Reader Question: Sugar Blues
Like heroin, cocaine and caffeine, sugar is an addictive, destructive drug,
yet we consume it daily in everything from cigarettes to bread.
-William Dufty, author of Sugar Blues
Reader Question: I currently struggle with wanting sugar. This particularly has increased since the loss of my partner in late November. (I think I’m missing the “sweetness” of life…) – Sugar Blues
Dear Sugar Blues,
I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your partner, but know that what you are experiencing is not unusual. I had the same problem when I lost my father to cancer a few years ago. Eating carbohydrates, especially sugar, increases the level of two neurotransmitters important in mood regulation: serotonin and dopamine. Thus, eating sugar can make us feel better when we’re feeling a little sad or lonely. That being said, eating sugar doesn’t solve the problem, and as an addictive substance, the more we eat sugar, the more we want it.
So what should you do? I think we need to focus on two issues here:
1) your body’s addiction to sugar
2) using sugar as a coping mechanism.
First off I want to say that you are not alone. We all crave sugar sometimes. A sugar craving is often just the body’s way of asking for energy. So if you haven’t eaten all day, you’ll be more likely to crave sugar because you (and your body) know that it’s a fast-acting energy source. So the first thing I would do is to make sure you are eating healthy food throughout the day so your energy levels stay up.
Next we need to distinguish between different types of sugars. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that occurs naturally in foods such as grains, beans, vegetables and fruit. When unprocessed, sugar contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and proteins. Refined table sugar, also called sucrose, is different. Extracted from either sugar cane or beets, it lacks vitamins, minerals and fiber. Because it has nothing to slow down it’s digestion (like fiber), it enters swiftly into the bloodstream and wreaks havoc on our blood sugar level, causing our moods to fly high and then go really low. So one way to deal with your sugar cravings would be to focus on eating more whole foods containing sugar (e.g., apples, brown rice, carrots, sweet potatoes, small amounts of honey or agave nectar) than processed foods that contained refined sugar (e.g., cake, cookies). That should help you “come off of” your addiction to sugar without the often associated withdrawal symptoms (e.g., headaches, mood swings).
Now, let’s move onto the next topic. Coping. Most of us, myself included, learn from a pretty early age that food=comfort. In my household growing up, sweets=comfort. So what do I turn to now when I am having a bad day? Chocolate. I try to justify it to myself by saying I only eat the good stuff (100% cocao with no added sugar), but it’s still chocolate and it still is not actually solving my problem.
You miss your loved one. I can sympathize. I miss my Dad a lot. Coping with the loss of a loved one is often a powerful, gut-wrenching process. Sometimes it seems like you’ll never be “done” with your grief. Certain times of the year are very difficult for me – my Dad’s birthday, Christmas, Halloween (he died a few days before Halloween).
So how do you cope effectively without turning to sweets? Figure out what it is that you actually want. Someone to talk to? Someone you’ll make you laugh? A good cry? All of the above. I am guessing that you may miss your partner’s companionship. I am not saying that you should try to replace that with someone else, but if there is something new you can find to do that helps fill that void, it might be worth investigating. Can you go out with friends once a month? Join a book club? Take up a new hobby?
My husband and I lost our dog and my father-in-law in the same weekend six months after my father died (it was a really bad year for us). It has been very enlightening to watch how we and our moms have coped with all of this loss. My mom has thrown herself into her artwork as a way to get her emotions out. My mother-in-law has become a social butterfly – taking yoga, tai chi, joining a new church. I have thrown myself into writing and my new business. The bottom line is we all find ways to cope with loss – some are healthier than others. What we need to do for you is to help you find a healthier way to get those emotions out than by turning to food. Can you think of anything you can do that would bring you joy right now? Do that, and allow yourself time to cope and grieve. It does take time, but in the long run making healthier choices in dealing with your grief should make you happier and help you deal better with whatever life throws at you.
I hope this has helped. Please let me know if you have any other questions or if there is anything else I can do to help you in your time of grief. Remember that you are never alone.