These days, sugar has become a prime target for nutritional fear mongering. People often proclaim the “dangers” of sugar with an almost religious zeal. Today, I heard someone advising others to “cut out sugar.” She then went on say, “sugar is poison.” Unfortunately, this extremist viewpoint has become increasingly common in our culture.
As a psychotherapist who specializes in treating individuals with eating disorders, I know the danger of labeling specific nutrients and food groups as “good” and “bad.” This mindset can contribute to disordered eating, eating disorders, and may lead to poor physical and mental health outcomes.
I reached out to some nutrition experts to help debunk the myth that sugar is something that we need to fear. The following are three reasons why you shouldn’t quit sugar.
1. Quitting sugar can lead to an unhealthy and disordered relationship with food.
The nutritionists that I spoke with agreed that quitting sugar could lead to obsessive thinking and a disordered relationship with food. Further, the idea of sugar of being forbidden or “off limits” can create feelings of deprivation, which is a major trigger for subsequent binging and overeating.
Caitlin Croteau, Anti-Diet Dietitian and creator of Finding Body Freedom, explains, “Quitting sugar means yet again alienating specific foods. When we tell ourselves not to eat something, it leads to increased cravings and therefore at some point may lead to either a binge episode or an all around unhealthy relationship with it. Instead of quitting sugar, I’d recommend working on creating a healthy relationship with it.”
Marsha Hudnall, MS, RD, CD, of Green Mountain at Fox Run says, “Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. If you really want to ramp up your sweet tooth, tell yourself you shouldn’t eat sugar. You’ll likely become obsessed with it.”
Beth Rosen, MS, RD, CDN, Registered Dietitian, of Goodness Gracious Living Nutrition says, “Cutting out any food or food category is restricting. When we restrict, we trigger a hormone that causes us to crave that food we have deemed “bad.” Our brains become obsessed with it and, eventually, when we eat it, we typically overeat it. This process only leaves us with a sense of failure and shame.”
2. It provides your body with energy and can make food more pleasurable.
All foods in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Food is fuel for our bodies, however it is also supposed to be pleasurable. Restricting food groups can deprive your body of important nutrients. Additionally, doing so can take away pleasure and satisfaction from the eating experience.
Josée Sovinsky, a Non-Diet Dietitian, explains, “There is no need to eliminate sugar from your life. In fact, not only is it important as a source of energy, it also makes food more pleasurable and satisfying by improving taste and texture.”
Katie Grubiak, RDN, of Eating Disorder Therapy LA, says, “Why would you want to quit that which is a part of living happily & fully in the world? Carbohydrates (AKA Sugars) as well as Fats and Proteins are what the culinary arts are made of....what our body MUST be made of. We can’t leave any one of those Macronutrients out if we are to find metabolic balance.”
Grubiak goes on to explain that, “If refined sugar-eating feels out of control, how about diving into the sugar craving & finding out why it is calling us? There are gifts to allowing sweetness into our lives. However, food doesn’t have to be our only source of sweetness. We can learn to allow more joy in and let go of control. The sweet tart at the end of the meal can come to be just what it is...sweet and joyful in the present moment.”
3. Quitting sugar may negatively impact your social life and relationships.
Numerous studies have shown that people who have fulfilling relationships with loved ones live longer, have fewer health problems, and are happier. Quitting sugar can have detrimental effects on an individual’s ability to attend certain social events, as well as their overall sense of connection with others.
Meghan Cichy, RDN, CEDRD, CD, Registered Dietitian at Creating Peace with Food, says,
“Health does not occur in a vacuum. It is complex and dynamic. Consider how eliminating sugar in your diet impacts your life outside of food. While it will certainly increase the amount of time and energy spent focusing on an external force for food choice (which arguably pulls us further away from intuitive eating), it will also impact the way in which we interact with others and our environment.”
Cichy explains, “Restricting sugar may lead to restricting social interactions and further drive over-control that challenges our ability to meet our needs. Avoiding sugar in the name of “health” is not only unnecessary from a nutrition perspective, it is also potentially harmful from a social connection perspective, a vitally important component of health.”
The Bottom Line
Having a “black and white” mentality surrounding food sets people up for disordered eating habits. Additionally, mental health is an important part of one’s overall health. I think we can all agree that feeling guilt and anxiety about eating a dessert is not mentally healthy. For someone who is breaking free from the diet mentality, the healthiest thing for them may be to eat a brownie.
Instead of thinking in extremes, aim for balance, variety, and moderation in your eating experience. Work to let go of judgments of certain foods as being “good” or “bad,” and instead choose to mindfully nourish yourself with food that you enjoy. If you are struggling with this, it can be helpful to reach out to a registered dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating, the non-diet approach, and disordered eating.
After all, life is just too short for food rules, chronic dieting, and self-hate.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, accessible to individuals in Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. She offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone to people worldwide. Connect with Jennifer through her website: www.jenniferrollin.com