ACEs, Sugar Addiction, and Weight Gain by Dr. Felitti & Dr. Alman - Dr. Brian Alman
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ACEs, Sugar Addiction, and Weight Gain by Dr. Felitti & Dr. Alman

As we’ve learned through the ACE Study, those with a high ACE score are more likely to suffer from heart disease, stroke, cancer, COPD, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and suicide—seven of the ten leading causes of death in adults.

A high ACE Score also increases one’s risk of mental illness later in life, including addiction.

This makes sense, as ACEs are highly stressful experiences that impact brain development and functions such as decision-making, self-regulation, fear-processing, memory, and stress management. Addictive substances provide temporary relief from the unresolved trauma carried into adulthood. They provide a way to self-medicate and self-soothe.

We might think of illegal substances, alcohol, or even behaviors like gambling or sex when we think of addictions. But a common addiction that flies under the radar is SUGAR ADDICTION.

Sugar is perfectly legal, has no age requirement for consumption, and can be found in everything from candy to bread to non-fat yogurt. And, sometimes, sugar is hidden. For example, in processed foods, it might be labeled “high-fructose corn syrup,” “corn syrup,” “sucralose,” “dextrose,” “fructose,” “sucrose,” or even “natural flavors.”

Despite its prevalence on grocery shelves, sugar (especially the added kind) is dangerous—especially when consumed in large quantities.

See, sugar triggers dopamine hits in the brain, which, in turn, makes the brain crave more of it. This brain reward circuitry is the same as what occurs with addictive drugs! Excess sugar consumption impairs our cognitive skills and self-control, making it that much harder to break the reward cycle we’ve created.

If you suffer from sugar addiction, you’ll have similar symptoms as any other addiction:

An inability to stop once you start
Changes in your mood, appetite, and sleep
Denial that there’s a problem or that it’s worth changing
Continuing despite negative consequences like weight gain or dental damage
Feeling preoccupied with sugar and your next sugar fix
Prioritizing your next sugar fix over priorities or hobbies
Secrecy (hiding the evidence or binging in private)
Increasing your intake (going from one treat to a bulk bag of candy)
Eating more sugar than intended
Experiencing withdrawal symptoms like moodiness or headaches without sugar

You also may experience weight gain from the excess sugary foods, snacks, or candy you consume.

It’s all too common for people suffering from sugar addiction to try—and eventually abandon—program after program to lose the weight their addiction caused. But, unfortunately, the programs never work because they never address the coping mechanism—the behavior—and why it started in the first place.

What is the sugar providing comfort from? What is it soothing? What feelings is it numbing?

Most programs on the market take a fragmented approach to weight loss. But, see, the answer isn’t just diet or just exercise. It isn’t even just resolving ACEs (although I’d say that’s probably the most significant part!).

Any program promising weight loss through exercise or healthy eating alone will never, ever work (especially in the long-term or sustainably) because it isn’t doing anything to address the root cause, the underlying trauma.

In many cases, sugar addiction (just like other forms of addiction) can be linked to ACEs.

When adverse childhood experiences go unresolved, sugar provides a temporary pressure-relief valve. Sometimes, this way of coping is unconscious because the brain’s altered hardwiring reinforces the sugar-eating habits.

Dr. Vincent Felitti, the Co-Principal Investigator of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, and I collaborated for decades with groups and individual patients, including thousands suffering from diabetes, obesity, and addiction. The link between their illness and ACEs was undeniable.

Dr. Felitti (left), Dr. Ray (right)

In March 2020, Dr. Felitti and I teamed up with Relish Life to offer a comprehensive weight loss program that integrates the science of ACEs, and it’s an ideal solution for those suffering from sugar addiction who have a high ACE score. The Relish Life program offers a root-cause approach to weight loss that combines the best of psychology, behavioral health, holistic wellness, fitness, nutrition, medication, technology, and more to help people lose weight and keep it off.

Dr. Felitti is an advisor for Relish Life, and I’m the Chief Behavioral Officer. Dr. Al Ray, who worked intimately with the ACE Study for over two decades at Kaiser Permanente, is Relish Life’s Chief Medical Officer.

The world needs Relish Life now more than ever.

According to the CDC, the US obesity prevalence was 42.4% in 2017-2018. Obesity-related conditions—including heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, and certain types of cancer—are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death. Many can be linked back to ACEs.

Relish Life solves the root neurological and physiological issues beneath sugar addiction using a personalized and comprehensive approach. Our prescribed medications help repair the damage to the brain leading to impulsivity and sugar addiction, so that weight loss can happen naturally and effortlessly.

The program includes:

  • Personal Physician: Monitoring your health and progress with regular calls, check-ins, and unlimited text/email support
  • Personalized Medication Plan: FDA-approved, stimulant-free, scientifically proven, and delivered right to your doorstep
  • Designated Health Coach: An initial strategy session and ongoing support and accountability via live check-ins and text/email
  • Expert Psychological Support: Weekly small support group counseling sessions with experts to uncover your ACEs and heal your relationship with food
  • Daily Inspiration, Meditations, Tips, and Tools: Elisa, a friendly chatbot and pocket cheerleader, helps keep you motivated and on track every step of the way
  • Members-Only Educational Portal: A library of mindfulness, hypnotherapy, fitness, and nutrition programs (with live guidance) for lasting change
  • Private Community: Gain access to our private Facebook group to connect with others and leverage the power of community on your path to health and happiness
  • A Mobile App: For even more access to the treatment team and resources (coming soon!)

If you or someone you know suffers from sugar addiction and, as a result, struggles with their weight, Relish Life might be a perfect solution. Learn more here and, if you join, be sure to use code “PACES25” at checkout!

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