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Do You Have A “Sweet Tooth”? – Addiction to Sugar

What is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as a persistent, compulsive dependence on a behavior or substance. Addictions do not only include things we consume, such as cigarettes or alcohol, referred to as substance dependence but also include behavioral addictions (e.g. gambling, shopping).

What Causes Addiction?

This is a question of constant debate among researchers. Many experts believe addiction to be of neurological base when usage of a certain substance or action carried out repeatedly over time changes brain structure and function in fundamental and long-lasting ways. Addiction comes about through an array of changes in the brain and the strengthening of new memory connections. Simply put, it is how we link a certain non-beneficial or even harmful activity or substance to a likeable feeling that sets a path for addiction.      

What researchers have found is that most addictions usually stem from misguided attempts of managing stress. A small habit of taking a donut or can of cola to unwind and relax after a stressful day, or a pint of beer to cover up emotions that cause us to feel stressed and out of balance has the potential to develop into an addiction the more often we reinforce the neural connection between feelings of relief or pleasure to such substances.

Sugar Addiction

As addiction covers a wide degree of substances and behaviours, we’ll focus on addressing sugar addiction in this article. Addiction to sugar elicits the same “feel-good” brain hormones of street drugs and what may sound like a little sweet-tooth can potentially develop into harmful health hazards (i.e. diabetes, obesity).

You may have an eating disorder or a plain bad habit. Anyone can use sugary foods in ways that aren’t healthy. Some signs that you may be addicted to sugar are loss of control and eating more than you planned. Also, you may feel bad when you skip your daily cookie “fix.” These low blood sugar symptoms include feeling a little nervous, shaky, or even having a cold sweat. In studies on lab rats, binging on sugar had brain changes in rats similar to those of getting off drugs. In humans, just looking at pictures of milkshakes triggered brain effects like those seen in drug addicts. This phenomenon was observed to be strongest in women whose answers showed they were more hooked on eating.

So what can we do about our sugar if we’re contemplating change in our behaviors? We’d like to suggest the following steps you can start to take towards dealing with your sugar cravings:

Step 1: Decide and commit to change

  • Evaluate the cost of not changing and the benefits of changing

Step 2: Try a Three-Day Sugar Detox

  • Day 1: Eliminate all of the obvious sugars: the cake, the candy, the cookies, the ice cream – all the stuff that you know has sugar.
  • Day 2: Eliminate the simple carbohydrates, the things that turn into sugar in your body: white bread, white pasta, fruit juice and soft drinks.
  • Day 3: Learn how to read food labels and get rid of fruit.

Step 3: Set goals

  • Keep a journal on your progress and how many times you’ve succumbed to your addiction and re-evaluate your goals and strategies every 3-4 weeks.

Step 4: Learn healthy ways to cope with stress

  • For treatment to be successful, and to remain addiction-free in the long term, you’ll need to resolve the underlying issues such as stress, frustration, and anxiety that will remain in your life.
  • Develop healthier habits to deal with these emotions. Here are some suggestions:

a) Exercise releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes emotional well-being.

b) Yoga and meditation are excellent ways to bust stress and find balance.

c) Put on some calming music.

d) Make yourself a steaming cup of tea.

Step 5: Handle triggers and urges

  • Urges are often very difficult to deal with, but with practice you will be able to let these feelings pass without giving in to them. You might notice that, after stopping or cutting back on your addiction, you get more urges than you did before. This is normal. What’s important is that you recognize that these urges are temporary and they will pass.
  • Avoid the things that trigger your urge.
  • Remind yourself of your reasons for changing.

We hope our notes and suggestions can assist you towards recognizing and taking your first steps in dealing with sugar addiction.