Do you find yourself frequently thinking about or wanting sweets?
Do you feel obligated to finish a whole bag of chips or package of cookies once you start?
Do you eat more than you want to?
Do you ever feel bad about yourself after eating something?

Confessions of an Ex-Sugar Fiend

Most of us are familiar with food addiction, which is just as real as addiction to cigarettes, cocaine, and alcohol.

Mine started in residency. First it was sugar. Then caffeine. I was driven by stress, fatigue, and the need for quick “food” and comfort in the face of long, grueling work hours. It started with the occasional Dunkin’ Munchkin that was ubiquitously available at morning meetings after overnights awake caring for sick patients in the cardiac ICU. I became fond of the chocolate ones.

I quickly progressed to peanut M&Ms – surely a gateway drug for many of us – because the combination of fat, protein, and sugar kept me awake and staved off hunger overnight. Energy bars fit in there now and then. And those little 100-calorie cookie packages stashed easily in my white coat pocket next to my stethoscope and patient notes. Pretty soon anything with sugar and fat was fair game and if it had salt that was even better. Junk stashes were available at pretty much every nurse’s station, staff meeting, and in resident conference rooms. The really nice nurses brought in homemade brownies and cookies and gave us first dibs before morning rounds.

I drew the limit at soft drinks and artificial colors and flavors. Well, except for the M&Ms.

About halfway into my first year of residency I started drinking coffee in the middle of the night. Just a half cup – so I could make it through the night and until noon the next day, taking care of patients, writing careful medical notes, and presenting patients on rounds until that 30-hour shift ended. I really hate the taste of coffee but I am super caffeine sensitive so it’s a great “drug” for me. To circumvent the taste I added sugar and a small amount of milk.

I gained 8 pounds in that year – all around my waist – and got sick more times than I had cumulatively in the decade prior. My periods became irregular with intense sugar cravings and PMS prior to them (how do you spell cranky and bitchy?) and for the first time in my life, during one particularly coffee-heavy month of frequent overnights on the oncology ICU where pagers go off three times a minute, I had menstrual cramps. I slept poorly even on my nights off, and in my early 40s got some zits.

On my days off I craved a muffin for breakfast instead of my previously typical healthy fare of a natural foods, protein-rich breakfast, and I wanted sweets every day – usually in the mid to late afternoon. Even when I didn’t eat them, I thought of them. And I started to really love lattes. In spite of 30 years of living and teaching a healthy lifestyle, becoming a doctor turned me into a sugar fiend! Ah, the ironies of the medical system. It takes healthy people and makes us sick at all points of entry!

An Unexpected Detox

Everything changed when I went to Haiti to practice medicine for a month. I don’t mean to sound glib or insensitive, given the poverty and attendant starvation in that country (please read my blogs about my experiences there), but I sometimes think of that month as my Haiti detox. I lost those 8 pounds, completely stopped craving sugar and carbs, slept easily for the first time in over a year in spite of being on a crinkly cot under mosquito netting in a malaria-ridden country, and came back home physically refreshed in spite of a grueling month of providing high-risk obstetric and general medical care in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

During that month food was sparse and simple, with only a rare sweet available when a visiting medical team came down to provide services and brought a bag of M+Ms or mini-Snickers bars to share. These were always completely scarfed up by sugar- deprived Americans within an hour of being opened because everyone wanted a taste break from the peanut butter on cardboard-dry white toast, chicken, goat, grapefruit and over-cooked cabbage and onions that constituted breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

In addition to lack of availability of non-food junk (I refuse to call that stuff junk food ‘cause it ain’t food), I shared a limited amount of food with a large number of people at every meal so portions were modest (though it was amazing how much some people managed to heap on their plates – a testament to what Americans think is a portion size). Meals were served at regular times, and I had only nuts as a snack in between. I went to bed at ten and woke up with the roosters (really, there were roosters everywhere) at 6:30 each morning. I was physically active and loved what I was doing. I also remembered to slow down and be grateful for every bite of food I had. Because as really awful as the food was from a culinary perspective, I still had food while most of my patients, and the people in the entire country ate less than 2 meals most days of their lives. I worked hard but life had a rhythm, my schedule was in balance with nature, and I was filled with purpose.

Nearly immediately upon my return home I was served a muffin from a local bakery. I actually spit my first bite out into my napkin – the taste was so unbearably sweet I couldn’t tolerate it. I couldn’t eat any sugar for about 6 months after my return. I had developed a sugar addiction in residency and it was cured. I also had renewed mindfulness about eating and a new level of food gratitude. However, eventually the prevalence of sugar in my environment and the stress began to creep back in –  so I then had to consciously and intentionally say NO, and maintain healthy lifestyle habits that prevented the addiction and cravings from starting up again.

My experience points out two simple truths:

Stress leads to food addictions and our food environments perpetuate them.

Victims of Addiction

Did I say we are victims? Yes. I used that term deliberately.

Let’s take a closer look at this. Here are some of the characteristics of an addiction:

1. Obsession with (constantly thinks of) the object, activity, or substance

2. Seeking out or engaging in the behavior even though it is causing harm (physical problems, poor work or study performance)

3. Compulsively engaging in the activity, that is, doing it over and over even if you don’t want to and finding it difficult to stop

4. Upon cessation of the activity, withdrawal symptoms often occur. These can include irritability, craving, restlessness or depression.

5. Lack of sense of control as to when, how long, or how much the behavior will continue  (Ate 10 cookies when she only wanted one, “Can’t stop”.)

6. Denying problems resulting from engagement in the behavior

7. Depression about the behavior

8. Low self-esteem associated with the behavior and anxiety over the perceived lack of control

Any of these strike a familiar chord?

BIG FOOD is no dummy. Entire research and development teams at major BIG FOOD companies thrive on creating non-food junk with just the right amount of sugar, salt, or fat (or all 3 rolled into one tasty package) to make us want more – and more – and more. Not only do these foods feed our biologically driven survival urges, they feed our brain’s pleasure centers. This is the very same neurological wiring that is activated in drug addiction!

Food addictions contribute to a host of medical problems. Seventy percent of Americans are overweight and nearly 1/3 of adults are now obese. Obesity is rapidly increasing amongst kids and teens, and along with its culprits, a western diet and lifestyle, is spreading through the world like a scourge. The good news is that unlike smallpox, the plague, and HIV, vaccinations and medications are not needed – lifestyle changes, for most of us, are the cure!

Almost daily in my clinical practice I hear a new patient say, “I am trying to control what I eat but I have no self-discipline,” “I try to eat well but then I just can’t control myself when there’s a bag of chips or M&M’s in front of me – I can’t stop at a few,” and the one that really gets me, “I’ve been a really bad girl lately…” As a result, many women struggle with loss of self-esteem due to perceived lack of self-control over the foods they are consuming. Many women beat themselves up emotionally on a daily basis over lost food battles.

Yet food addiction is not simply – or even mostly – a matter of self-discipline. “Non-food junk” is carefully and deliberately manufactured to manufacture addiction. Scientists and marketing teams work with multimillion-dollar budgets to provide exactly what our exhausted, over-extended nervous systems are craving: sugar, salt, and fat. Dr. David Kessler, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton, describes the manufacture of food addictions by the food industry elegantly in his book The End of Overeating, as does Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Moss in his book Salt, Sugar, Fat.

However, while the food industry may create an environment that is hostile to health by supplying us with a stash of salt, sugar, and fat at every checkout counter in the country, something much deeper is happening to drive our sense that we need or want salt, sugar, and fat – and this starts in our most primitive survival centers in the brain and our adrenal glands.

The Primitive Brain

Ready for some science? Human beings have a highly conserved stress response system. This means it’s ancient and has stuck with us throughout our evolution. It is called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis) and is our primitive fear and stress response, elegantly orchestrated to modulate most of the biological functions needed to help us avoid, and should we be unable to avoid, survive a life-threatening emergency. You’ve probably heard it called the fight-or-flight response. Running away from a saber tooth tiger is a classic example given to describe it. The HPA axis connects 2 centers in our brain – the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus – with two tiny organs called the adrenal glands that sit atop our kidneys.

When this system gets activated because we are exposed to a threat, our sympathetic nervous system goes into red alert and we start pumping out a chemical called cortisol. This causes our blood sugar to go up so we can get energy to our muscles to run hard and fast, raises blood pressure to protect us from a potentially fatal hemorrhage should that tiger gouge us, and activates our immune system by sending out a bunch of inflammatory chemicals to protect us in case that gouge gets infected.

In ancient times, we’d outrun that tiger (or the guy running next to us!), make it to safety, and the red alert would be down-graded and our bodies would recover. But in our modern society we’re almost always under sustained psychological stress – hanging out somewhere between orange and red alert much of the time. We pump out massive amounts of blood sugar we don’t use up because we’re not physically running away from the stress – we’re sitting at desks pumping ourselves full of coffee to keep our energy up – and coffee adds to the stress response! We store extra sugar as abdominal fat (and cholesterol) because that’s what cortisol tells us to do. Too many of us have high blood pressure. Many of us struggle with either frequent colds and infections, or autoimmune conditions – flip sides of immune system dysregulation caused by stress. And finally, many of us are “tired and wired” – a result of chronic activation of the stress system. Over time, exposure to high levels of cortisol can also lead to depression.

Here’s the rub: stress hormones cause us to crave fat, sugar, and salt! These are the main substances our bodies need to fuel this system. Under stress, our bodies think these are survival foods. In fact, what we often call comfort foods, to our stressed-out nervous systems may actually seem to be “survival foods.” Ever been sooo stressed or sooo over hungry that you need to eat NOW? That low blood sugar feeling can actually cause you to experience anxiety! And what do you grab for? Something with some combination of sugar, fat, and or salt. Don’t kid yourself – even if you’re going for dark chocolate, sea salt, and caramel – it’s still sugar, salt, fat! These ingredients calm our anxiety because in the short run they reassure the primitive brain that all is safe.

So it’s not really just that the food industry is causing us to have these cravings. Actually, STRESS IS CAUSING US TO HAVE THESE CRAVINGS and the food industry just conveniently provides the fuel. The long-term consequences, however you look at it, are weight gain, abdominal obesity, type II diabetes, hormonal problems, increased heart disease and stroke, and earlier death.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way: How To Break the Addiction Pattern and Gain Food Freedom

We do not have to be slaves to food addictions – or to stress. The key lies in quieting the primitive stress response and resolving stress as quickly as possibly. If we keep our bodies and brains feeling safe, we don’t have to live in a constant state of overdrive! The sugar, fat, and salt become less interesting – and when we don’t feel we need them, we stop craving them.

What do we need to prevent stress overdrive? Really, we just need the human basics: good nutrition, adequate rest and sleep, love, and fulfillment. It all comes down to making a healthy lifestyle – which includes engaging in meaningful activities and healthy social connections – a priority. It is in our power and interest to release the unhealthy patterns and build the healthy ones that allow us to break free of food addictions.

Here are 7 essential solutions for overcoming food addiction:

  1. Practice stress reduction: Your entire being needs to know that you are not at a 4 Alarm Fire! Even 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation twice daily can calm your nervous system, help your cortisol levels return to normal, and transform your life. I practice a “quickie” meditation whenever I feel my stress level mounting. It goes like this: While inhaling deeply to the count of 4, say to yourself “I AM” and on the exhale to a count of 4 say “AT PEACE.” Rinse and repeat x 4.
  2. Practice mindfulness in food choices and while eating. To do this simply take a moment before you eat something to really check in with yourself, from a place of centeredness, whether this is optimal for you and what your body really needs right then. Eat only when you feel relaxed. Eat slowly so that you can enjoy and savor your meals. Food should be one of our great pleasures in life. Mindful eating can help you break free from the grip of food addictions and feel better about your choices so that you can enjoy eating once again.
  3. Keep your blood sugar balanced. Blood sugar balancing is a key to alleviating food cravings. Eat a healthy breakfast with a good quality protein every day. Eat only nutrient rich foods, emphasizing proteins, high quality fats, and vegetables. Sugar sends your body on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. The lows (hypoglycemia) trigger your brain, which depends on sugar for energy, to think you are in a state of emergency and causes your stress response to get activated full tilt boogie. Stable blood sugar = stable stress hormones, smoother emotions, and healthy weight.
  4. Keep your fridge and pantry health friendly. Simple logic: If you only have healthy food choices, you’re more likely to eat well.
  5. Optimal nutrient intake will help with satiety. If your body isn’t getting the nutrients you need, you will crave more and more food as your body tries to get the nutrition you are really craving. This takes you back to points 2-4. Taking a good multivitamin and mineral can also provide missing ingredients for optimal health.
  6. Sleep well. This means getting 7-8 hours each night. Less than this also leads to activation of the stress response and increased cortisol levels. We’ve all experienced fatigue leading to sugar cravings. Back to the same vicious cycle of stress, cravings, weight gain and so on.
  7. Find ways to feel full other than food.  Sometimes feelings of emptiness, sadness, loneliness or boredom can also activate our stress response and trigger hormones and chemicals in our brains that stimulate cravings – a need to fill ourselves. Since fat, sugar, and salt “feed” us when we are in a stress response, calming the anxiety that arises when we feel fight-or-flight feelings, or depression, these are what we tend to crave when we feel empty emotionally. Tending and mending the broken parts of us is part of becoming whole and healthy.

Herbal medicines called adaptogens, for example, ashwagandha, rhodiola, maitake and reishi mushrooms, and American ginseng are especially helpful for restoring adrenal health, healing burnout, regulating blood sugar, and nourishing the immune system. They can also help with “brain fog” and memory problems that also accompany stress, fatigue, and sugar cravings, and they boost mood naturally. They are safe except if you are pregnant, on SSRI antidepressants, or medications for your immune system. I like a formula called Stress Manager by Herb Pharm – a blend of the liquid extracts of Eleuthero root, Reishi fruiting body, Holy Basil leaf, Rhodiola root, and Schisandra berry. I also like Vital Adapt by Natura Health Products, and another by Planetary Formulas called Reishi Mushroom Supreme.  Gaia Herbs makes an excellent formula called Adrenal Health, and there are many other adaptogen blends on the market. They need to be taken for at least 3-6 months to be effective.

Love your body. Love your food. Love your self. BREAK FREE! YES, YOU CAN!!! And hey, a square of dark chocolate now and then is perfectly healthy so cut yourself a break over that one! 

And as always, feel free to share your tales and triumphs in the space below.

Due to enormous volumes of comments I cannot respond to all of them, but I do read every single one and love hearing from you!

Wishing you ease, peace, and freedom,

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45 Comments

  1. Great article! I am struggling with this STILL right now. Chilling out in early retirement, learning to see triggers, eating really well, but I STILL crave cheese (52 and heading for the home-stretch in menopause)….can’t eat other dairy, beef or eggs, so still trying to figure out what the craving is from…I did find that smoothies and juicing TOTALLY kill the craving for chocolate and sugar tho, which is HUGE for me!!
    Thanks again!

  2. Excellent information . I am a health and wellness coach and am planning on leading a support group for women who are overweight because they are emotional and eaters(and who isn’t to some degree? ) We focus on well- being as opposed to weight loss. I will pass this article on to my clients. I like the non-food junk analogy. I am a fan of Michael Pollen’s books too, which delves into the Big Food industry. His philosophy is Eat Food, Not too Much , Mostly plants . Sounds simple but I know that eating well, and taking care of our health is a full time job. i am interested in the adaptogens. I don’t have stress overload in my life but even at the age of 58 , do tend to be a worrier, although I am learning to tame the “gremlin” within. Thanks Aviva .

  3. Great article! Thank you. You touched on people on antidepressant medications not being able to take the natural supplements you mentioned. I have a friend taking SSRI medication who is dealing with depression, mental issues, insomnia…is there any natural supplement that she can take to help?

    • Hi Janet. There are quite a few — magnesium can help with sleep and anxiety as can lavela, and St John’s wort is fantastic for mood (I love the Good Mood Tonic from Herb PHarm for my patients!). But make sure your pal checks with her doc before taking anything while on meds — there can be some interactions. Best! Aviva

  4. Hi Aviva

    Are adaptogens safe if you are breastfeeding? I eat fairly well but I am rundown from a year of broken sleep as my son is a guzzler through the night!

    thanks

    Aoife

  5. Great breakdown on how this all works. Most people *know* they shouldn’t be eating certain foods but it is easier to ‘kick those habits’ when you start to better understand how it all works physiologically. The cravings might still be there but become easier to manage and overcome when you know how your stress, etc factors in. Sugar is a really difficult thing to resist!

  6. Thank you for this wonderful article!! I so love your writing!
    You present both the problem and the solution with the additional science that so many of us “crave”. lol Not in that addictive sort of way. 🙂
    I meditate regularly and have found it such an enormous help in quieting the primitive mind as you so beautifully put it. I was just at a wedding, out of town, and it was my anchor there while being surrounded by fast food and stressed people(including me at times).
    Just back home and what was in my inbox but your beautiful email with a link to what my family and I need. Time to stock up the empty fridge after we all read this article. 🙂
    Thank you so much!!

  7. Thanks for this article its me! I have been struggling with this for years off and on. Stress and PMS definitely are my triggers.Except I have managed to stay away from the non food, junky artficial options for 20 years and I have replaced them with the abundance of ‘natural” junk food found in any natural food stores. I even eliminated all sugar from my diet at one time for 2 years. I know I can do it but always fall flat on my face at some point and the cycle starts all over again. My weakness is at night, I can go all day making great choices and then I put the kids to bed and it is as if the cupboards and fridge are calling me.It doesn’t help that my husband can eat anything and has a lightening fast metabolism and eats 5-6 times a day. This makes it hard because I cannot just have the food I want in the house. Daily struggle for sure. However you have given me lots of new tips and advice I will utilize. Thanks so much!!

  8. Is there a specific adrenal support product safe for breast feeding moms, I’ll be nursing at least another year so I don’t want to wait to start feeling better but no product will actually claim to be appropriate for nursing…

    • Yes yes — see some of the other comments. Seems like there are a lotta’ nursing mommas needing some adrenal support out there! Not surpring, eh? IT’s a LOT OF WORK being a BF’ing mom! 🙂 (And make sure your thyroid is ok!!!)

  9. Counting my training years, this year is 41 yrs. in nursing. I have worked a lot of nights and this go round is my 14th year. I gained 50 lbs. over these last years with evidence of adrenal stress, poor sleep, pain, and other health issues. I need to work nights for now and days is even more stressful. Would it be worth doing a adrenal supplement? It’s always hard to decide when to take supplements. I appreciate what you do and am grateful for any advice. Thanks and many blessings.

    • Yes, definitely! Adaptogens are excellent for helping restore blood sugar and stress related weight balance when folks have been on night shifts. Thank you for your amazing service to health care and humanity. Remember- you deserve to take care of YOURSELF too! <3

  10. I love this article. Thank you for sharing it. One question about the herbs — are they safe to take while breastfeeding? I know you mentioned pregnancy, but I’ve been struggling with a lot of the “stress” of having a newborn (well, 5 month-old), and would love some natural help. I know you may not be able to answer this, but thought I’d ask anyway.

    • Hi Beth,
      Not all herbs are safe to take while BF’ing, but some of the gentle adaptogens including ashwagandha, rhodiola, and American ginseng appear to be well tolerated by babies without risk of adverse effects. Also, magnesium and some of the gentle nervine herbs such as lavender, chamomile, and even motherwort which tastes terrible so should be taken as a liquid extract, can be taken along with the adaptogens or alone to help support you. And as a momma of 4 grown kids — I promise, you will get sleep again and it all gets easier with time! <3 Aviva

  11. I would like to send this to my boyfriend, but it is so one gender sided, it might make him feel worse! He is trying to eat healthier and I’m in full support of his efforts, but I hear him say stuff like “I was bad today’ and then he tells me the stuff he ate that isn’t in the realm of his eating new plan. (i hate using the word diet, because in my mind, diets are a temporary thing, and we are both working to eat better, indefinitely)
    Anyway, any suggestions on pages/articles like this that might be more male-brain friendly?

    • ABSOLUTELY! Check out my pal and colleague Dr. Mark Hyman’s website. Mark’s a guy’s guy and a great doc with a ton to say on diet and nutrition that will appeal to your boyfriend. 🙂

  12. Dr. Romm, I understand your target audience is women, but I was wondering, is there any significant difference in the bodies stress response for men . we are hard wired a bit different and was curious how this affected our bodies response to stress.
    thanks for the wonderful insight in your articles.

    • Hi Craig,
      Great question and thank you for bringing this up — targeted for women, yes, but many of us have men in our lives we hope to help keep healthy! To my knowledge, much of the stress response and HPA access response is very similar. Women may have some of this mitigated by oxytocin, sometimes called the love hormone, which we seem more apt to produce. Also, while men may be more likely to fight or flight, many women may be more likely to tend and befriend — taking on the good girl, helper, or connecter role rather than disengage or stand up for battle. Warmest wishes and thanks for tuning in! Aviva

  13. I LOVED this post. Even though I already knew most of the information presented here, it’s nice to be reminded of it. It’s kind of like how I approach using herbs for health. I know a lot about herbalism, but if I’m not constantly studying it, that knowledge won’t be in the front of my mind when I need it. Same thing with all this stress and food addiction stuff. If I don’t constantly remind myself that my cravings and food choices are caused by stress, then I won’t take other steps to relax and I end up eating sugar and cheese. Thanks again for the reminder and thanks for your blog. I love it so much!

  14. You know, it’s interesting – I’ve known pretty much all of this information for quite some time (nursing school), but I’ve never seen it put together in a way like this. It really connected a few pieces for me (and yes, is helping with my shame issues around food!). Also inspiring me to get back on my ashwaghanda capsules, and get better about practicing mindfulness. I’m really bad about remembering to take them – even though I store them right with the med box with my bipolar meds. Maybe I should put them *in* the box along with the psych meds, then they’d be harder to forget… I heard recently that they’re working on a cortisol blocker for people with anxiety/PTSD/etc issues, hoping that goes forward faster than slower. Also hoping that finally having my brain chemistry straightened out (so that I’m doing radical things like sleeping and not panicking over tiny things) may help get my cortisol levels under control.

    • You may find that a number of your problems ease off on a non-addictive, unrefined food plan. Protein in combination with vegetables, fruit and unrefined starch (beans, rice, sweet potato) might work well.

  15. I have been reading and putting small details together from various sources. What I am seeing is that due to a heightened repose to stress, constant anger in my household and regular physical punishment could have lead to both asthma and hypoglycemia. Now that I am well away from this situation as a child, I should be able to repair or help my body. I would love to say that I have the means to get adequate care, but in my current circumstances I find myself with out insurance. I do not think I am alone in this. Thank you Aviva! I appreciate that you ate sharing your knowledge and experience.

  16. As a student in your program, I hear/read about this problem from so many angles. You did a wonderful job with this blog today. Bravo. I’m going to have my husband read it. But I am very concerned about healing ourselves and our children from these addictions! Just one step into a grocery store, even a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, and any well planned whole foods diet can crash. A weak moment, a hungry child, a day of pms and we are surrounded by legal drugs up and down the aisles! There is no hiding from it. I’m at the point where I only go to the produce section, the bulk grains/legumes, eggs and maybe yogurt and run out of the store fast! Thoughts?

    • I believe there is an old saying – never shop while hungry! That can really help!!! Eat something from home — a high quality protein snack, for example, or make your first task when you get to whole foods to purchase something healthy from the deli, sit and eat it in the cafe section, and only after do you shopping. See if this helps. And by the way, been there done that. Grocery shopping with kids, just before my period. YOWZA! 🙂

  17. Thank you so much for this wonderful article! As someone who has been passionately interested in nutrition my entire adult life (some forty years) I knew much of what you had to say, but it meant a lot to me that you were speaking first hand on the power of addictive eating. It’s one thing to be told by an expert ‘how to behave’, it’s quite another to be told by one who’s ‘been there, done that’. I have also struggled with a food addiction my entire life, and although most of the time I’m “winning” in regard to how healthy I am, I still struggle with a lot of guilt about my obsession with food, and your words really helped to remind me that it is more than just emotions gone awry (as if that would be something to be ashamed of either) and a lot to do with how much stress there is in my life and how addictive certain foods are: for biologically good reasons, it turns out! So thank you! It was great ‘food’ for thought! 🙂

  18. Thank you for this! Very clear explanation of why we crave these foods. I am at rock bottom of a sugar addiction and feel like I need to overhaul my entire life to overcome it. It’s daunting. Any trusted professional advice is a life-saver, so these tips are great. 🙂

  19. Thank you for a great article. I’ve been struggling with food addiction my whole life as a daughter of a chef, I was given food as a reward. I especially love that you mentioned, Reishi Mushroom otherwise known as Lingzhi or the “herb of longevity.” I have been taking the Alphay products since last March and I’ve noticed a huge improvement in my life, especially my energy. Alpahy owns 75% of the worlds Lingzhi mushrooms, using only the caps to get the highest potency. They also use the 5 elements system in their products. You might want to check out my website to see for yourself. Thank you again! 🙂

    • Ha, I read that and laughed, to put a positive spin on it: I, too, could say I am a “PhD in food addiction,” but only from a deep, healing, and long relationship getting back into communication with the healthy, balanced, whole, on-purpose true Self I am who knows the roots of food addiction in my own story and has let the Light shine where it could not before when food replaced sanity. I love this blog. It is so thorough, and as you say, inclusive of the holistic viewpoint that has healed me best! Aloha, Peace & Blessings, Claire

  20. Ohhhhh, this resonated with me! I eat very healthfully and practice a holistic lifestyle, but me & sugar have a past. Sugar has always been my drug of choice and it creeps in around the holidays, birthdays, etc. I finally gave up sugar completely a few months ago. It feels great and empowering. Even when donuts get brought in, I am able to keep my composure (maple bar, you say? hmm, maybe in another lifetime). The trick for me is to completely cut it out.
    Your explanation of stress levels makes so much sense. I sometimes find my shoulders up to my ears w/o even realizing I’m stressed. The breathing exercise you recommend totally works.
    I hope my husband will read this article. He’s a big lovable cookie monster!

  21. Thank you Aviva for your sage advice. I love your blogs and look forward to receiving them in my inbox! Question for you…you state that adaptogen herbs are not safe for someone taking SSRI’s. could you please elaborate on that as to why? Than you for all you do!

  22. Dear Aviva,
    As always your articles leave me feeling as though I have gained a greater insight and understanding into the topic being written about, cause and effects, solutions, and are always filled with your support.
    Thank you so much for providing such an invaluable and thoughtful service to your readers. The ripple effect of this service spreads to their families, friends and tribe. A gift that keeps on giving.

  23. Wonderful article! As a professional personal trainer, I encounter many people with sugar addiction and the guilt, shame, and low self esteem that come with it. Will power is no match for biochemistry.

    • Hi Carol,
      There is no evidence against there safety for babies while mom is BF’ing, and no negative impact on milk production. There are also no studies that prove that they are safe. However, compared to being sick a lot from fatigue, depressed, etc — they are, in my opinion, far safer than the medical alternatives and I do recommend them in my practice for new moms. No substitute for getting sleep, though! Warmly, Aviva

  24. “Food is family.” Family is important to me, and I had to replace food for family when I was 5, and then the candy drawer was next to the fridge handle, and all the women in my family were sugar addicts, marijuana addicts, high & low blood sugar-mood swingers, with flying fists, furious words, scarring fingernails in my flesh, then there was fame, & fortune, & fleeing it all. I was drugged for raging against abuse, food became the only trusted source of real medicine, real nourishment, real comfort, stability in protein, balance in cultured vegetables, sanity with multivitamins and fish oil, and balancing amino acids, and removing myself from toxic relationships, so no more family, just me, great friends, and food & prayer to connect within in Love, so a new life can grow into true family and food can take its healthy place in my life, providing energy. We all need love and connection. Trauma, violence and addiction touch us all. Thank you for opening a conversation I needed to hear, to share in, and to have with myself today. Compassion tastes better than chocolate. Aloha, Claire

  25. Thank you for this wonderful article Aviva!! Today I was trying to talk myself into staying on track and this came in my e-mail right when I needed it. Wow. So much to think on and ponder. I need more peace in my life for sure. Slowing down and meditating has been high on my list, but I just need to do it!!! Thank you for your help. I shared it as well so that my friend on facebook can reap the benefits too!!

  26. Thank you for such a well written wonderful article. After a lifetime of struggling with food, as a healthcare professional chronically stressed, still not able to get things quite “right” despite yoga and meditation, your article was a breath of fresh air. Can the adaptogens listed by combined with the SNRI cymbalta? After taking the adaptogens for the listed amount of time of 3-6 months and presumably feeling better, does one stop the adaptogen or is it a life-long herbal supplement? Thank you for your expertise!

  27. I struggled with food addiction for years exactly as described, using food to sustain an unmanageable lifestyle. I knew all the changes I needed to make, but was powerless to make them. I’ve broken my addiction to food and especially sugar through Overeaters Anonymous, and am at a healthy weight and happier than I’ve ever been. If you’re as desperate as I was, I recommend looking into it.

  28. This article is so timely! As a family I find that we are usually good about eating healthily, but every once in a while fall into a junk slump that just seems unavoidable. These could come with holidays, birthdays, stressful times. Right now it’s because of friends’ and family’s good intentions. I just had child number four and people are bringing us dinners or lunches or snacks or all of the above. I think my in laws have brought us lunch from a fast food restaurant every day this past week and I can’t turn it down without damaging our relationship.

    I’m trying to plan for the end of these good intentions (hopefully in the next week). Is it better to go cold turkey or ween ourselves off of the mess? And by better I mean how will be the least emotionally haggard way? I don’t want to deal with a family in withdrawal on top of night time feedings!

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