The key to success is building a strong foundation.
When it comes to recovery from sugar addiction, what does a strong foundation look like?
A supportive, enjoyable meal plan is probably one of the first things that comes to mind.
However, many are surprised to learn that food is only about 10% of recovery. It’s the first thing that needs to be addressed, and some say it’s a BIG 10%, but it’s really only the beginning.
The other 90% is what makes recovery a holistic process. It’s also what we need for long-term recovery.
So, what does ‘holistic’ really mean? The philosophical definition of holistic is:
‘Comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.’
While the medical definition is:
‘The treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.’
So, what exactly does this mean?
For starters, it means that simply changing what we eat by letting go of our drug-foods is not enough to sustain recovery from sugar addiction. We need to build our personal ‘tool-kit’ in such a way that the tools are ready for us whenever necessary.
As everything in life, the ‘tools’ that propel one forward will vary slightly from person to person. However, there are some fundamentals that all who seek long term recovery need to consider. According to Bitten Jonsson, a pioneer in the field of sugar addiction recovery, we need to have a variety of tools in our toolkit, which include knowledge about addiction, and a strong support network.
Looking at sugar addiction from a holistic perspective, recovery is most successful when we include all 7 pillars of wellness which are: Emotional, Environmental, Intellectual, Occupational, Physical, Social, and Spiritual.
Let’s look at each of these.
Emotional wellness is a constantly shifting aspect of our health. Being emotionally aware involves the recognition that a wide range of feelings exists in both yourself, and others. An emotionally-well person can freely express and manage their feelings, thoughts, and behaviour .
When it comes to sugar addiction, many of us have struggled with our emotions in large part due to what is called volatile blood sugar (a.k.a. blood sugar swings or ‘the blood sugar rollercoaster’). When our blood sugar goes through these ups and downs, it can affect our emotions which may be expressed through a variety of ways.
Dr. Lauren Dyer, who holds training in Chinese Medicine, and is a Doctor of Acupuncture, discusses the blood sugar rollercoaster explaining that “blood sugar chaos creates psychiatric-like symptoms including: mood swings, irritability, “hanger,” anxiety, depression, bipolar, and those associated with ADHD. So, while many have joked about feeling “hangry”, it’s a sign that the body is out of balance and is desperately asking for help.
With sugar addiction, addressing our emotions must include a two-pronged approach; first, balancing the blood sugar, mainly through nutrition, as well as learning to express and manage your emotions.
I referenced the feelings wheel in a previous post, which can be a useful tool in helping you to get in touch with your own emotions. Using the feelings wheel can help you identify what you’re feeling with more precision, and can help to de-intensify the situation, which can help you approach it with a more rational mind. Using it consistently can even help to improve your communication with others.
Environmental wellness includes being aware of how your daily habits impact the overall health of the earth, and being involved in socially responsible activities to protect the environment . This may include simple habits such as composting or recycling, but also looks at energy conservation and sustainability.
Doing what we can to support the environment by shopping local, and supporting small businesses not only decreases the environmental impact of the manufacturing and transportation sector, but also has a positive impact on our recovery from sugar addiction. One reason for this is the fact that shopping local often translates into the increased likelihood that you are consuming nutrient dense foods (i.e., farmer’s markets offering locally raised meats, vegetables, dairy products etc.).
In addition to this, taking any action that connects us to our environment has a profound impact on our recovery. We are all fundamentally connected to nature; losing sight of this can be one reason we may feel a sense of disconnection, and disconnection is a big red flag in addiction.
Whether it’s connecting with local farmers or growers, doing your part to lessen your impact on the environment, or spending time in nature you are improving your environmental wellness which can positively influence your recovery from sugar addiction.
Physical wellness includes nutrition, physical activity, sleep, and avoiding harmful or high-risk activities such as smoking cigarettes or not wearing a seat-belt, respectively.
Prioritizing these components of health will not only increase your chances of living longer, but will also amplify the quality to those extra years.
By now it may be starting to become clear why ‘food is only 10%’. So besides following a nutrient dense way of eating, how else can we improve our physical wellness?
Let’s start with physical activity. We all know that moving our bodies is important. For some sports and exercise comes naturally, but for others, the thought of it is painful and tedious. Therefore, it’s important meet yourself where you’re at and choose activities that you enjoy. For some that might be going for a run or lifting weights, but for others it may simply be standing up for short periods or doing seated exercises. We all have to start somewhere.
Same goes for sleep. If you’re in the habit of staying up late every night, the thought of going to bed early can be overwhelming. However, starting with a commitment to hit the sack just 15 minutes earlier than usual can pave the way for a life-altering change.
Next, avoiding harmful and high-risk activities doesn’t equate to a boring life. It simply means that you make smarter choices. If you like thrills, perhaps you make a commitment to learn a new skill like skiing, or look for a way to get over a fear of public speaking.
Physical wellness is multifaceted and is probably the first thing we think of when we hear the word wellness, but as you can see, it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Intellectual wellness includes continuous learning, development, creative application and articulation of critical thinking and expressive/intuitive skills and abilities .
Looking at recovery from sugar addiction, how does intellectual wellness factor in? Well, for starters, obtaining knowledge about addiction is a powerful key to our recovery.
Firstly, it’s important to understand and acknowledge that addiction is chronic and progressive. This means that there’s no cure. We can, however, put our sugar addiction into remission, and learning techniques in which to achieve this is important for our intellectual wellness.
For example, some of us need to understand how and why things work the way they do. For sugar addicts, understanding the role of the dopamine reward pathway in the brain and its connection to addiction can help to decrease the shame and guilt, and boost motivation.
In addition to this, numerous studies have shown that lifelong learning has a positive impact on our overall happiness. One reason for this is that learning, at any age enhances our potential for living a more fulfilling life.
What are some ways in which we can inspire intellectual wellness? Besides taking college courses, things like journaling, painting, being involved in theater, or challenging your mind with games and puzzles also contribute to learning and intellectual wellness.
When’s the last time you learned something new? Can you remember the child-like bliss that accompanied it?
Social wellness involves our ability to interact successfully in one-on-one encounters as well as in our global community. This includes maintaining commitments regarding our personal roles within these relationships, and doing so harmoniously whenever possible.
Many sugar addicts feel alone, which is compounded by the fact that our friends and family often do not understand addiction, or may even intentionally sabotage efforts of recovery. Therefore, connecting with a group of like-minded individuals is one of the best things we can do to support our ongoing recovery from sugar addiction.
As we say in addiction recovery, ‘connection is protection’ and ‘the opposite of addiction is connection’.
Building and maintaining relationships with those that understand addiction, and support you in living sugar-free, is a foundational component of long-lasting recovery.
In my recovery circle, we focus on becoming the best versions of ourselves, so that we can spread positivity and hope to others.
One of the ways we do this is by following the principles laid out in the The Four Agreements, which are:
Committing to these agreements can have a profound impact on how you view and interact with the world, both locally and globally.
Just as I stated earlier, each of us has to find what works best for us. Some of us thrive in large groups, while others prefer smaller groups or one-on-one connections. All of these are can be helpful; I found a combination of these connections, tailored to your current needs, works best.
Spiritual wellness involves having guiding beliefs, principles, or values that help give direction to one's life . Many associate spirituality with religion, and for some this is the case. For others, spirituality can simply involve believing in something greater than ourselves, such as a higher power but can also simply be the power we feel when we are a connected to a group of like-minded individuals.
However you approach it, spirituality provides us with meaning and purpose.
When it comes to sugar addiction, spiritual wellness can support recovery through that connection to a higher power. The 12-step model is an excellent example of this. The 12-Steps, which was originated by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), provide a suggested program of recovery that worked for the early members of AA and continued to work through the years for many others, regardless of the type of substance they used [12 steps].
A spiritually-well person associates with, and follows a set of beliefs, principles or values and seeks harmony between what lies within them, as well as the power that exists externally.
Occupational wellness involves making use of your gifts, skills, and talents in order to gain purpose, happiness, and enrichment in your life. Some of us are blessed in that we love our job and find great satisfaction through it. For others, we still don’t know what we want to do ‘when we grow up’, and have yet to find a purpose.
Finding that purpose in life is a crucial part of recovery from sugar addiction. For many, sugar addiction has led to problems at work, including conflicts with bosses or co-workers, or simply dissatisfaction with our role. Since sugar impacts the way our brain functions (it’s a powerful psychoactive drug), it plays a significant role in our mood and emotions and how we deal with stressful events. This includes those at the workplace, although we might not have made the connection at the time.
Now, recovery from sugar addiction doesn’t mean that you have to quit your job, although this may turn out the be the case for some! However, all of us will likely need to make changes in how we approach our roles in order to make positive changes in our workplace, and achieve occupational wellness.
Overall, occupational wellness means successfully integrating a commitment to our occupation into a total lifestyle that is satisfying and rewarding .
So, there we have it! The seven dimensions of wellness applied to sugar addiction. When it comes down to it, recovery from sugar addiction is about finding a way to live our best life with passion and integrity. We achieve this by using the tools that serve us in that moment. We don’t use all the tools, all the time. That would be messy and would consume all of our time. Same goes for the seven dimensions of wellness, incorporating them into our lives is a balancing act. The more we do it the easier it gets, but it’s never going to be perfect!
In closing, while having an addiction usually evokes thoughts of misery and struggle, I prefer to view it as a blessing in disguise. I have a special brain that just need special attention. Sugar addiction, when treated holistically, gives us the opportunity to live longer, healthier, happier, fulfilling lives!
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