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Sugar with Teeth

By Brandi Yates

Pretending I had a big Skype conference call with everyone I love: “Hi, everyone. It’s me, Brandi.” The next part is said with humility and remorse. “I’m an addict. And I need help.”

A hush goes down. My parents hold their breath. Mom looks like she is being strangled and Dad is waiting for the punchline. My brother looks disappointed. My sister smug. My friends, the ones that think they know every intimate detail about me, are confused.

“I am addicted to sugar.” Dads laughs; mom cries from relief. My brother and sister are no longer interested. My friends roll their eyes.

Every one just thinks loudly, no such thing. Like vampires and werewolves. Because while comfy rehab exist for everyone else with substance abuse problems, sugar is just food. And it comprises about 95 percent of my food. (The remaining five is diet pop. Which is my second drug of choice.)

Those with food issues go on diets or The Biggest Loser. But I’m a small, normal and healthy looking woman of 125 lbs. I run and do yoga. Many say, “What’s the problem?”

I’m not complaining about the sneaky sugar found in salad dressing or how the white carbs in bread or rice that will turn to sugar in our systems. I’m talking about C-A-N-D-Y. I can’t stay away from it. Bags of jelly beans, licorice, M&M’s, Skittles, Starbursts, gummy anything, sour stuff, and sugar coated sugar all disappear inside me; it doesn’t matter. I will consume it by the bucket load. Bypassing fruit, veggies, and protein days at a time. This isn’t an exaggeration. When in the absolute grips of it, I’ll buy an 1800 calorie bag thinking I’ll dole it out over a week, then eat it in less than three days. Then I’ll buy another 1800 and consume it in 36 hours. Then another, and it will be gone in half a day. All the while, my blood moves slower. My cheeks become swollen. My skin itchy and pimply. On the last day, around mid day, after consuming some 5400 calories of sugar in five days — enough to fuel two marathons — I’ll fall into a carb coma. I’ll re-emerge at sunset ready for more. Making me like unto undead, because that is no way to live. Sometimes it isn’t so bad. Sometimes I’m just nicking it here and there so my intake isn’t more than 500 calories a day. But it is still every single day that I need sugar.

So change, right? Just “do it” as President Kimball would say. Throw the candy out and don’t buy more. Be like President Young who carried a tobacco pipe in his pocket and when he felt the urge he’d take it out and say: who is stronger you or me? Go cold turkey. Eat cold turkey even. Just don’t eat sugar.

But it is just food, and what is so wrong with a little candy? We make it for every season and all occasions. Every color and every flavor. We give this stuff to kids, freely, for rewards and affection. What is the big deal?

I’ll tell you what: I’m ruining my second estate. I can’t control my body. In two separate and important ways, I’m failing myself and God.

First, my health is compromised. Read 146 reasons sugar (glucose) is ruining my good health. Every single symptom is something I don’t want. I’m giving my pancreas an early death. I’m forcing my skin to age faster. My liver is backed up. My circulation poor.

Secondly, more importantly, I find it very anti-LDS. I should be in control of my body, not the other way around. 147th reason to hate sugar: it is robbing me of being me. I feel powerless and hopeless and fearful of tomorrow when I get up and all I will think about is sugar until I get some. Inwardly, my soul cries as my body greedily eats up the candy.

Although I ought to know better, I’m not doing better. This is what the real spiritual problem is. I don’t need God to tell me this addiction is something I don’t want. Occasionally we get articles in the Ensign and talks in church about healthy living and food choices. But sugar isn’t going to keep me from renewing my covenants. When it comes to addiction, porn is the hot topic. Guess what? Not my problem. This is my problem. Believe me, I take it seriously.

By now, my brother has turned on the Xbox, my friends have turned off the Skype, and my parents are just humoring me. They say, “What do you want us to do about it? ”

Every week I make a commitment to stop. Sometimes every day and every hour I promise to stop. Sometimes I last as long as three days without candy. But it strikes again. I buckle and before long I feel what every other junkie feels: constant failure.

I want to honor my body and treat it like a temple. I don’t do anything that breaks the Word of Wisdom. I mean, technically. Yet, I still do this. I’m on it even now. My last hit of jelly beans was four hours ago. Sugar is even fueling this pathetic cry for help. I know the only one that can help me is me.

While my friends and family don’t seem to believe me — and maybe many of you may not either — I am an addict. And as an addict, I’m dependent on my “relationship” with sugar to sustain me, find happiness, bolster my confidence, or just give me peace. Things I should seek from God. (Then again, God gave us sugar.) But prayer doesn’t have a bad side. I may not be like a heroin addict with the threat of jail. Nor an alcoholic, because I can (ab)use it at work. Nor is this like prescription meds as I can operate a car on sugar. I still feel it is something I need to quit and never come back to.

I was hoping that at my Skype gathering, I could declare my goal of no sugar for three weeks, because 21 days sets a habit. However, it seems that no one cares to hear the confessions of a sugar addict. It isn’t one of the big 10 commandments. I’m not fat and I don’t have diabetes. I’m just weak.

{ 20 comments… add one }

  • Matthew Chapman May 3, 2011, 7:50 am

    I do not believe you are “just weak”. I believe you are physically ill. You need to see a physician- possibly run through a few physicians- who are willing to give you the necessary battery of tests to identify what is causing your body’s difficulty with processing sugar from ordinary foods. The problem could be hormonal, stress-related problems, food allergies, auto-immune deficiency, or even chronic dehydration.

    (Note: Most people with normal metabolisms cannot eat nothing but candy for two days without craving meat and vegetables)

    • Brandi Leigh May 5, 2011, 11:02 am

      I know! I feel physically ill eating that much candy. That is why I’m trying to quit!

      Actually, thankfully, and normally I’ll start to want good foods again, not just guilty. I have thought about seeing a doctor and getting blood tests. Does that sort of thing help with alcoholics and opiate addicts, too? What about gambling and porn addicts? I wonder if there is something in their blood as well.

    • MB May 5, 2011, 3:21 pm

      Nope. There is nothing in the blood that predisposes one to addiction. Repeated indulgence in drugs, pornography or gambling can, indeed, change brain chemistry, but not blood. And those brain chemical changes have been shown to be a result of the indulgence, not an indication of a predisposition to it.

      The jury’s still out on genetic predisposition to alcoholism. But if it does exist, it hasn’t shown up in any blood tests.

      However, it has been demonstrated that if you eat a diet high in sugar you blood sugar levels swing from low to high to low at a much greater speed than if you eat a more healthy diet and the highs and lows are greater than in a more healthy diet. And it has been shown that rapid drops in blood sugar levels create sugar cravings.

      So, yes, if you eat a diet high in sugar, you increase and speed up your blood sugar variations. And each time you experience one of those wild drops in blood sugar that, in turn, increases your sugar cravings. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

  • Lacey Blake May 3, 2011, 11:11 am

    Brandi, this is an interesting post, and while I don’t consume bag after bags of candy, I feel like I have an addiction to sugar too. I feel sad that your family and friends don’t care, because as you described how much candy you eat, it makes my stomach flip and ache, and I think, “Dang this woman has a problem, but no one seems to care.”

    It seems odd that something has to be in the W of W for us to feel like it’s bad to be addicted to it. “Oh my, you drink coffee, lets get you some immediate help, and no you can’t be baptized till you’re off it for a week or two.” “Oh, you’re addicted to diet coke, that’s cool, lets set a date for your baptism.”

    It seems that the W of W was so wise and wonderful to let us know that we shouldn’t smoke or drink alcohol and tea, but it since it wasn’t wise enough to predict the future and list off every possibly addicting and bad for us thing, those things go by the wayside, since the Prophet hasn’t said, Hey we need to not eat any caffine, and sugar should be consumed sparingly, which is still left to personal interpreation. (How often do you eat meat and what is sparingly.)

    Not sure where this is going, but I do wish you had more support from those around you, though only you and the Lord can help you, it’s nice to have others support.

    I wish you luck and hope your blood starts moving a little more quickly soon.

    I too am trying to kick a sugar habit, that I worry is being carried over to my children.

  • Vennesa May 3, 2011, 11:18 am

    Good for you! I think you should declare your goal of no sugar for three weeks anyway. I hope you succeed!! You’re going to feel so much better.
    Vennesa recently posted…How much should a salad weighMy Profile

  • MB May 3, 2011, 1:25 pm

    I have a dear friend who found herself in a similar place with food. It wasn’t obesity that was her issue, it was food addiction; compulsive eating. She lived in a stake that had a good, functioning, addiction recovery program. She joined it and it changed her world. She now serves as a facilitator for that program.

    Food can become an addiction that you cannot master simply with will power. Your post sounds like you are finding that out and realizing the situation you are in. If you are fortunate enough to live in a stake that offers a good addiction recovery program you may find it has what you are looking for.

    If your stake does not offer that, there is a another organization, Overeaters Anonymous, that offers a similarly 12-step based program for compulsive eaters. You can find the group nearest you at http://www.oa.org

    This battle can be won, but rarely alone. And those two resources are set up to assist you to find the help from God and from your sisters that can lead to your success.

    I’ll be cheering you on.

  • Alison Moore Smith May 3, 2011, 5:36 pm

    Thanks to Brandi for this interesting post. I love how she addressed a topic of concern to her and wove in the related gospel/ethical issues. :)

    I think it would be helpful to clinically define “addiction.” IMO it’s a term very casually thrown around and not always accurate.

    That said, we’re all addicted to food, eh? So how do we differentiate between normal food dependence and abnormal?
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Blog Post Promotion- The Ultimate GuideMy Profile

  • MB May 3, 2011, 7:54 pm

    Good question, Alison. And you are right, “addiction” is a word that is casually thrown around. We often use it when “urge” or “indulgence” would be more accurate. Psychiatry is only beginning to determine all of the neurology and brain chemistry involved in the definition of addiction. The more well established non-medical addiction programs generally use a psychological approach to the question of determining whether a behavior has become addictive.

    So, you could use the questions used to determine alcohol addiction by AA to decide whether or not something you are doing would benefit from addiction recovery work. Here are some of them, adapted for food instead of alcohol.

    Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
    Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
    Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
    Do you give too much time and thought to food?
    Do you look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the time when you can eat alone?
    Do you plan these secret binges ahead of time?
    Do you eat sensibly before others and make up for it alone?
    Do you resent others telling you to “use a little willpower” to stop overeating?
    Despite evidence to the contrary, have you continued to assert that you can diet “on your own” whenever you wish?
    Do you crave to eat at a definite time, day or night, other than mealtime?
    Do you eat to escape from worries or trouble?
    Does your eating behavior make you or others unhappy?

    Basically, when your urge to engage in a particular activity consistently, repeatedly and powerfully overwhelms your sense of what is appropriate and your ability to do what you know is right, and, in spite of your best efforts, prayers and willpower, is the catalyst for your repeatedly doing things that damage relationships that you wish to nurture, that behavior has fallen into the category of addictions that can be helped with a 12 step addiction recovery program.

    Just as the majority of people who drink and enjoy alcoholic beverages are not addicted to alcohol, the majority of people who eat and enjoy eating are not addicted to food. But for some, the drink or the food becomes more that just something they take in for social or nutritional reasons. It becomes something they do to attempt to meet other needs, and that they do to such an extent that it frequently and detrimentally overrules their abilities to do the things that are more and most important to them.

    It is usually when a person realizes that this is happening in her life that she is at a point where an addiction recovery program can give her the skills and support she needs to make the changes she wants to make.

    Hope that helps.

  • Tracy Keeney May 4, 2011, 7:52 am

    Interesting points all the way around.
    I can somewhat relate to your post Brandi. — Emphasize “somewhat”.
    Although I wouldn’t say I’m a sugar “addict”, I can relate to the cravings. Especially when I’m trying to watch what I eat– specifically, cutting back on carbs (I’d eat bread, pasta, potatoes, cake/cookies and fruit all day if I could), my body CRAVES them. If it tastes good going down and breaks down into sugars once it’s there, I want it. I’ve never been a protein fan. I like a good steak every now and then, but honestly, I could easily be a vegetarian. Well, maybe that’s not the most accurately descript word, since I’m not a veggie fan either. I eat them all the time, but like meats, I could easily live without them, too. So what would one call themselves if they didn’t eat any meat or veggies— and only consumed grains, starches and fruit? A Carbohydrarian?
    Although I have been known to buy a bag of Pearson’s mint patties and eat the whole thing by myself over two days (so in that sense I can totally relate) it isn’t a common thing for me. Or caramels? Yeah– if I buy a bag of those they’ll be gone by the end of the day. I guess the difference is that I don’t buy them very often.
    When I’m really being “good” and am sticking with the diet that works best for me (essentially a slightly eased up diabetic diet– but no, I’m not diabetic) I’ll have some seriously strong cravings for ANYTHING sweet. So even a small bowl of cottage cheese and sliced up pineapple will taste like the world’s best dessert to me and totally satisfy me. I always keep a stash of sugar free popsicles around too.

  • Brandi Leigh May 5, 2011, 11:13 am

    Folks, I want you to know I’m feeling good today. I have not had candy all day. It has almost been 24 hours (yesterday I felt like Red Vines for breakfast)…. no wait. I had 3 ozs of chocolate when it was offered to me last night. Point being, I’m trying to be normal.

    Lacey, thanks for the kind words. One of the places I was going with this was a little bit of sympathy for the devil…. Sugar addiction can’t possibly be as severe as nationally recognized ones. I don’t lie, cheat, or steal for my addiction. I am worried about passing this onto my children; I am not worried about it wrecking my family. However, I do feel quite powerless, at times. All jokes aside, I eat candy when I don’t want to. I can’t fathom a more intense addiction with its teeth in me.

  • Brandi Leigh May 5, 2011, 11:22 am

    “Do you eat when you’re not hungry?
    Do you go on eating binges for no apparent reason?
    Do you have feelings of guilt and remorse after overeating?
    Do you give too much time and thought to food?”

    Well, those are all me… But, no, I don’t think about eating alone. I don’t plan binges… they just happen. Like a rolling stone gathering speed. I don’t keep my habits secret. I guess that is why my family isn’t shocked to find out I’m addicted to sugar.

    I STILL DO eat candy when I’m stressed, which needs to stop… I’m getting better. I’m always so surprised how quickly candy can make into my mouth before I make a conscious decision about it. And once I have the candy what a difference it makes on me mentally. I have totally read books on it and I assume that, yeah, my body chemistry is different from others. It feels like a lifelong battle.

    • MB May 5, 2011, 3:08 pm

      It is a lifelong battle. And it can be fought with an increasing success and sense of empowerment all your life if you find the information and resources necessary to do so . And the battle can become less overwhelming as time passes and your capacities increase.

      The criteria that AA and OA use are “Have you answered yes to three or more of these questions? If so, it is probable that you have or are well on your way to having a compulsive drinking/eating problem.”

      I’m not saying that you have to panic or rush off to OA, but the program is available and suited to people who find themselves where you are if you ever wish to avail yourself of it. You don’t have to right now. You can continue to fight this solo, and perhaps that will be sufficient. But, should you wish to expand your “army” in the battle you are fighting, it’s a resource that’s nice to know about.

  • Darcee Yates May 5, 2011, 7:43 pm

    As Brandi’s mom I need to confess my guilt before the congregation. I have treated this situation much too lightly in the past. As I read my daughter’s post outloud to my husband, we both laughed so hard we cried. I know. What kind of parents are we? And we laughed knowing full well which parent she got her sugar cravings from. My husband- He buys cinnamon bears in bulk and is never without peppermint candies in his pocket at church. Candy holds no such power over me. Chocolate on the other hand…

    I have a tupperware sugar container in my pantry with the words “I Want Sugar” written in permanent marker on the side. Guess which child wrote that? It should have been a sign.

    But- sugar addiction can be forgiven. I’m certain of it.
    Darcee Yates recently posted…Sleeping through a SessionMy Profile

    • Michelle DeGraw May 17, 2011, 11:02 am

      Sugar addiction does not need to be forgiven; it needs to be overcome. It is not a sin; it is a weakness.

      Darcee, I laughed at your sugar container: “I Want Sugar.” :)
      Michelle DeGraw recently posted…Fantastic BlessingsMy Profile

  • Darcee Yates May 5, 2011, 7:56 pm

    On a more serious note. We all have weaknesses. Truly we do. You know what yours are. I know mine.

    I was talking with a friend the other day and discussing this very thing. We both exclaimed almost simultaneously that we were grateful that our ‘weaknesses or indulgences’ were socially acceptable weaknesses.

    (In our case we, neither of us, can seem to pass up warm rolls smothered in butter- eating to excess when they are available- which is why we take pains to make sure they are NOT available to us- then we don’t have to succumb.)

    We spoke about being happy that our weaknesses weren’t for anything vile or smelly or totally debilitating to our health. It kind of gave us a perspective of appreciation for our lot in life and a moment of compassion for people with cravings for things- like alchohol, drugs, tobacco, and other even less socially unacceptable cravings or behavior, like a propensity for cheating, etc.

    I’m happy for my strengths, as well as my weaknesses. The weakness for warm buttery rolls only teaches me more compassion for someone with stronger cravings for things eaven less good for them.
    Darcee Yates recently posted…Sleeping through a SessionMy Profile

  • Brandi Leigh May 9, 2011, 9:19 am

    I can’t wait to be invited on a talk show for surviving “candy-ism.”

  • Pamela May 14, 2011, 11:16 pm

    Here’s a link to an article about an LDS mom of 7 who’s licked the sugar habit; I thought of this when I read your addiction dilemma (we must be kindred spirits). She’s also got lots of recipes and other great ideas!
    http://www.homeschooling.net/blog/sugar-free/100-days/ Here’s one more:
    http://marathonofmotherhood.blogspot.com/

  • Michelle DeGraw May 17, 2011, 11:08 am

    I love my chocolate. I have learned over the years to control the amount I eat at any given time. I also better recognize the signs of when I “stress eat.” We all have something, food or otherwise, that gives us satisfaction. Life is tough, and we tend to seek those things that give us a sense of comfort and happiness when circumstances start to spiral.

    Brandi, I don’t know you beyond what you have shared here. So this is my opinion, and you can take it or leave it. You need to take control. That’s hard! And it won’t happen overnight.

    Keep a journal or a record of some kind to find out what triggers your overeating episodes. What’s happening in your life that makes you crave the sugar so much? Relationship struggles? Job difficulties? Finances? Moving? Arguments? Feeling inadequate? And then start paying attention to what other things help you feel happy and good about yourself. Start trying to replace some of your sugar with some of those things. It will be a long process. You might need to seek the help of an addiction recovery group.

    But I think that coming to a recognition of what creates the craving will help you conquer it, or at least make it manageable. You need to find the appropriate level of what will give you satisfaction and happiness in your life – and what works for some people won’t work for others. You may need to completely cut out sugar, but maybe you just need to learn strategies to better control the amount of sugar you eat. You obviously enjoy it, so it might be asking too much to completely cut it out of your life.

    Like I said, I love my chocolate. But most of the time I dictate the terms of when I eat it. The sugar doesn’t rule my life.

    Whether or not you completely conquer this sugar addiction, I think you will be happier when you feel more in control of the situation.
    Michelle DeGraw recently posted…Fantastic BlessingsMy Profile

  • Emily May 19, 2011, 8:50 am

    In neurobioscience, we have in recent years confirmed that in some people (there seems to be a genetic link) sugars active in the brain the same addictive cycle as heroine. Your light-hearted-but-serious description of this really revealed the experience of this process. Thank you for your candid sharing!

  • Emily M April 9, 2012, 12:16 pm

    New research actually classifies sugar as toxic and a major source of many degenerative health conditions. Dr Lustig, one of the leading researchers in the field wrote the following article

    I actually gave up sugar this year and went through all the stages of withdrawal. Yesterday I gave myself a “day off” and I felt awful. I discovered that I had lost my sugar tolerance and felt the negative effects acutely. Based on this article, sugar should be classified as an addictive substance. Good luck!

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