Two common reasons you feel you’re addicted to sugar and what you can do about it

In my 15 years practising as a dietitian, one of the most common things I hear people say is; “I can’t stop at just one.” While some people have a very complex relationship with certain food that goes beyond the scope of this piece, the majority of people I see discover they can stop at just one and that they are not addicted to sugar when they address the following issues.

Issue 1. Being hungry and simply needing to eat.

When your body needs food energy (aka calories), your brain releases a chemical that tells you to look for food – usually something with carbohydrate – as this is your brain’s preferred food choice. This is a basic biological need, as powerful as the need to breath and sleep.

If you haven’t eaten enough at lunch or breakfast (or you skipped one of them), you’re going to need even more fuel (calories) by the afternoon. While some people will notice they are hungry, others won’t and I’ll talk about later. When it’s time for your afternoon break, if you plan on a sweet biscuit or two, but always find yourself eating much more, this is because your body actually needs more food energy than can be obtained from a couple of sweet biscuits. This real need for food energy (calories) drives you to eat much more of the food than you intended. When this happens, you might mistakenly think it’s because sugar is somehow “addictive”, when in reality you just needed more to eat.

In my clinic, one of the most common presentations I see is people not eating enough during the day, very often they are not even aware they are not eating enough. In most cases, once people start eating more, their sugar cravings reduce significantly or disappear completely. In time, these people are able to enjoy sweet foods in smaller amounts, a block of chocolate can last all week in the fridge and the unopened packet of Tim Tams doesn’t disappear within a day.

Given this seems like such a simple “cure” for “sugar addiction”, why aren’t we just advising people to make sure they eat enough?

intuitive eating dietitian


Answer: Almost everything we are taught about managing our health – be that through various health/medical professions, media and diet culture – revolves around eating less, or restricting food, often with a goal to lose weight. When people are restricting food and actively eating less, our culture validates this with messages that we are being good, are disciplined and even comments like “I wish I could be more like you”. If weight loss also occurs, the food restriction is further validated with comments around how great a person looks. This validation happens regardless of the very real fact that behind the scenes, at some point in time, many of these people may be feeling out of control around food in certain situations, experiencing heightened comfort eating, binge eating and/or being preoccupied with thoughts about food and weight to the point of what can feel like obsession. This validation also occurs despite the food restriction or weight loss usually only being short term, often less than a year (for the record, short-term is anything less than 5 years).

Given this, it’s understandable why so many people end up under-eating. When your energy intake is low and blood sugar drops, it makes sense your brain wants you to eat high-energy food (often food high in sugar and fat) as this will replenish your fuel more quickly. In understanding that under-eating is a key driver of over-eating, it starts to make sense as to why so many people feel they are addicted to food and especially sugary food. After all, if you were deprived of air to breath, you would suddenly have a strong desire to get more air and when you found that air, you would be gulping it down.

I mentioned earlier that not everybody will recognise their physical hunger, this disconnect with appetite can occur as a result of dieting (or any form of restricting food to lose weight), disordered or chaotic eating patterns or just not paying attention to the body and is very common in our busy chaotic lives. If you feel addicted to sugar, or struggle with food cravings and over-eating, a useful first step is to practise getting back in tune with your appetite cues. You can do this through a process called intuitive eating, an approach that takes the focus of restricting food or calories and importantly, takes the focus off weight loss. While some will find this fairly straight forward, many will find it challenging and may need help from a practitioner experienced in this field.


A side note:
Diet culture and the associated “wellness industry” drives sugar addiction and then sells us the “solution” in the form of various diets or “healthy lifestyle programs” that for many people only serve to compound the feeling of addiction… Such programs include “I quit sugar”, “keto”, “whole 30”, “Paleo” to name just a few. I want to be clear that I am not saying these patterns of eating are wrong for everybody, if you are someone, or know someone, who eats this way and has truly benefitted long-term, then I have no issue. What I take issue with is how these programs or patterns of eating target everybody and for many people they are not the solution and long-term these people find themselves feeling even more “addicted” to sugar or experiencing more intense bingeing behaviour and feelings of guilt and shame.

 

Issue 2: Restricting sweets and then finding yourself in the “last super effect” every time you eat something sweet.

The last supper effect is what many people experience when they make a decision to take action on their eating habits, be that starting a new diet or eating program, seeing a dietitian or to stop eating a particular food. In the hours leading up to the intended diet change, you find yourself eating lots of the food you plan to never eat again. The last supper effect can be so strong that many of clients experience it before seeing me even though they know I’m not going to put them on a diet or tell them to restrict. To quote something I read “scarcity makes us anxious and abundance allows us to feel calm.” The very idea that you might not be able to eat a certain food again, can make you feel anxious to the point of wanting to eat as much as possible before it’s too late.

Along with the last supper effect, the idea that you shouldn’t be eating a certain food, or not too much of it, can lead to a range of diet mentality thoughts including:

“I’ll just have this one and then I’ll be good tomorrow”

“I just finish this packet so it’s not in the house and then I’ll never buy it again!”

“I’ve stuffed it now, I may as well write off the rest off the rest of the day and I’ll be good tomorrow/start again on Monday.”

“It’s so delicious, I’m just gonna eat it all and then I’ll be careful tomorrow.”

The problem with this diet mentality is you end up eating more than you intended, often to point that any satisfaction you could have received from the eating experience is ruined by feeling uncomfortably full and/or beating yourself up over it. In addition, as I know you all know, there’s always another tomorrow.

The ability to eat food to the point of satisfaction where you don’t feel you’ve eaten too much, or to leave delicious food on your plate, often only become possible once you truly start to believe that you can eat that delicious food whenever you are hungry for it. While this can seem like an impossibility at first, learning how to rewire your brain to change the way you think about food will allow it to happen. Just as it’s normal human psychology to want more of we can’t have with things that bring us pleasure, if you were made to eat an entire block of chocolate everyday, you might start to resent having to eat chocolate. This is not to say chocolate can’t be enjoyed daily (I enjoy chocolate most days), but if eating a whole block makes you feel a little sickly afterward, would you want to do it as often? There may be someone reading this who feels they can eat a whole block of chocolate and not feel sickly or experience any mental anguish, and that’s fine, this blog is directed toward those who do feel a level of physical and/or mental discomfort.

In summary, if you feel are you addicted to sugar (or any other food) and you haven’t explored whether or not you’re eating enough (as mentioned many people don’t even realise) or explored the process of not restricting food and rewiring your brain to change diet mentality thoughts, then I urge you consider these processes. The intuitive eating approach I mentioned earlier can help you do this. On the other hand, if you feel are you addicted to sugar and simply avoiding it works for you without any downsides emotionally, mentally or socially, then I have no issue with your choice – but please don’t expect that this is right for everybody.

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When losing 9kg in 6 weeks is not healthy.


These are all things clients have told me happens to them when they do weight loss challenges.

You say no to social events as you’re worried about the calories in the food and drinks.

You stop visiting your friends and family as you’re worried you’ll lose control around the food on offer.

You find yourself obsessing over every calorie or macronutrient or you just think about food all the time.

You don’t quite drop the 9 kilos so you’d decide to reduce your calorie intake even further into starvation, putting even more stress on your body.

You feel faint or dizzy and/or struggle to concentrate, and in some cases, end up in hospital – yes this has happened to at least 2 people I’ve seen when doing an F45 challenge.

You feel more anxious than usual or feel you’re not coping with stressful situations as well you normally do.

You’re struggling with sleep or just feel tired/drained much the time.

You feel immense guilt if you eat outside of your plan or miss an exercise session.

Your muscles or body feel heavy when you exercise.

You feel terrible about yourself for not losing enough weight.

Not only is this clearly adversely affecting your mental health, but this type of dieting puts the body under physical stress, raising cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Both psychological and physical stress, have been shown to promote weight gain, and have been linked with many adverse health outcomes such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and impaired immune functioning.

If you can relate to any of the above points, I urge you to really think about whether or not the program/challenge you may be undertaking is in your best interest. If you are confused about what is safe for you to do, our dietitians are happy to have a brief chat with you about an alternative way to approach your health before making an appointment. Please contact us through the booking enquiry form.

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What if you didn’t need to lose weight?

The common assumption (or common wisdom) is losing weight will make you healthier, that if your BMI is above 25, you need to lose weight to manage your health. These assumptions are so strong that they prevail despite lack of evidence that pursing weight loss improves long-term health, largely because not enough people have lost weight and kept it off long enough to test this theory.

The strength of this common wisdom may also explain why most people overlook the fact that weight is not a behaviour. Take a moment to let that sink in – WEIGHT IS NOT A BEHAVIOUR. The way in which people can influence their health, is through behaviours. Focusing on weight distracts from the actual behaviour change and the weight loss often takes the credit for health improvements when it was actually the changes to lifestyle, diet, activity, mental health etc that should take the limelight. In short, we really need to stop focusing on weight when it comes to health.

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You may ask, given this lack of evidence, how has this common assumption become so pervasive? Here are some of the reasons why…

  • Our culture’s strong weight bias – we live in culture that has been deeply conditioned to believe fat is bad and unhealthy, a culture that wrongly equates thinness with worthiness, attractiveness, success, health and happiness.
    .
  • Our culture’s weight stigma – people in bigger bodies are constantly being judged as doing something wrong, having a body that is wrong, being lazy, incompetent and unhealthy.
    .
  • The persistent public health (or more accurately, public shaming) messages that fat is bad and being “obese” is deadly
    .
  • The continual advertising of weight loss solutions, weight loss products, body transformations and surgery
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  • Doctors and other health professionals advising weight loss as necessary for almost any condition. Being weighed at the doctor and told you need to lose weight regardless of your health status.
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  • Being surrounded by people, often family and friends, deeply conditioned to this assumption and talking about the next diet they’re doing or how they’re losing weight

 

Given all these factors, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are unhappy with their bodies and desperate to lose weight, even people who don’t have any health issues or who may not even be considered fat by societal standards. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to lose weight, I’m hoping to acknowledge why this desire is understandable. I’m also not saying it’s wrong to lose weight, if through changing various health behaviours, your weight changes, then that is a side-effect your body is happy to have happen.

But what happens when changes in health behaviours, while perhaps improving indicators of health such as blood pressure or blood sugar, don’t result in the desired weight loss? Or what happens when the weight is regained, which it nearly always is. Do you keep up with the positive changes or do you feel it’s not “working”? Do you then give up altogether, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable? When this happens, people end up in the (sometimes lifelong) cycle of dieting or falling off the wagon, losing weight, then regaining the weight. 

What if despite taking better care of your health and doing all the “right” things, you still have high cholesterol or develop diabetes? Does this mean you still try to lose weight even when your body doesn’t appear to want to lose weight? Again, do you give up, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable?

It’s often after turning to something more drastic (see below), or years or yoyo dieting in an attempt to lose weight, that people hit rock bottom and come to see us (dietitians). Rarely has the drastic approach or long-term pursuit of weight loss improved health, in fact quite the opposite, often it’s worsened both physical and psychological health. If you are someone who has pursued weight loss, has this pursuit lead to an overall improvement in your health, be that mental health, emotional health, social health or physical health?

What do I mean by drastic? Anything that can’t be sustained or that interferes with daily life, including;

  • Completely cutting carbs or any other other food type from your diet
  • A diet with specific rules that interferes with eating out, eating with others, holidays or just enjoying food
  • Any sort of 9-12 week body transformation
  • Any program that promises rapid weight loss
  • Any program that leaves you feeling hungry or thinking about food all the time

Now if you can do any of these with ease and no interference to your enjoyment of life, then I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be doing them. I’m talking to the people who struggle with such restrictions – which, I think is fair to say, is most people.

So what can you do? See if you can pop your weight loss the goal on the back burner, this is often easier said than done and you may need help from a non-diet/HAES practitioner who doesn’t focus on weight loss or promise weight loss as an outcome. Instead, could you think about being kind to your body, perhaps moving it more in ways you enjoy and feeding it in ways that feel good both mentally and physically. Being kind to yourself and doing things you enjoy are also vital to health, when you actively dislike and hate on yourself, you are much less likely to treat your body well, be that with food, exercise or social interaction. If you feel you need help with this, please find a non-diet/HAES practitioner, be that a therapist, dietitian or nutritionist. Or you can contact us to make an appointment today.

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
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The diet culture we live in has a very black and white way of thinking about food.

If you believe diet culture (and this includes the “wellness” industry), it seems food will either harm you or heal you. 

Food is seen as either good or bad which often then translates to “I’ve been good or bad”. This is simply not true and can be highly problematic as I talk about in this blog.

This way of thinking (we call it diet mentality) – which is sadly very common – really limits our brains capacity to reflect and to be flexible.

non diet dietitian Melbourne

As one participant explained at our latest workshop, she didn’t realise there were other options, for her it was either a matter of expecting to feel good about oneself or bad about oneself based on the food choice. It was a matter of, “if want to be good, I better not order the chips”.

The black and white thinking that one should either feel “good” or “bad” based upon their food choice, meant choosing to eat a food seen as bad could only lead to feeling bad. As chips are often seen as “bad and fattening”, choosing to eat these meant feeling terrible about oneself no matter how delicious or satisfying they were.

It was a pleasant revelation when she heard different ways of thinking about food and how one might want to feel, such as…

“What do I feel like eating?”

“What will satisfy me?”

“What am I hungry for?”

“I want to enjoy the taste of the food”

“I want to be able to share this meal with my friends”

“I want this to be a really pleasurable experience.”

“Those hot chips look amazing, just the way I like them!”

What black and white thoughts do you have that limit your ability to reflect or be flexible with food? What happens when you do eat the food you label “bad”? How do you feel about yourself and how helpful is this with regard to taking better care of your health, both mental and physical? How does this type of thinking effect your relationship to food and your body?

If you would like to learn more about how problematic our diet culture/the “wellness” industry and diet mentality can be, please check out our ebook Nourish.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
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Are you caught up in diet culture?

It’s not until you step outside of diet culture that you realise you’ve been caught up in that very diet culture and how warped many people’s thinking has become around food.

Examples of diet culture…

Uber eats adds using language such as “this bad boy” and  “tonight I’ll be eating like nobody’s watching”.

Ready to eat meals that use words such as “clean”, “guilt-free” or that have 70/30 meal plans.

A remark from a woman to her partner in a Netflix series about cookies bought from a girl scout – “You’re taking those into work tomorrow so I don’t eat them all.”

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Bizarre combinations of expensive ingredients served in unusual ways that usually look beautiful, but are completely unrealistic and unnecessary for health.

A dog lead with candy stripe colouring called “sugar free” – yes this really does exist.

Much of the chatter at work around lunch is about the “health” of your food, what food you think “should” or “shouldn’t” be eating or what food trend you’re following.

When trusted GPs (doctors) advise people to cut out certain foods or food groups in order to lose weight when the nutrition research just isn’t there to support such advice.

When you find yourself, or hear someone else, justifying why they chose to eat something.

You just happen to feel like eating salad and others comment that you’re being good, or that must be how you stay the size you are.

When I tell people my business name email address over the phone and the most common comment is “l love my food too much”

You know your eating is too restricted and messing with your mind and health, yet your friends and family think your discipline is a great thing.

I will be exploring diet culture and diet mentality in our next workshop on Sunday 28th April. There are still a few places available, click link to find out more about the workshop and buy your ticket today! ($39) Challenging the myth that we have to avoid certain foods to be healthy

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

 

Donuts do not make people fat.

As many of my posts are, this post was inspired by a client this week who loves donuts but avoids eating them as she’s worried they will make her fatter. She was lamenting how she wasn’t able to enjoy freshly made donuts at a market with her friend, and how it was ok for her friend because she’s thin. My clients very typical diet mentality meant not only was she missing out on a key aspect of health (experiencing pleasure and connecting with friends), but it also meant she found herself over-eating whenever she ate sweets and thought she was “addicted” to sugar.

Donuts do not make people fat.

But thinking they will and restricting them, which can lead to over-eating (this goes for any food), may impact weight*. But it’s not the donut that is the problem or needs to change, it is the thinking which influences behaviour that needs to change.

 

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Not everyone who chooses to restrict certain food finds themselves feeling “addicted” to that food or over-eating it, but for many people, this is what happens. After all, it is human psychology to want what you can’t have and restriction can result in – as the sayings go – “the forbidden fruit effect”, “deprivation driving desire” and “the last supper effect”.

When a food is off limits it is more enticing (forbidden fruit effect) and when faced with the “forbidden” food people can experience the last supper effect – “This could be the last time so I’ll eat as much as can” – or – “I may as well have it all now and I’ll be good tomorrow”. Sound familiar?

Time and time again in my practice I see people discover that are able to enjoy their “problem” foods or “weaknesses” without going nuts and eating the whole lot and that they can leave certain food in the house without eating it all. In fact, a common scenario once people stop restricting and stop thinking about the food as a “weakness”, is they buy the food, enjoy a little and then forget it’s even there!

For many people, a tendency to over-eat certain food is driven by more than just restriction. Not eating enough during the day and altered emotional states are also key and very common drivers. All of these need to be addressed in order to foster a healthy relationship with food free from distress, guilt and shame. If you feel you need help with this, I urge you to seek help from a dietitian/nutritionist trained in the non-diet approach and who works within the Health At Every Size (HAES) paradigm.

*Note: weight changes are actually far more complex than just over-eating. If a person gains weight from appearing to over-eat, we massively over-simply the issue when just focusing on food. Again, working with a dietitian/nutritionist trained in the non-diet approach will allow you to explore this in more depth.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
.

Want to undertand how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Get a taste of what’s involved with with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne