Sugar Addiction and How to Cope With it
Many of us don’t even know we’re consuming too much sugar. It is proven that sugar addiction is responsible for weight gain, skin problems, and many chronic illnesses. Yet most of us are not doing anything about it to get the sugar addiction problem under control.
Watch this video presentation on sugar addiction!
Sugar addiction can create many different symptoms, some of which are not as obvious as you might think.
Have a read through the following list of common sugar addictions symptoms to see if you may have a sugar addiction:
- You have difficulty stopping once you’ve started eating sweets, junk food, white bread and other foods high in carbs.
Do you feel like you may be over-eating on high carb foods? Do you have trouble stopping, saying things such as, “Just one more piece of chocolate, then I stop.”? Then there is a good chance you are addicted to sugar and junk food.
- You eat even if you are not really hungry.
Are you often eating and snacking even when you are full? Do you crave sweets and other junk throughout the day? Because sugar addiction is more about the hormone dopamine and not about your body’s nutritional needs it will make you eat even when you don’t need it.
- You eat when you feel emotional.
Emotional eating is a big problem for a lot people. It has many causes which we will cover in greater detail in this article. One way to know if you are emotional eating is to notice this when you get hungry: Is your hunger sudden and urgent? Or is it slow and gradual?
If it is slow and gradual, it is normal hunger and your body’s way of telling you that it is time to eat.
The emotional hunger comes suddenly, out of nowhere, and is often hard to satisfy so you end up overeating or eating again soon after.
- You find yourself day dreaming about sweet stuff frequently throughout the day.
If your thoughts are often focused on the next snack or what to eat for dessert tonight, then it is a good sign you are addicted to sugar. Your life shouldn’t be focused on what to eat, but on living your life!
- You find it hard to stay focused, feeling sluggish and tired, without a sugary or high carb snack.
This is often a sign that you are eating too much sugar and fast carbs so your body is having problems regulating your blood sugar levels.
- You find yourself craving salty foods.
As strange as it may seem, many people often crave salty foods when they eat too much sugar (and it is the other way around too – eating too much salt can produce sugar cravings!).
Think back to last time you ate something salty like french-fries: Did you crave something sweet, like cola to wash them down? Or where you satisfied with plain water?
How sugar addiction works
Our body and brain are wired to perform certain behaviours which make sure we stay alive. This includes eating and drinking.
When we eat something, our brain releases a hormone called dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good hormone and it acts like a reward from the brain, making our body feel good every time we eat. As you can imagine, this process of dopamine reward makes us want to do the same thing again and again, and a habit is formed.
This is good thing when the habit we form is beneficial to us, like a regular work out at the gym or getting to bed at decent hour each night.
However, in our modern society, this is often not the case. Many of us have acquired more than a few bad habits, like overeating, drinking alcohol to ease the stress of a busy day or choosing to plug in to some kind of electronic device whenever we have time to relax.
But let’s get back to sugar:
When we eat sugar, the brain gets flooded with dopamine in order to reward us and make us want to do it again. Why?
Well 5,000 years ago when this process evolved within us, eating something sweet was a really good thing. This is because there was no junk food or refined sugars; no processed grains or concentrated sweeteners.
Eating something sweet pretty much meant eating fresh fruit or starchy vegetables like yams.
The fruits and foods which our distant ancestors were eating were full of many important vitamins and nutritional goodness. And because food was not cultivated at that time, our caveman ancestors had to take advantage of it as much as they could, by eating as much as they could whenever they had the opportunity.
So the brain started to reward them when they ate these fresh seasonal fruits and other highly nutritious foods.
But these days, it is a different story. Nowadays, we get most of our sugar from sweets, cakes and junk food rather than from seasonal fruits and simple whole foods.
The sugars and highly processed carbs which are widely available today have an over-stimulating effect on the brain. Rather than simply making us feel good, they trigger the brain to produce even higher levels of dopamine, making us want to eat sugar over and over again.
Not only that, but when we don’t eat sugar, we actually start to feel bad. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306452205004288
This is the same way cocaine works. It floods the brain with dopamine, making us want to take the drug again, thus causing the tendency to addiction. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851032/
What all this boils down to is this:
Sugar addiction is a real addiction, and comes with all the problems that other addictions carry. This is something to keep in mind if you are trying to cut sugar and junk food from your diet.
Of course, healing a sugar addiction is not the same as healing a cocaine addiction, but there are parallels. And that means this:
As with any other addiction, it is going to be hard to beat without a plan, support and a certain amount of will power.
Steps to overcoming your addiction to sugar
- It’s All or Nothing. If you are addicted to sugar, processed carbs and junk food, you have to cut it out of your life completely. You will never be able to control it and “just eat moderate amounts”. Treat it like any other addiction: Have you ever heard of an ex-alcoholic who can have an occasional glass of wine? The chances are, if you allow yourself to have even just a little bit of candy, you will soon be craving sweets and junk all over again.
- Clean Your House of Junk. Throw out all the sugary, processed and high carb foods you have stored in your fridge and cupboards. You do not want anything tempting you while you start cutting sugar from your diet.
- Make a Grocery List. It is too easy to automatically reach for our old favorites and buy unhealthy foods when you are out shopping. By having a list it is easier to only buy what you need and to stick to healthier options. Another trick is to bypass going to the store completely and order your groceries online. That way, you won’t be tempted while out shopping.
- Buy Substitutes. These days there are many delicious and healthy substitutes for common sweets, cakes or snacks. When you are first starting to cut out the sugars, these can be really helpful as they will help curb some of the cravings without feeding the addiction.
- Eat Fruit. If you have strong sugar cravings, try eating a piece of fruit. It will give you that sweet taste and make your brain think that it is getting its sugar.
- Eat Proteins and Healthy Fats. Include sufficient protein and healthy fat with your meals. These foods are slower to digest and will keep you feeling full for longer. And when you are feeling full, there is a lower chance that you will snack on something.
- Get Support. If you have no support it is going to be harder to succeed. If, for example, your husband brings home cake and cola, it will be hard for you to resist. You may well find your self thinking, “Oh, hang it, what does one day matter?” But it does matter! So make sure you get support from the people around you. There are also support groups for food addicts which can be a helpful source of understanding and advice as well as much needed support.
- Get Motivated. We all need motivation when life gets hard, especially when we are trying to break an addiction or bad habit. Just take a minute and think deeply about why you want to quit sugar and unhealthy junk food. Is it to lose weight? To look great? To avoid getting sick so you can grow old with your kids? Many people find that keeping a motivational picture or short sentence reminding them why they need to stop eating sugar is very helpful. You can stick it your fridge or cupboard, or keep it in your bag to look at it whenever you get cravings for sweets and junk.
- Make a Backup Plan. Make a list of things which you can do when you get sugar cravings. What are some good distractions that can help keep your mind off feeding the addiction? Having a go-to-list of alternative activities to do when the cravings hit makes it much easier to avoid falling into the junk trap. You just do one of your distractions instead. Some ideas for your list could be; eat a piece of fruit, listen to your favorite tune, call or text your friend/support group or look at your motivational picture.
- Take It Day by Day. In the beginning, you might fail and slip up. You might grab a donut at work or get a sweet coffee drink to perk you up mid-afternoon. When this happens, remember; it is not the end of the world, or of your new nutritional plan. Keep it in perspective and don’t give up.
Don’t indulge thoughts like, “I already slipped up so I might as well just eat whatever I want for the rest of the day,” or “I ate some junk food, the plan is ruined, so I will just restart the no sugar plan next week”. If you mess up, just make sure the next thing you eat is healthy, and then the next and the next. This is how you overcome anything; one small step at the time.
Accept that you might well make mistakes along the way. Just don’t blame yourself or talk down to yourself.
Remember: Sugar addiction is a physical thing, and you need to re-wire your brain in order to over-come it. In the same that we can’t learn to play the guitar in 1 day, you can’t re-program your brain chemistry overnight. It takes time.
No Cheat Days
A lot of people advocate cheat days; a day-off from the no-sugar diet in which you can eat the forbidden foods. This might be ok if you are on a diet, but if you are addicted to sugar then you could simply be making it a lot tougher on yourself.
Would a recovering alcoholic take a cheat day and allow themselves to drink as they pleased one day each week?
Of course not – we all know where that would lead… So no cheat days.
Eat At Home
For the first few weeks, don’t eat out if possible. Pack a healthy lunch for work, cancel any party and make a plan to eat at home. When we go out to eat, it is just too easy to get tempted.
Everywhere we turn, there are advertisements for junk foods, people eating sweets and treats, and when you are fresh off the sugar train, it is almost impossible to say no to the over-abundance of sweet things available for you to buy.
Cut Down on Alcohol
When you are cutting sugar from your diet, it is good practice to cut out the alcohol too. Not only are a lot of alcoholic beverages high in sugars, but just a little too much alcohol can cause you to lose your sound judgment.
After a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, you may find your will power has slipped enough to let you indulge in “just a little” something sweet.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
There are several problems with artificial sweeteners, but when it comes to sugar addiction the main thing is this: They still trigger the addiction, making you crave the sweet taste more and more. This doesn’t make it any easier to overcome your sugar addiction.
Withdrawal – What to Expect When You Stop Eating Sugar
Just as with any addiction, when you stop taking your drug – whether it be it nicotine, alcohol or sugar – your body will start to fight back and react.
Remember how the cycle of dopamine works to cause you to become addicted?
And how, if you cut out the trigger that causes the release of the dopamine (the nicotine, alcohol, sugar, etc), you will start to feel bad?
Well, this will likely get worse for anything from a few days up to a week. Then the physical cravings will subside and you will start to feel great. In fact, you will start to feel more energised and freer than ever before.
However, you need to get past that difficult first step of physical withdrawal before you can reap the benefits of giving up sugar.
And because your cravings can get really bad during the first few days, and may even come back at times, it can be a great help and support to have something which will ease the withdrawal and make the process more comfortable.
Thankfully, there are several supplements that can help you fight the physical symptoms of sugar withdrawal:
Supplements That Can Help During Withdrawal From Sugar
There are many supplements that promise to help beat sugar addiction, but in reality, the truth is this:
They only help you if you are on the right path already.
It would be great if you could just pop a magic pill and instantly stop being addicted to sugar. But of course, it just isn’t that simple.
So, how do these supplements work to help curb the physical symptoms of sugar withdrawal?
They work by reducing the cravings associated with sugar addiction. You still need the willpower to say no to sugar and junk food over the long term.
In the beginning, however, it is not just temptation and old habits which will make us crave those sweet snacks. There will be a real physical reaction within you, urging you to get your sugar fix.
By lessening the effects and discomfort of this physical withdrawal, the supplements can make it easier to choose the healthy foods over the unhealthy food.
List of supplements that might help!
- Resveratrol – This antioxidant allegedly improves and extend lifespan of insulin sensitivity.
- Lipoic Acid helps stabilize blood sugar levels (you need 50-250mg per day)
- Lipase – digestive enzyme that helps break down fat
- B vitamin Complex improves carbohydrate metabolisms
- Fish oil increases insulin sensitivity
- L-tryptophan helps curb your cravings
- CoEnzyme Q10 (80-300mg daily) is critical for carbohydrate utilisation.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine moves fatty acids into cells to be used as energy (500 to 2,000mg daily)
- Chromium Picolinate (600 micrograms daily) helps control sugar cravings