Non-diet nutrition

Are you a sugar addict?

This episode is all about the labels that we have for ourselves around food like "sugar addict," "food addict," or "emotional eater."

Show Notes
Program note: Hey, glad you’re enjoying the podcast! In this episode, you might hear Claire talking about Nutritional Freedom and Foundations. Since we launched the podcast in 2020, we've undergone a makeover to improve the membership experience. For more, listen to our "And we're back! All the updates!" episode.

Claire Siegel: You're listening to the Flourish podcast. I'm your host, Claire Siegel, founder of Flourish. We're on a mission to help women get healthy for good. Join me each week for a new episode that'll help you sustain healthy habits and nourish your body so you can Flourish in life.

When it comes to nutrition, does it feel like you know what to do, you're just not doing it? Or maybe you find yourself stuck in this annoying all or nothing cycle. If it sounds like I'm reading your diary, well, that was my diary for a while too. And it's also the story of the thousands of women I've personally coached.

That's why I created Flourish, the nutrition and body image support app made for women. If you recognize that diets don't work, but "just not dieting" isn't helping you feel your best either, download Flourish today. Your first live session with one of our credentialed nutrition and psychology experts is totally free, no credit card required.

From there, you'll continue your journey with personalized accountability and support so that once you graduate from Flourish, you'll never need another nutrition program again. So head to the show notes and download Flourish for iOS or Android today.

Coming soon!

We are in the process of adding transcripts to our entire back catalogue. New episode transcripts are typically available within 24 hours of the episode release.

Claire Siegel: You're listening to the Nutritional Freedom podcast. I'm your host, Claire Siegel, registered dietitian, founder of Nutritional Freedom, and total stationary nerd who's sharing episodes each week to help you ditch diets and get healthy for good.

We'll dive into what really works when it comes to creating sustainable nutrition and health habits, ways to improve your body image, and how all of this helps you live a life that's in alignment with your values. Because that's what really matters, right? Let's dive in.

Claire Siegel: Hey there. Welcome back to the Nutritional Freedom podcast. I am so excited to be here with you. This is episode ten, and I think things are about to get a little spicy or maybe a little sweet, because today we're talking about sugar addiction, food addiction, other labels that we have for ourselves that really just might be holding us back in a big way. All right?

But before we get into today's episode, I just want to ask if you are loving the NF podcast, first of all, thank you so much for being here, but I would be so appreciative if you left us a rating and a review. And of course, if you shared it with a friend who needs or could benefit from this information, I would just be eternally grateful.

I've had so much fun reading through the reviews, getting your feedback, interacting with you on Instagram about the podcast... like this has just been the most fun journey. So thank you again for being here, and I hope to hear from you!

All right. So again, today's episode is all about these labels that we have for ourselves around food and the way that we eat. And as you'll see as we go through this episode, I am not a huge fan of labels because I see the negative ways in which they play out, which we're going to explore today. And I also understand why labels are so enticing. Okay, so I just want to start.

So labels create these kind of neat little boxes and they give you something to search on Google.

They offer a simple lens through which you can kind of define yourself and labels can even create community, you know? You can connect with others who share your same label. And I think when we've run into trouble is when labels become more than just labels. It can get problematic when labels become an identity. Because when this happens, labels become a self fulfilling prophecy.

And at that point, these labels serve to really minimize the complexity of the person behind the label. And in the case that, you know, the label is something that's not, let's say aspirational or not positive, then these labels can really create a fog of shame. Listen, I see this all the time, and we see it in the research as well that it's really hard, if not impossible, to take good care of yourself and to grow through shame. Okay?

So two labels that I want to talk about on today's episode in particular, because I hear about them all the time on social media and on discovery calls with women who are coming into our programs. There are two labels: one is food addict and one is sugar addict. All right?

And especially in today's day and age when sugar is just so highly villainized, that kind of sugar addict label can feel like it really helps to make sense of all the urges and cravings around sugar. Right? So I'll hear people say things like, you know, no dessert for me, I'm a total sugar addict. I just, I cannot just have one bite.

Or I'll hear, you know, one of our clients who's in the early stage of her journey, say something like, "Well, if I let myself buy ice cream, I'll eat the whole container because I'm a total sugar addict." And because of the way, you know, society talks and thinks about sugar, the fear of sugar in the mind of a self-proclaimed sugar addict grows and grows. And, simultaneously, the self-proclaimed sugar addict continues to feel less and less empowered around sugar. And they don't pause for critical thought. They don't pause to examine the circumstances surrounding their sugar binges or what proceeds these binges, whether that's restriction intense emotions, perhaps a lack of sleep or some other causal factor aside from this, you know, supposedly inherent character flaw.

The self-proclaimed sugar addict, you know, in this case, doesn't ask themselves if that label really serves them. They just kind of slap the label on, take on that identity, and go through life with the assumptions, the behaviors, and the fears that go along with it. All right? And listen, addiction is complex and so are our relationships to food. But that does not mean that they are the same thing. And this is what we see in the research. Okay?

So you've probably heard the quote about sugar, that it lights up the brain the same way that addictive drugs do. And what this is referring to is the reward pathways and dopamine release that occurs when you consume sugar or when you take cocaine, for example. And that sounds really scary, doesn't it?

But what you don't hear is that there are lots of things that trigger these pathways and result in a secretion of dopamine, right? So namely enjoyable activities, things like falling in love or exercising. Okay?. And you don't read about that in the clickbait headlines, right?

So the American journal of medicine says, "Even in the face of excess consumption and over prolonged periods, dietary, nutrient cessation simply does not appear to produce the same kind of overt or cellular pathology as prolonged administration of agents that are truly addictive." All right? We also saw in the European journal of nutrition in 2016, they said that researchers found little to no evidence to support sugar addiction in humans.

So what we find is that most studies that do find this kind of exaggerated dopamine release in response to sugar consumption, first of all, they're typically done in rats or mice. And what we see is that they first deprive the the mice or the rats from sugar. And that is quite interesting actually, because that does mirror what we see in humans. But what's happening isn't addiction, it's the binge-restrict cycle or the diet-binge-guilt cycle. Okay? The restriction from sugar is what leads to the sugar binges. I'm going to say that again. It's the restriction from sugar that leads to the sugar binges, not an underlying addiction. Okay?

And whereas in substance abuse and addiction the goal is total abstention, the solution here in terms of sugar is neutralization and permission. All right? We have to remove the restriction, the judgment and the shame in order to create a normal relationship with sugar. And a huge part of that journey will likely involve separating from this identity or the label of sugar addict and reinstating your agency and autonomy in relation to all foods, even sugary ones.

I remember, this was probably about a year ago, maybe more, but I was on a discovery call with a woman. Um, she was, you know, interested in joining our foundations program, and she was coming from a paid program for quote, you know, food addicts. Okay. And she said in this program they tell me that I'm a food addict and that I will always be a food addict. And she asked me, did I think that was true.

And in that moment, I, I can't even tell you like how much my heart broke for this woman. I could just hear the despair, the discouragement, and the disempowerment in her voice when she was telling me her story and when she asked me this question.

So, you know, I was of course, honest with her. I told her about the controversial nature of the research. You know, the jury's really not out on this. Okay. And then I asked her the real questions. So one question I asked her was... who benefits from you believing that your food addiction is incurable? Do you benefit from that? How does that message make you feel? How does that message make you feel about yourself? How does that message make you feel around food? Something that you interact with three or more times a day, because it's necessary for life, for your survival. Not to mention the social and emotional aspects of food that are, that are positive, right?

I asked her, does that thought, does that label and the idea that that label is permanent... is that helping you? And it seemed to me like this was the very, very beginning of kind of a spark in her and in a little bit of a light bulb moment for her. It was a moment for her to just slow down and to think critically about what she'd been told about herself. Okay.

So I want to offer that moment to you too, right here on this podcast. I want to ask you what labels, what identities do you have about yourself when it comes to food? Do these labels and identities support you? I'm sure there's someone here listening who has a label and identity that really supports him or her, and I think that's awesome, right?

We've said this before, but I'm not here to make anyone wrong. I'm here to help you if you're struggling and you know that what you're doing right now is not working for you, but perhaps you don't know exactly why or how to move forward. Okay. So if your label serves you, amazing. Right? But if it doesn't, let's pause, let's dig in.

Does your label, or does your identity, your food identity, does it help you forge a path for yourself? Does your label help you find community? Right? If your label is supportive, if it helps you forge your own path, and if it helps you find community, then those could be examples of labels that are, are labels that you choose to keep. And that's really positive and enriching for you.

But maybe you have some labels that have become those self-fulfilling prophecies that actually aren't supporting you, that actually don't help you sustain healthy habits and make choices that you agree with and take action that you're proud of. Or maybe they're labels that make you feel ashamed of who you are or cause you to lose your identity outside of that label.

So that may include labels like food addict, sugar addict, or another one I hear all the time: emotional eater. Right. That's that's a label that many of us like really take on and we really step into. Not, "I'm someone who has a tendency to eat based on my emotions." No, no, no. "I'm an emotional eater." I hear that all the time. Okay.

Maybe it's not so much a label as much as it is kind of a limiting belief. Something like, "I just can't eat healthy," or "I can't moderate," or "I can't control myself around food." What do you tell yourself about yourself when it comes to food? "I can't be consistent." "I have no motivation." "I have no willpower." "I have no self control." what do you tell yourself about yourself when it comes to food? Okay?

So I want to leave you with three questions to ask yourself to help you in your exploration of your labels. All right. So, if you're driving, just be sure to come back to this part of the episode, and if you're taking notes like a diligent student, now now's the time to grab your pen.

Question number one: what is the upside of this label? Like I said, I fully acknowledge what is so enticing about labels, and to some extent, some of them may be serving you. So just be honest, be objective. What is the upside of this label?

Number two: what's the downside? Same thing. This is not about judgment. It's just about curiosity and being objective, being an objective observer of your patterns and habits.

So what is the upside of the label? What is the downside?

Question number three is powerful: who would I be without this label? Who would I be without this label? And then you get to decide. You get to decide how you talk to yourself, what you think about yourself, and the identities you're willing and unwilling to carry with you. All right?

Now, if you want support as you unwind and unlearn these labels, and if you need some help addressing the circumstances and thoughts that underlie them, then I will encourage you to apply to our summer 2020 round of Foundations, which is our 12-week nutrition and mindset coaching program. So in this program, we help women ditch diets and get healthy for good, through an incredible combination of one-on-one counseling, group coaching, our own curriculum, and of course the support of our incredible NF community, your fellow women going through the program with you.

And we only open enrollment four times a year, and I'll be holding discovery calls through the month of June. So when this goes live, I believe we'll be kicking off our enrollment, um, for the summer season, so head to You can learn more there, fill out an application so you can make sure to grab a slot in my calendar before we either fill up or of course, you know, enrollment closes so we can get started serving our clients.

So if you enjoy today's episode, I would love to hear from you. Whether that's a direct message on Instagram or a review on iTunes, I sincerely appreciate the outpouring of support over the podcast. It's been so much fun. I love serving y'all in this way. I love encouraging you to think differently and to, again, take action that you're really proud of. So I will see you next week. Bye.

Claire Siegel:

Thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of the Flourish podcast. If you enjoyed it, please take a second to leave us a five-star review or better yet, share it with a friend. And if you're ready to start your own journey to get healthy for good with accountability from expert coaches and the support of an incredible community, head to the show notes to get started on your Flourish journey.

I'll see you in the next episode.

Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.

Related episodes

Heal your relationship with food and your body.

Explore our free membership to know if Flourish is right for you.

No credit card required

One-on-one non-diet nutrition and body image coaching via video, voice, or chat.


Weight-inclusive approach to your physical and mental health.


Get started for free. No strings attached.