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Is Your Habit An Addiction?

As with many families, mine has a long history of addiction. Though, I did not realize this until I was older. Didn’t everyone’s dad pick them up with a styrofoam cooler full of beer in his back seat? Wasn’t binge eating a bag of Cheetos in front of the TV how everyone’s mom spent their Sundays? The things that were “normal” to me as a kid were not necessarily healthy.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to “save” loved ones from alcoholism, and it was easy to feel healthy and in control by comparison. But, now that I have given up trying change people or they have gotten sober themselves, there is no one to focus on but myself. I am left with only my habits. And, I’m honestly not sure how I didn’t see them before!

My issues with food started when I was young and couldn’t gain weight no matter how hard I tried. I would often eat an entire box of Keebler Soft Batch chocolate chip cookies in one sitting, and drink shakes containing creatine (a bulking supplement that bodybuilders use) with several thousand calories per serving. For lunch in high school, I’d go to Subway and eat a footlong sub with 2 cookies, a bag of chips, and a soda. At the age of 15, I got my first real job as a hostess at a restaurant in Scottsdale. Most nights I would order a pizza for dinner and a double fudge brownie sundae with ice cream, nuts, whipped cream, caramel and hot fudge for dessert.

This was normal until I suddenly ballooned at 18 years old, adding 25lb pounds in just a few months. My metabolism changed, but my eating habits hadn’t. I had trained my body to eat large quantities of food and high amounts of sugar. Changing this has proven to be an ongoing battle. After 13 years of practice, I feel like I am winning most days — until recently.

I made some pretty big fitness goals for 2014 and began my own 15-Day Rebelle Fit Challenge. The challenge requires giving up added sugar. And, after having more than enough to drink over the holidays, I decided to give up alcohol too.

Quitting sugar has been tough because it is in just about everything. I’ve had some fatigue and headaches because of the sugar withdrawals, but so far it’s doable.

Giving up alcohol was kind of okay for about a week until several days ago when I woke up feeling hot and chilly at the same time, lying in soaking wet sheets. My big old dog was lying on the blanket next to me and I thought for sure that he must have had an accident. Yuck!

I was a bit shocked when I got out of bed and realized that my shirt and pillow were also soaked. Holy shit. That’s from me?! Seriously, I drink a few nights a week and eat well most days. How can my withdrawals be so severe?!

It has really gotten me thinking and I’ve decided to tackle the question, “When does a habit cross over into an addiction?” I have been surprised by what I’ve learned, and think it might be sooner than most of us think.

The dictionary definition of “Addict” is:

1. Physiologically or psychologically dependent on a habit-forming substance

2. To occupy (oneself) with or involve (oneself) in something habitually or compulsively

According to Medical News Today, alcoholism is described as, “A physical compulsion, together with a mental obsession. Apart from having an enormous craving for alcohol, an alcoholic often yields to that craving at the worst possible times.”

WedMD explains food/sugar addiction as, “People who are addicted to food will continue to eat despite negative consequences, such as weight gain… trouble stopping their behavior, even if they want to or have tried many times to cut back.”

According to a study on sugar addiction signs of addiction and dependency include cravings, bingeing, withdrawals, and sensitization — meaning that one thing leads to another. Like, if you smoke then it leads you drink or if you eat simple carbs then you eat sweets.

This table shows what the American Heart Association (AHA) says is a healthy added sugar intake. Basically 12 grams for the average woman and 36 grams for the average man. That’s not much!

Daily Calorie Level  1,600  1,800  2,000  2,200 
Added Sugars, Example 12 grams (3 tsp) 20 grams (5 tsp) 32 grams (8 tsp) 36 grams (9 tsp)


Added sugar is nearly impossible to avoid. Today at the store I noticed this AHA certified marinara sauce, which has 10 grams in ONE serving. If I eat this seemingly healthy option, it will account for almost my entire day’s allowance of sugar — assuming I only have half a cup.

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If I decide to have a couple pieces 100% whole wheat bread with it, I‘m now at 16 grams of sugar. Damn!

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And, if I had my usual healthy brand fruit and nut bar for a snack earlier in the day, I’m screwed.

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So far, that’s 30 grams of added sugar and I haven’t even counted breakfast, lunch, an afternoon treat, or an evening nightcap.

As a fitness coach, I am supposed to set the example of a healthy lifestyle, yet I’m having serious trouble giving up sugar and alcohol. It’s everywhere — including the foods with labels promising to be the healthiest option.

I’ve struggled with this the past couple weeks — feeling like a bit of a hypocrite and even going to an AA meeting to explore the idea of having a serious issue. Given my family history I am not naive enough to believe that I am immune.

With some introspection and research, I don’t think I am an alcoholic or sugar addict, but the jury is still out. After a couple weeks being mostly sugar and alcohol free, I’ve decided that though I do want to be aware of my intake, I don’t want to be completely sober or sugarless.

I have changed my self-inflicted “no drinking” rule to only drinking socially. No more sipping a cocktail at home while I work or clean or watch Shark Tank. I’ll save alcohol for when there is a social occasion that calls for it.

And, since I’m going to be social later tonight, drinking a glass of red wine while I write this doesn’t count, right?

4 comments… add one
  • Karen Telschow Johnson January 12, 2014, 1:43 am

    Thank you for sharing. No one’s perfect. The caliber of who we are as human beings is determined in times of adversity and whether we move forward or stay stuck. You’re courageous with every decision every day when you make healthy choices. Thanks for your candor and leadership.

    • Tatum January 12, 2014, 5:12 am

      Thanks a lot Karen, I appreciate your kind words.

  • Joyce Emily January 12, 2014, 3:09 pm

    This is what I love about you.. Your authenticity. Thank you for sharing this very real question i think so many (if their brave enough) ask. I can tell you YES i am a sugar addict and it’s VERY real. I recommend a great book that changed my life “Potatoes Not Prozac” by Kathleen DesMaisons. She also has a website http://radiantrecovery.com/ . Great info! Thanks for sharing and for keeping it real. You are a STRONG, smart, determined, beautiful, caring woman who i know can change any habit she wants to. 🙂

    • Tatum January 12, 2014, 3:20 pm

      Thank you Joyce! I appreciate your honesty, and thanks for that book recommendation. I’ll check it out!

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