Sugar: The Emotional Connection

When I first began low-glycemic eating (eating in a way that kept my blood sugar stable) in my 50’s, I was very excited.  My lifelong cravings for sugar largely disappeared, and I began to lose weight.  Wow!  I couldn’t believe that my years and years of craving sugar could be “cured” so easily!  I lost over twenty-pounds and had more energy than I’d had for a very long time.  I was “gung ho” and stuck to this new way of eating faithfully for about a year and a half.

I then began a slow drift back to sugar.  Some cookies here, a piece of cake there—my old sugary favorites began to creep back into my life.  It was a very slow creep, but also a steady one.  Eventually, I found myself back to my old way of eating and gaining weight.  What had happened?

I think what happened to me was perhaps what has happened to you a time or two.  You discover a new way of eating that moves you toward greater wellness and weight loss, and your enthusiasm and momentum propel you forward.  You are high on the fact that “this is working!” and it’s not really very difficult to stick with it.  But what finally started to kick in for me was the fact that I had never dealt with the underlying issue of my emotional connection to sugar.

Looking back, I’m not sure when my emotional dependence on sugar actually began.  Perhaps it was in my teens.  But at some point, sugar became my “happy place.”  Candy in particular became the thing that made everything better, if only for a little while.  Over the years sugar became more and more the way I’d escape how I was feeling—my “drug of choice,” if you will, to help me cope with life.  I didn’t know during those years what my candy binges and blood sugar spikes were doing to my cardiovascular system.  I didn’t know I was creating insulin resistance in my body.  I just knew I felt better with candy in my mouth and immediately afterwards.

Back to my 50’s.  Like a weed that was only whacked off at grass level, the desire to use sugar to numb myself to what I was feeling eventually surfaced again after my year and a half of successful low-glycemic eating. I had been able to suppress it for a while due to the tremendous excitement of seeing my physiological cravings go away and losing weight.  But since I had never really faced my emotional dependence on sugar, that piece of my story remained undealt with.  Eventually my desire to comfort myself with sugar tugged me back to sugar bingeing and weight gain.

But it also opened a new door in my life—a door that led to a deeper part of me that needed exploring.  What exactly was I feeling when I made those special trips to the store for candy?  Why could I not be peacefully present to my own emotions?  What was I afraid of feeling, and what did I need to escape in the moments I robotically grabbed for sugar?

I have found understanding my emotional attachment to sugar to be a very personal journey.  It involves my childhood, my relationships, my habits and my way of looking at the world.  I haven’t discovered a formula for untangling this part of myself, no quick and easy solution.  Becoming more aware of my emotions in the moment, conversations with others, great books and facing my fears one day at a time have all helped me move forward in this area.

In our journeys away from sugar, I believe both the physiological component and the emotional component need to be addressed.  They work together and reinforce each other, and there is an addictive element to both of them.  We may experience real success for a while in our efforts to ditch sugar when we change how we’re eating and move to a low-glycemic diet.  I don’t want to minimize that—it’s very important.  But eventually, because that large root of emotional attachment to sugar is still alive, it will begin to surface again.  And like a true weed, it can spread and take over the landscape.