Sugar Addiction - Symptoms, Causes, and How to Break Free
The latest health and fitness trends all seem to relate to some kind of a cleanse in order to change something about your diet. Typically, a cleanse is used to assist in purging sugar or other so-called toxins from the body, but how effective are these cleanses? When it comes to sugar addiction, the body is under constant pressure to consume something sweet or sweet-tasting, which can cause a myriad of symptoms and cravings.
While many tend to ignore the symptoms of sugar addiction, sugar addiction can have similar effects on the brain that illicit drugs do, thus suggesting that adults ought to take this addiction seriously. Listed below is a complete list of what you need to know about sugar addiction, its causes, and how to fight the addiction.
What is Sugar Addiction?
The big question in the debate of sugar addiction is to first define what sugar addiction is. When thinking about what effects sugar has on your body, it should be noted that your brain depends on glucose (sugar) for immediate energy. Without glucose, the brain would struggle to work properly. In particular, it appears that the hypothalamus plays a role in sugar cravings and addiction. For some people, the cravings may cause them to eat or crave certain foods more than they should, and it could encourage them to make poor dietary choices.
In contrast to simply craving sugar throughout the day, there are instances when your sugar addiction shows itself in certain meals in which you overeat. Overeating in any meal or snack can be a quick sign that you may have some addiction. Usually, overeating sweet foods, beverages, or treats is the route people take. For some, this is not a big deal, but it could be an issue that masks a sugar addiction. Here are some of the most significant symptoms of sugar addiction that you should be aware of.
Sugar Addiction Symptoms
Sugar addiction shows itself in subtle and obvious ways and this can vary for each individual. Paying close attention to the symptoms of sugar addiction is important if you want a better understanding of your energy levels as well as your health. Let’s take a closer look at the symptoms of sugar addiction.
1. You Crave Comfort Foods at Dinner
One of the first signs that you have a sugar addiction is when you crave comfort foods at dinner time. For some people, the idea of heading home or out to dinner with friends and enjoying a big bowl of pasta, bread, or other simple-carbohydrate-rich foods can be enticing, especially if you have a sugar addiction. For starters here, carbohydrates are not necessarily to blame for your sugar addiction, but your brain may be craving the glucose that is processed from the carbs you eat. Similarly, addiction may be apparent when you crave salty and fatty foods as well. Keeping a close eye on these subtle signs may help you to recognize what form your sugar addiction takes.
2. You Crave Soda and Other Sweet Beverages
Soda has long been under fire for causing ill health, and usually, sodas and sugar-laden beverages contain high amounts of sugar (in the form of high-fructose corn syrup). Are you drinking diet soda instead? Well, the sweetened sodas you consume throughout the day contain high amounts of artificial sweeteners that are estimated to be about 600 times sweeter than regular table sugar (sometimes even sweeter). At this point, consuming a beverage that is much stronger than sugar can trick your mind into thinking you’re eating sugar, but actually, it is causing you to crave more of the sweet stuff. Sodas are not the only kinds of beverages to look out for: most coffee shops add sweeteners and sugar to drinks as a way to enhance the flavor. Also, many flavored teas and calorie-free products contain sweeteners, so you need to pay attention to all of these possible sources.
3. Making Excuses for Your Sugar Habit
You may notice that you come up with reasons why it’s ok to eat or a drink a specific food to justify consuming it. For some people, this may be as simple as saying “it’s calorie-free” or “it’s organic.” The excuses you make for consuming sugar could be your way of trying to ignore how much your brain wants the white stuff, not to mention, it helps to cover up that perhaps there might be an addictive part of your personality. Regardless of what kind of excuses you make about sugar, chances are you may have a sugar addiction if you notice that you are making excuses at all for eating or drinking sugary foods.
4. Rewarding With Sugary Foods
Your brain is a smart organ. One sign that you may have a sugar addiction is if you make a bargain with yourself to reward yourself with sugar for completing something. The best example of this is going to the gym. Deciding that if you complete a challenging workout, you can have a sugary treat, is perhaps the single most common pattern. While it is good to reward yourself with something as a way to motivate you throughout a workout or something you have been meaning to do, using sugar as the reward is only reinforcing a good habit with a bad habit.
5. You Have Tried to Kick Sugar and Failed
This is a common sign that you could have a sugar addiction. Similar to how drug users and alcoholics struggle with kicking the habit, cutting out sugar from your diet only to fail and increase your intake again is a symptom that you have an addiction to the sweet stuff. Considering the amount of sugar that is around in daily life, fighting the urge to eat sugar is certainly a difficult challenge.
6. You Eat or Binge on Sugar When Alone
The last symptom in this list is comparable to other addictions. Sugar addiction can present itself for many when others are not around. If you live alone, have a night alone away from a spouse, or simply have some time to yourself, you may find yourself craving sweet foods and drinks. Ice cream, cakes, and cookies are commonly the sugary food of choice when adults are alone for a given time and have a sugar addiction.
What Causes Our Sugar Addiction to Sugar?
So what exactly causes us to get addicted to sugar? After all, sugar is not an illicit drug, but the brain acts in a similar manner to other substance abuse and addictions. One of the first and most noticeable causes of sugar addiction is that the brain wants sugar. The brain needs sugar (glucose) as a fuel source and your brain will continuously attempt to get glucose as a way to prevent a potential shortage of this nutrient. If you notice that you have a sugar addiction, the primary culprit is your brain controlling your movements and thoughts.
Another reason you could be craving sugar regularly is due to how it makes you feel after consuming it. Generally, a sugary treat causes a rush of both glucose and endorphins in your blood, which initially causes a short burst of energy. However, the euphoria you get from eating sugar does not usually last for too long. It can cause a fast crash in your energy levels, which can cause you to feel lethargic, weak, and potentially even depressed, all due to a sharp decrease in your blood sugar levels. This leads to a vicious cycle that may have you craving sugary foods. Consider taking a look at our guide discussing in greater depth the causes of sugar cravings.
Let’s face it, sugar tastes great, and this is part of the reason why you may be hooked on it as well. Your taste buds are small receptors located on your tongue and inside your mouth, and they respond to various substances that you consume. Interestingly, if your taste buds are not working properly, you could have a stronger affinity towards sugar and sugar addiction.
It seems that smoking pops up in virtually every health issue. Smoking has been linked strongly to lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), among others, and now it appears that smoking may have an effect on your taste buds as well. A recent study of more than 60 smokers found that taste buds are greatly diminished as a result of regular smoking. It appears that the diminished taste buds may be due to a reduced blood circulation to the taste buds or tongue. So if you have been fighting sugar addiction or have noticed that you may be addicted to sugar, it is important to find ways to quit smoking. Smoking can affect your health in various ways, and regardless of how long you have smoked, quitting is the best thing for your health. Consider seeking professional help when you decide to quit as a way to make the process more successful.
The Price of Convenience
One of the downsides to a sugar addiction is that you may have never had a choice in the first place. The truth is that sugar is added in high amounts to virtually every food you can find in the grocery store, including bread, pasta sauce, and foods that have no reason to have sugar. As a result, purchasing foods that contain sugar is a far too easy thing to do. If you take a look at the price of certain foods in the store, you may notice that healthier foods, organic, or sugar-free foods have a higher cost. Why is this? A big reason is that corn is subsidized in the U.S., which means manufacturers include high-fructose corn syrup in foods because of their lower cost. Also, adding sugar to foods increases the chances that you, the consumer, will continue to purchase that food because it tastes great and it is cheaper for your budget. The price of this convenience probably has had a major impact on your life, and sugar addiction is likely not something you could have controlled in the first place.
How Sugar Addiction Negatively Affects Your Body
Now that you have a bit of information on what causes sugar addiction, now is the time to take a look at its consequences. As described above, sugar addiction is similar to drug or alcohol addiction in the sense that your desire to consume sugar is aggressive. In addition, breaking the habit is a lifestyle change that certainly takes time and effort (there will be further explanation below). There are many consequences to sugar addiction that may not be obvious to the layperson, and these consequences may have serious implications for your health. Before getting started on how sugar can harm your body and health, consider checking out our article on how eating too much sugar affects your body.
Death From All Causes
It may sound quite extreme to hear that sugar can kill you, but technically it is true. The consumption of sugar has been well documented over the past several decades, and many sources have outlined how it can be detrimental to your health. And sugar addiction caused by the overconsumption of sugar can lead to premature death. A recent study outlined the negative effects of sugar on your health: eating too much sugar is clearly harmful. This study, which looked at subjects over the course of 15 years, found that individuals who consumed 25% or more of their calories each day from sugar were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who got less than 10% of their calories from sugar. The takeaway here is that sugar can have a harmful effect on your health, and while it may not directly cause a heart attack, it is linked to heart disease and other conditions.
Increased Fat Storage
The human body has evolved over millions of years to the form we have today. In early days, cavemen would hunt and gather for food, in the hopes of scoring a decent meal. At that time, the human body was adapted to store fat in times of starvation as a means to survive. Today, the human body still has this adaptation, but our ability to store fat is less useful when food is so plentiful. When you have a sugar addiction, your body is consuming more food than your body requires. Too much sugar—or any nutrient, for that matter—can increase the amount of fat your body stores. Even though sugar is not in itself fatty, the excess you eat is converted to fat and stored for future energy needs. The body will continue to do this practically forever; it is capable of storing virtually endless amounts of fat. Excess body fat is associated with cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other health conditions, so regulating fat accumulation in the body is important. So even though you may have switched to a low-fat diet in the past in an attempt to shed weight, it is important to keep an eye on your sugar consumption.
Sugar Addiction Can Contribute to Depression
Your mental health can be greatly affected by sugar addiction. Consuming regular amounts of sugar due to addiction can cause your blood sugar to drastically fluctuate throughout the day. In addition, the highs and lows associated with that fluctuation can cause your mood to swing all over the place. Recent studies have shown that consuming high amounts of sugar can lead to an increase in depression, and the effects may be worse among individuals with schizophrenia. This effect on depression has to do with certain hormones in the blood, and the suppression of a hormone known as BDNF seems to be affected by high amounts of sugar in the diet.
One of the biggest influences on chronic health conditions is inflammation. Inflammation is a natural process that is caused by your body’s reaction when fighting infection or during the healing process; however, your diet can drastically contribute to inflammation as well, and that can be harmful to your health. Certain foods, including sugar, can cause your body to be in a constant state of inflammation that can cause your entire body to act as if it’s sick. It can affect your arterial walls, heart function, stroke risk, cancer risk, as well as contribute to arthritis and other debilitating conditions. Inflammation is not something that you can see with your naked eye, but it’s a major consequence of sugar addiction.
Reduced Immune System Function
Your immune system is the main line of defense against invading organisms in your body, and it is always working hard to keep you healthy. However, there is a link between sugar addiction and reduced immune system function. High sugar consumption can have multiple impacts on your immune system; it can prevent you from getting adequate sleep at night as well as increase inflammation (which can negatively impact your immune system). If you are struggling with sugar addiction and have noticed that you have been ill more frequently, chances are you could be feeling the negative effects of sugar addiction on your immune system.
A lot of people are quick to state that sugar can cause diabetes. While there is a bit of truth to this, sugar addiction may have other consequences. Your body releases insulin in response to sugar in your blood, which occurs shortly after a meal (this is why you may feel sluggish after eating). As the day goes on, your body becomes less sensitive to the insulin your body releases. This is true even in people who are not diabetic, but it’s As a result, you become insulin resistant, which is associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Wait a minute, how can a simple sugar addiction lead to amputation of a limb? Amputation is the severing of a body part, usually to preserve health and prevent future health issues, and it’s a possible consequence of diabetes. In the case of sugar addiction, there is a chance that excess consumption of sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes. With the continuing consumption of sugar (because addiction isn’t allowing you to stop) in the setting of type 2 diabetes, there is a chance that your peripheral areas stop receiving blood in adequate amounts. When blood supply is reduced to areas (usually the legs and feet), your cells can die and cause infections. When this occurs, an amputation may be needed—and that’s how it could be a major consequence of sugar addiction.
Approximately 34 percent of adults over the age of 20 years in the U.S. have hypertension, and this may be vastly underestimated since many adults have no clue they have hypertension. Defined as a blood pressure of at least 130/80 mmHg, hypertension can cause increased pressure in your heart chamber walls, which can lead to the heart muscle to thicken (this process is called hypertrophy), which can then result in a life-threatening condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. While not every individual responds in this manner, there is a risk for individuals to be diagnosed with hypertension, especially if the sugar you consume is combined with caffeinated beverages such as coffee and sodas.
Decreased Fitness Levels
High amounts of sugar consumption and sugar addiction can make you less likely to exercise. How does this happen? Sugar addiction can cause such drastic fluctuations in your blood sugar levels that you get a quick sugar high followed by a harsh crash later in the day. Typically, this crash can occur prior to dinner time, which is when many adults hit the gym for a workout. As a result, many adults tend to skip the gym, since fatigue or lethargy sets in. The more you skip on the gym, the quicker your fitness levels will dip, which ultimately has an impact on your health.
How to Break Sugar Addiction
There are many health consequences to sugar addiction and while it may seem like it should be easy to just stop eating sugar, remember that sugar is as addictive as illicit drugs. With that said, there are some things you can do to break sugar addiction. Some of the most challenging parts that adults face when trying to break the addiction are when cravings set in. Cravings can be a major challenge in the fight against addiction, but there are ways to fight them. For starters, consider reading our article on what to eat when craving sugar. In addition to those foods, read on for some helpful tips to help in your successful journey to breaking a sugar addiction.
1. Choose Healthy Alternatives
One of the best things you can do to fight your sugar addiction is to start by swapping sweet foods for healthy alternatives like vegetables. Yes, vegetables can be sweet, but the natural sugars you find in carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, and peas are so much lower than what you’ll find in treats such as gummies, cookies, or donuts. At the same time, they’ll satisfy your craving for sweetness and you can train yourself to eat these healthier choices over addictive sugary desserts.
2. Clean Your Pantry
In order to succeed in your fight against sugar addiction, it is important to eliminate any and all temptations in your home. Your home is where you are likely to cave into a craving before bed or after a long day at work, so keeping tempting foods out of reach can make it much harder to succumb. Consider ditching all cookies, crackers (yes there is sugar in crackers), candy, chocolate (sorry, it is for the best), fruit snacks, dried fruit, and cereals that have any added sugar in them. This is not meant to be a punishment or a way to completely change your diet; rather, it is meant to give you every opportunity to succeed against your sugar addiction so that you can be as healthy as possible.
3. Cut Back on Alcohol
There are a few reasons to reduce alcohol consumption, and generally, it relates to the fact that it’s harder to make healthy decisions when you drink. Many alcoholic drinks, especially mixed drinks, contain sugar as a way to enhance the flavor. And having something sweet makes you crave more sweets. That means when if you drink a few too many, your inhibitions are lowered and you’ll likely be tempted to eat sweets and other foods you shouldn’t. Consider drinking in moderation, and if you are having a drink to be social, have a beer, a glass of red wine, or a spritzer as preferable options.
4. Be Aware of Sugar Substitutes and Alternative Names
Cutting sugar addiction is a challenge, and the first thing people cling to is “sugar-free” products. However, be aware of marketing ploys such as “no sugar added,” or “sugar-free” because they artificial sweeteners in them. The best example of this is a sugar-free dessert. If you see this in a grocery store, chances are that cupcake is not sugar-free, but rather made with a sugar substitute. The rule of thumb is to read all food labels and take extra care when you see foods labeled as sugar-free.
5. Have a Food Plan
The last small tip for fighting your sugar addiction is to generate a plan for how you will eat. You can write this plan out, post it somewhere, or simply keep a mental note of it, but a plan can help you to succeed in various situations. For example, keep carrot sticks cut up in your fridge so that after work, you can plan to snack on those instead of cookies. Or if you’re going out to brunch, decide that your plan is to order an omelet with vegetables so that pancakes (basically, a maple syrup delivery device) is not an option. The idea here is to have a plan for how you will succeed in various scenarios that typically create problems for you.
The information presented here is a guide on what sugar addiction is, how it affects you and your health, and some helpful tips for success. While every situation may vary, many with a sugar addiction struggle in similar ways. While it appears that simply cutting sugar from your diet should be easy to do, there are some barriers that can prevent you from meeting your goals. Consider taking a look at what happens when you stop eating sugar altogether for more information on how to cut it from your diet. The best chance you have to quit sugar and fight sugar addiction is to take it day by day and to make baby steps. The will is within you to improve your health, and the results will be amazing once you achieve success.