Addicted to Sugar? Feel powerless around cookies, cake, candy?
Before you decide to go “cold turkey”, let’s take a look at the “Addiction Model” the concept of sugar addiction is based on.
The basis of the Addiction Model is a series of studies done in the 70’s with rats: Put in an empty cage with a choice of water or water laced with heroin or cocaine, nearly all the rats chose the drugs and ended up killing themselves quickly.
Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? It did for years, until a researcher, Professor Bruce Alexander, realized there was a major flaw in those experiments. So he conducted a new set of experiments to test his idea: He put rats in a rich environment he called “Rat Park”: “..it’s basically heaven for rats, right? They’ve got loads of friends. They’ve got loads of grain. They’ve got loads of tunnels to scamper around. They can have lots of sex. And they’ve got both the water bottles – the normal water and the drugged water. But this is the fascinating thing. In Rat Park, they don’t like the drugged water. None of them ever used it compulsively. None of them ever overdosed. So you go from almost 100 percent compulsive use and overdose when their lives are bad to none when their lives are good and they have the things that make life meaningful for rats.” `~Johann Hari on NPR’s TED Radio Hour
Journalist Johann Hari goes on to explain that similar results were observed in tens of thousands of humans as heroin-using soldiers came home from the Vietnam War: “The Archives of General Psychiatry did a really detailed study. And what happened to them? It turns out, they didn’t go to rehab. They didn’t go into withdrawal. Ninety-five percent of them just stopped.”
Yes, sugar affects the brain. Yes, there’s a dopamine rush. Yes, we feel better for a little while after eating it. Yes, that can lead to habits and powerful associations that lead to eating more sugar. But that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re powerless over it, or that we’re hopelessly addicted when we eat too many cookies. It’s WAY MORE COMPLEX than that.
“Professor Alexander began to think there might be a different story about addiction. He said, ‘What if addiction isn’t about your chemical hooks? What if addiction is about your cage? What if addiction is an adaptation to your environment?’ Looking at this, there was another professor called Peter Cohen in the Netherlands. He said, ‘maybe we shouldn’t even call it addiction; maybe we should call it bonding.’ Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond. And when we’re happy and healthy, we’ll bond and connect with each other. But if you can’t do that because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief. Now, that might be gambling. That might be pornography. That might be cocaine. That might be cannabis. But you will bond and connect with something because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.”
Many of us bond with food, often sugary food, for comfort. This urge becomes even stronger when we add guilt over eating sweets, and the shame and stigma that come from being overweight—the “cage” we find ourselves in! Do we need a 12-step abstinence program or locks on the candy jar? NO! Not if we attack the problem at the root, and dismantle or transform the cage.
If you think you’ve “bonded with sugar”, it’s important to recognize two things:
- You’re not alone, and
- You can regain your power over food in general, and sugar in particular.
Part of the solution is to build stronger relationships with others and with non-eating activities. Hari goes on to explain that Portugal is successfully tackling its drug problem with strategies based on the “bonding model”:
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
Relationships matter, and to thrive, they need to be a priority in your life, not an afterthought. One writer suggests these guidelines:
- Book the time – Reserve time on your calendar for the foreseeable future so there’s no guesswork or scheduling headaches about when you’ll see each other again.
- Go deep – Talking about a meaningful topic strengthens your bonds. Get past the shallow small talk. In our group, a different member brings the question of the day to each meeting.
- Don’t let kids derail you – Children benefit from seeing you model a healthy adult friendship. Tell the kids they can listen or participate, but they can’t interrupt unless it’s an emergency.
Healthy connections with work, family and friends are important, but there’s another connection that matters too:
Aligned~Intuitive~Mindful (AIM) Eating helps us build strong healthy connections with our own bodies as well as erasing guilt and shame. In the process, my clients regain their power over food and routinely discover that they no longer feel any addiction to sugar: “I ate half a cookie and left the rest! I just didn’t want it!” “Having donuts in the house was no big deal, I enjoyed some, but didn’t eat them all. I was so surprised!”
YOU MAY ASK: “If sugar isn’t good for me, why not just give it up completely?”
Now, you don’t NEED to eat sugar, it’s fine if you don’t want it and can happily live without it, but if that’s the case, you’re not a “sugar addict” in the first place. There are three reasons for dealing with the root problem, not just the symptom:
First, we want what we can’t have. It’s human nature—our egos at work on a subconscious level. No one likes to be told what they can and can’t do, and we resist even when it’s us telling ourselves what to do. Putting down a desire or urge with discipline and willpower takes massive amounts of energy. Doing that day in and day out is frustrating, tiring, and most people eventually give up.
Second, If we’re strongly attached to sweets, the unfulfilled needs behind that attachment will show up elsewhere, and we’ll bond with something else: a different food, an extra glass of wine, or something even less healthy.
Third, it’s disempowering. It’s admitting defeat. People who feel they can’t eat sugar in a moderate fashion need to regain their power over it in order to be whole and healthy and to not feel flawed or damaged in some way, and to not transfer their attachment to something else. Abstinence works fine for alcohol and drugs, but food and eating are necessary to life itself, and temptations are everywhere. Feeling powerful in relation to food increases self-trust and builds self-confidence and self-esteem. And, it ultimately leads to a healthier, happier, more stable weight as well.
If sugar or any other food has power over you, know that you can shift the balance of power and take charge yourself. There’s a path, AIM Eating, there’s Guidance, there’s Support, there’s Accountability, and there’s Connection too! You have more power than you realize: Activate Your Weight Loss Superpower!
To find out more, just schedule your FREE Appetite Breakthrough Session today! And, you’ll get a powerful tool or technique to help you master your toughest eating challenge. >> CLICK HERE to Schedule