It may seem a bit extreme to compare eating sugar to taking drugs, but the science now shows (and has done for a while) that sugar can be as addictive as cocaine. So, the short answer is yes, potentially you could be addicted to sugar.
If you look at sugar for what it is, it’s a natural product of nature that has been processed into a white powder – a process that enables the powdered substance to enter the bloodstream much quicker than if you were eating whole foods.
Mounting evidence shows that sugar has a direct impact on a number of different ailments, from the obvious obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay to the maybe less obvious cancer, alzheimers, arthritis, asthma and so much more. A comprehensive list of the risks of sugar consumption can be seen here.
What Type of Sweet Tooth Do You Have?
It’s reckoned there are 3 types of people when it comes to the consumption of sugar...
1.Take it or Leave it
These people can have a bar of chocolate in their cupboard and leave it there for days, weeks, or even months without feeling the urge or need to eat it. When they do eat it, they may just have a couple of squares and leave the rest for later.
2. The Comfort Eater
Emotions play a big part here. This group can have the bar of chocolate and it can sit there for a while, but inevitably the whole thing will get eaten in one go, usually after a stressful day at work or when the kids are being particularly challenging. It’s seen as a reward or comfort.
3. The Sugar Addict
With this type, they buy a bar of chocolate and it’s wolfed down in the car before they’ve even left the supermarket car park. If you do manage to get it home you can hear it calling out to you and it’s not long before you succumb to the urges.
The Dopamine Hit
To understand addiction, we need to take a look at dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – it’s the body’s reward chemical. We get a boost of dopamine when we achieve something and it makes us feel good. In its most basic capacity we get a boost if we eat when we’re hungry or rest after we’ve been doing physical work. Our bodies are hardwired to keep seeking comfort – it would have been key to our survival centuries ago.
When we overcome a difficult situation, that feeling of satisfaction also gives us a boost of dopamine.
The most obvious example of a dopamine hit is when we fall in love or have a profound spiritual experience – we experience immense joy.
When we consume sugar (or refined carbohydrates or drugs), we get a surge of dopamine and we get that feel-good feeling. Our brains are clever and want to conserve energy. So they learn that when we get a dopamine hit from consuming a substance – we no longer have to do the work that gives us the same boost. Our brains remember and start to build new pathways that reinforce the need to consume sugar to feel good.
When it comes to addiction to sugar (or any other substance or behaviour) we’re basically chasing the feeling that we get from the dopamine hit. Back in the days when we had to scavenge for food, the sweet fruits would have given us necessary energy with the dopamine hit giving us the push we needed to keep consuming these foods. This survival instinct is still within us today but instead of a few seasonal fruits we now have supermarkets full of sugar. It has been estimated that 75% of foods found in supermarkets have sugar in them.
How to tackle sugar addiction?
So what to do if you do think you might have an issue with sugar? Well, there’s a whole world out there supporting people in their journey to give up or reduce their sugar intake. Some recommend complete abstinence and others work with people to help them reduce their intake and manage moderation.
What is clear is that willpower alone is not going to cut it. Most people need support to help them make changes that they will stick to. Changing your diet and getting more exercise are approaches that help but it often takes more than that.
You need to find what works for you. We’re all different and what works for you may not work for someone else. This is a journey and you need to be realistic that it will probably be a long-term journey. I’ve been researching, learning and experimenting with nutrition and well-being for the last 2 decades, and I’m still learning about myself every day. Research and experiment with different tools and techniques that can support you in your journey to managing your sugar intake.
Try complete abstinence for a week or a month. The Sugar Detox Support Facebook Group can help support you through this.
If you feel you need in-person support, you might like to try Overeaters Anonymous, who offer support based on the 12 Step Programme.