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Health & Fitness: How Sugar Addiction is like Heroin: Why I hate Halloween

Posted on Oct 30, 2016 |

Halloween as a kid was the greatest. I grew up in a suburb of about 30,000 people not far from Chicago, a city of 2.7 million people, but my neighborhood was tightknit—everyone knew everyone. Of course, trick-or-treating in the Midwest meant spending hours putting together a creative costume—and then covering up said costume with ten layers of coats and gloves and scarves and hats so we didn’t get frostbite as we went door to door collecting candy.

I know lots of adults who say Halloween is their favorite holiday of the year. These are the same people that get VERY excited about Comic Con events and can reference Star Trek and Star Wars the way I reference works of literature to people who have evidently never read a book in their lives. For me, Halloween is like Christmas—it’s a holiday for kids. As a grown up, I find Halloween evil—all those endless commercials for candy get me craving sugar like crazy.

Now, pretty much everything except crack cocaine is OK in moderation. Growing up, my dad would always have a small bag of M&Ms in the freezer. He’d have one or two, then put the bag back and go about his day. Me on the other hand? If candy or ice cream comes into my house, it will not survive the day. When I lived with my boyfriend, he was under strict orders to hide his candy in his study—preferably under lock and key.

Where I live now, I don’t get trick-or-treaters, so I have no excuse to bring candy into the house, and I’m no longer living with my boyfriend, so I couldn’t raid his stash in a sugar emergency even if I wanted to. But the Halloween candy commercials get me salivating—not for high-quality gourmet chocolates that will be savored leisurely, but for cheap crap that is 99% sugar and 1% dye and scary chemicals I can’t pronounce that will be consumed as fast as I can chew and swallow.

Here’s why I try to avoid sugar: Too much sugar in your diet makes you look older than you are. A natural process known as glycation happens when the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs, for short). The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you develop. These damage surrounding proteins like collagen and elastin, which keep skin firm and elastic. Once damaged, springy and resilient collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, leading to wrinkles and sagging. These aging effects start at about age thirty-five and increase rapidly after that.

Also, sugar has been shown to be as addictive as cocaine and heroin. Researchers at Princeton University studying bingeing and dependency in rats have found that when the animals ingest large amounts of sugar, their brains undergo changes similar to the changes in the brains of people who abuse illegal drugs like cocaine and heroin. In the studies, the animals consuming sugar water experienced behavioral changes, too, along with signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting effects that resemble cravings.

Even though I try to limit the amount of sugar I consume, the commercials for Halloween candy inspire insane cravings, and I feel like a junkie desperate for a hit. There is no rehab for mainlining bags of sugar (in the form of candy). Alcoholism is a genetic trait, but my dad’s ability to have two M&Ms and then go about his day unfettered by visions of chocolate lurking in the freezer was not a genetic trait passed on to me. Fortunately, this evil holiday is almost over, and except for that huge bag of Starbursts I ate in one night, I’ll otherwise survive without having to go through sugar-junkie withdrawal.

I’ll never speak of the Starburst bender again. I’ve confessed to my journal and this blog. I hope it works the same way as Catholics confessing to priests—I’m forgiven for my sins now that I’ve come clean. My penance is having to do extra Insanity workouts and dinners of bland protein and lots of taste-free vegetables.

I’m a vegetarian, so I can survive Thanksgiving and Christmas with just two days of overeating, but not going completely insane.

I just have to make it through the next eleven months until the candy commercials start again, tempting me like a drug dealer at the playground . . .

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