Sugar high can be a real thing: ‘Potatoes not Prozac’ author says sugar can be addictive as opioids

The cover of Kathleen DesMaisons’ book, “Potatoes not Prozac.”

For many people, sugar is a drug that causes a similar reaction in the brain to opioids, according to Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D.

“That’s how a sugar-sensitive person gets hooked on opioids,” she said. “Sugar and opioids have the same chemistry in our brains.”

DesMaisons, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, spoke Wednesday during lunch at the St. Francis Wellness Extravaganza in Elizabeth Schaefer Auditorium on the St. Francis campus.

“You can’t just stop using it (sugar),” DesMaisons said. “If you try to go cold turkey and you’re sugar sensitive, in four days you’ll feel like you’re falling off the cliff and you’ve got to have some more.”

However, she said, ridding the body of sugar is the means to creating a healthier body and getting rid of addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Often, DesMaisons said, people ask why drug users don’t just stop taking drugs.

“This isn’t a moral issue or a behavioral issue,” she said. “This is a bio-chemical issue.”

Not everybody’s brain is sensitive to sugar, she said, but those who are will better understand the plight of opioid addiction.

She said people addicted to sugar feel pain more deeply when their brains don’t get sugar. So they take something that is a drug or acts like a drug.

“It makes people feel better, literally,” she said. “Sugar evokes a beta endorphin response.”

Beta endorphin is an endorphin produced in the pituitary gland that is a powerful pain suppressor.

“The problem is, when it wears off, we don’t feel good,” she said. “This is how we get hooked on things.”

Low levels of beta endorphin, along with low levels of serotonin, can cause a hunger in the body, she said.

Among the many actions of serotonin in the body is mood regulation.

“If you have low levels of serotonin, you can’t just say no,” DesMaisons said. “That is not a moral issue, that’s a chemical issue.”

People with high levels of serotonin say they’re going to go on a diet and lose weight — and they do, she said.

“Unlike the rest of us,” she said. “Our bodies are always hungry and we’re never satisfied. Physiologically, there’s a reason for that. It’s how we’re wired.

“You just can’t say ‘no,'” she said. “If you could say ‘no,’ you would.”

As an example of sugar addiction, DesMaisons gave chocolate chip cookies.

If there are freshly baked, gooey chocolate chip cookies on the kitchen counter and there is no other person around, she said people with sugar addiction will be unable to resist eating one — or more.

“People who don’t have these brains will say, ‘Am I hungry?,” she said. “For people with a sugar-sensitive brain, hunger doesn’t matter.”

Twenty seconds after eating the cookie, the sugar addict has a rush of euphoria as brain chemicals kick in.

“It makes you feel good,” she said. “It makes you self-confident and able to deal with the world.”

The same sort of “high” can be found by taking part in enjoyable activities such as running (the runner’s high), sex or doing a creative activity.

She said people who are not sugar sensitive don’t understand the need for a cookie.

When doctors diagnose a need to cut down on sugar and carbohydrates, she said the sugar-sensitive brain understands the need but is not able to follow through.

DesMaisons said she first started thinking about the connection between sugar and drug and alcohol addiction a few decades ago when she managed a drug and alcohol treatment center.

“Only about 20 percent of the people who came through got better,” she said.

She was curious about the reasons, so she started asking questions. One of the questions was about the diet people chose to eat because, at the time, she was particularly interested in nutrition.

When she learned that sugar was a main ingredient in the diets of many addicts, she began to counsel them to reduce sugar.

“After about three years, I was convinced there was a connection between nutrition and food and alcoholism and addiction.”

DesMaisons quit her job, sold her house and went back to school to study further.

Eventually, the result was her book, “Potatoes not Prozac,” which outlines seven steps to ridding the body of its sugar addiction.

She said the book was written at a time when the drug Prozac was popular; hence, the name.

She said she’s now studying how similar steps can help people recover from opioid and alcohol addiction.

Step 1 is to eat breakfast every day within an hour of waking up.

Breakfast should include enough protein based on body weight. (Check the website radiant for the formula.) It also should include a complex carbohydrate such as oatmeal or fruit.

Step 2 is to write down food intake in a journal.

“Write down in the journal so you have a record and you can start noticing if you skip a meal or what you ate for lunch,” she said.

The food journal provides a baseline in the beginning and helps show progress in the future.

Each entry should include the date and time of the entry, the food or drink and how the person feels emotionally and physically.

Step 3 is to eat three meals every day.

Each meal should contain the right amount of protein and a carbohydrate. Meals should be eaten four or five hours apart. And sweets should be eaten at the end of a meal.

DesMaisons said this step usually takes the longest to master.

“Many people think the hardest step is going off of sugar,” she said on the website. “It is not. Step 3 takes the most skill, time and practice. Step 3 is about learning to create steady state. Master this and everything changes.”

Step 4 is where the potato comes in.

“Three hours after dinner have carb — a potato — not with a protein,” she said. “It creates a chemical process in your brain that gets that serotonin made.”

If a potato conflicts with nutrition instructions for diabetics, she suggests a sweet potato.

“The potato is most effective because you get the most bang for the smallest amount,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a big potato. Just a small one will do. Adding butter enhances the effect.”

On her website, she said people can get more information about the reasons a potato is effective.

“It will calm you and enhance your dreaming,” she said. “It will also turn on your ‘just say no’ switch. The butter is good; it helps slow the effect to just the right level for your brain.

“It is good medicine. Don’t be afraid of it,” she said on her website. “Potatoes are a miracle for sugar-sensitive people. Start with a smallish potato such as a Yukon Gold.”

Diabetics should discuss the idea with a nutritionist.

“The whole art of managing your blood sugar is knowing what things reduce the effect of sugary foods,” DesMaisons said. “Part of what this process does is heal all of that.”

This step also includes taking a daily vitamin that contains C, B complex and zinc. The vitamins help support carbohydrate metabolism.

Step 5 is switching “whites to browns,” which means choosing whole-grain products. The website suggests the “best browns.”

Step 6 is going off sugar.

“Ironically, going off of sugar is one of the easiest steps,” she said on the website. “Often it simply happens without your even noticing.”

Instead of sugary desserts, opt for fruit to end a meal.

“If you save Step 6 until after you have done the other steps, there is no drama, no withdrawal, no craving and no fuss. Sugar simply does not call you now,” she said.

Step 7 is “Living a Joyful Life.”

“Step 7 is the hardest to describe,” she said on the website. “Think of a life filled with relaxation, focus and intention. As you are balanced, you can turn to creating the life you always hoped for but could never quite get to or do.”

She said life isn’t always easy, and challenges will crop up.

“If you meet challenge, sorrow or hard things with a change in your perspective, blame and entitlement shift into taking responsibility and humility,” she said. “Anger gives way to problem solving. Perfectionism becomes attentive caring. And it means having a life we never, ever imagined could happen.”

For more details or to join online support groups from around the world, visit