Episode 49 – Is My Child Addicted to Sugar?
I’m struggling with my daughter (age 14) being so ungrateful and unwilling to help out.
I’m thinking I need to stop making nice meals for her since she’s not willing to make so much as a piece of toast for herself. She’d rather sit on her phone and, if I let her, she’ll go without eating or grab whatever sweet snack she can find. It was important for me to teach my kids how to prepare healthy meals for themselves and my son will do it on occasion. We give him lunch money because when he buys lunch it’s healthy. My daughter, however, will just buy rice crispy treats and pirates booty or won’t eat at all. I’m worried about her addiction to sugar and have thought about her seeing a nutritionist but, with the attitude, I’m thinking family counseling could be useful. Could the sugar addiction be the cause of so much negative behavior? Tina
Parent Educator Answer:
Let’s talk about sugar addiction. Many people might minimize it or laugh it off, but it can be a real problem for many people. This isn’t just “OMG I’m addicted to peppermint mochas,” It is a physiological addiction that affects the brain.
I am not a nutritionist or addiction expert but my son had an experience with sugar addiction so I’m happy to talk about it in simple terms, from a mother’s perspective.
The way I understand it, sugar releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that floods the brain and creates cravings. When the dopamine high from sugar wears off, withdrawal symptoms set in. The brain requires even more sugar to bring the same good feeling, creating a craving for sweet foods. Without the dopamine inducing substance, sugar addicts feel tired, restless, anxious or depressed, making the craving even stronger to alleviate the unpleasant feeling.
Signs of sugar addiction can be: headaches, lethargy, fatigue, craving sweet and/or salty foods, insomnia, hiding sweets, making excuses or deals regarding sugar, avoiding foods without sugar, turning to sugar when feeling negative emotion, going out of your way to get sugar and feeling guilty about sugar intake.
Could Tina’s daughter negative attitude be a result of sugar addiction? Absolutely. But being ungrateful and unwilling to help, could also be a normal teenage state of mind. If you are seeing that she is constantly negative, fatigued, lethargic, fighting with her brother, avoiding emotions, and seeking out sugar to the exclusion of other foods, the root of the problem might be sugar addiction.
In a way, we were lucky. When my son was 12, he had a QEEG done of his brain and they told us he had the marker for addiction, meaning his brain was wired similiarly to the brain’s of people who struggle with addiction. We thought this was good information to know before he goes off to college and gets exposed to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. Later, when he developed a terrible sugar addiction, we had already prepared ourselves and could spot the signs of addiction.
I learned that some people have a pre-disposition for addiction but you don’t really know what will trigger it. Whether it’s sugar, alcohol, video game addiction, gambling, or porn, it’s all coming from the same place: dopamine. Different brains react differently. It is not a character flaw nor a sign of bad parenting. Getting frustrated with your child for not being able to manage her sugar intake is like getting mad at your child for having dyslexia.
I found a quote about addiction by Luke Davies who defines it like this: “When you can stop, you don’t want to and when you want to stop, you can’t.”
In the case of my son, my husband and I sat him down and told him, “We recognize this is a real problem. We love you, we are on your side and we will help you.” I remember his Dad saying, “It’s the three of us, against the addiction.”
Once he was able to experience life without sugar and noticed how much better he felt, he felt motivated to manage it and his eating habits more.
Life Coaching Answer:
It can be agonizing to watch our teens struggle with a problem. We want them to change their behavior so that we can feel better and stop worrying so much! We think, “If you could just DO better, then I could FEEL better.”
Step 1 – The first step to helping you get out of your own way is to acknowledge your maternal instincts or intuition. Thank your higher self for alerting you to the fact that something isn’t right. What happens is our maternal instincts start sounding an alarm bell. We try to shut it off by changing our child’s behavior. This doesn’t work, so we try to make peace with an alarm bell constantly ringing in our heads. Instead of that, thank it for doing it’s job. Acknowledge that your instincts are picking up on something that needs addressing.
Step 2 – Accept reality. Instead of saying, “She shouldn’t be acting this way”, accept that this is exactly what’s supposed to be happening. Allow your teen to have problems. The reason you haven’t been able to solve this problem is because it isn’t yours to solve. Your daughter needs to be involved and motivated. She needs to experience the problem as hers, with you and Dad there for support, love, and guidance. Find the facts of the situation and deal with them head on.
Step 3 – Drop the Rope. Right now you and she are on opposite ends of the rope, playing a game of tug of war. She wants sweets. You want her to eat healthy. The more you pull in your direction, the more she will pull in the opposite. It’s hard, I know, but it is so helpful to drop the rope and walk around to her side of this tug of war game. Let her know you are here to support her. Her guilt, although invisibile, is a big part of the problem. Once she knows you are on her side, and that it’s not her fault she has this predisposition, she can start releasing the guilt that is keeping her stuck. Think about how you would handle it if you found out she had dyslexia. You wouldn’t be mad or expect her to fix it on her own. You would help her find resources, outside experts, encourage her to be patient with herself.
Once you thank your intuition, accept this as HER problem that might be with her for the rest of her life, and get on her team, then you can move to step 4.
Step 4 – Hold a higher vision. It is really easy to see problems our teenagers are dealing with and catastrophize and futurize. It feels to us like an immediate problem we need to fix or else bad things will happen but this intensity will only make your daughter pull harder in the opposite direction.
Parents can help their struggling teen by imagining that their struggle has a purpose. I found it very helpful to believe that my son would use his challenge to help others. Imagine she will overcome this someday. Communicate this belief with her. Tell her that overcoming this will deepen her compassion for others and give her a broader understanding of the world. Let your daughter know that you believe in her ability to do hard things, ask for help, and prioritize her health and happiness.
We aren’t meant to go through life without problems, but we are meant to grow because of them. Let her know that good things wait for her on the other side, and you are there to support her every step of the way.
Supermom Kryptonite – “Putting on the cape”
Many of my clients are excellent at “putting on the cape.” They see their child suffering in some way and they “put on their Supermom cape” and fly to the rescue.
We love feeling capable and saving our children from problems; we were made for this! But sometimes we don’t have the resources necessary to help our kids solve all their problems. Expecting to be able to solve any problem your child ever has will drain your energy. You will know if this is your situation because everything you tried hasn’t worked. It could be that it’s your child’s problem to solve and all you need to do is drop the rope and join her support team. Or it could be that your child isn’t capable of fixing the problem on her own and it’s time to add outside experts to the panel. Just make sure it’s all of you, against the issue.
If we are dealing with addiction, we are dealing with a brain that has been hijacked. Getting professional help can be life changing. “Putting on the cape” and trying to do everything FOR our teens will drive us both crazy and exhaust us. Instead, hang up the cape, step into your daughter’s shoes and try to see things from her perspective.
Supermom Power Boost – Do something impossible
When my son’s Naturopath described the cleanse she wanted him to go on (no sugar, no gluten, no dairy), my first thought was “There is no way I could do that”.
Of course there is nothing like the health of your child to motivate you. My husband and I didn’t feel right asking our 12 year old to do something we wouldn’t do ourselves so we put ourselves on a cleanse. No sugar, gluten, dairy, no coffee, no alcohol, NO FUN!
But it was FASCINATING.
I learned so much about my eating habits. Something about the hormonal change made me feel weepy and wacky. I didn’t miss sugar at all, which surprised me, but I missed corn of all things. My husband LOVED how he felt: clear headed and energized.
My favorite thing that came from this experiment was doing something I never thought I could do. When you have the belief “I could never do that,” and then you do it, it makes you wonder “What else am I saying I could never do, that I’m fully capable of doing?”
If you want a boost of energy, try a cleanse. Or bungee jump, take a vacation by yourself, start a blog, something where you currently think, “I could never do that”. Do whatever crazy thing strikes your fancy just to prove to yourself how capable you truly are!
Quote of the Day:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The Serenity Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous