Sugar Crush!

Magazine Archives
| Fall
2023 |
Volume 2,
Issue 3

Sugar Crush!

Kicked booze only to find yourself constantly looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? You’re not alone, and there is a way out. Author Katie O’Kennedy tells us how.

 I remember the exact moment I knew I was in trouble. It was just after lunch on March 26, 2021. I’d been alcohol-free for about three months, and I was feeling great. But then, this journal entry: 

 

Similar mental gymnastics starting around sugar. Feeling like I deserve a reward or treat, but it makes me feel like shit. Using sugar now as a distraction and escape, excuse to check out. Sugar after lunch=day drinking. Why do I want to escape the present?

 

In my early days of eschewing alcohol, lots of people—both coaches and peers—said not to worry about relying on sugar for a little boost. “It’s better than alcohol,” they’d say, followed by assurance that the desire would taper off over time. But I knew deep down that I was having a hard time eating sugar in moderation, and I was getting a fix from binging on sugar very similar to the one I had gotten from alcohol. Plus, as I had done with alcohol, I was starting to give sugar a job: to cloud my thinking so I could check out, to make me tired so I would have an excuse not to face tough tasks, or to reward myself for finally tackling those tasks. It was my escape hatch and my life coach rolled into one giant bag of Tootsie Rolls. 

I started to wonder if my future would consist of kicking one bad habit only to pick up another, jumping from one feel-good Band-Aid to the next. I also started to wonder if my wine habit had been partly—or even mostly—a sugar habit at its core. I’d struggled with binging on sugar as a teenager, but that seemed to pass once I entered adulthood. Or did it? 

Trading alcohol for sugar is a common phenomenon. “It’s the dopamine you’re after more than the sugar itself,” says Brandi Babb, founder of Little Big Leapa coaching program centered on mindful drinking—and The Zero Proof Life alcohol-free community. “Alcohol and processed sugar both increase dopamine levels more than anything found in nature,” she says. “The brain becomes used to higher levels, so when we quit drinking it takes time for our brains to rebalance and get used to lower levels.” No wonder I was reaching for the sugar. But, also, the bigger picture was slowly coming into focus: Perhaps what I actually have is a dopamine habit. 

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