 And now that I am back in control and seeing things clearly, I know that this is a battle I will never stop fighting.  But if I never take the first “hit”….it can’t own me.

Never is this lesson more important than right now.

Right when the Halloween season is upon us and I walk into the grocery store and immediately see this facing me before I can even get my grocery cart through the door.

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Now that I’m off the sugar and back in control, I can think clearly

I can see these things and NOT crave them

Because there is one thing I crave more than anything.

FREEDOM

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Jayne September 13, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Well Holly as usual you are speaking my language. I am currently on one day off one day and thankfully not eating sugar, however I am eating way too many carbohydrates. Know that I will continue to survive this battle if I just keep trying and don’t give up.
Thank you for continuing to blog.
Blessings,
Jayne

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Aimee September 13, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Holly,
I can totally relate to this post. I’m been pondering lately WHY I start and stop more than anyone else I know. It really is about living one day at a time. Sometimes when I feel in control of my choices I’m just worrying about when that feeling will go away instead of just enjoying it in the moment!
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Losing The Rolls September 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Holly, I completely understand the struggle you have with sugar and I have the same problem. I have not learned to overcome my addiction though. Sadly, I’ve had Type II Diabetes for eleven years now and I still haven’t been strong enough to break away from sugar. I won’t give up the fight and I hope to conquer it soon just as you have. Stay strong!
Losing The Rolls recently posted..Gotta start somewhere – 2500 stepsMy Profile

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Paula September 13, 2013 at 7:19 pm

“The most common definition of addiction is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to the DSM, addiction is any compulsive use of a substance, despite continual negative consequences, which leads to withdrawal symptoms if usage is stopped.”

Holly, I am you. There are so many sugar addicted individuals in the world that have the same struggle that we do. Heck, even rats have sugar addiction. “Researchers have determined that refined sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Sugar also feeds tumors and has a negative effect on cancer outcomes. In recent studies, rats that were addicted to cocaine were provided a choice between cocaine and sugar water – and 94% of them chose the sugar. Since sugar is in so many of the foods we eat, it is easy to become addicted while also developing diabetes.”

Now, I don’t know of anyone who held up a store for a twinkie, but I totally think sugar is addictive.

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robin September 14, 2013 at 11:11 am

So interesting and boy on some level I can relate! All summer been on a weight loss journey and its working and I wonder why this time? Well because Ive gotten rid of the sugar!!! Now I don’t have to go to the extreme that you do. I can eat bread, yogurt, and such but if you gave me candy or icecream forget about it! My husband wanted cheesecake last night….no way that’s like opening the gates of h— for me, cant do it and its ok:) You want cheesecake get it on your own time not mine and hes fine with that because he is one of those people who could have one slice and be fine with not having it again for 6 months.

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Karen P September 14, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Keep the memory of today- the non craving, non food seeking you and hold it up. You can have this sort of day everyday (even on the stressful days).

go hour by hour, meal by meal, and day by day. Here’s to food sobriety. It’s a lot of work, but so worth it. Keep food sober!

You are not alone, Holly.
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Bev September 14, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Holly, until I started reading your blog, I never thought about sugar addiction. I knew that I crave it. But I never connected it to the downward spiral of hunger and being out of control. For the last few weeks that I’ve been reading your blog, I’ve been very intentional about avoiding sugar and concentrating on eating things that fill me up and have nutritional value. And I’ve lost weight. I’ve also given up low cal dessert products because now I realize that they awaken “the beast”, as well. I’m learning to walk away from situations at work where junk or fast food is the star. One of the other things that have kept me on track – that may be the most difficult for me – is to plan ahead for the day, the week. Look at menus before heading to the restaurant. If I have a salad, ask for chicken on top because protein definitely fills me up and makes me feel satisfied longer. Don’t take the first bite of that dessert no matter how many times a friend insists that I just “try it”. Add veggies to the omelet. Think about food as fuel for a Porsche.

About that 12 pounds that are battling – aren’t you thankful that it is not 100? That is awesome. Only 12 pounds. That proves that you have control right there.

We can’t aim for perfection, but we can always aim to do better than the day before.

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karen September 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I am so glad I was lead to your blog. I am learning so many tools to help me . Yesterday I applied the “I can start my day over” if I choose.Normally I would have just given up because of one bad choice, but I thought about your blog and got back on track.I have also become more aware of my sugar intake. Thank you so much

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Laine September 14, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Hi Holly,
Highly recommend that you read Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes blog entries of Sept. 11,12,13 – very timely, and scientifically reinforces why it is so important for you to avoid high glycemic index foods (including sugar).
Way to go for getting back on track!
(As you may be aware, Dr. Sharma is one of Canada’s most highly respected obesity experts, with both an MD and a PhD. He is truly compassionate and passionate, and aptly has been described as a philosopher physician. I consider him one of my medical heroes).

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paule September 15, 2013 at 6:55 am

I’m so grateful for your blog! This is exactly what I experience. But how do u cope during the days when you wake up and feel something is not right with your hormones? How do you cope with your daily duties? I cant function without sugar, I need to stuff myself with lots of food and sweets to able to looks after my kids. Otherwise I am completely knackered. ..

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Joyce September 15, 2013 at 1:55 pm

That’s what brought me to this website in the first place. That Monster had grabbed at me with it’s claws most of my life. Thank you for writing this!

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Sheryl C. October 1, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I just read this, Holly, because it got caught in my spam filter some time ago. I am just like you with sugar. I just cannot eat it and control it. I slipped up a couple of days ago and ate some and am fighting the battle again. Thank goodness it was just the one time. So far. I say that, because it is still calling me and I am still fighting the battle. Thanks for reminding me this is a trap I do not want to fall into again. I must win.

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