What We Can Learn from the Fells Pt. Candy Bar Thief

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On New Year’s Eve last Monday, a few minutes before eight p.m., a 40-something man–5’10”, 170 pounds (read more at The Baltimore Sun)–strode through a Royal Farms in Fells Point tossing boxes of candy bars into a bag he’d brought from home.

“Are you stealing that?” asked the slack-jawed clerk.

“Yes,” replied the bold, weapon-free thief, who stole $180 worth of candy and still remains on the potentially sugar-spiked run this week.

An employee stood in his exiting path, but he merely pushed her aside. My semi-serious question for the guy: Did you perhaps intend to stop eating candy on January 1, and therefore binge wicked bad on 12/31?

Of course, this sweet caper calls back other sugar-related crimes of late in Baltimore: Remember back in September when two 16-year-old boys were apprehended after stealing treats from the Great Cookie at Towson Town Center in the middle of the night? Two days before, an unrelated incident saw big snackers burgle 24 pounds of snickerdoodle and chocolate chip cookies from the same spot.

Like most people, I try to limit my sugar intake. My mood’s better if I do–my brain, too. Like most, I occasionally fail. Anyway, I guess I get some vicarious lift out of reading about brazen criminals who opt to steal guilt-laden sweets (not that this junk-food-crime fetish of mine makes the illegal acts acceptable).

After reading news of this latest dessert heist, I got to thinking about sugar addiction, a popular catchphrase, to be sure. An idea that’s easy to laugh at (insert pie-eating contest imagery), yes, but a topic of national conversation for a not very funny reason. Many of us Americans are morbidly obese.

FitWatch.com chews the concept thoughtfully, noting: “Whether or not you can really be ‘addicted’ to sugar like you can to drugs and alcohol is still being debated among experts. However, a secondary definition of addiction describes ‘the persistent, compulsive use of a substance that is known to be harmful.’ That would certainly describe the relationship that many people have with refined cane sugar. They know that ingesting large amounts of sugar isn’t good for them, but they can’t seem to stop themselves from eating it anyway.”

Nicholas Frye, a behavioral specialist employed by Medifast in Baltimore, says the brain plays a changing role in this sugar-craving cycle.

“People who study the brain’s role in eating behavior understand that sugary foods—as well as foods high in fat—can become habit forming,” Frye explains. “Eating large amounts of sugar can literally change the neurology of the brain. You can develop a kind of tolerance. When that happens, you have to eat more and more high-fat or sugary food before your brain realizes you’ve had enough. That’s why once the cycle of overeating has begun, it’s hard to stop.”

So did the hoodie-wearing candy bar ripper-offer need his multi-serving fix Monday night? Or was he planning to sell those high fructose treats on a street corner the way some folks sell fake watches? (Would they sell to sugar addicts?!)

Baltimore-based nutrition coach Richele Henry says, “It’s hard to make assumptions [about these sugar thieves] because we don’t know what’s going on in their world. But sugar addiction is real.”

Food addiction, drug addiction, and alcoholism are linked, Henry adds.

“A lot of [drug and alcohol] addicts have a real sugar addiction too… It’s often a similar area of the brain that’s needing stimulation, and it certainly would drive us to do what society would call insane things to get our fix,” she says.

Henry fairly recently shed 20 pounds after cutting processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol from her diet.

“I’ve never gone to the Royal Farms and stolen 200 dollars worth of candy,” Henry says. “I haven’t gone to those measures, but I certainly can sympathize. As a child I would hoard candy in my room. [I would] stash Halloween candy. For those of us who have some level of a sugar-addicted brain, we will sneak or hide…”

Or perhaps steal!

Read here for signs that can help determine whether you are “addicted” to sugar (including as radical items as “a persistent sweet tooth” and “discomfort when cutting back”…nope, no way, not me). And if you think you might have a problem, consider starting a seven-day sugar detox with Henry, don’t raid a Dunkin’ Donuts. Especially without paying for your toxic chocolate-glazed Munchkins. (Mmmm, Munchkins. I really love the powdered sugar ones, too…)

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