My Strange (Sugar) Addiction

At work, the colleague who sits next to me is keeper of the candy dish. When we’re having a bad day, we can count on a mini chocolate bar, Hershey Kiss or other small morsel to satisfy the sweet tooth.

This week, Halloween candy made its entrance. Before you could say “trick-or-treat” my hand was diving in and fishing out mini Snickers and O’Henry bars.

I once had a sugar addiction, and if I’m not careful, it slides quietly back into my life (and taste buds). It moves in so slowly and sneakily that I only realize it’s there when it somehow becomes acceptable to have a chocolate bar at 9:30 in the morning, followed by a few Timbits at lunch too.

Oh, sugar.

I love you, but I need to be in control.


Let me explain.

In my first year of university, I lived in a residence that had bulk bins in the main floor store. Not only was working, socializing, and sleeping in such close proximity to junk food distracting, but said store also took meal cards, for which my parents had already paid. It was a bad combination that resulted in me becoming addicted to Reese’s Pieces. Not just in an “OMG, I love Reese’s Pieces, let’s share a bag at the movies” kind of way. More like a “buy a pound of Reese’s Pieces and eat them slowly in my library cubicle until I can’t focus on schoolwork any longer and polish off the whole bag then feel like vomiting” kind of way.

I don’t think it helped my study habits. I knew what I was doing wasn’t healthy, for my body or for my mind. I was cutting back on “real” food because candy took up so much of my caloric quota for the day and I was terrified of gaining weight.

By the end of the year things were getting out of hand and I shamefully confessed my problem to my boyfriend (and, spoiler alert! now my husband) Mike. I wanted to quit candy but I knew I couldn’t do it myself. The constant internal negotiation (“Should I eat it? No, well just one, if you finish your paper, you can always stop later…”) was exhausting and I knew I couldn’t hide it anymore. Would he take me seriously? I mean, it’s just candy, right? Kids’ stuff.

Eating fresh natural sugar cane

Luckily, he looked me straight in the eyes and made me a deal:

  1. I wouldn’t eat any candy until my birthday (one month later, in May).
  2. Mike had permission and a duty to intervene if I couldn’t control myself.

Falling off the wagon

One spring day I was headed to the library to study and couldn’t resist the call of the candy bins. It felt like I couldn’t focus on anything else in my life until I had candy in my hands. Without it, I was anxious and snippy. With it, I could relax.

Mike caught me with my hand in the candy jar. Well ok, not really, but he did catch me upstairs in my room. He confiscated my candy, which, I am ashamed to say, brought tears to my eyes. I knew it was childish; I was embarrassed by my reaction but I was also desperate. Lucky for me, he was true to his word and threw the candy out the window. Then he gave me a hug.

I made it to my birthday and found that, after that month, my cravings had dwindled to almost nothing and I felt in control again. Since then, it’s been a casual tradition of mine do a sort of junk-food “cleanse” for the month leading up to my birthday. There have been a few relapses over the years, but luckily my desire to stay clean (and remembering how hard it was to put food back into its rightful place in my life was) generally outweighs my desire to binge.

Sugar is a hell of a drug

It’s only been recently that the science folks have begun to study and publicize the addictive effects of (refined) sugar on the brain. But every time I hear the sugar lobby groups or “big food” companies talking like all carbohydrates are equal, I think back to my sugar-addicted days and how out of control I felt. It was an addiction, as the evidence now supports:

“Available evidence in humans shows that sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs” (Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit.)

Nutrition science tends to break foods down into their building blocks rather than looking at them holistically. Because of this, you might hear people say “sugar is sugar” and tell you there’s no difference between processed white sugar (that’s very far away from its roots as the much less-sweet liquid that comes from sugar cane) and a sugar in its natural form (like honey). Sure, the calories are similar (actually, honey is more calorie-dense than white sugar), but I trust my body to interpret the calories from natural foods, like honey, more easily.

I’m looking forward to exploring the many issues with sugar:

  • What is sugar?
  • Should we be talking about added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar (or can added “natural” sugar be ok)?
  • Can you get addicted to natural sugars?
  • Does Glycemic index matter?

For now, I’m going to get ready for my next sugar-cleanse. Would you be up for joining me?

More on that later this week.


References and further reading:


  1. […] I’ve been slipping back into a pattern of sugar addiction (and telling myself it’s ok, I can stop any time) I need this kick-in-the-butt to really get […]

  2. […] turns out it’s easy for me to become addicted to added sugar. In avoiding it, I feel a little bit like I’m following the Atkins low-carb diet; I’m off chips […]

Leave a Reply