Alone (but never lonely) with cookies

Imagine you come home and go into the kitchen. A plate of warm chocolate chip cookies sits on the counter just out of the oven. Their smell hits you as you walk in. You do not feel hungry. No one else is around. What would you do?

From How do you know if you’re sugar sensitive?

If you’re like me, the thought of this made you literally lol or at least smile. No one else is around? Is it possible to make sweet, sweet love to a plate of warm cookies?

The cookie scenario is from a book I read after yet another shameful post about my troubling relationship with cookies prompted Below Her Means to recommend Potatoes Not Prozac. I had no idea this book existed, though I know from reading enough recovery blogs that alcoholics love their sweets. It seems we shift from too much booze to too much sugar, which is hardly surprising since booze is mostly sugar.  But I had never found any theories on why we make this switch or why we might be drawn to alcohol in the first place, and now I can’t put this book down.  

The author, Kathleen DesMaisons, believes sugar-sensitive people have an inherited biochemical tendency towards unstable blood sugar levels and low levels of serotonin and beta-endorphins. We naturally seek out sugar to fix these shortfalls, which kicks our pleasure receptors into overdrive and sets up a powerful cycle for cravings. This is why the chocolate chip cookie question made me laugh. Maybe someone could resist them, but it never crossed my mind. I was already pouring myself a glass of cold milk.

I’ve heard people talk about sugar highs and crashes, but I can’t say this fits my experience. Many times I crave sweet things more than I craved booze in the beginning months of sobriety, but I wouldn’t say I feel high after a sugar binge. It’s safer to say I feel normal but with a heaping side of shame, which is why I was drawn to south beach diet back in March. South Beach is all about eating more lean protein and lower glycemic-index foods to stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce sugar cravings. I remember looking at their list of foods to avoid and seeing two of my long-time favorites: pineapple and beets. This was the first time I felt like maybe I really was born this way.

My father has a drawer in his kitchen for hard candies and jelly beans. My great-grandmother used to eat fun-sized Milky Ways before bed because she said they helped her sleep. My anxiety-prone grandmother brings along a bag of butterscotch discs when she goes grocery shopping because she says it makes her feel calmer. My family jokes about these quirks because our natural draw to sugar is so powerful we don’t know what to make of it. This family history of sugar-lovers is an early red flag according to Potatoes Not Prozac. We can’t fight genetics, but we can change the way we eat.

I did take off weight and had fewer cravings (and subsequent shame) when I followed south beach diet. I kept the weight off and have continued to lose more, albeit at a much slower rate, probably because I regularly have forbidden things like ice cream and, yes, even pineapples and beets. The sugar cravings came back once I started giving into them, but I still focus on eating more lean protein, vegetables and whole grains. Breakfast and lunch are really easy for me to control for some reason. So I eat well when I can and recently started keeping a food journal to track what I eat and what my moods are. I am completely oblivious to a link between the two, but I’m pretty sure I’ll see one if I keep at it.

That’s another thing I like about Potatoes Not Prozac.  The solution seems like one bred of common sense and patience. It doesn’t promise overnight success and even warns against quick fixes. This and its 7-step process (which is slightly different in the older edition book I got at the library) reminds me of a certain 12-step program many alcoholics are already familiar with, though that shouldn’t be a turn-off for those not fond of formal recovery programs. Slow and steady wins the race is the message I take away. If you mess up, keep trying and find what works for you. Eventually you’ll get there.

Ultimately I need to cut out sugar binges because they make me feel worse about myself than I did in the first place. That’s a road I’ve already been down with alcohol. Sugar is harder to avoid, for sure, so I’m not looking to cut it out entirely. That doesn’t feel realistic for me. Anyway, I’m getting too far ahead of myself as usual. For now, I will do step 1, which is journal what you eat and how you feel because it’s easy enough to do and because I love pretending to be a scientist.

In that vein, I’d love to know your reaction to the warm-plate-of-cookies scenario. What would you do?

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12 thoughts on “Alone (but never lonely) with cookies

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  1. I would eat a few of the cookies. I eat a bit of something sweet every day; couple of cookies, P
    B & J sandwich, Little Debbie snack cake, few pieces of something chocolate. In time I have found a balance with sweets just like a lot of other things. If I feel like bingeing I check my motives/spiritual condition, an I looking for a quick fix by eating a bunch of chocolate or buying something I really don’t need or can’t afford. Some of us will go shopping when we feel down, produces the same high as eating a bunch of sweets and ulimately the same downer. I still feel it is better for a newcomer to eat a bunch of sweets in the early days than drink, unless they have health issues.

    I don’t have to watch my weight, I only weight 145lbs but I have been a life long coffee junkie and not the best one when it comes to eating healthy. Last year I had some stomach troubles, so I have had to disipline myself to drink less coffee and eat better. All of this is much easier now because I have used the same disipline when working the steps and staying sober 1 day at a time.

    You are using your experience in recovery to work on other aspects of your life, good for you!! Good post and I enjoyed reading it!

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    1. 100% agreed that sweets are a good alternative for newcomers. I remember eating a whole box of mike and ikes once in early-ish recovery. Funny to me now, but still it was better than drinking!

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  2. Interesting there seem to be a few of us dealing with this sugar stuff. I am definitely a cookie gobbler! My sweet cravings – cakes, muffins, cookies etc – have defintiely got worse since I stopped drinking. I dont really have a weight issue although I do control it – but I feel out of control after I sugar binge and feel a similar sense of self loathing to when I drank. It does give me a high though when I am indulging. I now feel ready to start doing something about is – so will be checking ou PnP. Thanks so much for posting.

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  3. Oh gosh. You know I would be *that* person that would grab my iPhone, pull up MyFitnessPal app, see how many calories I had eaten, and if I could spare a few, I would log One Cookie. Then I would take One Cookie from the plate, smell it, start to drool, the stuff the whole thing in my mouth. Hey, I’m good, but I’m no saint. LOL. Actually though, the more I think of it, I’d probably just pass them up now. I’d rather eat an orange or a protein bar. I cannot believe I just admitted that.

    I always had a thing for sugar. Breads, ice creams, baked goods, jelly beans, jelly beans, jelly beans… Sigh. They helped me get sober though. I gained some weight, but started running more and started logging all of my calories and nutrients with the MFP free app. I think logging my food was the number one thing that helped me lose weight, (number two was increasing my weekly mileage.) Being mindful of each thing I eat versus just eating on auto-pilot. Running and focusing on nutrients and vitamin levels helped me shift the types of foods that I was eating. Instead of bread, I snack on rice cakes now; Instead of ice cream, I have Greek yogurt, instead of jelly beans, I have grapes, instead of cookies, well I still I eat cookies but for breakfast. I still eat too many “sugar” grams, but I try to look at them as fuel versus comfort.

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  4. SO GLAD you picked up the book! I’m halfway through it now, started implementing the food steps as of last night. It’s already hard but I hope it will be worth it.

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