More Addictive Than Cocaine
In 2017 an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine asserted that sugar might be as addictive as drugs like cocaine and this is one of the reasons why sugar should be 1 of the 7 deadly sins. It also stated that sugar could serve as a gateway to alcohol and other addictive substances. So it’s no wonder we find it difficult to change these bad habits.
A Sweet Tooth
Some of us can definitely say we have a sweet tooth. Mine was terrible and still is given half the chance. Cakes, chocolates, biscuits, ice cream, sweets etc. If you walk around a supermarket you are surrounded by products containing sugar and intensely pleasurable sweet treats. Some of us find eating these kinds of foods too hard to resist.
My grandmother definitely had a sweet tooth and was a large lady and also a type 2 diabetic. We were given sweets and cakes and gorgeous deserts and it made us happy and were spoiled by these things which we loved and she loved giving us. It can become very easily ingrained into our lifestyles. I used to have 2 teaspoons of sugar in my coffee now it is black and no sugar. I never thought I would ever be able to drink black coffee so it goes to show you that you can change these habits.
Mesolimbic Dopamine System
Sweet foods are highly desirable due to the powerful impact sugar has on the reward system in the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine system. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released by neurons in this system in response to a rewarding event.
Drugs such as cocaine amphetamines and nicotine hijack this brain system. Activation of this system leads to intense feelings of reward that can result in cravings and addiction. So drugs and sugar both activate the same reward system in the brain, causing the release of dopamine.
This chemical circuit is activated by natural rewards and behaviours that are essential to continuing the species, such as eating tasty, high energy foods, having sex and interacting socially. Activating this system makes you want to carry out the behaviour again, as it feels good.
Feel Good Factor
Dopamine has an important role in the brain directing our attention towards things in the environment like tasty foods that are linked to feelings of reward. The dopamine system becomes activated at the anticipation of feelings of pleasure.
This means our attention can be drawn to cakes and chocolates when we are not necessarily hungry, evoking cravings. Our routines can even cause sugar cravings. We can subconsciously want a bar of chocolate in the afternoon if this is a normal part of our daily habits.
This Is Where It Gets Interesting
Repeated activation of the dopamine reward system, for example by eating lots of sugary foods, causes the brain to adapt to the frequent reward system stimulation. When we enjoy lots of these foods on a regular basis, the system starts to change to prevent it from becoming overstimulated. In particular, dopamine receptors start to down-regulate.
Now there are fewer receptors for the dopamine to bind to, so the next time we eat these foods, their effect is blunted. More sugar is needed the next time we eat in order to get the same feeling of reward. This is similar to tolerance in drug addicts and leads to escalating consumption.
Some of the negative consequences of unrestrained consumption of sugary foods include weight gain, dental problems and developing metabolic disorders including type-2 diabetes.
How do I know this? Because this is what happened to me.
Why Sugar Should Be 1 Of The 7 Deadly Sins
Cardiovascular research scientist James diNolantonio of St Luke’s Mid-American Heart Institute in Kansas City Mo., told The Guardian that in their study of sugar’s effects on mice, they observed, “in animals, sugar is actually more addictive than even cocaine, so sugar is pretty much probably the most consumed addictive substance around the world, and it is wreaking havoc on our health”.
However, there are mixed opinions about this I do believe that sugar should be eliminated as much as possible in your diet. It has no nutritional value at all and you can find healthier natural sweet alternatives. Following my recent research into this, it appears that going cold turkey with regards to sugar can lead to unpleasant side effects, among them irritability, headaches, anxiety and other uncomfortable changes. Due to this, you may find it easier to cut back on sugar slowly so the body can get used to reduced levels of sugar intake.
Are You Addicted To Sugar?
There may be some debate over whether sugar can be as addictive as drugs, but there are ways to tell if your sweet tooth is not enough to satisfy your cravings and if that has become a problem. Among them are:
You eat more foods with sugar than you want to – If you intend to eat one or two food items with sugar and end up eating way more than you intended; you might be addicted to sugar.
You crave salty foods or meat – Why does this happen? It is the body’s attempt to balance out a large intake of sugary foods and drinks. A constant craving for salty foods could mean you’re eating too much sugar.
You eat sugary foods to the point where you feel ill or unsettled – Frequency matters, so if you do this every day or a few times a week, you might have a sugar dependence.
You have cravings for simple carbohydrates or simple sugars – Among those are bread, pasta, white rice, and pastries. Sweets, table sugar, syrups and soft drinks also contain simple carbohydrates.
If any of this sounds familiar maybe it is time for you to start looking closer at what you are eating and look at the ingredients in the products you buy and consume. A healthy diet can include sugar but it is very important to keep consumption within a healthy range.
Check The Ingredients Label
When looking at the ingredients in a product look out for words ending in “ose“, such as fructose, dextrose, maltose, or sucrose, the chemical name for table sugar. If any of these ingredients appear high up in the list of ingredients for a food product, then it means that food has a large amount of sugar in it.
However, cutting sugar from your diet may not be easy, as so many processed or convenience foods have added sugars hidden in their ingredients. Switching from sugar to a sweetener (stevia, aspartame, sucralose) can cut down on calories but it is still feeding the sweet addiction. Similarly, sugar “replacements” like agave, rice syrup, honey and fructose are just sugar in disguise and activate the brain’s reward system just as much as sucrose.
Physically cutting the sugar in your diet can help with weight loss, may reduce acne, improve sleep and moods and could stop those 3 pm slumps in the afternoon.
Tastes Do Change
I found that following my time on The Fast Fix documentary and using the Exante diet meal replacement meals that sugary foods that were previously eaten to excess tasted overpoweringly sweet. This was due to a recalibration of my sweetness sensation and was enough to stop overeating these things. Diet coke my drink of choice before the start of my diet I now found far too sickly.
Sugar Is Toxic
Sugar contributes to chronic inflammation, which plays a negative role in almost every function of your body, including how well you fight off the bug that’s been going around the office. One study found that eating 100 grams of sugar (the amount in two 16-ounce bottles of pop) reduced white blood cells’ ability to fight bacteria by up to 50%. Which is why you’re not doing your immune system any favours with that extra large caramel macchiato habit. But while it’s common knowledge that there are no actual health benefits to eating sugar, it’s addictive qualities make it so hard to give up.
5 Ways To Satisfy Your Cravings When You’re Giving Up Sugar
Eat Regularly. I try and have my first meal of the day as late as I can so that I have a period of intermittent fasting. But the rest of the day I space out in regular intervals until 6-7 pm. Make sure you are including protein, healthy fats and fibre.
Go Natural. Stick to naturally sweet foods like berries. Berries are excellent especially if you are following a low carb diet. The sugar in natural fruit such as berries gets absorbed into your bloodstream slowly. this means that you skip the sugar high (and resulting crash) that leaves you craving more sugar in a vicious cycle. So when that craving hits you reach for the peach! Eating a small bowlful of berries will satisfy your sweet tooth while still getting nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Get Enough Sleep. Not getting enough sleep doesn’t just make you tired and sluggish, it also affects the hormones that play into your cravings. When you’re sleep deprived, your body produces more of the “hunger hormone” called ghrelin. One study found that when men were sleep deprived, their ghrelin levels spiked all day long, causing them to eat an average of 340 calories more than their well-rested counterparts – most of those added calories came from sweet snacks. Another study found that not getting enough sleep was associated with drinking more caffeinated sugary drinks. Getting enough sleep is key to combating sugar cravings.
Include Good Bugs. Your gut microbiota has a surprising amount to do with what you crave. Research shows that the bacteria in your gut has a strong influence on the types of foods you crave. Consequently, changing the makeup of bacteria in your gut can influence your cravings and food preferences. The best way to alter your gut microbiota for the better is to eat fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, sauerkraut an kimchi. The probiotics in fermented foods supplement the “good” bacteria in your gut and provide an atmosphere for more of the good bacteria to grow.
Eat Bitter Foods. Since bitterness is the opposite of sweetness, eating bitter foods when you crave sugar can help slide back the scale of your sweet tooth. Examples of bitter foods include grapefruit, leafy greens, radicchio, kale and veggies like sprouts and radishes. Not only that but eating bitter foods before consuming naturally sweet foods makes sweet foods taste sweeter so you can easily satisfy a craving with fruit rather than a chocolate bar. As you continue to cut back on sugar and counter your sweet tooth with bitter foods, your taste buds will adjust accordingly.
Your taste buds turn over about every 21 days, just like most other cells in your body, so the longer you cut out sugar and counter your sweet tooth with bitter foods, the fewer sweet-craving taste buds you’ll have left.
Overcoming Sugar Addiction Using 7 Proven Steps
These 7 steps have been proven to help break even the strongest sugar addictions:
Step One – Remove all sugar and processed foods from your house. During the documentary, I did exactly this. I went through every single item in my cupboards and threw away a hell of a lot of stuff. Look at drinks, cereals, snack bars, yoghurts, baked goods, bread, and anything else that contains sugar. Throw ALL of it out! Also, do NOT buy these products again until you feel your addiction has been permanently broken.
Step Two – Eat a breakfast that is balanced in macronutrients if you can. Have a breakfast that includes healthy sources of food. Eggs are fantastic and there are so many things you can do with them. One recipe is here.
Step Three. Drink water (a LOT of water). Chronic dehydration can not only amplify your sugar cravings but it also slows your metabolism and causes your body to store fat. The general rule of thumb for water consumption tells us to drink 8 glasses per day, but that should be your bare minimum. Remember if you exercise you should add another glass for every 20 minutes that you’re physically active.
Step Four. Prepare healthy snacks in bulk and carry some with you everywhere you go. Another reason sugar addiction can be difficult to break is that the vast majority of our “on-the-go” snack options are loaded with sugar and refined grains. Biscuits, snack bars, crackers, yoghurt, granola bars and many other snack items will perpetuate your sugar addiction.
Find at least one healthy snack option that is free from sugar and other highly-processed ingredients. I always keep a few boiled eggs in the fridge, cooked good quality bacon, carrot sticks (not too many if you are on a low carb diet), cooked chicken etc. Just prepare a batch every few days and put them in containers in the fridge. That way you can also just grab one on the way out if you are off somewhere. I also have a beaker with an Exante diet meal replacement shake sachet in it ready to go and a meal replacement bar in my bag.
Step Five. Consciously move your body every single day. Breaking your sugar addiction is heavily dependent on balancing your blood sugar. When you eat sugary foods or those that are quickly converted into blood sugar, your body has two options:
- Use that sugar as fuel
- Store the excess sugar as fat
Daily exercise gives your body an outlet for excess blood sugar. This doesn’t mean that you have to sign up for a gym membership and sweat till you drop. Going for a walk even if it is for 5 minutes, stretching at your desk and playing outside with your kids can all add up.
Step Six. Lower Your Stress Levels. If you are living under chronic stress, your sugar cravings are going to be tough to beat. The “high” you get from eating sugar is so much more appealing when it can be used to temporarily reduce anxiety and feelings of stress.
The good news is that you can significantly reduce your stress levels in less than 5 minutes per day. I talked about this in one of my recent podcasts. If you didn’t try the 5 minutes meditation after listening to the podcast episode try it now for the next two weeks while you work on breaking your sugar addiction.
Step Seven. Get better quality sleep – I know I’ve mentioned this above but it is so important. I don’t know about you but my cravings hit me at the end of the day. They are a lot more intense then and that is when I struggle. This is affirmed by research showing that sugar cravings are deeply tied to your circadian rhythm and your sleep patterns. If you are not sleeping on a regular schedule, or if you’re not getting enough quality sleep in general, your sugar addiction will intensify.
The most important step you can take towards getting better quality sleep is to set a bedtime and stick to it. I recommend choosing a realistic bedtime for your weeknights at least (allow yourself some leeway on the weekends if needed). During the Fast Fix documentary, we woke up the same time every morning and this gave us all a re-set and the quality of our sleep improved a lot.
All these tips and advice have been tested and proven to help break even the nastiest sugar addictions. The first few days will likely be the hardest, but you will begin feeling amazing in no time. I have been there so I know what I am talking about.
If you need to lose weight at the same time as eliminating the amount of sugar you are consuming then I highly recommend the Exante products. This is because these are the products I used during my time on The Fast Fix and I know 100% they work. If you do decide to use these products please use my exclusive code TRACEY35 then you will receive a huge discount of 35%.
You can also read more about all of the above in my book, “It’s Not Rocket Science” available on Amazon along with a diet journal to record your daily eating habits.
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I hope you found this article of interest. I personally believe that knowledge is a massive thing when it comes to weight loss and changing habits. The more you know about something the easier it is to deal with. It’s no good just deciding to reduce sugar because you know how bad it is, you need to know why and I hope this article helps you understand why eliminating and reducing the amount of sugar you consume is so important.
I hope you all have a lovely weekend.