Confession of a Food Addict

JANUARY 28, 2014 | VOL 20

Confession of a Food Addict

It’s true. I admit it. I am a food addict.

I used to eat Grape Nuts and ice cream for breakfast.

I invented Oreo cookie ice cream. When I was a kid in the 1970s, I would come home from school and get a giant bowl of vanilla ice cream and a bag of Oreo cookies. I used almost the whole row of Oreos. Then, I would carefully scrape off the white sugary part in the middle and sprinkle it on top. Then, I would crumble the cookie part into the ice cream and stir it all up until it was a creamy, delectable delight. Yum!

When I was 18, I became a vegetarian and thought giant cookies made with whole-wheat flour, chocolate chips, honey, and nuts were a health food. Every night, I would slather mounds of honey over peanut butter on a big slice of bread.

It was the low-fat 80s, when honey, maple syrup and sugar were health foods. After all, they were low fat. Our own government was encouraging us to eat 8-11 servings of rice, cereal, bread, and pasta.

Cereal? Really? Most cereals are 75 percent sugar. That’s not breakfast. It’s desert, even the whole-grain ones.

As my friend, Harvard professor David Ludwig, MD, PhD said once, “if you eat a bowl of corn flakes without the sugar or a bowl of sugar without the corn flakes, below the neck, it is the same thing. Your metabolism can’t tell the difference.”

As an adult, I continued my love affair with sugar and carbs. I made my own bread and pizza dough and ate pasta most nights. And of course, I was never without my Chunky Monkey and mint chocolate chip ice cream every night. I made waffles and pancakes regularly for my kids (and I ate them too!). They were drenched in maple syrup, of course.

I constantly craved sugar and carbs. I didn’t realize that they had hijacked my taste buds, brain chemistry, hormones, and metabolism. I didn’t realize that I was a food addict. And I am not alone—the average American eats 146 pounds of flour and 152 pounds of sugar per person per year. That’s almost one whole pound a day, combined, for every man, woman, and child in America.

I was never really overweight (except about 10 pounds or so), but I noticed that my body was changing, that I was getting a bit flabby. I realized I had TOFI—I was Thin on the Outside but Fat on the Inside, or skinny fat. I had little love handles that were forming. Yikes!

And then, I got chronic fatigue syndrome. It was sugar (and a few other things) that threw my body into a tailspin. Every night, before I went to work in the emergency room, I would eat a giant chocolate chip cookie and a half pint of Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream. Then, everything crashed. I had rashes from yeast overgrowth under my eyes and itching in places I would rather not mention. My stomach was bloated, and I couldn’t digest food. My muscles ached, and I had brain fog. I had FLC Syndrome. That’s when you feel like crap.

I realized that the “healthy” low-fat, high-carb diet I was on was making me sick and making me TOFI.

Sugar Is an Addictive Drug

That’s when I figured out that food is medicine—and that there are good and bad drugs. And sugar is the one of the most toxic drugs on the planet. In fact, sugar is the number one cause of liver disease in this country—fatty liver, which affects about 90 million Americans.

Sugar (and anything that quickly turns to sugar, such as flour) is now responsible for tens of millions of deaths every year around the world and accounts for most of the $47 trillion we will spend globally over the next 20 years dealing with obesity-related chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

The pharmacologic doses of sugar and flour I was consuming were making me sick (and fat on the inside). My blood sugar was rising, my triglycerides were up, and my liver function tests were abnormal from a fatty liver. And I wasn’t the only one. This problem—diabesity and food addiction—now affects one out of every two Americans. That’s 50 percent of us that have either pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, and 90 percent of people who have it have no clue and are not diagnosed by their doctors.

Why I Needed a Detox

I realized I needed a detox. And I started experimenting 20 years ago with how to detox, how to reset my body, how to regain control over my eating and sugar cravings, how to get my body healthy again.

I dove into the scientific research. I experimented with different diets. I tried everything with my patients to help them with their weight and health struggles. And I learned a few things.

Now, I am a recovering food addict. I don’t go looking for sugar, and my body is leaner and fitter than ever with the same amount of exercise or less. I walk right by the bakery, the candy aisle, and even the Häagen-Dazs stores, which I could never do before.

The Science of Food Addiction

There is a new science of the biology of food addiction. Rats will go for sugar over cocaine every time. The Oreo cookies always win. In fact, sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine. It lights up the brain’s addiction center even more than cocaine.

A recent Harvard study used trick milkshakes to prove once and for all that sugar is addictive. David Ludwig, MD, PhD, gave a group of overweight men two different milkshakes on different days. They looked and tasted the same and had exactly the same number of calories, protein, carbs, and fat.

But the carbs in one of the milkshakes raised blood sugar quickly while the carbs in the other one didn’t. In the high-sugar milkshake, the subject’s blood sugar spiked, insulin (the hunger and fat-storage hormone) skyrocketed, and more importantly, the addiction center in the brain—called the nucleus accumbens—lit up like the sky on the Fourth of July, even worse than with cocaine or heroin.

The facts are in.

Sugar is a drug. It is addictive.

There are over 200 million addicts in this country. And they are in need of a well-designed, scientifically grounded, goof-proof, step-by-step medical detox program. And the food has to taste great, the cravings have to stop quickly, and it has to deal with the biological withdrawal symptoms. And it has to cure FLC Syndrome (Feel Like Crap) so, at the end, you feel fabulous. Most of us have no idea that we are only a few days away from health and happiness.

That is why I created The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. Early last year, I invited over 600 people to try it out, and they lost over 4000 pounds in 10 days. But more importantly, they did it painlessly by enjoying powerful addiction-reversing foods that rewired and reset their brains and bodies in just 10 days. No cravings, no bland, boring diet food, no deprivation but with abundance and delight. And at the end, they got their body and their mind back and have learned a new way to eat and live that will last a lifetime—a long one!

If you are inspired to end your food addiction and your sugar and carb cravings and renew and reboot your health, you can pre-order The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet or get a sneak preview now!

And if you like this House Call, I encourage you to share it with your friends and family on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for the newsletter, and submit your questions, so that, next week, I may make a House Call to you.

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD

Download this week’s article – Confession of a Food Addict Blog

15 Responses to Confession of a Food Addict

  1. Jennifer January 29, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Thank you for this Dr. Hyman!

    It could not have come at a better time for me. After months (years?) of denial surrounding my own carb addiction I am working towards consistency in cutting it out. I have recently finished “Grain Brain” by Dr. Perlmutter and as he says, it is a game changer.

    Your “Blood Sugar Solution” helped me get one of my clients to a much healthier place inside and out.

    Thank you for all that you do! A true inspiration!

  2. Megan January 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    You say, “That’s not breakfast. It’s desert, even the whole-grain ones.”

    Just wanted to point out that it should be dessert.

  3. Heather @ The Soulful Spoon January 30, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    Dr. Hyman,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, am a former sugar addict and have been sober for 11 years now after I discovered a sugar-free lifestyle at age 19. I also have been refined grain-free since then. I can’t imagine going back to my old life. My health has transformed over the years after finding the plant-based wellness world five years ago. Before, I thought anything sugar-free was good. Now, I know the truth about chemicals, GMO’s, nonorganic foods and most animal foods here in the U.S.

    I am so free from the life I used to live and I can’t stress enough how much I admire your approach and enjoy your work. My blog, The Soulful Spoon, is a direct result of my desire to share how far I’ve come in health over the years with people as well. Thank you for being someone in the medical world that leads the example I wish we saw more of. Unfortunately, I never encountered any physicians interested in integrative medicine, only pharmaceutical answers, which I wanted nothing to do with. Luckily, since my health is doing so well now, I haven’t been to the doctor since 2005 for anything even as minor as the common cold.

    I just wanted to tell you how much I relate to your story and appreciate your honesty. We need more people out there like you:)

    Have a fabulous, blessed day,

    Heather McClees Williams
    Moore, SC

  4. Nancy Cichowicz January 30, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    I really appreciate this post. You were one of the speakers I heard at IIN, Aren’t we ALL food addicts at one time or another? I used to come home from work and eat 5 apples and a half pound of raisins. I was trying to regain the energy that I thought my body had lost. I know now that the hardest thing for me to do is to listen to my body — it sure seems that my head is always in the way! Anyway, thank you very much for this article!

  5. Sheila Cran-Barry January 30, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    Dr. Hyman,
    Fascinating, scary fascinating, that sugar is more addictive than cocaine or heroin. I hope you get the word out and that people pay attention. I noticed that when I gave up alcohol I
    craved sugar. I’ve been on JJ Virgin’s detox- no dairy, gluten, soy, peanuts, eggs, sugar and artificial sweeteners for nearly three weeks and feel great. I’ve avoided gluten and dairy for quite a while, and haven’t missed the ice cream, my formerly favorite food. That’s amazing!
    Sheila Cran- Barry

  6. Marty January 30, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    Is this detox diet gluten and daily free as I am also trying to figure out what foods I am sensitive to?

  7. Martha Holschen January 30, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    How is the Blood Sugar Solution Ten Day Detox different from the Seven Day Detox information I bought last year (aside from the three days, of course)?

    More importantly, is there some significant new information in this book beyond what I have in the Blood Sugar Solution book and cookbook?

  8. Harold Ward January 30, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    Great, hard-hitting article!
    Thank you for pulling no punches and getting down to the nitty gritty of sugar addiction. My heart breaks watching my kids and their friends consume sugar and caffeine with the ferocity of a hungry tiger. I have only been able to overcome my life-long sugar addiction by reading good articles like this and becoming more educated about the subject. Giving up alcohol and caffeine was a breeze compared to giving up sugar, and there are really no satisfactory and healthy substitutes. Someone, PLEASE invent a good, healthy sugar substitute! Stevia is awful.

  9. Rodney January 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm #

    Great book a must read to help break the sugar ball and chain. I fight every day to avoid as much sugar as I can. Thanks Docter for telling the truth

  10. Joyce Boyette January 30, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

    I am very interested in your detox diet. I am a sweet addict. I can make myself lose weight but I fall right back into eating sweets. Thanks for your news letter on e-mail. I need help

  11. Debbie January 30, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    Still trying to kick it. Have book and detox box. (Flash from past)

  12. Mona Eberle January 31, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Dr Hyman, this is brilliant… you are describing me! (the old me) I am a Naturopathic Nutritional Therapist trained in Dublin, Ireland, now living in the Milwaukee area. I am just shocked at how much sugar (in all it’s guises) our kids are eating. And the problem is that they think this food is NORMAL, they know no other food other than processed junk food, cause that’s what they were raised on. At least you and I grew up with a notion of healthy traditional foods and home cooked meals, but this is completely foreign to most kids. We desperately need an educational program for our kids too – got another book there for you!….
    Thank you for all you do. I am passing on your message to my clients and am grateful for your generosity in making so much of your information freely available.

  13. michele February 1, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    I am really looking for a book that helps those of us who have long term obesity and wellness issues. I have been 100 lbs overweight most of my life, chronically ill, and always working on diet and exercise…

    I have not found any sources that deal with the pain, discomfort that those of use with serious weight/sugar/ addiction have… even after months off of sugar, I am still feeling horrible…I have lost the energy and the will to try again, when nothing ever makes a difference.

    I have spent a ton of money on doctors, natural cures, healthy food…and all in all I”m ill all of the time, and totally out of money, and now unable to work.

    I would love to work with someone who can deal with the hard cases… who don’t just get fixed with 30 days on a healthy diet…that hasn’t worked for me..

    HELP… I want to have a life…


  14. Rebecca February 1, 2014 at 7:38 am #


  15. Shirley Powell February 1, 2014 at 4:16 pm #

    I really enjoy reading your mail, I am looking forward to purchasing your Detox book.
    so I can get my health back in order.

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