There have been many stories of addiction among athletes, but none quite like the one Dwight Howard just revealed. In an interview with ESPN Magazine, the NBA All-Star spoke candidly about his decade-long addiction to eating roughly 24 candy bars a day totaling 5,500 calories.
It may seem hard to imagine, but Dwight Howard kept his chiseled physique in shape by subsisting on a steady diet of dangerous levels of sugar.
“Skittles, Starbursts, Rolos, Snickers, Mars bars, Twizzlers, Almond Joys, Kit Kats and oh, how he loved Reese’s Pieces. He’d eat them before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, and like any junkie, he had stashes all over — in his kitchen, his bedroom, his car, a fix always within reach.”
For most of his career, Dwight Howard’s candy bar-fueled sweet tooth didn’t affect his on-court play in an adverse way. However, several years ago Howard began experiencing a tingling sensation in his legs called dysesthesia.
Found in people with multiple sclerosis and diabetes, dysesthesia is an anxiety-inducing physical disorder marked by pain, burning, and tingling sensation in the limbs. Needless to say, for an NBA star like Dwight Howard to experience dysesthesia, this meant that his addiction to candy and sweets suddenly not only became a liability for his team at the time (Lakers), but more importantly it put his health at risk.
The Lakers knew something had to be done to help Dwight Howard so an intervention was staged with the help of team nutritionist Dr. Cate Shanahan. Howard’s assistants removed all candy from his house, including secret stashes he had in bedroom drawers and his car.
With Cate Shanahan’s help, Dwight Howard was able to quit his candy bar addiction by completely overhauling his diet. Howard introduced healthier food choices that had reduced sugar, particularly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are apparently an epidemic amongst NBA players.
“Virtually every player’s lounge and practice site was stocked with jumbo-sized jars of peanut butter and jelly, bookended by a loaf or two of bread.”
Candy bar addictions like the one that Dwight Howard struggled with are not uncommon among athletes who need to burn thousands of calories a day to power through games and events. The average candy bar has 12 grams of sugar and 150 calories and they possess a potent combination of fat and salt that make them highly addictive.
— theScore (@theScore) March 21, 2017
Senior Editor at Harvard Health Publications Dr. Michael Craig Miller explains on the Harvard Health Blog how candy produces a psychological reaction in human beings that incite us to want to eat more and more until cravings become full-blown addictions.
“foods that deliver a lot of sugar and fat — like chocolate — trigger reward pathways in the brain. In some animal studies, restricting these foods induced a stress-like response consistent with the “withdrawal” response seen in addiction.”
It is a testament to Dwight Howard’s physical fitness that he didn’t experience irreversible health complications from eating candy bars around the clock. For overweight and obese people with sedentary lifestyles, sugar addiction introduces various insulin disorders that are hard to overcome. A vicious cycle of craving, addiction, and relapse can leave people feeling helpless.
— Food & Wine (@foodandwine) March 22, 2017
Yet, there is a lesson to be learned in Dwight Howard’s story that everyday people can apply to their lives. Howard did three things that most nutrition experts agree can aid in curbing candy bar and sugar dependency. First, Howard removed the tempting snacks from his environment. Second, he introduced substitutions in his food choices that he could eat when tempted to grab candy. Finally, Howard had a team of accountability partners in his orbit – his nutritionist, his teammates, and the Laker’s leadership were all there to make sure he didn’t slip up.
Dwight Howard survived a Willy Wonka-sized candy avalanche and in the process exposed that NBA players are not immune to the allure of sugar. However, he also showed that even the biggest of sugar addicts can overcome their dependency with practical habits and determination.
[Featured Image by Morry Gash/AP Images & Stockbyte/Thinkstock]