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Sugar addiction

Everywhere I look it seems that people are talking about sugar these days. Specifically, sugar’s evil powers: it is more addictive than cocaine, only 40g in a single serving makes a child’s immune system go offline, it destroys our teeth, makes our skin break out and possibly rots our brain, raising the risk of developing alzheimer’s-related dementia.

Sugar. How can it be that something that tastes so good can be so very, very bad for us?

little girl baking cookies

My family doesn’t eat a lot of sugar, but we do have it regularly. My kids get to eat their halloween candy, and they also get sweet treats from the Easter Bunny and in their Christmas stockings. Over the past few years I’ve been slowly moving away from the sweets and towards other kinds of treats for the holidays, and our holiday-related sugar consumption has been going down instead of up. In fact, there is still a bowl of Christmas candy sitting on the very top shelf in our kitchen. I feel good about the fact that we didn’t actually eat all the candy that came into our house in December.

Still, I’m concerned about sugar. I feel the need to eat something sweet every day, usually after the kids have gone to bed. I can resist sugar cravings throughout the day, but once the house is quiet I’m searching out the chocolate bars or rustling around in the bag of chocolate chips. Chocolate is actually a pretty powerful substance, neurobiologically speaking. Fat + sugar + salt work on the brain’s opiate receptors in the same way as morphine, actually reducing pain. Combine that with the dopamine hit of sugar addiction, and it’s a powerful substance indeed.

I thought about quitting sugar a week or two ago, just to see what it was like. For the challenge of it, maybe. But then there was birthday cake, and white chocolate scones, and that tired, I-just-want-a-hit-of-something-nice period in the evening that I just couldn’t get my head around. Needless to say, I haven’t given up sugar yet. But the fact that actively considering this idea brought up feelings of confusion, aversion to quitting and compulsively thinking about chocolate means that there’s probably something there.

At the same time, I’m not binging on sugar every day. I’m the sugar-eating equivalent of someone who drinks a glass of wine or beer with dinner every night, but doesn’t down bottles of vodka every day. I’m a little bit hesitant to put our household on sugar-lockdown – what about the rebound effect, where forbidden items gain astronomical allure? I know that for at least one of our children, totally eliminating sugar from the family diet would be a Really Big Deal, most likely invoking a great deal of conflict and stress for a considerable amount of time. I don’t know. I have no answers yet, no clear idea of what, if anything, I am going to do. But I’m sure thinking about sugar a lot these days.

What is your family’s stance on sugar? Are you actively working to reduce or eliminate sugar, or do you happily consume sugar every day without worrying about it? I’m curious about where other families are at with this.

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Stefani February 18, 2014, 6:07 pm

    We have very few sweets at home. Went went Paleo/Primal last summer, so I rarely buy treats for our house (except for holidays and the like). But, when kids are at someone else’s house, at school, etc. we don’t worry about their consumption. Since the kids don’t go shopping with me, it’s easier to resist their pleas. They don’t complain too much anymore now that they’re used to how we eat at home.

    • michelle February 20, 2014, 9:48 pm

      shopping without the kids sounds like the way to go! something to consider, for sure. :)

  • erin February 19, 2014, 12:14 am

    mostly we have eliminated sugar, over years gradually and we stick to the rule, don’t buy it, don’t supply it. we let relatives know not to gift it. we are clear and they get it. no apologies. we have sugar sensitivities in our extended family (diabetes Type 2 and alcoholism …both sugar metabolism imbalances), so i am okay with limiting it.

    to help with cravings, exercise, exercise, exercise! and lots of balanced B vitamins, and magnesium (which your body might be asking for by craving chocolate) BTW, i do love a square of extra dark low sugar chocolate too, as do my boys. but for holidays they get zero halloween candy, (we throw it all out, yep!) one chocolate santa in their stocking, maybe 2 oz size, and one small dark chocolate bunny at easter. i think our culture says “more is better” but you can define what is enough in your own family setting.

    and we don’t but packaged foods so the extra added sugar is another nasty to work out of the diet, over time. i also work these discussions into our daily rounds, inviting them to think about the corporate ‘big sugar’ and how it cares not about anyone’s well being, and do we want to support unkindness in business that way? learning at home is great for these discussions without the peer influences!

    • michelle February 20, 2014, 9:47 pm

      thanks for your comment, Erin! I think gradually is probably the easier approach than cold turkey. We’re kind of on that path already, I guess.

      I feel a little bit like once my kids get to a certain age and the expectation around candy-centric holidays has been set, there will be a great deal of resistance to cutting back. I’m curious about the magnesium though, since I already exercise a fair bit and still experience the evening sugar cravings.

      It’s funny, I have this resistance to going totally sugar free (thinking that the kids will rebel, have expectations already, etc) except that we’re totally TV free and I have zero qualms about that. I agree that learning at home takes a lot of the peer pressure out of the equation, which makes these kind of choices much easier for parents to make. I think the next step is to do a bit of learning together around where sugar comes from, who participates in that and what “corporate big sugar” actually means. Should be interesting!

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