Diet is a 4-Letter Word

The psychology of eating

Confessions of a Sugar Addict, Part I

The surprising reason cause of my sugar addiction

My mother loved to bake. Cookies, cupcakes, muffins, biscuits, brownies – chocolate chip squares were my favorite. These goodies figured heavily into my childhood, especially our afternoon tradition. My mother would pick me up every day after school and we’d go straight for the chocolate. If it wasn’t milk and cookies at home, it was chocolate cake at Neiman Marcus’s café or French Silk Pie at Frenchy’s restaurant.

This tradition continued as I entered high school; only now my afternoon sugar fests occurred with friends. It’s no wonder that I continued this when I went away to college. My freshman year of college pretty much consisted of sugar and pizza. And then I started having fainting and dizzy spells. The campus infirmary never could figure out what was wrong with me.

It wasn’t until the summer after my freshman year that I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. Yep, all that sugar had done a number on my health. Being told never to eat sugar again when you’re an 18-year-old sugar addict is devastating, to put it mildly. And honestly, I think it’s one of the reasons I got into the health field. Being very motivated to “prove them wrong,” I learned several valuable lessons along the way – one of which is the purpose of today’s blog.

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You see, not only was I hypoglycemic, I had an intolerance to sugar. So why would I crave something I was mildly allergic to?

The answer to this question has been baffling scientists and medical doctors for years. As early as the mid-1900s, physicians observed that the foods which produced IgG reactions were usually the same foods that their patients reported craving – for as long as 72 hours after initial consumption. Fast forward to the 21st century and doctors and scientists are still asking the same question. But Dr. Jonathan Brostoff has a theory. According to Brostoff, when we have a mild immune reaction to a substance like food, it almost acts like an endorphin (e.g., runner’s high) in our bodies – with one big difference. The immediate sense of reward caused by eating the offending food is following by a physiological sense of lack, thereby increasing the craving for the food that we are actually intolerant of. But because food sensitivities are often delayed, we never connect it to the food we are craving. Weird, huh?

As an adult I had a food panel (IgG antibody) allergy test run and found that most of the things I craved were actually things I had immune responses to – sugar, dairy, wheat. So if you find yourself craving foods that seem to make you sick (e.g., bloating, rash, nausea), it may be a good idea to get a food panel test run. It didn’t make it any easier to quit eating those foods – you still crave them, for awhile anyway – but at least for me, it gave me some peace of mind and ultimately lead me to where I am today – healthy and happy (and sugar, dairy, and gluten-free)!

Stayed tuned for next week's blog: Sugar Detox 101

Mary E. Pritchard, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychology at Boise State University.

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