Addiction to Food

My work day is very long and very quiet, so often what I do is plug in my headphones and click on a YouTube video and and let Autoplay DJ my background sound. Sometimes it’s funny and I have to keep from laughing out loud, other times it soothing classical music, sometimes its distracting and I have to force myself to turn it off so that I can get some work done. Today I clicked on a TED video figuring, hey, maybe I’d learn something today, and so the day went on.

Then as I was sitting at my desk half listening to a video and something started to click: the woman who was speaking was saying things that I had said myself. I started the video over, this time giving it my full attention. And the more I listened, the sadder I became, because this woman was me. We are both sugar and food addicts.

I’m on this sugar-free lifestyle journey because I want to change my life and I want to lose weight. This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to lose weight. I’ve been trying to lose weight since I was a teenager, and I remember the struggle. I grew up in a good house with a mom who made me dinner every night and always packed me lunches. These weren’t lunches filled with Twinkies or anything like that but they were good lunches. Even still looking back, I realized the reason that I had such a hard time keeping to the diet was because I was so hopelessly addicted to sugar. I had actual withdrawal symptoms. I would feel like I was in pain when I was hungry, and the hanger was unreal. Any time I’d try to diet, I’d get anxious, couldn’t sleep, and would be inexplicably irritable and depressed. These are all symptoms of withdrawal, and as already depressed teenager, it wasn’t a conscious decision but I couldn’t handle the addition of any of these symptoms. But I wouldn’t want to disappoint my mom who tried so hard to give me the right foods and show me the right path to being skinny.

It started out simply enough: if there was food in front of me, I would keep eating. It didn’t matter that I was already full. There would be a box of cookies and I’d only want one but I’d be unable to stop myself from finishing the box. These symptoms of food addiction only escalated from there. I would buy candy and hide the wrappers not wanting anyone to know. I would sneak down to the kitchen after everyone had already gone to bed and (to my own thoughts) steal food from the fridge. And so diet after diet failed because I was sabotaging myself. I had an addiction that I could not control.

The only problem was there was no rehab for it. I couldn’t just cut the thing i was addicted to out of my life and walk away. Food is a basic necessity to live. I eventually battled my way out of teenagerdom and depression but my food addiction entered my twenties with me.

In the TED talk, the woman took her food addiction and decided to do something about it. She discovered that food addicts aren’t actually addicted to food in general, that instead its one of two things: fat or sugar. For me I like fat well enough, but it’s sugar. It isn’t really very surprising when you realize that, as she said in her TED talk, in 2008 scientists proved that sugar is chemically addictive, eight times more addictive that cocaine.

But I am lucky. Lucky because I decided to go to school in a country were people just tend to eat fresh and less processed food. Oh, for sure, Bamba is amazing (peanut butter Cheetos!), and the whole country has an insane addiction to Nutella but on the whole, the food I was getting was fresher, with less sugar in it. I continued to gain weight because I still was addicted to food and  it was my very first time living on my own, my first time being in charge of what I was eating. In fact it was here that I discovered Ben and Jerry’s. If I had gone to university in America, I can only imagine the number that scale would be screaming at me and I doubt that I would have had the strength to say goodbye to sugar, because in the States, it seems that there is sugar in everything. Foods that aren’t even sweet contain sugar, because the food industry is very aware of it’s addictive properties, marketing foods as low fat while amping up the sugar. Even the “healthy” lunches my health conscious mother packed me were unwittingly keeping me addicted. My standard innocent sounding daily lunch Peanut butter and honey sandwiches on whole grain bread, the healthiest part of that lunch is the natural sweetener honey, because both the peanut butter and the whole grain bread were both injected with massive amounts of sugar.

Being here has given me a chance at actually having control over my life and defeating this addiction. I still have sugar cravings and the occasional spout of hanger, but when I think back to what I dealt with as a dieting teenager, my symptoms now are so much more trivial. It gives me hope; it shows me that over the last three and a half years I’ve already started the process of weening my body off of sugar and that now that I’m kicking it into high gear I have hope of reaching my goals. I’m not planning to give up Ben and Jerry’s forever but I’m hoping that on the special occasions I do break it out I wont have to eat the whole carton, that I’ll eat a small amount and be satisfied.

Today I had a sandwich for lunch, just like I did in high school. But today I made the sandwich myself and know exactly what’s in each ingredient. Rye sourdough bread with cranberries, with absolutely no sugar baked into it, avocado mashed with lemon and salt, fresh tomato chunks and a hard boiled egg. And it was delicious.

Here are a couple of other talks that I subsequently found that I thought had a lot of merit: Why we can’t stop eating unhealthy foods and This is your brain on Sugar.

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