This is Your Brain on Sugar

As I stare at this blank word document, I can hear my grandmother’s voice in my head clear as day.

“All that soda will rot your teeth”

“All that candy will give you worms”(yes, that is an actual quote)

Among other crazy Italian grandmother type sayings, she would frequently rattle off.

We hear since childhood that sugar is bad for us, we understand, nod in agreement. But when its someone’s birthday and they break out that fudgy the whale cake, you best believe we’re getting in on that frozen fudgy goodness.

When I was over 300lbs, sugar was a large part of my diet. From 32oz Gatorades to king-sized candy bars, I couldn’t get enough.

I spent so much time in that obesity prison that I knew no other existence. I never cut sugar out for long enough to reap the benefits, blind to its effect on me. You get used to anything after a while, even everyday activities being a winded struggle.

I lost a significant amount of weight around 2016. I spent the year essentially white-knuckling it, depending solely on discipline to get me through. By 2017 I found the low carb way of eating, and progress ramped up tenfold.

This new lifestyle eliminated my sugar and carbohydrate consumption almost entirely. It also removed a bunch of other processed nonsense I frequently enjoyed.

The change left me feeling on top of the world. But because it was so dramatic, eliminating all possible culprits, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was making me feel so good.

Years later, once I reached my goal weight, I experienced the other side of the fence. I felt so good for so long I completely forgot that debilitated, sluggish feeling.

All it took was a week or two back in that awful state to instill the fear of God in me. I got a brief peek through that window, a reminder of how it feels to live that 300lb life, and I refuse to go back.

Common Ground in a Conflicting Industry

My interest in nutrition led to a whole bunch of self-learning, research, and eventually even a career shift. It involved a lot of sifting through the bullshit: gimmicks, outrageous claims, skewed studies.

Regardless of different biases and nutritional philosophies, a few points of emphasis remained constant, getting enough sleep, sun/vitamin d, eliminating seed/vegetable oils, and finally, eliminating processed SUGAR.

Sure, there are plenty of health professionals preaching the “everything in moderation” mindset. Whether you believe in that philosophy or not, it still acknowledges sugar’s awful effects on the body. It’s categorized in that once every blue moon, “special treat” type of category.

Unfortunately for me and many others that struggle with food addiction, that “special treat” is often the one wobbly wheel on the train to complete derailment — further strengthening the argument that sugar leans more towards the drug category than it does food.

I have managed to stay virtually sugar-free for the last year or so. Even still, I’ve experimented with “cheat meals” in every form or fashion you can think of, fallen off and gotten back on track more times than I can count.

Fear isn’t the motivation behind this piece; one grain of sugar isn’t going to turn you into an addicted zombie. I have recovered from plenty of “cheats” just fine, no harm, no foul.


Every binge eating bender I’ve experienced all started with a sugary treat in my hand.

Never in my life have I gone off the rails from eating meat or vegetables.
A Slippery Slope With No Snowboard

Many of us are emotional eaters. When food is comfort for most of your life, it’s natural to reach for that teddy bear when things get tough.

Rough week at work? Relationship troubles? That inner food addict is creatively persuasive. Anything becomes an excuse to get that fix. Everything is proof, “you deserve it.”

This situation was no different. A few months into COVID, that “we’re in this together” attitude faded. Realizing this was going to be way more than just a few months. The uncertainty, coupled with watching my savings deplete, led to a temporary unraveling.

What was supposed to be a one-night cheat meal turned into an entire weekend, quickly extending to a full week, and then two.

Anyone who has struggled with weight gain knows this cycle well.

It’s something I battled with early on in my journey. The psychology behind cheat meals and the all-or-nothing mindset deserves a separate conversation. For now, I’ll stick to the task at hand.

It caught me off guard. That mentality crept back in like an old friend, and I let it run wild for a few days. I assumed I would shake it off like usual. I knew this situation well.

The weekend had passed. By Sunday night, I was already starting to feel like crap and decided to go back to normal tomorrow.

But I didn’t.

The Mental the Bad and the Ugly

The depression I woke up with Monday morning was an old, familiar feeling as well. The self-loathing was so intense; you would think I ballooned back up to 360 pounds, robbed a bank, and slapped an old lady all in one weekend.

I felt helpless. The disciplined voice in my head silenced, replaced by one that made excuses and sought comfort. I gave in, allowing my current misery and erratic headspace to run the show, convincing me to “just enjoy myself” for a few more days.

Just like that, I felt like the old me again. Defeated, miserable, and not in control. For the rest of the week, I was on autopilot. It was like watching myself in 3rd person with someone else behind the wheel.

Only a few days prior, I was genuinely loving life. Now, I thought I was a failure. I didn’t have any business being a health coach or existing in that industry at all. “How the hell am I supposed to help people when I can’t even help myself.”

I went from having virtually zero depression and anxiety in three years to becoming an anxious, depressed wreck in 72 hours.

Irritability was through the roof, with zero interest in associating with friends or family. I ignored calls and completely alienated myself for those two weeks.

My thoughts felt crazy. I knew it was all completely irrational but could do nothing. Even writing about it now seems overly dramatic, but when you’re in that position, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

The Physical the Bad and the Ugly

At the end of the first week, my depleted mental state convinced me to keep the “fun” rolling. By week two, the physical effects became way more apparent.

The first thing I noticed was the night sweats. Night after night, I would wake up in a gross pool of it despite setting the AC to the mid-sixties.

I watched myself swell up like an overfilled balloon animal. It was most visible in my face, hands, and feet. I dealt with a severe case of sausage fingers, chipmunk cheeks, and swollen feet to the point where I had to loosen the laces on my shoes.

I spoke earlier about getting used to feeling a certain way over time. These symptoms are things I dealt with every day of obesity. They ALL disappeared throughout my weight loss journey, and they ALL came back during that second week.

I was always tired and had zero energy, even though those two weeks consisted of absolutely nothing. My day involved waking up, shoving a few bowls of cereal in my face, playing some video games, and passing out. Then repeat.

Reaching the Breaking Point

Eventually, it ran its course on me. I couldn’t imagine another day feeling that way, and I have no idea how I survived those earlier years in such a sorry state.

I white-knuckled that first week back to reality the same way I did early on in my journey.
Perhaps a third week should have been added to this article — many of the side effects amplified during that weeklong detox. Still, that misery was all the motivation I needed to push through.

Similar to the fed-up feeling when I started. Similar to how some of you might be feeling this very moment reading this.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I am a full-fledged food addict, sugar addict, whatever you’d like to call it.

The tendency to lose myself in that all or nothing mentality is what led me down this road in the first place, it is what led me to morbid obesity. So, I understand the perspective that my unique experience has no bearing on others.

I can’t speak to everyone’s psychology or relationship to food, and I can’t argue against any criticisms of how I got into that relapse predicament. What I can speak to is sugar’s effect on me once I got there.

I assumed my mental health issues had everything to do with my past, my weight, and my insecurities. It made sense to me, so I didn’t give it a second thought.

I lost the weight, obviously increasing my confidence, and the rest followed. While I know all of this played a tremendous role, I’m not sure it tells the entire story.

This recent speed bump was a rough one, but I’m incredibly thankful it happened. It opened my eyes to the dangers of sugar and shed even more light on how messed up our food industry, and dietary guidelines are.

We are in Desperate Need of a Change

It’s no wonder we are so unhealthy as a society, physically and mentally. Diet may not be the only cause, but it’s certainly a big one.

I got a sneak peek at the life I used to live, a quick view from the ghost of Christmas past, and I want no part of it.

It’s mind-blowing how heavily these products are pushed daily. It’s impossible to watch tv, surf the internet, or leave your house without having a captain crunch ad shoved in your face. Not advertised as a treat, but as “part of a balanced breakfast.” Safe to eat every day along with your white toast and gallon of orange juice, according to the commercials.

If you still aren’t convinced, I’ve done a two-second Google search of “the dangers of sugar,” and I suggest you do the same. These articles are on the first page. Most of them are in the top few results. Take a look at them for yourself.

With this abundance of data so readily available, the question remains. Why is nothing being done about it? Why are these products still pushed continuously on us? On our children?

Why is half of our population stuck in a prison that is their body? Most importantly, why have the dietary guidelines not changed despite the overwhelming information?

If you are unhappy with your quality of life, experiencing similar symptoms I did, or feel like you need a change, why not try a month without sugar?

See how you feel after that month and decide for yourself if those treats are worth being a part of your daily life.

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