sugar addiction whole 30

Surviving the Whole30: a sugar addict attempts a full month of full-tilt feeling

No cheat days, so substitutes, no maple syrup or naturally sweetened-therefore-harmless-right? treats. There are no excuses. You just do it. You practice saying ‘I’m choosing not to eat that right now’ and try to remember your college boyfriend, with whom you spent 3 years. This is called ‘perspective’ and it is your friend. Happy discovery: if I survived his horseshit for more than 1000 days, I can do anything for 30.

There are two days left on my Whole30 challenge. For paleo newbies [or paleOh-my-God eye rollers], this popular detox program goes like this: for one month, you give up all processed foods, the full spectrum of grains, legumes and beans [including peanut butter, *sob*], white potatoes, dairy and alcohol. Oh, and? Any form of sugar—cane, honey, stevia and any other artificial sweetener—is completely off limits. Dates, in seriously limited moderation, are miraculously spared from the don’t list. This, friends, may save your ass.

Food is merely fuel…for sadness

Early on, I tried to explain the Whole30 rules, and was met with blank, my-God-what-can-you-eat? stares. So then I began with what I *can* enjoy without reproach: meat, veg, fresh fruit, plus fats and oils including [non-pea]nuts. So many of my favorites are on the don’t list. Frowny face. Oh, I don’t emoticon. And neither should you.

Anyway, in response to the inevitable ‘but, whyyy?’ I reply that my goal is to shift my relationship to food. I’d be lying if I didn’t own that I also hoped to shed the holiday pounds collected after hitting Christmas cookie rock bottom. But mostly, I hoped to reprogram my brain, and maybe learn something about my own capacity for change.

For those demanding truth in advertising, my experience followed the Whole30 timeline almost exactly [day 5-6 were, as predicted, rough…but no, I did not Kill All The Things, not Any of Them].

But the rules, moodiness, and dreadful day-counting are distant white noise at this point. On first light Thursday, I am done, muthafuckers. In fact, in order to get through the past week or so of absolute food boredom and despair, I have been gleefully planning my fall—nay, my spectacular dive—off the paleo wagon. That is, until I remembered the reason I opted for this detox in the first place.

Confession, cake and control

I am a sugar addict. Sure, I’ll see your eye-rolling, and raise you self-loathing. Fear of judgement and mockery keeps me out of most 12-step meetings. Incidentally, addictions follow a caste system, rank and file strata and absolutely no hope for mobility. Food issues are the untouchables, at the bottom of the pile. I sometimes wonder if heroin addicts are disgusted by the seeming ri-goddamn-diculousness of an ‘addiction’ to something as benign as cupcakes and wine.

Still. I suspect that diving face first into a bowl of Jeni’s with an 8 oz. chaser of Meritage is akin to an alcoholic celebrating 30 days of sobriety with a 3-day bender. Celebration can slide quickly into catastrophe. Plenty of us have technicolor spring break stories to back this up.

Stupid chicken! Er, stupid addiction.

I’ve studied addiction, both experientially [thanks, Mom] and more objectively, trying to piece together some form of logic and reason. Piecing together my childhood may have had something to do with it, too. Not sure.

From about age 14 I scoffed at the idea of addiction as disease, rolling my eyes at every d-word mention during Al-Anon meetings in too many church basements to recall. I refused to acquiesce. I always categorized addiction as choice. You choose to drink, and implicitly you choose *not* to do something else. Like show up to your life. Choice is not a disease.

So when I finally made peace with addiction as disease, it was beautiful and terrible all at once. I can thank/blame a great therapist who finally explained the biology of it all. The shift of understanding was immediate, and much more satisfying [and comforting] than the lifelong notion I had nurtured that because of some inner flaw, I was always simply second choice.

The disease part of addiction, the truly crippling part, is what happens to your body physiologically once you take in that substance. You can control the choice to take that first drink/hit/snort, but after that all bets are off. Have you ever wondered why so many alcoholics have such ridiculously small tolerances? You’d think two drinks would be nothing, right?

But addiction has a hair trigger. It’s an immediate biological change, one in which the substance hijacks your system, and careens away on its own course, dragging you along, caring not if you are buckled in or hanging off the tailgate. Matthew Perry likens it to an allergy. Someone jokingly, but sagely said, ‘I don’t have a drinking problem. More of a stopping problem.’

It’s a nut-punch, really, the jagged-edged, destructive sensitivity to that which you most desire.

Then it stops working

The cruelty doesn’t end there, though. I have been here before. God, have I been here. I’ve never made it the full month before relapse. Two weeks was my prior max-out, and I felt incredibly good that whole time. I lost 10 pounds effortlessly. Feeling cocky and I reintroduced sugar in small treat-day amounts, ice cream and maybe wine on Fridays.

You can feel it coming, right? I had hopped right back on that slippery slope. Soon, the modest amounts became regular…Friday became Wednesday and Friday. Then Wednesday, Friday, and whenever I ‘needed a boost’. Completely coincidentally [right?] my irritability, moodiness and fixation increased at the same pace. But then [and this is the cruelty, part deux], the comfort I once relished from sweets vanished.

It just stopped working. Oh, this was a moment of deep despair. There was *nothing* left I could turn to for comfort.

I tried lots. I tried little. I tried wine. I tried chocolate. Sugar did nothing more than bring me to almost normal. Too-brief periods of abstaining left me in a malaise, punctuated by a shitstorm of shame and self-sabotage. I’m standing in front of my pantry, and trying to gently talk myself off the cravings ledge, with reason and self-love [do you really want that custard pie, or is there something *else* you need?]. When a satisfying answer did not surface, or worse when it did surface, but I did not like the answer, I actually said ‘fuck it’ aloud and stuffed the thing in my face.

Who was I talking to, exactly?

How destructive is sugar addiction, really?

Yes, sugar is sort of benign. Sort of. Odds are, I won’t end my marriage to chase my ice cream jones. I won’t neglect my child because I am drunk on muffin yeast and full-fat lattes. There is no danger of HIV or Hep-C after I accidentally stab myself with someone’s used cake fork. But.

But. [and this is where I grow terribly uncomfortable.]

Like every single addict out there, I do not have control over this. This is terrible news for a control freak. In fact, this mere admission is more than I can bear most days. While I may not destroy my relationships with my family, or lose all my money or kill someone with careless wielding of car or cigarette butt, I am, like all addicts, a different person on and off my poison. And the shame that comes with that knowledge is the pits. If I know I am better when I abstain…why don’t I?  Choice, again! Of all the different facets of addiction, this has got to be the most agonizing common thread.

It is the sense of being not of control of oneself that is the most dangerous part of even a seemingly harmless addiction. It’s no accident that one of the first 12 steps is admitting one’s powerless, and surrendering oneself to a higher power. Ultimately, we are none of us in control of a damn thing, but we spend so much of our lives laboring under the belief that maybe, if we can just keep our shit together, things will be ok. And by keep our shit together, I mean keep our shit perfect. Or is that just me?

Oh, us poor humans. Thank goodness for Mark Darcy, I mean, God. He loves us, just as we are.

Text book behavior

But we try to manage it, don’t we? Keeping the sweetest and most tempting treats out of my home is a helpful habit. But our home is not bereft of all sweet things. Evenings might be punctuated by multiple returns to the fridge for another piece of dark chocolate, to the pantry for a few more strips of dried mango. Like the character of closeted alcoholic friend played by Tom Hanks on a-very-special-episode of Family Ties, who desperately rifled through the cabinets and finally drank vanilla extract…I Somehow.

Curiously, no one is ever in the room. If they are, I wait. Or pick a fight until they leave me in peace. Text book signs, all. Like heroin or booze, the shame of self-loathing is great enough to push us into the shadow. Shame dissolves in the light, through connection with another person. But how many women are drinking, bingeing or puking in the quiet of their homes, alone, right now? More likely, tomorrow, once the kids are in school. We stay hidden so no one else witnesses our failings, our flaws.

Portrait of the addict as a young girl

Watching my mother struggle with manic depression, alcohol and a terrifying and ever changing cocktail of prescriptions-not-compatible-with-alcohol sparked the original reprogramming of my brain. Something deep inside me resolved to never manifest such sadness, fear, and unpredictability for my children, if I was brave [crazy?] enough to have any. But.

Again with the but.

My child suffers my irritability and short-tempered-ness. She watches me go from quiet-voiced, empathic mommy to raging, lecturing, ‘I told you once, didn’t I, dammit?’ spasticity. She exhibits a whiney craving for sweet [just one more hit, pleeeease! a tiny one], which fills me with yet more shame. My moodswings spiked markedly during this detox [days 5-6 coincided with PMS. seriously. Kill All The Things.] and she reaped the full-screen version of that show, as well.

Sugar is a tame substance. But the havoc it wreaks on *me* is not.

Numbing: a single word for escape by many roads.

Addiction originates in a desperation to escape feeling…anxiety, fear, grief, joy, even. Brené Brown reports, stunningly, that it is joyful events that are most likely to cause an addict to wobble off the wagon. This is troubling and strange, yet also perfectly reasonable.

When we want to celebrate, we revisit our best-loved methods and patterns…then suffer the shame and pain from ruining what should have been a pure and joyous occasion. How many people have gotten rip-roaring drunk after years of sobriety at a daughter’s wedding? Joy is the most difficult emotion to endure. Which is maybe why I avoid it so well. Wow. That’s a left hook revelation right there, and a whole other post, prolly.

Substance abuse, rigid beliefs, or obsessive behavior, it is all the same thing. Numbing, avoiding, dulling…attempting to escape the shocking florescence of an imperfect and uncertain world. If I can’t control it, what if I can make it so I just don’t care?

Falling, diving or abandoning?

What did I learn about my capacity for change? I learned I don’t like it. And I can do it. I hope I can retain some new-found compassion for my own humanity, and the beauty that lies in truth.

So. Where does this leave me and my much-anticipated leap off the no sugar health nut wagon? I hardly know. Sometimes I recommence planning a perfect day long menu, with glorious treats at every meal. This is tempered by the paralyzing fear of what might happen if even a single sweet something passes my lips. I know one thing: I can only choose the first, but after that, all bets are off. It is the seemingly harmlessness of sugar that allows me to even consider a trip off the wagon, in any form. No other substance can be trifled with in this way.

So yeah, I am an addict. I am colorfully imperfect. I will fail. Then fail again. Whatever. I survived a full month of full-tilt feeling. I don’t know if it’s made me any stronger, but it didn’t kill me. And that’s worth celebrating. Chastely, and without wine.

Tonight, anyway.


Read my updates, one week out:

Part 1, a curveball to mental and emotional clarity
Part 2, treats and reintroductions

And hey, if you’re still skeptical, check out some science behind sugar. Not too science-y, not too long. Plus, it’s animated:

How Sugar Affects the Brain, Ted Ed


patti carlyle

Writer, feminist and activist in Cleveland, Ohio. I curate a collectic blog of quotes, links, images and long form writing. Learn more or find me on Facebook, Twitter, .

Latest posts by patti carlyle (see all)


  1. Patti,

    As a recovering drug addict, I do not find it ri-goddamn-diculous that people are addicted to something as “benign” as sugar. In fact, I think you have it worse than me. I got clean by eliminating drugs (including heroin) from my life completely. You, however, have to eat–and eating a cupcake is far more socially acceptable than bumping hits off a coffee table (at least, in most circles). No, the sugar addicts (and other food addicts) have it way, way harder, and I have empathy for your struggles.

    I hope your first Whole30 was a worthwhile experience. I hope you can use it to help you find a plan that works for you going forward. I hope if you ever find yourself off the rails again, you can come back to it, and let it get you back to a place of sanity and control–if not at least use it to provide you with distance between you and your demons.

    I wish you the best, and thank you for sharing your story with us. (And if you get a million hits on your blog, it’s because I shared this on our Whole30 Facebook page.)


    • thanks for your kind words, Melissa! and for sharing my story. it’s eerie, all this…as I saw the email with your comment cued for approval, i had just copied the testimonial address to submit my story to whole9life. thanks for reading, and for your compassion.

      the Whole30 was, indeed, so worthwhile. i credit this lengthy go at ‘sobriety’ with some incredibly important shifts in my life. so far [what, 5 days, since official 30?] still no sugar. i want to give it some more time, and will write a follow-up post soon.

      thanks for all you do. seriously.

  2. Liz

    This post was timely for me today as I contemplate my own addictions, which I’m just coming to terms with. Escapism and procrastination. My struggles with it for the last six months, and the effect that it’s had on my life, I believe, put it squarely in the category of addiction. Something that I have absolutely no control over. Sugar wasn’t my problem when it came to food…just food itself, and my use of it as a tool to escape my feelings, just as I have used every other thing that I enjoy, or love, in my life.

    Maybe not as destructive as heroine use, as you said…but just as difficult to get under control. I commiserate with other food addicts, and sugar addicts, and the slippery slope. Is there no way to learn moderation? If not, that’s not a good sign for me. I’m not well educated enough to debate the idea that the chemicals that our brains secrete when we indulge in our chosen addictions are just as in control as the chemicals in things like sugar and heroin, but I think they are. Where do sex addicts, and gamblers fall? That biological domino series is just as in effect there as well.

    But what do the foodies and the escapists do? It’s not possible to go cold turkey in all situations. You did it for 30 days. Does a sugar addiction mean that for the rest of your life sugar cannot pass your lips? Am I supposed to give up all television, all internet, all books, and all comfort foods? Questions I’m pondering.

    • i have those same questions. right now i am just ever mindful of how i numb [TV + food or Facebook + food are popular combos]. but, yeah, no sugar so far. for me, the test will be am i willing to accept [hell, ask for!!] comfort from actual people? that is where my real work lies. a hug might be rejected, but that cupcake sits there, deliciously tempting and rejection-proof.

    • i wanted to give your comment another look, liz…in response to your last paragraph. what i have found, miraculously, is that yes, there are my favorite numbing/escapist things that i can’t do. but there are some that i can. the question is one of ‘will this make my life better’? so today i drank tea and finished an incredible book. no guilt. no destructo-shame.

      but. what i have found is that cutting out my main numb and comfort has cleared room for things that i have long struggled to make room for. like writing. i have been writing almost non-stop since this post last week. every day. and what’s coming out is clear, and true and honest. this renewal is something i want to explore a bit more [through writing, yippee!], but i just wanted to mention it…being able to create again makes the loss of my drug bearable.

      • Liz

        Patti, thanks for your thoughts on this. I think I do need a period of complete abstinence from these things, to “reset my brain” much the way that the whole 30 does. Maybe I need to do a whole30 with this stuff and have a month of contemplation about where these things fit into my life.

        Making space in my life for other things would be wonderful. There are so many other things that I’d LIKE to be doing. I want to start my own blog, I want to learn several new skills, I want to be creative. None of which can be done while I’m binging on TV (which I did this entire weekend) And I think to myself, “Well, why aren’t I doing those things?” And that’s where I run into that damn dopamine circuit. I don’t (YET) get the same dopamine hit from sitting down and writing as I do turning on my favorite television show.

        This is why I don’t think that nearly enough weight is given to the other half of the addiction process. It’s not JUST about biology behind what happens once the substances are ingested. That’s why people have cravings for cigarettes, cupcakes, and heroine long after the substances have left their system. Our brains are completely capable of addicting THEMSELVES to almost anything, if we use it as a reward often enough – and by reward, I mean as a diversion from anxiety, and emotional hurtyness mostly. It requires a painful rewiring of the brain and I wonder if that rewiring doesn’t need to be an additional component to the Whole30 or any other “get sober” program.

        • the additional component for me, liz, was Brene Brown’s work. seriously, i would have never had those revelations about numbing::sugar without first reading her work on it. so i agree, the science and following the rules are just one component of MANY needed to manage an addiction. i would say this though…it seems like you are well on your way to blogging about your experience, just from your comments here. it’s scary, but you’re brave. start with one post. you may not get the dopamine spike you hope for [i’ll save you the suspense, you won’t] but you might find something better. calm.

  3. Thank you for sharing. Sugar/carb-addiction is something I struggle with and I definitely know what it feels like to fall face first into a carton of Jeni’s after everyone else has gone to bed. I just finished a Whole 30 and I think it helped me get it under control a lot, though I’m a little worried about how things will go now that I’m done with W30.

    • brittany…i totally picked a fight with my husband over pizza the other day. because of the same fear you mention, i was so scared to go off-30, even with just some cheese [dairy was a desperate-hanger-oner for me, cravings wise]. then i happened to turn on the tv for some non-cupcake numbing the other night. 28 Days was on [Sandra Bullock, rehab…not 28 Days Later. no. not at all]. anyway, there was some obvious line in there about leaving rehab being crazy hard. that’s what the first week off-30 is for us. i’m trying to be gentle with myself and have some serious self-compassion. you’ll/we’ll be fine. it is very AA…one day at a time, though.

  4. Tessa


    Thank you, thank you for such a well written description of what I call my never ending roller coaster. I could never put these words on paper, no matter how many times I have tried. Reading your article gives me some sort of “peace” of mind that I am not the only one out there. I’ve done the sugar detox and the whole 30 program multiple times. I am the “best me” when I finish these programs, but soon I think one latte won’t hurt me a bit, a beast comes rushing through the gates and I am in never ending down spiral binge, again. Then the “worst me” is out and to perfectly honest I really really dislike this person. Quick to judge to conclusions, snaps at others for no reason, a monster is inside me and I’m an angry women with an anxiety I can’t let go of. For once I don’t feel alone. I wonder how I will ever break this cycle. I pray that it is possible. I thank you for your words.

    • thanks for reading, tessa. i really really dislike my beast/worst person too. it’s like a goddamn gremlin, i swear. why do i feed it at all?!? question…when you say latte, is is sweetened, or does the inherent dairy sugar throw you just as easily? sometimes i think if i could just have an unsweetened latte, say, three times a week, everything would be fine. *sigh*

      and you are not alone. reach out anytime.

  5. Melissa

    I’m a sugar addict too – yet, up until this moment in time, I refused to label myself that way. I’ve never met anyone else who totally understands what we go thru. And the comment from Melissa H (my personal hero!) gave me goose bumps. You don’t need to publish this – but please know that this blog post has rocked my world. I’m going to need to read it again, later, at home where I can slow down and absorb it. You’ve given me clarity that I needed, badly. thank you. You are a wonderful writer. thank you for putting into words what I’ve always known.

    • hi melissa. i’m patti, and i’m an addict. isn’t that how we’d greet each other at a 12 step meeting? admission is step one.

      i just wanted to honor your revelation here. i often joked that i was a sugar addict, meaning that i liked it a whole whole lot. but its wasn’t until whole30 that i felt the power in full effect. oh my god, powerful. there were tears, and shame and anger. lots and lots of that. i’m glad you have some new clarity…please let me how that shapes what’s next for you.

  6. Michelle

    wow, this really hit home, on quite a few levels, just yesterday i was taking a walk with one of my girlfriends and we were talking about how we aspire to be the one or maybe 2 glasses of wine types of women, but that after even a drop enters our system, all we want is more. Choice to not partake is the only sure bet that i won’t wake up tomorrow with a splitting headache and a fierce craving for some nachos, and the choice to not partake is only easy in my laboratory environment of HOME where everything is controlled and all social activities are elsewhere.
    I am on day 9 or 12 of the WHOLE30, i say 9 or 12 because the first 3 days i used vanilla extract in my coffee and later realized that i had cheated and so started over…my kill all things phase also coincided with PMS and my 5 year old daughter got to witness me throwing a fork at my husband when he asked if i was going to start my period…sigh
    today my pants are tight and i don’t like it
    as i am navigating through WHOLE30 i am also trying to get my daughter off the sugar beast before it owns here like it does me. When i started WHOLE30 she started the only 1 treat a day challenge. And next week it changes to only 1 treat EVERY OTHER day challenge and we started making our own raw, gf, sugar free treats that look amazing and i can’t enjoy, for her to reach for when she does get a treat, she is a trooper but it is sad that i am seeing her detox from the sugar and it is about as pretty sometimes as a fork flying through my kitchen.
    thank you for sharing your wise words, i am blessed i got to read them today, i really needed them
    truly grateful

    • i’m so glad you got something from this, Michelle. i feel ya, hard, on deprogramming the next generation. that’s my next task…she felt so *bad* for me all month.

      but what you say about it ‘owning’ you. dead on. it’s hard, though, thinking about taking away sweets and yummies for kids, isn’t it? there is a small pleasure i still get from watching her savor and enjoy a treat [she can make it last for.ever]. but i do worry i am letting her go down the same path i am stuck on. i need another option, here!

  7. Matt M

    I recognise myself a lot in this essay. It’s both comforting and alarming.

  8. Heather Jones

    thank you for writing this.I definitely have an addiction to sugar and not in a funny ‘haha I love my sweets’ kind of way but in a I’m going to go hide in the car and eat an entire bag of Oreos kind of way. It helps to know I’m not alone or crazy.

  9. Heidi

    Thank you for your honesty. This is a difficult thing to articulate to others. Being in recovery from alcoholism for over 20+ years I felt like I “had this” but what I realize is that this is an area I have suspected for a long time needed poked around in! Whole30 definitely created a space for an honest look and a humble moment of powerlessness when I realized how angry I was that I was watching others “eat with impunity”!! I am struggling with what is my plan a day at a time and am I willing to abstain for life just as you described. I don’t want to rely on anything to “fix me” today or “make me whole” and not drinking is just the way my life is now but there was a time when that idea also frightened me and seemed like I would have “nothing left to do”!! *sigh*. Thank you again I think! BAWHAHWA so we shall see what grows from the seeds being planted since my bestie introduced me to It Starts With Food! Thanks again for your honest share and the way it spoke to me!

    • thanks for *your* honesty heidi. something that a lot of people are saying is that it is great to finally not feel alone…i am realizing today that’s true from my end as well. i had made piece with being the lone nut, in most areas of my life, so this is a pleasant and welcome development!

      i’m will happily accept the thanks/blame for this new era of poking around! good luck.

  10. Patti James

    I REALLY enjoyed reading this! Very insightful.

  11. Adelyn

    This post is so helpful and describes me perfectly. Except you write much, much better than I do. Thank you for the inspiration to try whole 30 again. I will make it past day 11 this time!

    • days 11-12 were beastly for me, too. lots of people give up then, and i totally almost did [again]. i just kept referring to the timeline, which saved me…when it said a day would be hard coming up, it was a welcome warning. when i was struggling like crazy, and looked and saw ‘oh, this is usually a rough patch’ it put me at ease. it wasn’t nearly at nail-biting hard after day 13 or so…

  12. Mandy

    Thank you so much for writing this! I am on day 4 of my Whole30 and celebrated my 36th birthday today with not one tiny grain of sugar involved….this is HUGE for me. I live this same roller coaster of sugar highs and crashes and am really tired of it. I think what the Whole30 has showed me already is that I am much stronger than a snickers…a thought that had never occurred to me before! Anyway, I just needed to let you know how wonderful it is to know I am not alone in my struggle to find balance and reach a place of peace with my food.

  13. Amy Van Devere

    Hey cuz! Bravo! I have struggled with food sensitivities, allergies, or perhaps, in light of your blog, addiction. When I was twenty-two a very progressive immunologist in Akron identified several food allergies. Not the traditional fixed allergies that most people know, but rather what is commonly known as food sensitivities.

    For nearly thirty years I have worked at eliminating dairy and corn, the two that make the sickest. Just this past year, I began eliminating gluten as well, but not quite as devotedly.

    I remember feeling like denying myself was a cross I had to bear, which I really resented. What I realize now is that I consume larger portions of the food I can eat to make up for what I had to forego.

    Why does food have to be the enemy? What have we, in our vaunted science and technology, done to our food supply that makes maple syrup, a natural product, toxic to our system? Or a simple glass of milk? But that is another whole issue.

    Thanks for your honesty and insights on this very important issue.

    • thanks for reading, Amy! resentment has been [and will be again, i am sure] a stage in all this. i get pissy wondering why everyone else can eat yummies so easy and guilt/addiction free, and i can’t. what i am learning is…maybe it isn’t easy for them either. the more we talk about this, and bring it into the light, the less alone, weak and shameful we all will feel.

  14. Tiffany

    Thank you for putting yourself out there like this. Your honesty verbalizes so much truth for me as well. I have had “successful” Whole30 experiences twice. Successful in that I was able to complete them and I learned so much, but the monster that came out during the detox is someone I am ashamed to know let alone be. So I fall down the slippery slope just like you.

    But my feeling is that I personally cannot subject my children to that person over and over. I can’t handle the damage I do to our relationship when I’m that monster. And I don’t maintain the nice person at the end of the process because I slowly then all at once let sugar back in. So I’m waiting, I’m lulling the thing to sleep as if I’m its slave. I hope to murder it one day, or starve it out, but for now I feed it. My three children are all six and under and I really need to have patience and that is the first thing that goes.

    Your article made me realize how much my sister and I are alike. I never really have seen it that way, since she is a drug addict who has abandoned her family and children. But I see that our patterns of coping with stress are the same. I see that we don’t know what to do with our feelings so we numb them. I’ve only in the past few years been able to let real ecstatic joy soak in. I always bake when I’m happy. I had never thought about it the way you put it. I think being a passionate person and prone to extremes it’s a fear of not being able to maintain that level of happiness, but I don’t know the full answer there. I even find with my kids I sometimes get anxious when they get overly excited and happy, maybe it’s the fear of the other shoe.

    Anyway thanks for this. It gives me so much to think about. I want to change my relationship with sugar, and I feel like I’m making progress in my thoughts and behaviors toward it. But for now I find the thought of total elimination way too stressful for us all.

    • patience is my first casualty, too, tiffany. i am sure this revelation about your sister is a startling one. i, too, had to accept how much i was like people in my life i had psychologically distanced myself from as ‘other’. be gentle with yourself, and i agree…cold turkey is a tall order. put some scaffolding of support in place for yourself first. you’ll find your way! let me know how it goes…murder, starving out or making peace.

      I think being a passionate person and prone to extremes it’s a fear of not being able to maintain that level of happiness, but I don’t know the full answer there. I even find with my kids I sometimes get anxious when they get overly excited and happy, maybe it’s the fear of the other shoe.

      and, um, yes. passionate and intense is how i identify [others sometimes call me spastic and crazy, but f ’em, ya know?]. if you haven’t yet read Brene Brown, i encourage you to do so. what you describe is ‘foreboding joy’ and it’s a crippler of parents everywhere. oprah has shorter clips on her site with their interview, titled by topic. i think it’s the same one i linked to in this post, toward the end [joy is the most difficult emotion to endure]. anyway, a video might be easier to digest with 3 little ones needing your attention.

      • Tiffany

        Thank you for your kindness. I will check out the link, sometime after dinner and baths. Maybe during my nightly insomnia.

  15. Diane

    Thank you, Patti for this insightful yet familiar (to me) essay. I’ve tried the whole30 several times, but never finished. I even enlisted a friend to join me thinking the accountability would be enough to keep me on board. It wasn’t. If I was reading this before trying a W30, I would be excited, thinking perhaps that’s the answer to my problem. Now I know better. There are no quick, easy answers or programs. It is hard, it is war, and it is not for the faint of heart. Yesterday I fasted, which feels so great, because when food is not an option I do better, but then I ended it by eating a bunch of V day candy. Not how I meant for it to go down.

    I truly love that everyone commenting here knows what it’s like. Because nobody else in my life seems to. Thank you for sharing, I’m eager to hear how things go for you, wishing you strength for the road ahead! Wishing us all strength for this journey, one choice at a time.

    • thanks, diane. i don’t do well with external accountability either. just one more ‘voice’ telling me what i should do, and i end up rebelling. true, this wasn’t easy. it didn’t answer all my problems, either, as you noticed! i think we labor under the delusion that if we can just get a handle on our sugar cravings, it will some day be easy [many success stories reinforce this delusion, ‘day 10 and no sugar cravings at all, yippee’…simply not true for sugar addicts].

      i am accepting that, like a recovering alcoholic walking into a party with booze, birthdays, holidays, PTA bakesales and other sweet-laden events will never be breezy for me. they will *just be hard*, and i will have to stay on top of the struggle. when i can accept that, i think management will be easier.

  16. Sabrina

    I’ve been giving this discussion of food addiction and sugar addiction in my own life and I think you eloquently expressed how not in control anyone with an addiction is over their addiction. As a fellow survivor of parental alcoholism, I think there is one important piece missing however, the psychological component to addiction. A person can overcome with time and sheer will, the physical components of addiction, but often it’s the psychological ones that drive the first steps into relapse. I saw my father quit drinking but refuse to even acknowledge that there was a greater issue at hand that drove him to the bottle. While he lasted many years sober, they were white knuckled years and eventually that greater issue drove him back to his first drink.

    Food and sugar addictions are so much harder to combat because we need food to survive, and in this day and age of over processed high sugar, high fat content foods, its bloody hard to stay away from all sources of processed sugar. So I think sugar cleanses are great to get over the hump but for that elusive, long term benefit, it’s important to root out why we turn to sugar or food in the first place.

    • yes! whiteknuckled. i get that. check out what another commenter, Liz, said about the other components of addiction. there is definitely more to just changing a habit. thanks for sharing…i have in the works a piece of children of alcoholics and perfectionism. one of my ‘greater issues’ to explore.

  17. You have destroyed me and put me back together. I too am a sugar addict, and live in denial more than acceptance. I’ve got it ‘managed’ to one small hit a day. I teas. in my tea – some dried fruit – anything sweet(ish). It’s insidious. I managed six months without any at all, and found that my brain was remarkable calm, and the cravings quit. Why I don’t go back there? I don’t know. By the way I have been paleo (for the most part, other than falling off the stone wheeled wagon here and there) and have lost over 100lbs. I can live without the grains, I can live without the dairy – but dear God – I can’t seem to live without jelly beans. Thank you for such an honest, on point post.

    • jayme! after i apologize for the destruction [sorry. truth is a punk, more often than not], i have to comment: i have had the exact opposite experience. my daily tea is the only place sugar never re-infiltrates! i dunno why i find this remarkable enough to mention, it’s just given me pause. i can eat hundreds of grams of sugar in a single sitting, but oh, no teaspoon in the tea, if you please.

      i am still wrestling the dried mango beast…so i hope we can keep our hits small and occasional. peh-HA!

  18. Ruth

    Truthful and though provoking, thank you. Maybe Sarah Wilson’s blog and book “I quit sugar’ would be useful. She has great sugar-free recipes, and sometimes uses stevia which doesn’t have quite the same effect on the body.

  19. Rebecca

    My name is Rebecca and I am a sugar addict. I am about to begin the Whole30 and am excited and nervous and afraid and everything you can be when you are messing with my favorite crutch…food. Thanks for sharing your story as it is so like mine and as I try to get to the best me, I am glad to learn I am not alone. Thank you for you!

    • oh, rebecca, thanks for your kind words. i wish you the best of luck with your Whole30. please reach out if you hit a rough spot…and for reals, the saved my ass, daily. i would never have made it without hyper-regular reference [thanks again, Melissa!]. in fact, i didn’t make it before…i quit on day 12, right when it predicts we’ll want to.

      you are, indeed, not alone. the best you has been there all along. be gentle with her…

  20. B

    How are you doing now? I struggle with sugar and also that weekly glass of wine that snowballs slowly into a bottle of wine a night. I took a day off of whole 30, and then I restarted. I feel like if I just have a little sugar I will end up right where I was at eating a box of cookies and coconut Popsicles for lunch–which does actually get plenty of judge mental comments…

  21. happy valentine’s everyone [scowl?!].

    so it’s been one week post-30, and i have some updates. surprises, even.

  22. Judy sombar

    Whew……where do I begin?!!! I’m on day #8 of whole 30 and frankly, I’ve been bawling my eyes out since day #3….I never cry….well, I rarely cry…and I have lots of reasons to cry.

    But, like many who suffer from PTSD, my brain has protected itself by “splitting” from its emotional side, allowing me to speak of my many traumas like one might read a phone book….my therapist is thrilled, because she knows that the crying comes before the healing and you don’t get whole without experiencing the pain you so desperately want to avoid. And for the first time in my whole life, I’m not able to numb with sugar or foods that transform to sugar during digestion…so I’m feeling……. EVERYTHING….Every annoyance, every irritation, all my inpatience and sensitivities overwhelming the entirety of me…I cry at dinner, in the car, in bed, walking the perimeter of my kitchen…and I think about increasing my prozac because surely something is terribly wrong…my kid won’t eat the apple I cut for him five minutes before, because it’s turning brown-yeah, I’m sobbing…

    And I didn’t expect this. I expected to be hungry…then, to lose weight (my goal in all that I do, frankly) …not to have to face my demons head on, day after day, alone, without candy to keep me company and assure me that everything is going to be fine…

    THANK YOU for writing your truths and whispering to me, between the lines, that my struggles are real and worth it…and really, thank you for being better than my favorite box of hot tamales-because the hope you offer, through the telling of your own darkness and addiction, is real…and just may truly be a sign that everything IS going to be alright, maybe for the first time ever.

    • i’m so glad you found your way here, Judy. i know what it feels like to be sucker punched by paleo promises…it was surprising for me, too, that i wasn’t so much hungry as hANGRY. so very angry. then sad. then both. it’ll even out. you’re right in the thick of it. the demons will start to quiet down soon. and check out allie’s work over at Hyperbole and a Half. my favorite is on straight-up depression [which i probably self-medicate with sugar, but that’s another story]. her narrative and drawings are so dead-on, you can’t help but laugh. while you cry, yes.

      you can do it. it is worth it. please let me know how it goes!

  23. i noticed there are a few people subscribed to the comments here, so HI everyone!

    the battle has surged on…it seems like every time i sit to write any damn thing, sugar comes up again. addiction, shame, the inner critic. and sugar. always with the sugar.

    so if that’s still of interest to you, check out The Sugar Series, where i have curated all the related posts that begin by leaning sweet but end with a sour taste.

    if you like other stuff you see, consider subscribing by email [the sidebar on each post] or sharing it using the icons at the bottom of posts, or the Pin It button on the images. i’m still pulling back the Truth bandage [slowly, slowly, and so painfully!], and i know others are looking for the grace, strength and encouragement to do the same.

    happy whole30-ing, creating, and loving! give yourself permission to give up being seen as, and show up as is. if only today…


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