What is sugar addiction? Is it putting four spoons of sugar in your coffee? Maybe driving to the next town for your favourite cookie?
I’ve actually done both those things, driven by an addiction to sugar that is stronger than my addiction to tobacco was.
Sugar addiction is strong as tobacco addiction
I gave up cigarettes 20 years ago. I chose a day and a time, smoked right up to my deadline and then went cold turkey.
I suffered, and the first few days were a nightmare, but I knew I had to do it. I knew I would die if I kept smoking, and I didn’t want the wheezing or the smell or the coughing anymore.
I also didn’t want to continue to feel like a slave to my addiction.
Ever hunted through your house for a cigarette late at night? I’ve been there. I’ve eyed the butts in the ashtray, wondering if any were long enough to re light.
There’s nothing pretty about addiction. It ruins your health and your self-esteem.
So, all said, I needed to stop and I did stop.
But here’s the really shocking thing, and what I want to talk about here:
I had (and still have) an addiction even more powerful that I have struggled my entire life to overcome. An addiction just as real as a tobacco addiction and just as damaging to health: Sugar.
Sugar: the white stuff that was going in my coffee, my tea, on my cereal and just about everywhere else.
Plus the sugar hit that came with eating carbohydrates. Even the sugar free pastry that I loved could fuel my addiction by converting into glucose in my body.
So my days were spent dreaming of pies, hot buttered toast, cookies, cakes, piles of pasta, heaps of rice….
Pure sugar, or high carb soon-to-be glucose food. I loved it all, and ate it all.
I thought I was a lot of things; greedy and weak willed were two words that were used a lot, by me.
What I never seriously considered was that I had an addiction. I was quite simply hooked on how sugar and high carbohydrate foods made me feel.
Make no mistake, this is a powerful addiction, and it will wreak havoc on both your weight and your heath if you don’t get a handle on it.
And once I’d given up cigarettes, I turned to my favourite sweet drug more than ever.
Further, I’ve learned what all alcoholics learn:
You can stop using your favourite drug, but you will always remain an addict.
I can go weeks, and sometimes months without sugar, but then try “just one” cookie.
It can trigger a sugar binge that can last weeks without serious efforts to stop it in its track.
The single most important piece of advice I can give you here is never, never think you can have just taste or two of sugar. You can’t.
I’ve learned that to deal with my sugar addiction, I need to treat it just the same as my cigarette addiction.
Cold turkey is the only way to go.
Why is sugar addiction so powerful?
Scientists have discovered that when you eat pure sugar, or a high carbohydrate food, areas of the brain associated with pleasure and reward light up.
Over time, this habitual firing of the brain´s pleasure areas will lead to food cravings and increased hunger.
This study looked at the brain and its reaction to the ingestion of refined carbohydrates.
They found that the part of the brain that lights up is also triggered by substance abuse and dependence, which raises the possibility that certain foods may be addictive too.
Further, when a high carb meal is eaten, there is a corresponding sharp rise in insulin levels, followed by a crash after about four hours.
This crash in blood/glucose levels triggers excessive hunger and intense activation of the nucleus accumbens, a critical brain region involved in addictive behaviors.
These addictive behaviors are what you and I refer to as cravings.
When you give into a craving, YOU release a big hit of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is the brain’s feel good chemical.
If you repeatedly do this, you will strengthen this pathway and make the addiction worse.
This study sought to highlight the connection between food and addiction and to compare this type of addiction to that of drug addicts.
It is already known that rats can become addicted to certain foods. The neurological pathways between food and addiction were found to be the same as those between drugs and addiction. (1)
The study concluded by saying that addiction to food was a real addiction, and it may be helped by using some of the same techniques used to help drug addicts.
How to kick your sugar addiction
Take your sugar and carbohydrate addiction seriously. It’s real, and its powerful. It will also ruin your health.
You haven’t got a sweet tooth, you have an addiction.
Go cold turkey and never kid yourself that you can manage just one cookie. We both know the whole packet will be eaten.
Plus the cravings will be back in full force.
This means walking away from sugar in all its forms.
Don’t use white flour, ready meals, most sauces, soft drinks, fruit or fruit juices.
Eat and above ground vegetables.
The fewer carbs you eat, the more stable your blood/glucose levels will be during the day.
This has been shown to reduce hunger and lessen cravings.
Don’t buy the foods you crave. Don’t store them in your house, your car or your in your desk at work.
They will shout your name until you go into your kitchen/ purse/locker and eat them. All of them.
Work hard at finding something that you can enjoy instead. Something that at the very least take away some of the craving.
Spicy low carb foods such as bacon seems to help some people. Others find exercise, or going for a walk helps.
Get creative, and find something that works for you.
Other suggestions include increasing the protein in your diet or taking a drink of cold water.
If your carb/sugar addiction is covering up some painful issues for you, seek counseling or find a friend with whom you can discuss things.
If you have some serious issues, love yourself enough to do the work that is required to manage them. You deserve to help and support.
You are worth more than hiding your feelings beneath a pile of dangerous sugar.
You’ll still have those issues after you’ve eaten that pile of pancakes, and now you will have weight and health issues too.
Educate yourself about the sort of carbs you should be eating.
Learn which ones to enjoy, and which ones to avoid. Read How many carbohydrates do you need everyday?
Remember, there is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. Go as low as you need to reduce or cancel your cravings.
Read here for more details of which carbs to walk away from
Give serious consideration to following the keto diet. This amazing low carbohydrate diet is not only great for weight loss.
It has been proven to help manage or eliminate cravings for sugar.
Add Intermittent Fasting to increase the benefits of the diet and further help to reduce sugar cravings.
Personally, the keto diet, intermittent fasting and complete abstinence from sugar has eliminated my craving completely.
But I remain an addict: just one mouthful and I’m back to square one.
Be kind to yourself and don’t even think about having just a mouthful or two.
Congratulate yourself. Give yourself a big pat on the back and take note of how great it is for your health and your self-esteem to be free of endless cravings.
However, I get it: You’re human. You’re going to slip up from time to time.
If this happens, move on. Don’t beat yourself up. If you can figure out what went wrong, great. Learn from it. You’ll be better able to deal with the situation the second time around.
If you can’t figure out why you ate that pack of cookies, just forget it. Tomorrow really is another day, and tomorrow you can do better.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get at managing your addiction.
Finally, as the extra weight and health issues fall away, the fact that you feel so much better will be all the motivation you need.