Vera Ingrid Tarman, MD  

Specialties: food addiction, Addiction, drug addiction

Interests: Addiction Medicine, Addiction
Addictions Unplugged
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Can Diet Soda lead to Relapse for a Food Addict?

Jun 19, 2012 - 0 comments

Twenty-six years ago and a hundred pounds heavier, I was told “You eat like I used to drink”.  The information came from a recovered alcoholic.  I then sought out recovered food addicts. It was suggested that I put down (eliminate completely) all my binge foods. I wrote them down: there were 76. With some difficulty I abstained from them for a few days and noticed that I didn’t binge. One of my binge foods was sugar-based soda.

Twenty-six years later and a hundred pounds lighter, I haven’t picked up any of those foods and I haven’t binged. And I am much happier and effective in my life.

One of those foods was soda. Another was coffee. I thought it was the sugar in sodas and the sugar that I used in coffee that was the problem.  More than half of my other binge food had sugar in them.

I abstained from sugared soda by drinking artificially sweetened soda and from coffee by switching to decaffeinated coffee.

About twelve years later, I started having trouble with diet sodas and decaf coffee.  I was drinking more of them, sometimes even when I had made a commitment not to do it.

Then one day, I went into a grocery store and picked up a six pack of “regular” Coke, not diet. A recovering food addict I was with noticed it, and I took it back.  Soon after, I started drinking whole pots of decaf coffee at every meal, then more than one pot per meal.  I was unwilling to stop until I got some help from a recovered food addict.

The detox was the most difficult I have had with any food – possibly because I was so clean from other addictive foods, but also I am now completely convinced that I crossed over the line into physical craving for artificial sweeteners and the small amount of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee.

We have long known that caffeine is addictive. I had just not known that small amounts could affect some people.  There is, of course, caffeine in many sodas – sometimes a lot. There is now science that says most laboratory animals and some humans can be addicted to artificial sweetener. (One of the best recent studies on animals is by theUniversityofBordeauxteam of researchers inFrance: Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L and Ahmed SH. In tests with cocaine addicted mice, the mice preferred sweetness over cocaine. They used saccharin as well as sugar in some studies. His lecture on this in English can be found on line at the site for the Obesity and Food Addiction Conference inSeattle, 2009.)

This science explains many clients’ problems with soda in my clinical experience.  Since 1986, I have worked with over 4,000 late stage food addicts. I have worked with hundreds of self-assessed food addicts who could not stop bingeing with the help of therapy or 12 step programs — until they removed artificial sweeteners and caffeine completely from their diet.  

The most common specific problem was “diet soda”.  These were considered safe when they were dieting because they had no calories.  Even when they started being abstinent from sugar as a part of a food addiction recovery group or food related 12 Step fellowship, they kept using “diet sodas” and they kept relapsing back into sugar.  With this particular subset of late stage food addicts, eliminating “diet soda” was a part of the key to their getting a stable food abstinence and food addiction recovery.

For more information of food addiction and related issues, please go to my website: addictionsunplugged.com

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