Connection Between Bulimia and "Sugar Addiction"

Recently, someone wrote and asked me if I thought there was a connection between bulimia and the way sugar seems to affect bulimics and binge eaters - namely, "sugar addiction". (I use " " because, while sugar doesn't lead to the same chemical dependency that, say, heroin does, the intense and immediate cravings sugar causes seem to invariably trigger binges).

My answer is a resounding YES, I do.

Sugar and simple carbohydrates (think white starches) are almost guaranteed to set off a binge, no matter how well-intentioned the bulimic or binge-eater may be about taking "just a little". As I wrote about in my earlier entries "Practical Considerations", a period of abstinence from these types of "trigger foods" is needed as the bulimic walks toward freedom. Later, as attitudes towards food relax and "normalize", it should be safe to add them back in moderate amounts, but you will find it MUCH easier to avoid bingeing by exercising some common sense in this nutritional area. (Just be sure to eat some carbs - healthy, non-binge-inducing ones such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, squash, etc.) You get the idea. As I've said before, I'm a huge fan of common sense.

Interestingly, the day after this discussion about why recovering bulimics should avoid sugar, Yahoo ran an interesting article, "The Top 7 Worst Foods for your Mood". Now, we all know that everything we read on the internet is Gospel truth (insert tongue firmly in cheek here), but in THIS case I get to say "I told you so". You will note that ALL of these foods are processed and high in carbohydrates, including the alcohol, which if you are bulimic you should NOT be drinking anyway. (See? That common sense thing again).

Here is the piece in full:

The top 7 worst foods for your mood

It’s a dreary weekday. You got a parking ticket. Your boss called you in for a closed-door meeting. There are dishes in the sink and a significant other on the couch. For whatever reason (or combination of the above) you’re in a terrible mood. Whatever you do, don’t take solace in the following foods! After scouring the web for expert nutrition advice, I discovered that these comfort food favorites can also be energy-sucking, headache-inducing, anxiety-causing culinary downers:


While a bagel may seem like a safe morning staple, according to health expert, author, and certified nutritionist Samantha Heller, white grains, especially when ingested without protein, can cause a spike in blood sugar. Your body reacts by pulling your blood sugar down, causing you to feel lethargic. So while that morning bagel may fill you up and give you a momentary sense of well-being, you’ll regret it an hour later when you’re tired, cranky, and you forget the client’s name (again) on your 11 a.m. conference call.


Mass-produced packaged meats, such as salami, bologna, and hot dogs (basically anything you could procure at a gas station) are loaded down with nitrates, a common food preservative. According to Christine Simmons of HeathAssist.net, nitrate-containing foods can cause migrane headaches, as well as tension headaches—that lovely head-in-a-vise feeling. If you've gotta get your cured meat on, look for organic or locally sourced options.


The cupcake craze shows no sign of ebbing—any birthday, engagement party or office celebration will inevitably trot out these frosted sugar-bombs. According to Susan Biali, M.D. in Psychology Today, carbohydrate-rich foods enable tryptophan to enter the brain, which produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter that, simply put, makes us feel great. But the surge of energy caused by the combo of white flours and white sugars is followed by a major crash, as well as mood swings and agitation, making for not-so-happy birthdays.

According to Men’s Health
editor David Zinczenko, white chocolate is a sweet imposter. It’s not technically chocolate, as it lacks the cocoa solids to stimulate feel-good boosters like serotonin. So you get all of the sugar (and subsequent sugar crash) of real chocolate with none of the benefits. If you’re going to indulge, stick with the real thing—the darker the better.


French fry, mon cherie! You tempt me with your crisp saltiness, tender insides, and heavenly golden sheen, but you’re bad for me, and even worse for my mood. Not only are fast food fries loaded with refined carbohydrates, sugars, and a whopping salt content, health expert and "Recipe Doctor" columnist Elaine Magee, MPH, RD reveals that many contain “bad fats” (saturated and trans fats), which take hours to digest, putting you into a sluggish food coma. If you must indulge (and I understand if you must), make your own!


While a drink or a glass of wine at the end of the day releases the brain chemical beta-endorphin for a momentary rush of buzzy contentment, remember that this feeling is fleeting. Leading toxicology expert and author Sherry Rogers, MD warns that alcohol is a depressant. The more alcohol you drink, the more it depresses your mood, interferes with cognition, and causes reckless or aggressive behavior. You know that sad, surly person at the end of the bar shouting at the TV? Don’t be that person.


I know, pumpkin latte season is here with gingerbread lattes soon to come, but caffeine makes you feel energized by triggering the pituitary gland to produce adrenaline, and if you drink too much too quickly, this sharp increase in adrenaline can increase anxiety. According to WebMD, side effects of too much caffeine also include headache, agitation, chest pain, and ringing in the ears. The added sugars in flavored drinks will give you a momentary rush, but in an hour or so you’ll start to feel like it's January 1st.

For recipes that will make you feel good, check out these warm and cozy fall desserts. For some holiday cheer, try our Thanksgiving or Christmas cookie favorites, or join our cookie swap.

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