Registered Psychologist Patrea O’Donoghue, talks about how she overcame her ‘addiction’ to sugar and cut it out of her diet for good.
My partner read Sweet Poison about 9 years ago after attending an 8-week challenge at his gym. The dietitian/nutritionist mentioned Sweet Poison and the effect that sugar has on weight gain – sugar, not fat, being the real culprit in weight gain (not to mention inflammation, dental decay and other issues). We subsequently came across the effect of sugar on the brain and its very addictive nature.
My partner gave up sugar and in a short time shifted a few kilos. I subsequently decided to give eliminating added sugar a go and quickly realised I had a little (legal) addiction going on – after some time having created the habit of having a little sweet ‘treat’ after meals.
Two skills I had learned through my work as a psychologist quickly came to be used to help with the cravings, which usually arose at the end of lunch and dinner.
I reminded myself of a saying that I came across in the field of mindfulness – ‘this too shall pass’. Based on the concept of ‘impermanence’, nothing stays the same, so I reminded myself that the cravings will pass.
A somewhat related concept helped me – the 90 second rule. That experiences such as cravings and emotions, rise then fall away if we just let them be – that is if we don’t react to them. So by applying my mindfulness skills to notice the cravings – physical and mental – and then just allowing the space for this experience (these sensations and thoughts) to be without reacting, then these sensations and cravings will just pass away in about 90 seconds.
Initially it took up to 3 minutes. By NOT reacting, I mean physically by NOT heading to the fridge for a treat nor mentally by NOT indulging in thinking about how easy it would be to just have something sweet then I’d be out of the pain of cravings.
The first 2 weeks were tough – the cravings were super intense. But by applying the mindfulness, the sensations did rise up and then they fell away. Within 3 minutes the whole experience had passed and I could get on with my day.
Weeks 3-4 were not as intense but still required dedicated focus to ride the wave of the craving without buckling. Getting past week 4, felt like I had really turned a corner – it then became easy. The cravings weren’t as intense, nor did they last very long. I had conquered the calls of the sweet poison. I subsequently shed the 5kgs that had crept on with our habit of going out and having weekly sweets at a coffee shop and the daily 1-2 small pieces of chocolate (such as a small choc square). I wasn’t big, but I was pushing the upper limit of the BMI for my height. Having given added sugar the flick, I have found it much easier to stay within the mid-range of the healthy BMI band for my height.
So, in short things that helped me quit sugar included:
- Mindfulness of the tendency to want to react quickly to get rid of discomfort
- Reminding myself of the 90 second rule – that the uncomfortable experience will pass if I don’t react.
It worked a treat!! No drugs. No packages. No expensive solutions. Just a natural curiosity and willingness to be patient a few times a day. Just a shift in how I paid attention to the experience of cravings.
This too shall pass
Patrea has been a registered psychologist for over 20 years. She has felt Positive Psychology has enriched her life and would love others to have that same experience. Positive Psychology melds well with the areas of work in which Patrea specialises: coaching psychology, sport and exercise psychology, general psychology, and mindfulness.
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