Sweet tooth? Me? No way!
Back when I was drinking alcohol, I used to boast that I didn’t have a sweet tooth and could effortlessly pass on desserts, while those around me wrestled with their willpower.
Awww, I felt so lucky I didn’t have that problem. I’d take cocktails over desserts anyday.
Well, did I ever get a wakeup call to realize that cocktails and desserts are the same thing when it comes to sugar, addiction, and their ability to hijack our lives and threaten our health on all levels.
I ended up eating a big ole’ helping of humble pie when I entered recovery only to discover my staggering sugar addiction, which my drinking had been satisfying—and fueling—all along.
Note: I just love how recovery turns many of our old beliefs upside down. This would be so incredibly fascinating if it wasn’t so darn frustrating! Right?!
You see, the interesting, not-so-fun fact I learned firsthand is that alcohol converts to sugar, which is why nearly all of us in recovery from alcohol use disorder have a sugar addiction problem too. What’s more, sugar ignites the dopamine center of the brain just like alcohol, cocaine, heroin, etc., adding yet another layer of addiction to cope with in recovery.
This sugar challenge was the biggest surprise I encountered in my early recovery. Some women in recovery don’t acknowledge this as a problem, but instead see it as a solution to their new alcohol free life. And it can be for the short-term, but ultimately it’s just an illusion that it’s offering any benefit (just like alcohol at one point may have been helpful as a short-term solution).
How many of you have done the same?
If you are in recovery and relate to this, first let me say, congratulations on your recovery! This is an extraordinary achievement, and it might even be the most significant healing step you take in your entire life. If you do nothing else, know that you have given yourself a new lease on life!
But there is more waiting. So MUCH MORE! After we conquer early sobriety, there is a powerful phase of HEALING, and here we have a golden opportunity to take our physical, mental, and spiritual health to new heights!
Everything is an invitation for transformation! That is the beauty of recovery!
So, the invitation here is to identify your relationship with food, most specifically sugar and/or carbs, and decide if it should change to substantially improve your health.
You may be wondering, is sugar really that big of a deal?
The truth of the matter is we cannot fully heal from the damage of our alcohol use until we manage our sugar intake. Sugar is not just unhealthy, it can be life-threatening.
The uncomfortable fact is that sugar affects our health on all levels and puts us at risk for virtually all chronic disease in the following ways:
- Weakens the immune barriers of the gut, lungs, and brain
- Drives the adrenal glands into exhaustion and chronic fatigue
- Sets the stage for hormonal imbalances (premenstrual syndrome, polycystic ovary syndrome, or a miserable transition into menopause)
- Leads to all forms of hypothyroidism, which affects our moods and energy
- Clogs the body’s attempts at detoxification, which is essential for healing
- Contributes to emotional and mental challenges such as anxiety and brain fog
- Leads to inflammation in all organs and body causing disease
- Leads to shorter lifespan and aging
- Fatigues metabolism, eventually leading to metabolic syndrome, obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
So unfortunately, yes, sugar is that harmful, to both the body and mind, as they are interconnected.
Let’s now turn our attention to reversing our patterns with sugar and healing ourselves, which can be done with a systematic approach.
Kicking the sugar habit begins with making sure you are eating the right foods at the right time instead of what you’re eating now in order to combat cravings and stabilize your blood sugar levels. Remember, we cannot continue eating the same foods and expect to heal; rather, we need to be open to change and invite new foods, new patterns, and new thoughts about food.
Without proper food, you are energetically, physically, and emotionally riding a rollercoaster of spikes and crashes and continued cravings. This is guaranteed to make your recovery journey more difficult. So, let’s get on board!
Here are some suggestions:
- Balance your plate with protein, healthy fats, and veggies. A small portion of nutritious grains (e.g., quinoa) is fine, but limit those to 25% of your plate. Between 50–80% of your plate should be non-starchy veggies (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, leafy greens). The rest of the meal can be a high-quality animal protein such as pasture-raised meat or eggs or wild fish, and/or a whole, organic, gluten-free grain, such as quinoa or brown rice. This definitely includes breakfast—say goodbye to cereal, toast, pancakes, or waffles (which set you up for a sugar crash in the late morning), and say hello to an omelette with eggs, spinach, and avocado for sustained energy and satisfaction.
- Eliminate all wheat flour, processed foods, simple carbs, and processed sugar. These are the culprits to high blood sugar followed by low blood sugar, which creates the next craving. Break the cycle and you’ll find how quickly your body adapts!
- Enjoy natural sweeteners instead of refined sugar. If you still want to sweeten food and beverages, use stevia or very small amounts of a natural sweetener such as monk fruit, dates, or honey. Natural sweeteners should be limited to 1–2 teaspoons daily.
- Offset sugary snacks with more fiber, protein, and healthy fats. If you do eat something sugary or with high carbohydrates (preferably a whole food, e.g., a banana), be sure to also consume fiber, protein, and/or fat. With the banana, add almond butter and celery. What’s key here is, unless it’s a special occasion, sweet snacks or desserts should be kept to a bare minimum until cravings are gone and your health is functioning optimally.
- Avoid eating late. Try to finish dinner at least 3 hours before you go to bed. This supports the body’s natural cycle of sleep and healing and will let your body focus on healing and detoxing—rather than digesting—while you sleep. We “close our kitchen” by 7 pm to achieve a 12-hour no-eating window.
- Want to heal and lead a healthy life. “Desire” is the most important strategy. Just like with all habits including our alcohol free life, we need to WANT it, meaning, we need to want ideal health more than want our sugar. From there, we create new habits and patterns and maintain our personal commitment to ourselves.
The human body is designed to naturally heal, and our job is to make sure we put ourselves in the position to support that healing miracle.
Women in recovery are amongst the most empowered, passionate, determined people I know. Because of the systems and strategies we’ve put in place to conquer our alcohol addiction, along with our devoted search to find our authentic paths, conquering the sugar challenges can become another “pain to purpose” story if we let it.
Written by Jill Rathburn, registered nurse, certified professional coach, bioenergetic health practitioner, and holistic health practitioner