Flour and Sugar: A Tale of Slavery

by Bill Brenner on June 21, 2010

The author has been asked how he gets by with no bread, pasta and all the other flour-sugar substances. Here’s his answer.

Update: A recent New York Times Magazine article on sugar as a toxin is worth reading as a companion to this post. Article summary: “That it makes us fat is something we take for granted. That it might also be making us sick is harder to accept.”

Mood music:

A reader of this blog wrote me over the weekend and asked how on Earth I’m able to exist without flour and sugar. No pasta? No bread? What else is there?

A woman in OA who I start sponsoring today asked the same question in a Saturday-night phone call. She said she’s hit rock bottom with the binge eating and is ready to do what she must to get better. But really, she asked. Does she HAVE TO give up flour and sugar?

The answer is no. Being in a 12-Step program for compulsive overeating is about one simple goal: To stop eating compulsively. There is no official OA diet.

I also tell people new to the program that sponsors are not doctors. We share the details of how we became abstinent and sober. But what works for us will probably not work for the next person.

No two addicts are the same. That goes for the substance we get addicted to, the manner in which we let it destroy our lives and how we come to the point where we realize it’s time to turn it all over to God or die by our own hands.

I know people in the program who are diabetics or who have intestinal problems that make them very sensitive to raw vegetables. Their food plans have to be different.

But it is true that most people in OA recovery abstain from all foods that have flour and sugar in the ingredients. Including me.

In my case, those ingredients were at the root of my addiction. Flour and sugar mixed together were for me what heroin was to Nikki Sixx or what vodka was to Ozzy Osbourne.

Not only did I put on an atrocious amount of weight binging on these things — I was 280 pounds at my worst — but I started running into some serious medical problems. I was waking up in the middle of the night throwing up stomach acid, for one thing. I was also experiencing an increased frequency of migraines, chest pains and deep fatigue.

I’m not a scientist or a nutritionist but I know this — days after I stopped eating flour and sugar all these things stopped happening to me.

That’s when I realized how enslaved I was to the stuff.

I also dropped more than 50 pounds on the spot. By four months in, the weight loss was 65 pounds, and I’ve maintained my current weight for nearly two years.

The wild thing is I lost the weight and have kept it off eating way more food than I ate before I got abstinent.

Almost everything I eat goes on a little scale. Four ounces of protein. Ten ounces of vegetable. Two ounces of brown rice or potato. Ten ounces of veggie is a lot.

My goal wasn’t really to lose weight. I didn’t mind being a big man. Hard to believe, perhaps. But it’s the truth.

I sought recovery for the sake of my sanity. My grip on reality was getting looser and looser, and without action I was going to fall into the abyss.

The weight loss was a bonus. And I won’t lie: I’m much more comfortable in this body than I was before.

Do I still wish I could eat a slice of pizza or have pasta once in awhile? Well, I thought I would have to fight back those urges. But I haven’t.

In fact, the sight and smell of McDonald’s or Papa Gino’s now makes me want to puke.

I never expected that. But I’ll take it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelly June 21, 2010 at 5:04 am

I get asked that too, all the time, about sugar and white flour. Of course, I’m also not eating meat, dairy, or soy, so people are always like…what do you eat?? They were not addictions for me in the same way they were for you (although I definitely had a sweet tooth), but they were poisoning me. Giving up that stuff is the best thing I have done for my body, my health. Most of the time, I don’t even miss that stuff. I make my own “ice creams” now with unsweetened hemp or coconut milk, unsweetened cocoa and frozen fruit, and love it way more than any ice cream! When you find what works for you, you don’t mind giving up things, because you know you are better off for it!

Lori J June 21, 2010 at 10:31 am

Sugar revs my OCD brain. When I quit alcohol, I found that sugar and white foods became it’s substitute and now I pretty much always avoid them (exception- very very small taste of birthday cake) I’m calmer, my teeth are better and I dropped some weight. I’ll always have to be careful of what I eat because my OCD meds slow me down a bit, but eating cleaner and drinking a decent amount of water definitely has helped keep me less zippy zappy and not fitting into those clothes.

nancy June 22, 2010 at 2:41 am

its funny how we react when we first get sober. how could we possibly live without the thing that is killing us…because after so much time it seems to be all we can live on.
even for years afterwards, there is a small deep piece of us that says, “well, if the conditions changed, if we do things well enough, if something falls apart hard enough, could we maybe just have it one more time?”
and i cannot say, no, i will NEVER EVER AGAIN…all i can ask for is one day. some days its just one minute or five seconds…but those are five seconds that i can make it without being enslaved. sometimes that is quite enough. Have a good one!

Courtney April 26, 2013 at 1:36 am

Thank you so much for putting up this site. I feel like its hard to find individuals who are as addicted to the “white stuff” as I am. Its serious for me, and I’ve been trying to get off everything for about 7 years. Im in FAA which I like better than OA, and I have support,tools, etc. I honestly don’t know how to stop. I;m at the point where if I quit for a day, I get such severe migraines that I start throwing up, can’t function, joints ache, skin crawls. Its bad. The migraine is so severe I had to get a shot in my rear today. How the hell do I make it through this intense pain? Im desperate, but don’t know how to handle the stress and misery that come with withdraw. Help

Cathy June 26, 2014 at 7:15 am

Hey guys, I’m on week 3 of abstinence from sugar and flour – all flour wholegrain and white. I was wondering if you guys had problems with wholegrain flours? It’s early days for me, after 25 years of addiction, but my skin is suddenly amazingly clear. I feel I’ve gained some weight, as all I’m eating is whole yoghurt, nuts, peanuts, rice and veg. It’s a fatty diet. I’m vegetarian. I could do with some help. Or a sponsor (Kelly?). Hugs to you all 🙂

Jessie October 5, 2015 at 10:51 am

Hi Bill,
After overcoming several medical issues and improving my overall health tremendously, I recently hit a wall. With a landslide of personal and professional stress (some of which you may know about through your brilliant wife), I gained 25lbs in the last 2 years. It began with a family trauma that is unprintable, and a legal battle to protect a young member of our family. We have won 23 out of 24 times in court and for the first 8 hearings I was representing myself and my child. But I exhausted myself and began getting pneumonia over and over. I’ve been diagnosed with primary immunodeficiency, which is genetic and explains so many illnesses and surgeries. I’m receiving treatment and improving.

However, the legal battle and emotional batter for my family is not over and I live with fear and constant need to be vigilent about safety and the next strategic step. andare winning Suddenly no amount of exercise or prayer were keeping me from eating at night, especially carbs, didn’t matter what kind.

Suddenly ask my old strategies for dealing with good adduction feel flat on their face for me, partly because as a single mom I have seriously scheduling challenges and there truly are not many meetings near me. So, 36 hours ago I gave up sugar, all four, and replacement grains (because they made me struggle too a lot), as well as for now all alcohol because it us very condensed sugar, essentially, though I’m grateful to have never bottomed out with booze. I felt horrible until this morning. The sad thing is, I’ve really known for 17 years that I need to eliminate these from my diet because… When I did it for 4 months 17 years ago, I s stopped having cravings, headaches, joint swelling and my sleep unnoticed dramatically. My weight normalized rapidly (I wasn’t yoyoing the same 15-20lbs over and over) and I just felt fantastic. A big life upset gave me an excuse to eat a brownie instead of calling someone and I feel of that wagon for 17 years… Until now. But this time I’m determined to surrender my own will and accept that out is a bio chemical illness, esoterically in terms of how my brain responds to sugar, which according the most recent study I read about on BBC ‘s site is 15 times more addictive than cocaine. So no self flaggelation required and even if I have to take my daughter and have her play nearby, I’m going to meetings.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: