When I first started HELP: Harmony Eating & Lifestyle Program, the first inpatient program treating sugar and carbohydrates as an addiction by following a Low Carb High Fat lifestyle there were many people who scoffed at us. At times I doubted myself but witnessing patients like Amy whose life has been transformed because of our program is truly the greatest gift. Don’t get me wrong, we cannot take all the credit, Amy put in the hard work and is reaping the rewards.
Read Amy’s incredibly inspiring story below.
If you feel that you suffer from a sugar addiction and need help then join our 8 week online program starting 19 January here.
My name is Amy… I am a sugar and carbohydrate addict.
Never in a million years did I think that, at 32, I would be shipped off from the UK to South Africa in order to attend the world’s first rehabilitation centre for sugar and carb addiction. It was never my intention to become a sugar addict, it just happened.
I have analysed, over thought, wracked my brains, tried to understand the ‘why’s and ‘how’s of sugar addiction. I have tried to prove – to myself and to others -countless times that I am not a sugar addict. I have driven myself insane trying to think my way out of the problem, when, in fact, it is my thinking that is the problem. My body and mind have an abnormal reaction to sugar and carbs. I cannot solve a puzzle to which there is no solution. I now simply acknowledge that I AM a sugar addict. I have stopped fighting the addiction. I have surrendered. Today, I truly accept myself. My disease lives in the space in between my ears; it lives in my mind. I cannot get out of trouble if I use the same thinking that got me there in the first place. Yet I believe everything that my head tells me. It’s as if there is a terrorist permanently living in my head who wants me dead. There is also a noisy Shitty Committee up there. My head is like a faulty radio, ignoring my wishes and relentlessly tuning into Sick FM.
To those out there thinking that sugar addiction is nonsense: that there’s “no such thing”; that “it’s only sugar”… Stop. This thing is truly horrible, dark, depressing, destructive, negative, hopeless, debilitating, humiliating, poisonous and shame-inducing, and it is real. I have a whole encyclopaedia of real experience and real evidence to bring to the table and share with you.
Once upon a time, I too shunned sugar addiction as a myth. I too found myself laughing at such a ridiculous idea, so I do understand that it sounds soft – sweet – sickly – and not very real at all compared to the dark, dirty, no hope-of-return lands of say, heroin and crack cocaine addiction. Unfortunately, sugar addiction is 100% real. I repeat – to those at the back or those still thinking that this is one big joke – sugar addiction is real. Fact.
Sugar is a mind and mood-altering drug. Sugar, for me, has a similar effect to drugs and alcohol (and believe me, I’ve had 15 years’ hard experience of taking drugs – and a hell of a lot of them at that). It was only when I was told, at 30 years old, that I was a drug addict and alcoholic and got into recovery for substance addiction that my sugar addiction reared its ugly head and began to destroy my life. I was innocently unaware that I had just bought a ticket for a long slow bus ride to hell… not quite like getting a ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
The word ‘alcoholic’ appalled and revolted me. I could get my head around being a drug addict, even thinking it sounded rather cool, but ‘alcoholic’ was a word fitting only those men with no teeth – bums drinking White Lightening on park benches and sleeping rough on cardboard boxes. I’d never put vodka on my corn flakes. I’d never even tasted White Lightening. How could I be an alcoholic? I’d always had a great job; I lived in London; I had a boyfriend and somewhere lovely to live; my hair shone and my teeth were all still living happily in my mouth. However, over time, my denial was smashed and the penny started to drop. I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer. It was true: I was an alcoholic. And so I stopped drinking, taking drugs and smoking cigarettes all at the same time. My sugar addiction instantly ignited into the Great Fire of London. I craved sugar; all I wanted was sugar. Sugar sugar sugar sugar sugar – all the goddamn time.
Now, just to trace the story back a little way. I’ve always been a fan of sugar, in any form. I have early childhood memories of eating whole chocolate advent calendars in one sitting; sprinkling sugar not only on my cornflakes but on my toast; stealing sweets from sweet shops; manipulating my grandparents into giving me more of the huge stash of sweet treasure in the bottom of their fridge. There you would find me, loitering outside the fridge, going in for more and more when no one was looking and then innocently saying, “ohhhhh my, thank you Granny and Granddad, I’d love some more” when it was offered. Little did they know I’d been up to my eyes in chocolate whilst their backs were turned, washing it down with their sugary fizzy drinks.
My parents refused to keep sweet treats in the house, as I would eat the lot. When my mum was on the phone I knew she would be distracted, giving me the green light to go to the cupboards and eat whatever I could get my hands on, then simply deny everything when questioned. “Where have the entire packets of all the treats for the whole family for the week gone?!” I smashed my way through my little sister’s Postman Pat cake thinking no one would wonder why an entire half-of-a-birthday cake had somehow ‘gone missing’. I’d eat all the sweet treats from my friends’ houses at sleepovers, sneaking back for more when everyone else was asleep.
I’d be as good as gold all the time as I knew being Good Amy meant being rewarded – and I was always rewarded with my favourite thing in the whole world: sugar. I would pay for a 10p-size pick ‘n’ mix container, but stealthily fill it with up to £1’s worth of sweets. I would invite friends over and we’d go to the sweet shop, buy an obscene amount of chocolates, sweets, cakes and biscuits and eat the lot in one sitting, hidden away in the attic, out of my parents’ sight. At high school, my lunches consisted of chips, garlic bread and little else. I would spend all my pocket money at the snack vending machines at school and at the swimming baths.
Sugar was my best friend; it was always there to comfort me and make me feel amazing. I adored the taste of anything sweet and the way it made me feel inside. It fixed me. It soothed me. It excited me. I loved everything about it. I was blissfully unaware that such a thing as a ‘sugar high’ even existed, but I sure was riding that sweet, fluffy cloud. Looking back, it is quite clear that, from a young age, I was hooked, but I was just seen as a greedy child with a sweet tooth. No alarm bells rang; I just enjoyed a lot of sweets and chocolates, like most kids.
In my teenage years, I realised that living on Diet Coke and Haribo sweets alone meant that I could be super skinny AND get my fix of my favourite taste. Result. Then alcohol and class A B and Cs came along, and I never ate… apart from sweets, chocolates, cakes, brownies, shortbread, muffins, biscuits, pizza, pasta, crisps, toast, cereal and croissants – to make me feel better when I had yet another hangover from hell or was coming down from whatever substance I’d taken. Whenever I was off raving I’d be armed with packets of Rainbow Drops and handfuls of lollipops to keep sucking on through the night. I’d buy vast quantities of sweet treats thinking they would last, but they were soon gone – and not because I shared them with anyone. Sugar never left my side, and, in turn, my loyalty to my ‘best friend’ never wavered. Sugar melted in my mouth, trickled down my throat, smelt good and tasted so good. Sugar seduced me; it made me want more, made me go back to it time and time again. I was a slave to sugar.
I knew that I could no longer drink or take drugs, after hitting rock bottom with years of drug induced psychosis, blackouts, panic attacks, adultery and generally being a mental, erratic, paranoid person. I had had enough of waking up daily full of shame feeling like death. The constant self loathing, beating myself up and asking time and time again, “Why oh why did I do that again… why oh why can’t I stop?” I thought everything would be different if I stopped taking drugs, and, yes it was different – for a while. I started to feel better and the paranoia and blackouts disappeared and the prostituting my body for drugs stopped. But I was still batshit crazy as I was now deeply entrenched in another full-blown addiction – sugar. I was still suffering from hangovers and still feeling shockingly awful on a daily basis – and all from eating sugar. And so I came to know another word that, initially, I scoffed at: cross addiction. It went in one ear and out of the other. I didn’t want to listen. I just wanted to carry on with me and my best friend. I had put the alcohol and drugs down and substituted the hard stuff for sugar, but cross addiction to sugar sounded so pathetic. Babyish. I was addicted to sugar? Pur-lease! It’s only a bit of chocolate, right? A bit of chocolate isn’t going to kill me, right? WRONG.
I just couldn’t stop eating sugar. My boyfriend at the time noticed that my moods were still as unbearable as they had been when I was drinking and taking drugs; I was still a horrible nightmare. I was still batshit crazy and vile to be around. I still was out of control, mean, a cyclone of unmanageability. I was embarrassed that I was unable to stop this pathetic little addiction and that my boyfriend was about to leave me because my behaviour hadn’t changed since I’d put down the drink and drugs. I was still exactly the same. I’d just swapped illegal drugs and booze for sugar. I was getting high, drunk, messed up, off my head, up, down, woozy and in-and-out-of-reality on sugar.
I was stealing, lying and destroying myself just to get more sugar. This ‘pathetic little addiction’ got me into an outpatient centre in London where I received treatment for seven months. During that time my relationship with my boyfriend ended. I had nothing to offer him but abuse, broken promises and empty words. How could I give him love when I had no love to give myself? I was only ever in love with my addiction; that’s all I gave myself to. I treated myself and others equally horribly to try to make them feel as awful as I did, as that temporarily raised my mood, just as the sugar boosted me for a bit. But then it would wear off, and I would need more. It was an exhausting cycle – like being trapped on a hamster wheel. Round and round and round. Like being on a fast-moving, nausea-inducing fairground ride I just couldn’t get off.
I binged on sugar and carbs the whole way through treatment, as being there brought up so much ‘stuff’. My way of coping with ‘stuff’ was to shove sugar in my mouth to take the pain away. I’d never learnt to deal with anything without using. I did get 14 weeks ‘clean’ from sugar but I had crossed over to abusing carbs, knocking myself out with sandwiches, baguettes, crisps, nuts, croissants, pastries, bread, bagels and toast. My addiction was spinning even further out of control. By now it was pretty obvious all wasn’t as “fine” and “amazing” as I’d always pretended. My face was visibly different from the almighty sugar and carb binges. My jaw and chin were hard, swollen and sore. I had angry red boil-like spots all around my jaw. My eyes were black, sunken and empty. I looked like I’d been beaten up. I still did my usual “I’m fine, I’m fine” act for the benefit of those around me, even though it was becoming increasingly obvious that I was far from fine. I used sugar to come up, carbs to come down. I knew how to level myself out if I’d ‘taken’ too much sugar. This was exactly the same as using drugs and alcohol to even myself out. I was a pro at self-correcting and using sugar and carbs as drugs.
The binges were getting worse; I just couldn’t stop, despite an increasing number of negative consequences. I was being eaten alive by my destructive and dark addiction. It was dragging me across the floor by my hair. I couldn’t focus at work anymore, couldn’t focus on anything. I couldn’t do anything. I was a zombie. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. I hated myself; I felt disgusted and ashamed with my behaviour. I was so angry with myself. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I was so alone and so afraid. I felt hopeless and stuck in a dark, depressing hole.
My behaviour – and the things I was willing to do to get more sugar and carbs – were getting more and more insane. I now understand that the definition of the word ‘insanity’ is repeating the same action and expecting different results. That is exactly what I was doing. I would steal sugar and carbs from shops, work, family and friends. I would binge at bus stops, on the tube, walking around, in toilets. I’d binge at weddings, funerals, and birthdays. At work I would eat from the bins, from all the fridges, binge before work, during work, after work, in the corridors, on staircases. I was going around the seven floors of the building looking for whatever I could find to eat. It was like something possessed my body and mind and forced my feet to trudge from shop to shop, buying more and more. It was like I was watching myself from afar. It seemed that I was unable to break the strong magnetic pull towards the sugar and carbs. I had no control: once I had taken that first bite, I just wanted more and more, and would keep on searching until I got more. Once I had taken that first bite I was off, there was no stopping me and my feet were taking me from place to place to satisfy my cravings.
I’d binge at work breakfasts and go back for more, sneak into lunch-time presentations – with their bounty of sandwiches, cakes, cookies and croissants – before the others arrived, and be the last one in the room when everyone else had finished. I’d go into work at the weekend, simply to binge on all the sugar and carbohydrate-rich foods I could find – and my workplace was always packed with them. I’d steal everyone’s treats and think I was winning because I wasn’t paying for any of it. It was all for free, so I was in my element. I was bingeing on the job, going to and from the treat shelf to my desk thinking no one could see me.
I was eating between meetings. I was drunk and high on sugar at my desk. I felt like a ghost. I was a nodding dog, falling asleep in meetings, unable to focus, disassociated and totally out of it. I was not present, not with it and always making mistakes. I was a total mess. I couldn’t remember anything. I couldn’t speak. I looked dishevelled as, by then, I had stopped cleaning my teeth, taking my make up off, changing my clothes, washing my hair, washing the sheets, making my bed, cleaning my flat. I was living like an animal; existing like an animal. My flat resembled something out of Trainspotting, but the foil wrappers strewn around the place were from sugar binges rather than cooking up heroin. I’d get home and pass out, fully clothed, on my bed, with the heating on full blast, forgetting to turn it off in my sugar-drunken stupor.
I was missing work because I was unable to get up. My head was constantly pounding – aching – and I felt dead inside. I suffered agonising pain in my kidneys: my guts churned constantly; I felt sick and my stomach was uncomfortably bloated; my ankles and wrists swelled. The more I used the worse it got; the worse it got the more I used. I was so unhappy and alone, yet I kept on going back to my ‘best friend’, thinking, “This time it will be different. This time it will only be one.” It was never only one. Never. My head would tell me, “It’s only sugar! It’s ok!” – yet when I’d eaten so much that I couldn’t physically move or was being violently sick with mucus streaming out of both nostrils and unable to breath, spluttering, choking, coughing and crying all at the same time, I had to question whether things really were ‘ok’. I had to face up to the fact that, if I didn’t turn things around – and fast – I really was going to die from chocolate. It wasn’t funny; it wasn’t a joke. My addiction was killing me. I was slowly committing suicide.
I lost my job due to my addiction. I finally hit rock bottom when I went into another work place and used sugar and carbs so badly I thought I was going to have to make the cab driver pull over so I could be sick. I was mad: completely off the rails. I had broken into a thousand tiny little pieces. I will never forget that night. I finally asked for help by calling a helpline in the early hours of the morning. Just as I had once reached a rock bottom with substances, I had now reached a rock bottom with sugar. Sugar was as much a dangerous substance for me as illegal drugs and alcohol. Of course – alcohol is sugar. I have an abnormal reaction, in both my body and mind, to all of it. I cannot stop once I have had the first drink, hit or bite.
At that point – my rock bottom – I could no longer live as I had been living. I needed to be locked up, away from society and helped. I didn’t feel like a part of the world, I felt invisible and was risking my life every time I bumbled about, crossing roads without looking, totally out of it, secretly wanting something awful to happen to me so I could be put out of my misery but at the same time being too scared to contemplate suicide. I wondered how I’d fallen into such despair and misery.
I finally plucked up the courage to tell my family about my sugar addiction. They laughed it off. I’d hidden it from them, pretending everything was ok and isolating myself as I felt such shame about what I’d been doing. They couldn’t get their heads around my addiction and thought the solution was simply to forego sugar; ‘Mind over matter’. If only it were that simple.
No longer able to function, I was shipped off to Harmony in South Africa where, for the first time, I was seen, heard and accepted as a sugar addict. They got it. They got me. Sugar and carb addiction, I was told, is real: a substance problem, just like drug addiction. I learnt that sugar-laden junk activates the same regions of the brain as heroin and cocaine, and that sugar, not cocaine, is one of the most addictive and dangerous substances in our world. At Harmony, I felt understood for the first time, and there was such relief in knowing that I wasn’t alone or making it all up. Before in my 12 step substance recovery meetings I’d been laughed at and told, ‘at least you’re not using drugs!’, ‘it’s only sugar!’. But I was using drugs. Sugar was my drug and I was using – abusing – the hell out of it.
It was at Harmony that I met Karen and Farahnaaz, both of whom had years of sugar and carb abstinence and recovery. They gave me hope. If I did as they did and followed their path, there was a chance for me to recover from this deadly disease. I did as they did. I followed their path. I was so desperate; I would have done anything they said. I never, ever, ever wanted to go back to the horror, mess, emptiness and darkness from which I had come. My life depended on succeeding at Harmony. I knew from experience that it really was life or death. It was not a laughing matter; it was deadly serious.
I was taught about Low Carb High Fat and started to eat Low Carb High Fat. I went into withdrawal and I had to say goodbye to, and grieve for, the best friend that had turned into my worst enemy. I was loved and supported until I learnt to love and support myself.
I soul searched; shone a light inwards – to confront all the skeletons in my cupboards. I learnt to identify my feelings, then to feel those feelings – simply be with them – rather than bingeing and smashing myself to pieces on them. Days, weeks and months went by and I was getting clean from sugar and carb addiction. It was a miracle. I hadn’t been able to stay clean for five minutes in the past. I had arrived completely broken at Harmony – a zombie with no emotions: nothing going on behind my eyes. I was just pretending I was ‘ok’: that everything was ‘amazing’. But then why did I have tears in my eyes when I laughed? Why was I isolated in my head rather than present in the world, connected to others? Who was I? Where was I? What was I so afraid of?
As I abstained from sugar and carbs the lights started returning in my eyes, my face started to soften, I started to glow, my body, mind, soul and heart changed. I started to come alive. I began to heal from within, physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I exercised, stuck to my meal plan, shared my feelings, prayed, meditated, did written work, started to appreciate nature, went deeper doing trauma intensives, cried, laughed, screamed, let go, trusted, felt all my feelings and started to become a human being once more. I was Recovering Amy – someone who had been lost for many years. My heart began to open and I felt love for the first time. I started to come out of my head and into my body, into my heart.
Words cannot express my process at Harmony. I am incredibly grateful to them for saving my life, bringing me back to life and giving me a life. The life that I have today is one that I could never have imagined but a short while ago. I am grounded, calm, peaceful, authentic and real. I feel free and I am breathing, feeling my feelings and expressing those feelings. I have been sugar and carb free and have been for nearly ten months now. As I write this I have tears in my eyes because of the gratitude I have for Harmony. There is hope. There is a solution. There is light.
I don’t ever want to go back to the gates of hell, and I will fight to stay in recovery from my addiction. I am willing. I have made mistakes along the way and that’s ok. I learn from my mistakes. I always have to learn the hard way – through experience. It doesn’t matter how many times I am told something; I have to learn it for myself. Change happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of facing the unknown.
Karen’s support has blown my mind. I truly admire her and her recovery, and want to continue in her footsteps. Her support, help, compassion and understanding for others are truly phenomenal. I want to be part of this Sugar Free Revolution and be able to help others recover from sugar and carb addiction. Karen is incredible and has so much knowledge in this field. I trust her implicitly. It’s impossible to express how much I truly adore, respect and honour her and Farahnaaz for what they have taught me, and the way in which they have opened my eyes, mind and heart. It’s not been easy – not at all – but nothing is ever easy, is it? I’ve just kept going, one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. I am terrified of going back to where I came from.
As I have totally transformed as a person, so has my life. I’m back at work after seven months’ leave due to my sugar and carb addiction. I can show up at work today in an incredible job and be a useful productive member of society. I have wonderful girlfriends. I take care of my home. I am honest, assertive and real with my family. I stand up for what and who I am. I take care of myself. I’ve slowed down. I’m growing up. I have boundaries. I speak my truth and my mind.
Now that I am feeling feelings, I am learning to accept that, whilst many are joyful, some are painful. Things do get tough sometimes. I get into extremely painful places. Life isn’t easy and it is never going to be. It is never going to be all ponies, perfume, rainbows and butterflies, as I sometimes think I’d like it to be. But now, life is worth living. The good outweighs the bad and makes the pain worthwhile because I can always reassure myself with the knowledge that there are plenty of better times to come. When I’m feeling low and hopeless the strain of living can still sometimes feel like too much, and when things are really bad I can even be pushed into thoughts of suicide. But I now have more positive days than I ever had, or even hoped to have, before South Africa. Hopefully in time the positive days will increase in number, and the pain will lessen. I am a sensitive soul – I struggle with self-esteem and self worth, and I feel pain deeply. But now when that pain gets too intense, I reach out. I don’t let myself suffer alone.
I am not perfect and I have ‘messy’ food days. Recently, I have been struggling with over-consuming nuts, yoghurt and cheese when my feelings have felt particularly difficult to deal with. I now do “high class” bingeing on the good foods that I’m allowed to eat. It is not ideal, but nor is it the full-blown hell of my past sugar binges. And, yes, I still feel ashamed about it, but it is my truth, and I know that being honest is more therapeutic and beneficial than drawing a picture-perfect image of my life could ever be.
I am currently doing an Introduction to Counselling Course, as it is my dream is to get into this field and help others with sugar and carb addiction. I am passionate about sugar and carb recovery and I want to help others. I want to stand up for what I believe in and have experience of. I have a staunch sugar and carb addiction recovery. South Africa is so far ahead with sugar and carb recovery, as is Sweden, but despite being somewhat behind at the moment, the UK is getting there. I want to fly the flag for sugar and carb addiction in the UK and be the UK version of Karen. I have gone from 76kg to 64kg and I feel like a different person. I feel sane, healthy and present. I look well. I owe my life and everything to Harmony and this program. It really does work. I thank Harmony and the program from the bottom of my newly discovered, beautiful, loving, open heart.
I can’t do this on my own. I need to connect to this power every day. We recover together. We are not alone anymore.
I wish you all strength, courage, love and light.
There is hope. Don’t give up before the miracle happens.
Just for today I don’t have to pick up.
Instead of choosing destruction and pain, I choose life.
“The Sugar Free Revolution was started to expose the addictive and toxic properties of refined and processed sugar and carbohydrates in our diets, and help people just like you to break their addiction, lose weight, and feel incredible again!”
– Karen Thomson, Founder of The Sugar Free Revolution