Tuesday, January 13, 2009


This morning on my way into work I was listening to a podcast interview with Dr Scott Olson, author of Sugarettes. The premise of his book is an analogy between the addictive qualities of sugar and cigarettes. He encourages us to think of sugar (and other things that go into your system the same way, such as most carbohydrates) as addictive. I haven't read his book, but based on the interview, I couldn't agree with him more.

When I was 13, my parents and I met with a nutritionist and were put on diabetic diets, with the mandate to cut out white flour and white sugar and to eat within the diabetic exchange system. The premise behind this particular nutritional approach was that refined sugar goes into your system and reacts the same way as alcohol. So does refined flour. Your body becomes used to that influx and begins to crave it, which is why you go through withdrawal when you stop eating it. At least I do. When I have been eating a lot of refined carbs and then I cut them out, I feel headachey and awful for a day or two, but then I come out the other side feeling a million times better than when I was eating the refined carbs.

Dr. Olson mentioned a mouse study where they fed the mice diets highly based on sugar and then removed the sugar from the diets (I'm sure he mentions it in his book too and there is probably a cite there). The mice exhibited increased aggressiveness, trembling and other signs of withdrawal for a short period. After the withdrawal period, they were fine. However, and this is what is key for me I think, when they reintroduced sugar to the diets, the mice completely binged, much as someone who is a sober alcoholic falls off the wagon hard when he or she drinks again. That sounds so familiar. If I limit myself to a little bit of sugar very occasionally, then I can keep my intake under control. However, as I just demonstrated in the final months of 2008, when I give myself license to eat what I want, I overindulge and wind up gaining weight, feeling awful, and exactly where I was before I started limiting my carbs.

Basically, I understand where the mice are coming from and I think it's interesting that the biological craving never really goes away, it's just a matter of being in control of it.


kip said...

That's interesting. My father's been a recovering alcoholic for about 8 years now and he's replaced alcohol with sugar, which I hear is very common. (His nightly routine involves downing an insane amount of ice cream. Of course, I guess you can afford to do that when you train for and run like 6 marathons a year.)

Kelly said...

Similarly, I've seen people who are recovering from eating disorders become avid smokers and coffee junkies.