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Is Sugar Addiction Real?
It sounds like such an ugly word, doesn’t it? Yet most of have them. And when something controls us, it more or less takes front row in our life, ruling us.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything ruling me besides God. So the question becomes: how and why does some THING gain the upper hand in our lives?
Today I’ll take you inside.
Inside the mind of a recovering sugar addict.
By the way, I have six women who are in my inner home. You gotta read this post, “My Victorian House” to know what I mean by that.
Those women are my very dearest friends. Five of the six LOVE to talk about food and food plans and how to stay slender. However, talk of that sort drives ONE of them berserk. So if you hate food talk, this post is not for you!
However, if you love this kind of conversation, pull up a chair. Pour yourself another cup of coffee. Welcome to this table.
So. I have been married for 30 years. My husband Russ and I have eight children. As you can expect, most of my life has been spent pregnant or lactating and trying to get back into some semblance of shape.
I always followed the nutritional advice that made the most sense. I ate a balance of foods. I did the low fat thing.
Yet my weight and my cholesterol were always over the limit.
Then I started cutting out the white stuff, including flour and sugar. And low and behold, my weight and cholesterol became normal. For the first time. In decades. (My triglycerides went from 450 to 63.)
Guess what? Eating whole, clean foods creates a whole, clean person.
My only issue was sugar. I couldn’t get RID of it because it was like my bestie. It made me happy. I loved cheesecake and coffee, protein balls and such.
It seemed like my best life always involved some form of sugar.
Then in January of 2017 one of my best friends, Lori Pendergrass and I decided to eat Whole30, which cut out basically everything fun in life. We ate protein, veggies and some fruit.
The idea is to take out allergens for a month. And then they teach you to slowly add food categories back in, one by one. If you react to something, you know it’s not doing you any favors.
While doing Whole30 I felt awesome. Okay, that’s a lie. By about day TEN I felt awesome. The first week felt more like a hangover.
Through that experience, I discovered that sugar and flour were not my friends. I had known that about flour, but it was kind of sad to realize it about sugar.
I didn’t stop eating sugar fully, but mostly. (When I ate it, I would do this weird thing. I’d get irrationally angry at my kids. I think we all realized it at the same time and then THEY went on high alert to KEEP ALL SUGAR OUT OF MOM’S MOUTH.)
And that has mostly worked. However, in the past several months, this feeling has begun to emerge.
I see EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE eating sugar, enjoying sugar and surely it’s okay in smallish portions.
Then there’s the fact that I was raised by a mama, Bonnie Kreshel, from Wilber, Nebraska, that loved preparing fantastic foods for her family. She would make nine loaves of French Bread at a time. (I am one of eleven kids.) I can still recall the counter FILLED with hot bread.
I LOVE MY MOTHER.
Pies and desserts are easily thought of as love in my head and I want to love my family in the same way.
Plus my husband LOVES desserts. He has a huge sweet tooth and feels totally loved when I make him a little something.
So, easily, there is this massive war within.
I GET what sugar does to me. Yet in the core of Lori, I think it’s love. So it messes with this internal dialogue.
Living in the Doerneman home is a little like being on a roller coaster, depending on Mama Lori’s thought life. It’s like, “Oh, here’s some ice cream...oh my stars, that’s bad for you...here, have a carrot.”
It’s just stupid. I am not sure how to feed myself and even though I know, without a doubt, how bad sugar is for the human body, I still want to give it to my family.
I want them to enjoy it. Because it’s love.
In September of this year I decided to just really focus on me and working on gaining more freedom in my thought life. The whole goal is freedom, you know? That’s what we do in The Parenting Dare. We help families avoid addiction, specifically addiction to pornography.
Thinking about FOOD and constantly buying into another food plan/routine was not freedom to me.
I found two books to support me on this journey, both by Gwen Shamblin, “The Weigh Down Diet” and “Rise Above.” (The Catholic version of this method is Susan Fowler’s The Light Weigh.)
As I read Gwen, I realized that all of the diet plans and methods of trying to stay on top of my weight had more or less become my savior. Gwen was like, “Girl, get rid of the plans and turn to Jesus.”
And I was like, “Okay.”
I waited on hunger. I stopped eating when I was full. (WOWSA, I ate waaaay less than normal! It was crazy how soon “full” was experienced!)
It was a new vista. Relying on my body felt good and right and true.
But Gwen kept saying Loud and Clear that I could eat ANYTHING, that all food was good. I thought to myself, “Um, no, I probably cannot eat sugar,” but she kept saying things like, “God made everything for our enjoyment.”
She said I could have real freedom in food, just eat half the amount, listen to your body signals. Your BODY can lead you to the promised land of real freedom. Just listen to it.
Gwen Shamblin is a dear. She loves God. And I appreciate and admire her.
But the truth of Lori Doerneman’s life: sugar is NOT good for me. It’s a physically addicting, mind-altering chemical.
This is how it started: In October I had a donut. And some cheesecake. Bits and pieces of sugar, here and there.
And then Monday of this week happened. I ate a Milky Way. Because, well, Halloween.
It’s been a hot minute since I ate a Milky Way. It was super luscious, creamy, intensely sweet.
Then I dug in the candy bags and found my childhood sweetheart, Almond Joy. The combination of coconut, chocolate and almond was fabulous. I was like, “Oh, hey, I missed you, little fella!”
So I ate one.
And then another.
In about fifteen minutes, I was overtaken by a NEED.
I needed sugar. Any sugar would do.You know that one Scripture in Romans, where Paul says something like,
What I do, I do not understand.
For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate?
Well, I don’t know if you know this or not, but he had a Milky Way in one hand and an Almond Joy in the other when he said that.
Those candy bars started a cascade of CRAVING within me, a deluge of desire and drive and emotion that I had not felt for about a year a half, since I’ve been away from sugar.
Monday was a really painful day of being in a place of absolute no control. I was trying to use my normal methods of sanity; I tried thinking about Scripture. I wanted to cry out to God. But another part of me, a much louder part, just wanted to go to Sonic and get a damn malt.
The desire for sugar overrode any and all good intentions. I could not stop. And I did not want to stop. It scared the crap out of me on all of these different levels.
I handled it by eating whipped cream out of the container.
I added another mini candy bar.
I tried to write. I tried to calm myself but all I experienced was MORE.
It was odd, because from all of my research and understanding on addiction, I recognized everything that was happening.
Yet I couldn’t stop it.
I knew that my life would be totally complete if I could just get myself a hot fudge malt.
My son Matthew came home from work and I told him, “Matt, I am craving a malt from Sonic. I need one.”
And he calmly replied, “And I really want to touch myself.”
Any other of my children would have replied, “Okay, let’s go, I’ll drive!”
But Matthew said the one sentence that was key to me, the one thing that was able to stop the crazy train. Because I am always thinking about teenagers and their temptations. In the midst of that temptation to watch porn and masturbate, is there something they can do to overcome it? Is there something to get them back to safety once the drive has kicked in and the cycle has started?
So, with Matthew’s words echoing in my head, I stopped the behavior. Or rather, I stepped back from it. It was still an active, full force craving, begging to seduce me, but at least I could look at it objectively.
It was like I was looking at an old friend that had stabbed me in the back before, so I didn’t have a lot of trust for that friend and I was able to just observe that friend. I was able to acknowledge how deceiving and treacherous this friend was.
So I just observed all that was going on within me with an almost healthy disdain I guess you could say.
By then it was after school, the four kids were home. Malaysia, my 16-year, made some lasagna for supper. I had to take my 8th grader to basketball practice so even though the lasagna was not done, I scooped out some of the sauce and cheese. Well, the sauce was still 400 degrees and it scalded my entire mouth….and throat. And probably stomach.
Guess what? Food.is.not.for.scarfing. If you scarf, it will burn you. That was another lesson in itself. Lori, if you are going to eat, make it a beautiful, intentional experience.
Okay. So I drove to St. Peter’s Parish/Gym, which is ten miles from us to get my son to basketball. I decided to just wait there for him. While I waited I read parts of Kay Sheppard’s book, “Food Addiction, The Body Knows” and it finally made sense to me. (Every other time I read her book, I poo poo’ed most of her advice.)
Those innocent-looking candy bars had triggered an avalanche. Kay called it a COMPULSION, where I simply could not stop my behavior. I didn’t want to.
“Compulsion or loss of control is the inability to stop eating after one bite of binge food.”
The only path to freedom is abstinence from the trigger foods of flour and sugar. Yes, flour (in all its forms) trigger me.
This sounds dire. Nope. It sounds like relief. I tried eating ANYTHING for six weeks and letting my body tell me when I was hungry/full. And I realized that not all foods are safe for me.
I love allowing my body to tell me what it is hungry and eating until I am full. I love that. But for me, it must also bring about freedom.
This is more than food. It’s about personal integrity. That’s what I lost on Monday. My sense of self. I FELT the direct correlation between what was happening to me physically and my level of self-esteem.
So this week I have spent time with my Jesus (He told me in Ephesians 6:10 to draw my strength from Him and His Mighty Power) and talked with three of my best friends.
The inner warrior is back.
Truth time: I actually love experiencing terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days because they usually give me a gift that I couldn’t have received otherwise.
Okay, if you struggle with sugar addiction and you want freedom, here’s the plain truth: it takes 3-10 days to get through the withdrawal. Throw the Halloween candy away. You can do it. Or give some to your kids and throw the rest away.
Make a list of your trigger foods, those that make you say, “More,” even when you are not hungry.
I want freedom. I want a balanced brain. Eating anything, even in small portions, keeps me in slavery to self, keeps me feeling like an addict.
(My definition of addiction: high level of anticipation, low levels of satisfaction plus guilt/shame.)
God is reliable and He is timeless. But just as freedom from pornography addiction is NOT only spiritual, food addiction has a physical/psychological component. And it is up to me to learn about them and arrange my life to support real freedom.
I love the last two steps. Real Freedom comes when I can look at food for what it really is: nourishment. And I can build my best life. I can spend my time and energy:
For two years my son Eric and I have been researching addiction. What I didn’t expect is how that research would bring me face to face with my own addictive behaviors!
Through my work with The Parenting Dare, I have been given the courage to see, understand and own ALL OF MY behaviors. I hope this post has been helpful to you. I’d love to hear your personal response to this blog/podcast if you have one.
Please share at email@example.com.
Next week I will share WHY sugar takes away our motivation. There’s a huge hormonal component that you will love hearing about. See you then.
P.S. If you have a daughter, join me in our free online course, The Daughter Dare, designed to celebrate your relationship. Appropriate for moms with daughters between the ages of 6-16.
Here are all books I mentioned throughout today's post:
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I'm Lori Doerneman
Wife. Mom. Catholic.
Idealist with 8 kids,
keeping it real.
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