The Emotional Side of Sugar Addiction

EmotionalAttachmentI just caught this post from a woman on Day 10 of her challenge who is already learning about the emotional connection to her sugar addiction. I’ve seen this awareness from alumni of the challenge – but never on Day 10. And that got me thinking…

Are We Missing the White Elephant in the Room When it Comes to Sugar Addiction?

If you have ever seen a teenager 30 minutes after a sugar feast – say cake and soda pop with some candy tossed in for good measures – you know there is a chemical addiction at play when he suddenly wants something sweet to eat.

The insulin has dealt with the onslaught, but the dopamine rush has come to an end and the brain is demanding MORE – and now would be better than later, thank you very much!

No doubt there is a chemical addiction (8 times more addictive than cocaine research shows). That teenage’s taste buds, brain chemistry, horomones, and metabolism were hijacked by the time he finished singing the Happy Birthday song.

But what about the times when we aren’t at a party. When you aren’t pulled in by the social draws of ‘one more piece‘ or ‘you MUST try this cookie‘, or even the entitlement card, ‘I’ve been really good today… this won’t be too bad for me!‘.

What About When You are Sad, Lonely, or Angry?

Often these emotions are what opens the door to sugar and then the chemical addiction can run its course. By the time we finished off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough (4 servings? Ha!) the feelings that triggered the trainwreck have been quieted.

Is there a choice point that we can identify and honor with at least a moment of consciousness about the sugar? And if there is, what does it look like to not just give into the sugar addiction?

Here’s What I’ve Seen – and Your Mileage May Vary.

After watching thousands of people do the 30 Days Sugar Free Challenge one fact is indisputable: the act of grabbing sugar to extinguish an emotional low is unconscious. Have you ever seen someone say out loud, “I am feeling sad so I am going to eat 1,120 calories and 100 grams of sugar so I feel better!”

No… that conversation happens way back in the brain – well out of reach of our dreams and goals, hopes and desires, love and faith. Those words are never spoken. If they were it would kill the emotional cycle that has repeated itself since the first time you did it.

The Trick to Seizing a Decision P.O.I.N.T.

P- Pause
By reading this you are planting a seed – telling your brain that you might be interested in handing your emotions another way. Fantastic! Make an agreement right now that when you have an emotional flair you will PAUSE before heading for the pantry or freezer.

O – One Big Slow Breath. Then Two More.
Those 3 breaths are the invitation to a conscious decision. Allow the emotion to well up inside you during the 5 counts of the inhale, and release the emotion on the 10 counts of the exhale. Who do you become when you believe the emotion (5 count inhale). Who are you without that emotion driving your behavior (10 count exhale). Do three of these and then drink a glass of water. Don’t skip the glass of water (hint: it’s what your body really, really needs).

I – Interrupt the Pattern
We aren’t ruling out the sugar – we are doing an interrupt to see if it’s something you decide to have, instead of simply defaulting to it because you always have. So what’s the interrupt? You decide that! My suggestion is something physical so your body can put the oxygen from those deep breaths and glass of water to work. A brisk 5-minute walk, put on a song and dance, do 10 pushups, or skip up and down the street. Whatever takes you out of your head and puts you firmly in your body will fit the bill just fine.

N – Notate Three Words
So far we have let the body drive and that’s powerful! This is the step where your brain sneaks back into the puzzle – and we’ll keep it light. The gut intelligence is much older than the thinking/logical mind and it knows plenty about you. The bummer is that the mind, with all its fancy verbs and nouns, usually talks the body’s intelligence into the backseat – or maybe even the truck.

Grab your writing device of choice (I’m a journal and pen guy myself) and put down one word in each of these 3 categories:

  1. Physical Feeling (example: Grab, Bite, Lick, Suck, Chew)
  2. Emotional Feeling (examples: Mad, Sad, Glad, Scared, Ashamed)
  3. Decision I’m Making (examples: Walking, Running, Yes, No, Waiting)

T – Take the Action
If you got far enough away from the trigger emotion, and deep enough into your body, you probably don’t want to go fill yourself with stuff that will make you feel bad again. Have another glass of water and step away. Read. Write. Talk to a friend. Exercise. You’re a different person right now. Bask in that.

If you did the P.O.I.N. and T. is telling you to dive in – do it. No one is here to judge you. You took pause and broke the cycle for a few moments. Chances are that if you do this a few more times (you’ll have opportunities – we all do!) you’ll have at least one instance where you decide to walk away.

And that opening, my friend, is the beginning of the path away from sugar addiction. One that leads to a future where anything is possible.