Sugar dependency shares many parallels with behavioral addiction. Although sugar isn’t a drug, the cravings and withdrawals are similar to drug addiction. Sugar releases the feel-good hormone dopamine, which means the brain’s reward center is activated whenever you reach for a sugary snack. This immediate release of dopamine can cause a sugar high. The highs are usually short-lived but can have lasting effects on your health. Obesity and diabetes are the most common health issues caused by an excess of sugar.
According to the World Health Organization, we should only be consuming 25 grams of sugar per day. Americans consume 71 grams on average, nearly triple the recommended daily amount. It’s easy to exceed recommended amounts, given that one small piece of cake contains 55 grams of sugar and a Coca-Cola contains 39 grams.
Because the rush from sugar feels so good, the more we have, the more we want. Whether sugar is addictive or not is hotly debated in the medical community, with many experts claiming sugar dependency is a proper addiction. According to studies, the same neural pathways that are activated by drugs are activated by sugar.
If you feel you’re experiencing the telltale signs of sugar addiction such as cravings, weight gain, tiredness and binge eating, read further to find out how to get sugar addiction help.
What Happens When We Eat Sugar?
How addictive is sugar? It’s highly addictive. Your body experiences a surge in energy when sugar is consumed because of the influx of glucose. Sugar enters the bloodstream quickly and overloads the pancreas. The pancreas creates insulin to control the sugar spike, which sends the body into overdrive. The body needs glucose to survive, but this is usually derived from healthy foods. Any excess glucose is stored as bad fat in the muscles and fatty tissue surrounding organs.
After the spike comes the sugar crash, which can cause fatigue, excess hunger and thirst. The withdrawal happens during this crash, making our bodies crave even more sugar.
When healthy sugars from natural carbohydrates are eaten with proteins, good sugars are released slowly. Bad sugars come from sweets, cakes, sodas, alcohol, processed foods and juices. The sugars from fruits and milk are good sugars but should be consumed in moderation.
Health Problems Caused by Sugar Addiction
Sugar is one of the leading causes of serious health problems like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. When you consume too much sugar, it can even modify the reward system in the brain, causing addiction and mental health issues. The crash after eating too much sugar can cause anxiety, nervousness and sluggishness.
These are a few health problems that can be worsened by too much sugar:
- Premature aging: A diet heavy in sugar and sodas can age your skin at the same rate as cigarettes, according to a study done by UC San Francisco.
- Tooth decay: Sugar contributes to the buildup of plaque on the tooth’s surface. Plaque erodes the protective enamel, causing cavities.
- High blood pressure: Sugar causes an increase in glucose levels, which inhibits nitric oxide production in blood vessels. Because nitric oxide stabilizes arterial blood pressure, the imbalance from a sugar excess can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease and certain types of cancer. Sugar contributes to low-grade chronic inflammation.
- Fatty liver disease: This is caused by a buildup of fat in the liver, which can cause liver damage.
- High cholesterol: Sugar causes huge spikes in unhealthy cholesterol levels. High cholesterol can lead to strokes and heart attacks.
- Appetite control: The fructose in sugar tricks the brain into thinking it’s still hungry. Those empty calories from sugar wreak havoc on your hormones and body but leave you feeling unsatisfied.
- Depression: The crash that comes after the sugar high can make you feel tired and cranky, which can mimic or worsen the symptoms of depression. High sugar intake over the long term can also contribute to increased cortisol levels, which may increase depressive symptoms.
How to Reduce Your Sugar Intake
If you are addicted to sugar, your first step is to reduce your sugar intake. You’ll need to create an action plan and wean yourself off gradually. Sugar withdrawal can cause headaches, skin breakouts and lethargy. This is a normal part of detoxing. To flush sugar from your body, experts recommend drinking up to eight glasses of water per day. Your body will take about 3 weeks to adjust to its new health routine.
Sugar cravings can also have a psychological aspect. A dietitian can help you understand the root cause of your sugar dependency. If further help is required, you may need to talk to a psychologist to help with any underlying mental health issues.
Below are a few at-home strategies to help curb cravings:
- Avoid processed foods and check labels on food for added sugar.
- Increase your protein intake — protein can naturally reduce the body’s need for sugar.
- Cut out sugary snacks and find healthier substitutes.
- Deal with any emotional problems and stresses causing you to reach for the sugary snacks.
- If boredom is causing bad eating habits, make a conscious effort to fill your time.
- At first, eat small meals throughout the day.
- Plan ahead with your shopping. This will curb any impulse buying.
- Write down a food diary to analyze your sugar intake.
- Learn more about nutrition.
- Try to exercise more — the endorphins released from a brisk walk can help reduce the cravings.
- Leverage support where you can and phone a friend if your cravings get out of hand.
The team at FHE Health understands that any change to lifestyle — even if it’s for the greater good — can cause mental health issues. If you can’t control your sugar addiction, you may need to get help. A healthy life is possible. Contact us at FHE to get the help you need to make lifestyle changes.