On the GreenSmoothieGirl lecture tour of 450 U.S. cities, I was asked this, over and over:
How do I break my sugar addiction?
And I suspect that far more of us want to ask this question, relative to the few brave enough to say it out loud.
Because we all have Shame about our food addictions.
Shame Feeds Sugar Addiction
The most toxic and negatively charged human emotion is Shame.
Why am I capitalizing it? Because we have a lot of it, wrapped around the foods we vow, in the morning, to quit forever—the same food we secretly stuff in our mouths, in the afternoon and evening.
You’ve likely heard the story before about the dopamine cycle created by addictive foods.
So I’ll spare you. Knowing that you’re in the grip of a chemical, every day, every week, every year—doesn’t really help.
You’re also aware of the way sugar puts inches on your belly, causes your energy crash right when you need to productivity–and puts you at risk for cancer.
And blah, blah, blah.
It’s the Shame I’m more concerned about. Let’s just own it, shall we?
(If we don’t have a sugar addiction, we have a salt addiction. Some of us are unlucky enough to be obsessed with both sugary and salty.)
Both kinds of junk food come with high risks to our health—and even though we know all that, we’ve got a bag of Peanut M&M’s in the bottom drawer at work, or a box of powdered-sugar mini-donuts in our underwear drawer at home.
Where we put them says it all. They’re hidden. More often than not, we eat our sugary junk food when no one’s looking.
And as if the toxic food isn’t bad enough, then we emotionally beat ourselves up about it.
“I’m so self disciplined about other things—I work out, I have a successful career, I got a master’s degree, for crying out loud—why does sugar own me?”
And the self-loathing keeps the cycle going, with the Shame driving the sugar bingeing underground.
And we wake up the next morning, vowing to do better.
Break Your Sugar Addiction: My Sugar Bet
Several years ago, my dear friend Matthew Flinders and I took on a one-year Sugar Bet. It was a vow of sugar celibacy.
If one of us failed, we owed $10,000 to the other.
Before I tell you the outcome, I’ll share my ugly, humiliating moment–then later, I’ll share his.
(And ask his forgiveness after this post is published. Or just hope he doesn’t read it.)
We jointly set some rules that naturally sweet foods, like fruits, were legal.
But no birthday cake, donuts at the office, soda, no chemical sweeteners (like what’s in diet soda) were allowed—not even ketchup.
(Yep, ketchup is chock full of the worst kind of sugar, corn syrup.)
Six months into my year, feeling great, I was in Hawaii on a lecture tour, and my friend, Debbie, and I were doing a little window shopping in town. We stopped for lunch and both had a salad.
Then, the waiter asked if we wanted dessert, and Debbie ordered a brownie with hot fudge and ice cream. I declined, and had a moment of panic.
Here’s the problem: the only temptation trigger worse than a brownie, for this girl—is a brownie with hot fudge and vanilla ice cream.
My instinct told me to run. Debbie wouldn’t have minded. But my ego said, “Nah, you got this.”
As she began eating her dessert, Debbie, who had momentarily forgotten my vow, asked me if I wanted a bite.
A strange thing happened in my mind. This Big Fat Lie seemed completely rational, for as long as it took for me to grab a spoon:
“We’re in Hawaii. Coconuts are fruit. I mean, that’s probably coconut ice cream right there, right? The brownie could be sweetened with coconut sugar…which is kind of like fruit. I mean, I don’t know they AREN’T, so…I could plead ignorant?”
I picked up the extra spoon on the side of the plate, and took one delicious, gooey bite.
A sick feeling settled over me felt like a faraway memory I couldn’t quite place.
The next morning, I went for a run on the beach, and my guilt (and the panic that I really owed Matthew $10,000) swallowed me—unavoidable now–and I actually started crying, while I ran. To be honest, my shame, guilt, and dread at the conversation I had to have, when I got home, ruined the rest of my trip.
I realized that the déjà vu I had as I ate that one illegal bite reminded me of when I was five years old, and put a roll of Lifesavers in my pocket, shopping at a department store with my Dad.
In the car, I tried to eat one, but my guilty feelings wouldn’t let me swallow, and I literally choked, as the candy dissolved in my mouth.
My dad finally asked me what was wrong with me, why my face was red and I couldn’t speak, and was coughing.
And the confession came out, with a flood of tears. My dad took me into the store, to confess to the manager.
Now, at 42 years old, I had no excuse. I went home and gave Matthew $1,000 in cash, and asked him for mercy.
I asked him: Is there was any way I could continue the contest, giving him 10% of the big money I really owed, and I’ll pay the rest if I messed up again?
Days later, he came over to my house, told me he agreed to “mercy” me, and tried to give me the cash back. I refused to take it.
I was grateful for the do-over, and I won’t defend that I talked my way back into the bet. I really wanted to finish. And save face.
(I know, I suck. Followers of my blog told me so. You can comment and tell me so, AGAIN, if you want to. But that’s the story. That’s what happened.)
The year ended, both of us successful, and I was pretty proud. By that point in my life, I was a certifiable “health nut,” but my sugar addiction had dogged me since my earliest memory.
(After all, I was stealing Life Savers at five.)
The night after our bet ended, Matthew showed up on my porch to pick me up for Zumba. And showed me the four King Sized candy bar wrappers he had just eaten.
We’ve had a lot of laughs about that year, and the videos we made periodically, which are probably still on YouTube.
An interesting thing happened during those 12 months.
I can’t say I don’t ever eat sugar. Sometimes I do. But not very often. I can go days, and weeks, without it—and I don’t overdo, any more.
That year taught me that life is still sweet, without rewarding myself constantly with sugar.
But it doesn’t have to take you a year, or even a month to break your sugar addiction. You can beat a sugar addiction in as little as four days.
A Four-Day Sugar Challenge Even Kids Can Do
My children’s book, The Adventures of Junk Food Dude, is a story about two kids who come from very different homes. I’d like to read you a few pages.
The Green Smoothie Guy is an athlete, in 2nd grade, and is raised eating greens, vegetables, fruits—all the good stuff.
Junk Food Dude (whose real name is revealed later in the story) is his classmate who faces an all-too-common self-esteem-wrecker: childhood obesity.
This is the story of one-third of America’s children now.
But, while Junk Food Dude is routinely picked last for dodge ball, Green Smoothie Guy is kind, befriends him, and invites him to walk home with him after school.
They make some snacks, and Green Smoothie Guy proposes something interesting.
In this video, which you’re welcome to share with your kids, I read a few pages of the book, that explain a very hopeful and true principle.
Your body doesn’t actually want to be addicted to chemical substances. (Sugar resembles a chemical in every way, and evokes the same cascade of responses from the human body.)
And, when given a period of time as short as four days, sugar loses its chokehold.
On my lecture tour, I talked to many people who have never, in their lives, gone four whole days without processed sugar. I used to ask for a show of hands. And many had never done that.
But when I challenge you to ditch it for four days—remember, My Name is Robyn and I’m a Sugar Addict—you may be completely astonished that, for the first time in your life, you simply do not crave it, after that four days.
What You Can Expect When You Go Off Sugar
It’s a simple science experiment that will prove something interesting to you. And that is, you are stronger than you think.
You are actually innately drawn to the colors, textures, and flavors of real food. That is your genetic programming, and those natural, whole foods are what your ancestors ate for thousands of years.
You can’t discover this UNLESS you quit sugar for four days. (And I know you can. The first four days were much, much harder than the subsequent 361. Well, except that one day in Hawaii.)
But…it’s just four days.
Choose the days of the week you face the fewest temptations, and plan ahead with delicious, flavorful whole-food meals that will fill you and satisfy your taste buds.
Now, if you don’t find the sugar cravings completely disappearing after four days?
Whatever you do, don’t let Shame grab you by the throat. It serves no one. Behaviors driven underground flourish in the darkness. Say no to shame!
You’re no different from me—and I make a living telling people how to eat healthy.
It takes some people a little bit longer, if they have candida yeast overgrowth, or they eat higher than average amounts of sugar, or soda.
Sugar is more addictive than crack cocaine. Multiple studies have proven it.
But it’s actually quite amazing what four days off the “nice girl’s crack” will do, for your confidence level that, in fact, sugar does not own you, and you CAN break your sugar addiction.
So, take a listen to a few pages of a children’s book, and see if you’re up for the challenge. You’ve got this. Let me know how it went. I’m rooting for you.
— Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is a single mom of four salad-eating, adulting kids, and the author of The Adventures of Junk Food Dude, and Junk Food Dude’s Yummy Healthy Recipes, a great gift set (discounted when you get both books) for a cool kid you know. And hey, use FIVEOFF for a second discount!
Or, she has a FREE video masterclass you can sign up for here, to learn how she got herself, and her kids, off the Standard American Diet, to lose 70 pounds and ditch 21 diagnosed diseases.
Disclosure: This post may contain Affiliate links that help support the GSG mission without costing you extra. I recommend only companies and products that I use myself.