While many of us joke about being addicted to sugar when we eat a few too many Skittles, for some the struggle with the sweet substance severely impacts their lives. Atlanta Hawk’s star Dwight Howard is one of them.
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Howard’s former nutritionist — who worked with him when he played with the Los Angeles Lakers — revealed this week that the NBA star is in recovery from a decadelong struggle with sugar addiction. His nasty candy habit got so out of control that it started shedding points off his game.
As part of a profile on how the peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich has become the unofficial sugary vice of the NBA, Lakers’ nutritionist Dr. Cate Shanahan told ESPN The Magazine that Howard’s game started slipping in 2013, and teammates worried it was because of his ongoing sugar addiction. They begged him to get help, and when that didn’t work the nutrition expert was called in for an intervention. After assessing his physical health, she determined that a tingling in Howard’s legs and fingers he had been complaining about was likely a dysfunction of nerves called dysesthesia — a common condition in prediabetes patients — and it was being caused by all the sugar he was consuming.
Just how much sugar was Howard throwing down? After interviewing his entourage, Shanahan told ESPN that she discovered Howard was eating about two-dozen chocolate bars worth of sugar every day for nearly a decade, which, depending on the type of candy, could amount to over 5,000 calories per day. “You name it, he ate it,” she explained, noting that his candy diet included Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and Reese’s Pieces.
Just like an alcoholic or drug addict, the basketball star stashed the candy all around his house and in his car, and Shanahan had to tell his assistants to confiscate it. Shanahan even put her job on the line, saying she was so sure that his game was declining because of the sugar that if there were no signs of improvement after two weeks of his lower-sugar diet, she would resign.
Howard promised he would go cold turkey with the candy, but he wasn’t willing to say goodbye to one vice: the league’s infamous peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Shanahan, along with Lakers’ strength and conditioning coach Tim DeFrancesco, presented him with a healthier PB&J option made with soft sourdough bread, organic peanut butter and low-sugar jelly. “Yeah, this will work,” Howard responded after taking a bite.
Shortly after cutting sugar from his diet (with the exception of the healthier version of his guilty pleasure) Howard’s game “miraculously” improved and the leg and finger tingling subsided.
While sugar doesn’t appear to ruin people’s lives to the extent of other vices like alcohol, tobacco and street drugs, it is actually just as — if not more — addictive. “Research shows sugar is as addicting as cocaine,” says Jenny Schatzle, who has trained Howard. “It raises your insulin level so you want more. You physically want more.”
Just because you are wanting more doesn’t mean you need more. If you are struggling with an addiction to the sweeter things in life, here are 10 foods to beat sugar cravings — so you can kick the habit instead of being a slave to it.
What Do YOU Think?
Are you shocked by how much sugar NBA star Dwight Howard was consuming? Have you ever battled a sugar addiction? Do you have any tips for cutting sugar from a diet?