Updated: Oct 16, 2020
When I initially lost the bulk of my weight (over 150 pounds), I completely cut out sugar. Yes, completely. No free days, no cake at the birthday parties, nothing. In the twenty years since I have had bouts of time, I would reintroduce and enjoy the slice of cake here and there. Inevitably, for me each time, it has led to going completely off course, overindulging, and in turn, having to re-break the sugar addiction.
Yes, I said addiction, as defined in numerous studies.
The course of the past two or three years provides the perfect example of how I let this sugar addiction get out of control. In my attempt to get more balance and be less rigid in my eating habits (now over forty and wanting to be able to enjoy the slice of cake at a birthday or a delicious waffle cone with the family on a Saturday afternoon) was something I wanted. I did not realize how quickly those “cheats” could turn into a weekly cheat day and, in turn, completely throw off a healthy eating habit. What I also did not realize was how quickly a sugar addiction could spiral out of control.
In my quest to re-break what has this time become a severe sugar addiction, I wanted to understand the root cause better and break them for good but also understand for myself and all of my readers that share a similar food/sugar addition why it happens and more importantly how to break it.
Why Is Sugar so addictive?
Now I’m not about to try to explain the medical facts about why we get addicted to sugar. I’ll leave that to the experts, but I can tell you in short that consuming sugar releases Dopamine, which is our reward circuit. This happens when associating an activity with pleasure. A report from the US National Library of Medicine detailed how over time-consuming high amounts of sugar can change your neuro-receptors' expression. The findings were similar to what would happen to the brain receptors if you took cocaine, yes, cocaine!
When you eat sugar, your brain associates that with a reward (dopamine response). This is automatic. So, when you later see sugar again or the same stimuli, your brain wants more of that “reward.” This can cause an automatic need/desire for more because of the change in your brain expression. Hence, a Sugar addiction.
Long term physical and mental impact of sugar?
Up until recently, I don’t believe I would have ever said, “I have a sugar addiction.” Like the majority, I know sugar and junk food are bad; that was that. Cut it out, I feel better and keep my weight in check. Leave it in, I feel like garbage, and it’s hard to keep off that 20-30 pounds.
This time and my desire to get my eating habits on track have been by far the hardest it has ever been. Again, coming from a girl who dropped 150 pounds and maintained the bulk for decades. In all honestly, you guys, mentally for a short time, I thought I just lost my will power, losing my edge of controlling my foods and staying on track.
For anyone out there reading, you should know, it is not as easy as will power. The chemical response and patterns in your brain built when you have sugar for too long can make it harder to break. As found in one study, there is a direct connection between increased refined sugar and depression levels. Another study has shown the connection between the sight of stimulating food and brain response. Yet another study made the connection between binge eating, high sugar intake, and Anxiety.
As a woman who has experienced anxiety and depression at various times in life and has consistently worked to keep anxiety at bay, it was interesting to learn more about the food/sugar connection.
Breaking the Sugar Addiction/Habit
There are many opinions and varied suggestions on how to beat sugar addiction. I believe that each person is different depending on the severity and desire. What works best for one person may not work as well for another. Here are some things to try:
Commitment/desire. Before, you will change any pattern; you must have the desire and commitment behind it. If you are only half in it, it will not be long term sustainable.
Cut out all sugar, including the healthy sugars. I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I have a sugar addiction. When I turn on the “sugar” receptor, it does not matter if it is a slice of fruit or a bar of chocolate; I generally want more. I have tried beating it by cutting all refined sugar through the years, but it often doesn’t work for me. Try what works best for you.
Have a plan in place for when sugar cravings show up. For me, this looks like, wait at least 10-15 minutes (this alone can generally get rid of the craving for me), drink a full glass of water, do ten push-ups, ten squats, and ten sit-ups (not only will you be breaking a habit but also getting fit. Also, exercise is shown to release dopamine, which is the same chemical released when eating sugar.
Remind yourself what you want long term instead of this short term “perceived reward of sugar.”
Get rid of the foods that you crave around the house. It may be a challenge if others in your household eat those foods. My recommendation is to either get them on board with healthier habits or ask them to hide the foods, so they are essentially out of sight/mind.
Start food prepping/planning. When you have a healthy eating plan, it can help eliminate those mid/end of day binges.
Find resources, an accountability partner, or other people to talk to as you are working to break your habit; contact me.
In summary, Be kind to yourself in the process, know that getting help along the way could be beneficial, and with the right plan and support, you can take a step towards ending your sugar addiction and becoming a healthier you!
Stay well! Jen