Posts tagged Food Addiction
Will Intuitive Eating Stop My Sugar Cravings?

I’ll be honest: most of the clients who come to me want to lose weight (or at least are looking to maintain or “manage” their weight without a restrictive meal plan or eating style.) Weight loss goals must be shelved when pursuing intuitive eating, for even the perception of restriction can compromise your ability to tune in to your internal wisdom and embrace an intuitive approach. This is really intuitive eating pre-work, a mindset shift that must occur for intuitive eating to truly be effective (you know, to experience food freedom.)

But let’s say you’ve done the pre-work to shelve the weight loss goals. Ready, set, go. 

Not so fast.

Even if you’ve shelved the hope of weight loss, it can come up again in the desire to limit “forbidden foods” like cookies, cake, and ice cream by becoming an intuitive eater — which is just another layer of restriction. 

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If restricting sugar doesn’t work, maybe giving myself unconditional permission will, right? 

While intuitive eating is a wonderful tool for reducing the charge associated with some of your favourite (off-limits) foods, it doesn’t mean you’ll eat fewer of them or enjoy them any less. 

If you’re embarking on or are currently working your way through intuitive eating in the hopes that one day, when you are cured of your dieting ways, you will be completely satisfied eating carrots and hummus, never dare dreaming of those to-die-for chocolate chip cookies at the coffee house down the street, I have three words for you: hold up, homeslice.

What do you hope you will gain by limiting your sugar intake? 

For some people, this desire to stop “eating so much sugar” arrives in the guise of health. We've been conditioned to believe the every bite of chocolate, every nibble of donut, and every spoonful of ice cream is slowly leading to disease and killing us. 

While all nutritional information or recommendations necessitate context to be of any real value, even the World Health Organization — who lean more conservative when it comes to sugar consumption — deem deriving up to 10% of your daily energy needs from added sugar to be safe. Translation: you can enjoy dessert every day, allowing your cravings and food interests to guide the way.

The notion that every food choice is healing or harming oversimplifies a terrifically complicated interaction. 

Keep in mind the root word of disease literally stems from desaise (Old French), meaning discomfort, distress. This unease isn’t limited to the physical realm, but applies equally to the psychological. If you spend more time stressing over the chocolate cake than eating it, talking about how you’re going to compensate for the chocolate bar you ate too quickly to enjoy, or overthinking the potato chips you ate at last night’s party, it’s time to consider your mental state in the maintenance of good health.

For other people, the desire to limit sugary foods while intuitive eating is more covert. Diet culture can be super sneaky, and you may find the desire for weight loss pops up wearing different clothes (such as in concerns over sugar consumption.) 

I say this with a lot of compassion.

It’s tough work to give up the trappings of diet culture and embrace the wild world of intuitive eating when diets have provided so much safety and comfort for so long. But it’s also important to unpack what diet culture has (or hasn’t) provided you with, and how you can get your needs met in a deeper way. 

Ultimately, though, intuitive eating may or may not lead to a diminished desire for sugar. What’s possible is that by developing a healthier relationship with sugar you will feel less out of control around the office cookie jar, actually enjoy the chocolate you do eat, and have that coffee shop pastry on Saturday morning without post-experience guilt and shame. 

While you may sometimes want more “nutritious” foods over fun foods, this can’t be the goal of intuitive eating. In the same way that work must be balanced with play (or time off) to prevent burnout and promote self-care, it’s completely natural to want to balance intake of nutritious foods with a steady supply of pleasurable foods. Prioritizing extrinsic values — like needing or expecting your eating to look a certain way to feel okay — will interfere with your ability to connect with your internal wisdom and ultimately come to a place of self-acceptance regarding yourself and your body.




Are you "addicted" to food or just deprived?

“I’m addicted to chocolate.”

“Cheese is my weakness.”

“I can’t stop eating almond butter.”

“Candy is irresistible.” 

“Can’t eat just one.”

When we talk about the foods we love, do you ever notice how Puritanical we get? These are all phrases that suggest we can’t control ourselves around the foods we love (and we need to be controlled.

While we can “feel” addicted to foods, clinical food addiction just isn’t a thing at this time. Even MSG-laden Chinese take-out, loaded ketchup chips, or Haribo tangfastics (my personal favourite…please send). Of course we love these foods, but it is very natural to eat and enjoy delicious foods — not pathological. 

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In contrast, diet culture and its symptoms, like weight suppression, food restriction, over-exercise, and so on, are pathological and have well-studied psychological and physiological consequences. 

Adhering to diet culture feels good because being thin or performing thinness upholds the status quo. Because thinness is idealized, being thin or doing “thin things” — like hitting the gym, drinking green smoothies, or "working on our gut health” — helps us to feel superior. Except dieting requires restriction by its very definition — either physiological or psychological — and scarcity leads us to feel “addicted” to food.

Allowing ourselves to fully enjoy and savour food feels foreign and wrong because we’re rebelling against the very system trying to keep us in our place

But by denying diet culture and working toward food freedom, you offer yourself the opportunity to move away from food and body preoccupation.

To reject diet culture’s trappings and dissolve feelings of “addiction”, I’ve isolated 2 types of food deprivation (restriction) that must be worked through:

#1. ABSENCE OF “OVERT” PERMISSION.

Overt permission is superficial and involves three main points: a) eating what you want, b) when you want, c) in the quantity you want. 

You may feel that if you “allow” yourself to eat cookies whenever you want that you will never choose another snack, or if you let yourself just have the lasagna or macaroni and cheese you’ll never choose anything other than pasta. But habituation theory suggests otherwise: eventually, you’ll tire of these foods (yes, even of your favourite foods!) and opt for something else. Humans are hard-wired for variety, so even if it seems this way, it’s because you’ve been living within a restrictive framework — not because these foods are inherently addictive. Remember that bingeing, overeating, and other “problematic” behaviours are reactions to restriction, not to permission. 

In short: connect with your internal wisdom and let yourself eat what it is you desire, eat to satisfaction (don’t go hungry or intentionally under-eat), and allow yourself to eat when you want (whether you’re hungry again two hours after breakfast, want a snack at 9pm, or just feel like having popcorn with the movie you’re watching.) 

#2. ABSENCE OF “AUTHENTIC” PERMISSION. 

Authentic (and unconditional) permission goes deeper. In my experience, it also takes more practice and time to grasp and implement. 

Let’s say you’re eating what you want, when you want, and in the amount you desire. Yet you’re still bingeing or generally feel out of control around and obsessed with food. 

Let’s talk about how you’re eating and what you’re thinking. 

Many people who believe they are practicing unconditional permission are actually self-sabotaging. Eating in secret — hiding food, only eating certain foods when you’re alone, hiding wrappers or containers — is a subtle form of restriction. 

And even though intellectually you may know you are allowed to eat what you want, it takes time for our emotions to catch up. This may explain why you still feel guilt and/or shame when eating certain foods, for you believe you should not be eating them. With time and practice (and help from me, if you like!) you can begin to integrate the lessons and eat without shame or guilt.

Let me know in the comments: do you engage in overt or subtle forms of restriction? 







In Defence of Cookies: Why Sugar is Not a Drug

With the sheer amount of fear-mongering inspired by the unicorn frappuccino, I figured it was far time to set the record straight. While I love pure maple syrup and local honey, my kind of cookie includes some kind of sugar. And though there’s much to be said for “natural sweeteners,” I think we often forget sugar is a natural sweetener, too, sourced from the stems of sugar cane or the roots of sugar beets. 

Health experts are generally quick to criminalize sugar. Sugar is “bad”, sugar “causes obesity” or “leads to obesity”, sugar makes us fat, sugar gives us various diseases and leads to metabolic syndrome, sugar is the devil, sugar is a drug. And though sugar isn’t exactly a vegetable, there’s no reason why kale can’t co-exist with real, fresh-out-of-the-oven oatmeal cookies. 

Intuitive eating | Health at Every Size | Anti-Diet. In Defence of Cookies - why sugar is not a drug.

 

Pour Some Sugar On Me, Baby: Sugar and Survival

An article published in the European Journal of Nutrition back in 2016 reviewed the current literature on sugar addiction and the addictive potential of sugar, concluding that sugar does not, in fact, operate like cocaine. I’m exploring this study today and what it means for cookie lovers everywhere.

But first, I want to draw your attention to a little snippet from a book by the name of Sugar: A Global History: “Sweet foods cause the taste buds to release neurotransmitters that light up the brain’s pleasure centres. The brain responds by producing endo-cannabinoids, which increase appetite. This may have an evolutionary explanation…40 per cent of the calories in breast milk come from lactose, a disaccharide sugar that is readily metabolized into glucose, the body’s basic fuel. The sweetness leads infants to eat more, making them more likely to survive.” (7.)

Yes, loves. Sugar’s not all bad. It has actually contributed to the survival of our species. But we don’t need gobs of it, you argue. Sure. But I would also argue (with supportive evidence) that if we simply allowed ourselves to eat it, we would eat only what we wanted (and not feel powerless around it), develop resilience in the face of hyper-palatable foods, and learn how to balance it with other foods.

The fruit was never the problem; it was the fact that it was forbidden

“But I’m addicted to sugar!”: Food Addiction Theory

Once upon a time, someone — let’s call her Eve, since we’re already there — mentioned she was addicted to sugar. “I can’t resist the apple,” she said. Okay, so she didn’t actually say that, but let’s pretend a donut is an apple is a donut. While the food addiction theory claims “excessive consumption of palatable foods may be understood within the same neurobiological framework as drug addiction”, this isn’t actually all that helpful. 

Of course it would appear this way on the surface, but you could also say we’re only repeating the pattern you’d expect from us — the same one we learned in childhood (see: baby and breast milk). The same one that keeps us alive. As Linda Bacon explains in Health at Every Size, the more we restrict food intake and the lower our weight dips below set-point, the more our bodies reach out for hyper-caloric foods to gain the weight back. I would argue it's less addiction and more straight-up physiology. 

In Obesity Reviews (14 - 19-28), the question of whether food addiction theory is a valid or useful concept was evaluated by researchers. Food addiction, according to them, “has acquired much currency with relatively little supporting evidence. Despite continuing uncertainty about the concept and relative lack of support, it has remarkable, and in our view, unjustified, influence in developing neurobiological models of obesity."

We Need Sugar Detoxes...Because Sugar Detoxes Exist

The intuitive eating model advocates that all foods fit — including sugar. By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat, challenging the food police, making peace with food, and honouring our hunger and fullness cues (including ‘taste hunger’, ‘meal hunger’, and ‘snack hunger’), we can cultivate a healthy relationship with food. 

This particular article (the one from the European Journal of Nutrition) found “little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar (emphasis mine). These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar”. 

So let’s unpack this a bit. 

Say we have two situations. 

Betty Anne deprives herself of sugar, though she wouldn’t describe it this way. She’d probably say things like, “I don’t keep sweets in the house” or “I shouldn’t” in response to a cookie, or she uses artificial sweeteners and always opts for diet soda. She feels “out of control” whenever she’s around sugar and has concluded that she is addicted. 

Keiko eats whatever she wants, including cookies, candy, and pastries. She looks forward to sitting down with a croissant and a coffee on a Saturday morning, having a cookie with her mid-afternoon cup of tea, and a great glass of lemonade. 

Keiko eats sugar. Maybe she eats sweet foods often. Who knows? What we do know is that Keiko doesn’t feel like she needs a “sugar detox.” She doesn’t view sugar as a problem needing to be solved; she views sweets as a beautiful and amazing part of life. She can take a cookie or leave it. She can enjoy a croissant or a soft-boiled egg. It's just one choice among millions of choices she'll make during the course of her lifetime. 

Betty Anne is another story. She feels like she has a problem with sugar because whenever she gets around it, she loses “control”, or what I prefer to call “choice.” She probably assumes there’s something wrong with sugar, though more likely she assumes there’s something wrong with herself. The one thing she probably hasn’t considered is that there’s something wrong with her pattern of behaviour

Keiko enjoys sugar regularly without emotional or physical restriction. Betty Anne restricts. In the article, the rats wanted more sugar because they were deprived of sugar (intermittent access) though the same couldn’t be said of the rats who carried an all-access pass

Which kid eats more cookies: the one who’s told to eat as many as s/he/their wants, or the one who’s told not to eat any and is subsequently left alone with a jar? 

I’d like to suggest that the problem is not that sugar is a drug. The problem is that we treat sugar like a drug. The problem is not sugar. The problem is our relationship to sugar.  

We deprive ourselves of it, restrict it, shame ourselves for eating it, tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” when faced with a slice of cheesecake, deny dessert, and go on sugar detoxes. But the reason we “need” sugar detoxes is because we have sugar detoxes. Are we hardwired for hyper palatable foods? Sure. But the purpose of this mechanism is — rather, was — to ensure we consume sufficient calories for lean times. 

Maybe the answer rests in not denying or fighting this mechanism — a seemingly futile task — but in learning how to work with it. 

Imagine a faux Garden of Eden. There’s a single tree with one beautiful, perfect apple. I want you to imagine more trees popping up everywhere — the fields are filling. Everywhere, buds burst open, flowers emerge, and apples quickly form. Everywhere you look, there’s gorgeous apples. 

Now let’s apply this to sweets. Imagine a land filled with cookies, cakes, pastries, pie…all of your favourites. You can eat them whenever you want. Maybe you go a little nuts at first; it’s been so long since you’ve had these things. But after a while you tire of them. Maybe you eat a croissant on a Saturday. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you eat a mid-afternoon cookie. Maybe you work right through the break without realizing it. 

You can either restrict food and access to highly palatable foods…or you can create an environment of abundance — both mental and physical — vs. scarcity — both mental and physical — so that you feel safe and secure. 

Maybe the goal isn’t to deny our biology or to attempt to combat it. Maybe the goal isn’t to say no (which just leads to danger, danger, danger — eat all the sugar!). Maybe it’s to remind yourself you have unconditional permission to eat.