When we allow ourselves a sugary snack or a high-carb treat, is it to satiate our hunger and stock up on nutrients? In our experience, it isn’t. Instead, we indulge in these foods to make us feel better emotionally – a symptom of compulsive eating or sugar addiction. Cheating on our Banting meal plans is therefore an addiction relapse, and as with any other addiction, we need to address the underlying emotional problems if we want to move forward.
We can be addicted to a chemical, as is the case with hard drugs like cocaine, or to a process, as seen in gambling. Sugar addiction typically encompasses both types of addiction. Both the sugar we consume and the rituals around the consumption release dopamine, our brain’s pleasure chemical. This dopamine boost makes us feel great for a moment or two; even if we know the feeling is superficial.
Sugar addicts repeat these destructive habits for the same reason that all addicts submit to their vices – we indulge our feelings of insecurity and our need for comfort; we desire the RESULT of the addictive substance rather than the substance itself. So we eat the chocolate or mom’s lasagne, and have a drink after a stressful day – all because we “deserve a break” from stress, insecurity, and emotional trauma. Unfortunately, when we use coping mechanisms such as compulsive eating to numb ourselves, we invariably face feelings of shame and unworthiness when the feeling of pleasure has faded. These negative emotions, in turn, bring about the need for another dopamine spike, perpetuating the cycle of addiction. By following this destructive pattern, we avoid addressing the cause of our trauma, causing the problem to intensify as time passes.
To complicate matters, we’re born with a natural predisposition for sweet and salty foods (this holds true even when we are not addicted). These inherent preferences are not problematic in themselves, but become an issue when we allow our physical and emotional needs to become inextricably intertwined.
In an old episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah was discussing her own story of food addiction. She talked about how before starting treatment, her excuse for binge eating addictive foods was that “I just really love potato chips!” She then shared her realisation that the craving was an emotional one and had very little to do with the beguiling powers of her snack of choice.
This moment illustrates how food (and other) addicts tell themselves stories in order to avoid confronting the emotional damage causing the addiction. No matter the “drug of choice” - whether it’s chocolate or bread or wine, or even fasting and compulsive exercise - it boils down to the same flawed strategy – shutting off our feelings – and we owe it to ourselves to get better.
To make matters worse, our natural cravings for sugar and salt are amplified as our palates and neural reward centres become overloaded and numbed to their effects, leading us to eat more and more to obtain the satisfaction we crave. Thus, the more we consume, the greater our needs become, and the less control we seem to have over our bodies - and so the vicious cycle continues. The fact that a whole industry is dedicated to making money off sugar addicts doesn’t make it easy to quit.
Fortunately, this dependence is reversible. One of the beauties of Banting is that it allows you to eat fat, which satisfies the reward centre without overloading it, and gradually readjusts the pallet to detect the sweetness in healthy, low-carb foods (and to recognise the sickening, headache-inducing sugar levels in the sweets we have come to depend on).
Everybody messes up from time to time – especially when working to break an addiction. The important thing is not to get mired down in our failures. So you got takeout after a long week? It’s not great, but this does not mean your eating plan is “ruined anyway” and that you might as well make a weekend of it. Pick yourself up and get back on the “bantwagon” by reminding yourself that although you slipped up, you are still worthy of great health and happiness, and that numbing your feelings will ultimately cause the problem to metastasise.
Try the following guerilla tactics to help prevent relapse on difficult days. First, try to anticipate these days, and to prepare yourself appropriately. Do you get unusually peckish after supper? Maybe it is because you are bored and need to find a creative outlet to get that lift you need. If you do end up looking to food as a coping mechanism, be sure to have delicious fatty snacks on hand such as pork crackling or biltong instead of the usual glass of wine or packet of chips.
Hitting your menstrual cycle? Be prepared! Enlist emotional support, and take the first opportunity to stock up on Banting foods to turn to when cravings are at their worst. Some people become slightly anaemic during menstruation, so eat more protein and fat and avoid carbs as best you can, you’ll feel much better than if you succumb to the addictive behaviour.
Another tip that often helps enormously is to let go of Xylitol. It may be physically harmless, but adding sweetener to your teas, coffees and fat shakes may encourage your daily search for sweetness, and keep you emotionally addicted to the taste of sugar.
Lastly, it helps to stick to your meal plan. Shop and cook ahead, and record what you eat if this helps to keep you on track. If you do look for comfort in your food (and it’s hard not to at first – it’s not like other addictive substances that can be avoided), be sure to indulge in fats. This will make you feel full, and less tempted by sugary alternatives.
Our Certified Banting Coach (CBC), Gerda Bruwer, understands this relationship between food and emotions first hand as her own struggles led her to become a qualified Eating Psychology & Nutrition Coach. As a CBC, she wants to help you come to terms with this relationship so that you can trust your body again and have a healthy relationship with food.We have many more CBCs, each with their own personal Banting success stories that want to help you find your Banting success. Find your perfect group today.