Can you pass a bakery department at a grocery store peacefully? Does your heart race a little? Do you go “just to have a look”? Many of us are cookie monsters! Luckily for us, more and more health and nutrition trends say that sugar addiction is a real thing. I know you may not want to hear that, but the fact is… obesity rates and type 2 diabetes rates are climbing exponentially, and sugar addiction is part of the problem. Sugar detoxes, 21-day sugar detoxes, and “minimizing it” works for some, usually for a short period of time. Do you have a sugar addiction you’d like to overcome?
I was a sugar addict
I used to live on sugar. Seriously, I would have a cup of coffee in the morning with sugar, a cookie with coffee for lunch, and a dessert instead of dinner. All I wanted was sugar in its pure form: cakes, cookies, snacks, any type of candy or chocolate. Those were my food groups. My “food pyramid” looked like a bakery aisle. It made me feel good. I felt satisfied and happy (or so I thought, as it was very short-lived, as the desire came around again soon). I also thought that I was eating fewer calories than if I had normal meals consisting of vegetables and meats. My obsessive skinny-fat persona grinned happily inside knowing I under-ate.
It was the perfect diet, eat every sweet item I wanted, and starve my body of any real nutrients. I remained skinny, but that fluffy skinny, like a stretched marshmallow. Oh, I wish I knew at the time that the type of calories we consume actually matters. I wish I knew that my blood pressure, migraines and poor looking skin with excessive acne were the results of my nutrition. Back then I thought it was because of the poor city air, environmental issues, and genetics. I wish I knew I had a sugar addiction at the time.
Sugar cravings became more of a problem once I moved to the US. The stress of going to college here, speaking a foreign language, and being alone in a new country was enough to trigger my cravings constantly. Sugary snacks daily helped balance my life and perk me up. My favorite Boston-cream filled donuts at friend’s office on Tuesdays and Fridays were something I truly looked forward to.
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Meanwhile, my health was getting worse, I had no energy, gained 10 pounds of fat, and felt crappy. Really crappy. I realized my sugar addiction had taken over. The more I ate it, the worse it became, and it did not provide me with real energy, or necessary nutrients. I tried “reducing the amounts”, but a few days later found myself eating, even more, sugar, or guiltily chugging on Coke Zero to feel a bit better without downing down the calories. I had to do something about my addiction.
And I did. I went Paleo back in 2012. I loved how my body felt on eating vegetables, fruits, meats, and healthy oils. Looking back at the pictures of food I took at the time, I found a lot of fruit in them. Being a super dedicated Paleo-goer, I did not think it mattered then. When I met my husband, I learned more about Keto and Primal, as well as about sugar and fruit. Here is an article he wrote for the Primal Force about types of sugar:
So how does the sugar addiction work?
Sugar addiction under the microscope
It is a real thing. Like we crave a drink after a stressful day, a cigarette when we did not have one for a few hours, a hug from a person we missed – sugar addiction exists. As humans, we generally have plenty of those addictive patterns. I often find myself wanting to eat the same (thankfully, healthy) lunch day in and day out. Now I laugh it off, but at times I make an effort and break the habit. I don’t want any addictions.
We need the dopamine we receive from our pleasant experiences. Our body goes through withdrawals, and the less stable other parts of our lives are, the harder it is to resist. “[Intermittent] sugar access also acts by way of opioids in the brain”. Mamma mia, this is scary stuff! We extend our arms to grab just another small snack full of sugar, subconsciously satisfying a desire for more, yet thinking “it’s a small thing”. Feeding the addiction is the best way of never overcoming it.
It is difficult to imagine sugar being an addiction but in reality, our body creates the need the more we eat. We eat sugar, and our body releases insulin, causing our blood sugar to normalize. This is a normal process, but excessively eating sugar (and excessively refined grains as well!) causes the “average” point of blood sugar to be lowered with a constant release of insulin in our blood. As this average point lowers your body starts craving sugar more and more to bring it back up to fight the constant flood of insulin (in fact the major cause of type 2 diabetes). Eventually, many actions you take are revolving around stabilizing yourself. Getting your “fix”. Read more here.
Also, this is what excessive sugar intake leads to in the long and short term besides from NOT providing any nutrition value to you.
Consequences of sugar addiction
- Weight gain because of excessive calories/carbs;
- Sugar spikes blood glucose levels and stimulates a serious insulin response, and it “crashes” – drops in a few hours (remember that afternoon sluggish feeling you experience often?);
- In a long run abusing this mechanism leads to diabetes.
- Inflammation. Do you know that cancer thrives on sugar?
- Like any addiction, lacking a substance can cause depression and debilitating cravings.
- Any many other problems: heart disease, joint problems, hormonal issues etc.
Do not panic just yet. You can be rescued, by YOU! Once you do, your quality of life will improve ten-fold (and your abs might pop attractively). Does it sound good? Here is what you can get in return after overcoming a couple of not-so-easy weeks:
- Reduced cravings
- Stabilized blood sugar
- Reduced inflammation
- Weight loss
- Clearer skin
- Better digestion
- No crashing in the afternoon
- Normalized or elevated energy levels
- Feeling awesome
Okay, where do you sign up? Haha. Here is you go:
How to Overcome Sugar Addiction in 3 Simple Steps
Balance your nutrition.
When the sea is calm, waves are carrying the boat along. If you balance the majority of your meals properly (enough of healthy fats, lean protein, and lower amount of carbs), you will reap the benefits of enjoying your nutrition. Your blood sugar will be stabilized, and the cravings will subside. At first, you may need a little (sometimes a lot) more willpower to control your brain (and your hands reaching for a chocolate chip cookie). It is something we can all overcome, one decision at a time.
After a few days of practice, the chemical part of addiction will be weakened, and in turn, you will get stronger. It will only become easier as you go. All you need to do at this period of time is to retrain your taste buds. They will love some salty snacks or cheese as much as sugar in just a bit of time.
One of my biggest pet-peeves of modern dietary guidelines is that most resources and doctors recommend eating fruit instead of sugar. You know what? Fruit has fructose that is harder to digest by your body, that sometimes I wonder if eating plain white sugar be healthier! Sure you get some fiber from fruit (not a significant amount), and you do get some vitamins (especially C, and some others), but often people placate themselves with some fruit, which doesn’t let them break their sweet cravings. Sugar from fruit shoots up in your bloodstream as fast as sugar from a slice of cake.
If you really want to substitute, choose berries (lower glycemic index, less sugar), or fatty snacks! Yes, deceive your body into giving it comfort from fatty foods. Stevia, honey and maple syrup are better choices if you are not overdoing them. I have helped some clients that replaced their morning donut with fruit, their afternoon snack with fruit, and have fruit with dinner and a desert. They end up eating more carbs and sugar throughout the day because of this. It is better to focus on your willpower, one step at a time and avoid them altogether if you can.
If you absolutely can’t live without desserts, use Stevia. Remember those, your taste buds will still have a response called Cephalic Response to the sweet flavor. It works well for transition, but in the long run, you may want to wean off the habits. I am a stronger believer in enjoying your nutrition, so if once in awhile you want to have a real deal dessert – go for it. As long as you are confident it is the best fit for what you want right now. And then go back to normal, healthy eating. Remember your goals and your drives. This is about making the best choices for YOU.
I hope this helps. I am a true believer in 90/10 rule ( or more lenient, 80/20 one) and balance. When it comes to sugar, I do not think moderation is key. This may sound crude or rough, but when alcoholics quit drinking, having “Just one beer” can lead to a disaster. Since we are all humans, we have a tendency to hit the slippery slope fast.
Make sure to check my 5-minute habits video about sugar cravings too!
Have you ever tried to quit sugar and overcome your dependency?
Author: Anya Perry
Anya Perry battled boring diets, low energy, and declining health for over 10 years before she found what works. Now, she helps women achieve their dream state of health, fitness, and vitality… without the struggles, battles of miserable diets and yo-yo results. She can’t live without coffee and challenges.