Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thoughts on Food Addictions and a Sugar Detox

sugar detox, flour detox, food addiction, bright line eating

I feel like I've generally got a pretty good relationship with food going on in my life (except for the times when I'm pregnant, because when I'm pregnant, everything about my relationship with food is horrible and nasty and emotional and complicated). Generally, I love food. I mostly eat healthy (because it feels good), but also never pass up a dessert when it's offered, and never beat myself up about it.

But apparently, things can change. Apparently, when things get stressful enough, I can eat my emotions.

Most of 2017 has been rather stressful for me. It seems that accepting a spot in a PhD program, going through a job hunt, buying a house, and moving states (with a baby who hasn't let me get eight straight hours of sleep one single night this whole year), is a bit stressful. Actually, incredibly stressful.

May especially (the month we bought the house, packed up, and moved) was super stressful. My first clue that the stress was getting to me was when I tweaked my neck during my routine yoga practice, and was unable to move it/sleep on it/function the whole week we were packing. The last time I tweaked my neck like that was the month before my wedding, and it took four visits to a chiropractor to get me back to mobility. Apparently, this whole move has been as stressful for me as getting married.

My second clue that the stress was getting to me was the alarming number of bags of chocolate chips I was eating my way through. I don't know exactly how many bags it was, but it was a lot. In fact, I found myself planning off-schedule grocery shopping trips because I needed more chocolate, and if you know me at all, you know that means things were desperate. I HATE going to the grocery store, and NEVER go more than once a week with my strict meal plan in place. So the fact that I was heading to the grocery store mid-week to get more chocolate was kind of a huge red flag.

Then I heard a friend mention a program she was trying called Bright Line Eating to help her manage her food addictions and lose weight. I was intrigued, not because I needed to lose weight, but because as soon as she said "food addiction" little bells went off in my head. So I came home and took the food addiction quiz, and came back with a score of 5 out of 10. While this wasn't necessarily a terrible score, it was higher than I thought I should be, so I started doing some thinking about how to fix this.

Basically, I decided to do a revised version of the Bright Line Eating program, my own little sugar detox. To sum up this program, there are four rules that adherents are supposed to follow for the rest of their lives (four bright lines): 1.) No sugar 2.) No flour 3.) Measure/weigh food (crap load of vegetables) and 4.) Eat only at meal times (no snacking). Since I'm nursing, and also not interested in losing weight (actually the opposite), I decided to ignore that last rule, and snacked as much as I wanted to. I also didn't worry about weighing my food (once again, not trying to lose weight), but simply tried to eat as much as I possibly could (especially veggies). But I did decide to cut sugar and flour as much as possible. I didn't go gluten free or hardcore (like, I didn't worry about sugar in salad dressings and stuff), but I cut as much sugar and flour from my diet as I conveniently could.

I waited until we actually moved into our house in June (and thus had full control over grocery shopping/meal planning), and then plunged into the detox for two weeks. The first few days were hard. Like, way harder than I expected. I was SO HUNGRY, despite the fact that I was still eating as much as I possibly could. This made me super nervous, because I'm always terrified about my milk supply dropping (it's been a problem before) and hunger is the enemy. But I decided to stick it out, and magically, after a few days, the hunger went away and I was able to stick it out without any problems with my milk supply.

While I only did two weeks of dedicated no sugar/no flour, I learned a lot of things and did some deep reflecting. These may or may not be of interest to anyone else out there, but in no particular order, here are my random thoughts about a sugar detox in case you are considering one.

-If you want to lose weight, this is absolutely the way to go. I lost weight (and I was trying desperately NOT to lose weight). One of the reasons I didn't go longer than two weeks was so that I wouldn't lose any more weight.

-Once I got past those first few days of hunger, I was actually surprised at how much energy I had, how full I felt after meals, and how good my body felt. Apparently, sugar and refined flour are actually huge energy drains on your system. And there's all this science about how sugar tricks your body into not being able to feel satiated. By the end, I felt really, really good. I mean, I felt like my old self, the self I haven't felt like since before I got pregnant last year. It was a super rough pregnancy, and my recovery was much slower than with my first two pregnancies. After this sugar detox, I felt like me again. It's like everything just snapped back into place (except for those stomach muscles, those still need some work...). This was awesome.

-It is possible, even for me, to get very, very tired of salads. Luckily I only need a couple of days, and then I'm back to my salad-loving self.

- It is HARD to cut sugar and flour and participate socially in food. I think this would be the hardest part about doing this program long term. Everything, and I mean practically everything, has sugar and/or flour in it. Also didn't help that my husband and I binge watched some Great British Baking Show while building Ikea furniture during this period, and it made me feel so, so sad that all that food was off-limits to me (even though I wouldn't have been baking/eating stuff like that anyway).

-When it comes to food addiction, I don't think I have a particular problem with flour, or even a lot of sugar. My real addiction is chocolate. I found that I wasn't sad at all to skip out on bread or other desserts, but oh! How I missed my chocolate! The only thing that kept me going was knowing that I was not going to be doing this detox forever, and eventually I would let myself eat chocolate again. It would be sad to go the rest of my life without ever eating bread, but I simply CANNOT live in a world without chocolate.

-It takes a lot of will power to eat this way. Two weeks was not long enough for it to become an automatic habit, and so I found myself exercising a concerted amount of will power every day to keep this up... and it was not healthy for my relationship with my kids. Especially those first few days when I was super hungry, I found myself snapping at my kids over very little things that I usually have the self-control to let slide. Science tells us that when we are exerting a concerted amount of will power in one area, we don't have any left over for other areas, and this was super true for me. I am a MUCH nicer mom when I can self medicate with chocolate.

-On that note, I realized that I use chocolate as a reward, a small treat, for getting through the hard parts of every day. I would tell myself things like "Once you get the dishes done, you can have some chocolate" and so I'd get the dishes done. Or "Once you get through bedtime, you can have some chocolate" so it was my little reward for surviving the bedtime routine. When that reward was taken away, life got just a little bit more depressing. I tried to come up with other little treats for myself, but most of them weren't practically possible or took more time than I had (like taking a nap, or reading a book, or taking a bath, etc.). It's so much quicker to just scarf a handful of chocolate chips.

-If you are an abstainer and/or have serious issues with food addiction, I highly recommend the Bright Line Eating program. I, however, am completely a moderator. I really enjoy life so much more when I can have my treats in moderation. I do feel like things got out of control in May when my stress and anxiety levels peaked, but all I needed was the two week detox to get back on a moderate track. Things may get out of hand again (I am, after all, starting a PhD program in a couple of weeks, and that baby is still not letting me sleep through the night), but I feel like I've gained some awareness and can monitor myself, and if need be, do another detox any time I need to.

Anyway, that was a lot of thoughts. To sum up, my sugar/flour detox was overall a really positive experience for me (except for the negative influence on my parenting), and I learned a lot about myself. While I've gone back to allowing myself a few chocolate treats, I've found myself with a hyper awareness of all the refined flour and sugar in food, and I'm still trying to avoid as much of it as I conveniently can. My body just feels so much better this way. I'm not a doctor or a nutrition person or anything, but I can pretty confidently say that everyone ought to try a sugar detox. I highly recommend the experience.

(P.S. If you have any questions about specifics of my sugar detox, feel free to ask!)

(P.P.S. I wrote more about body/food stuff last year in posts here, here, and here.)


  1. I have a major sugar addiction, but like you, I actually do better modifying rather than abstaining because when I abstain, it's literally almost all I think about, even after going several weeks without it. It's a problem, I know. But when I allow myself to just have a little every day and not beat myself up about it, I can move on!

    Kudos to you for taking this challenge on. I've found that a hard reset can be really helpful moving forward. I'm probably due for another one soon myself!

    1. There are actually some things I think I could very happily be an abstainer on, like cheap processed food, soda, and other sugar/flour things I don't care about all that much. But chocolate is my love language, I just can't abstain from that. We all have our weaknesses. :)