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Sugar Addiction: Are You a Sugar Addict?

Written by: Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Kim Feinstein, RedMountain Weight Loss Behavioral Weight Loss Specialist

· Do you often wonder why you love sugary foods so much (i.e., cookies, cakes, chocolate, candy, soda, cereal, ice cream, lattes laden with syrups, etc.)
· Does sugar run your life more that you would like to admit?
· Does it concern or even scare you to feel so obsessive and compulsive about your desire for sugar?
· Have you ever stated, “Starting tomorrow, I am not going to have sugar anymore” only to cave in that afternoon or within a few days?

Below are 10 signs, which indicate you may be a sugar addict:

1. You make excuses for your consumption of sugar.
2. You lie about how much sugar you consume
3. You feel controlled by sugar
4. You get moody, irritable, frantic, and cranky if you do not have your regular “dose” of sugar
5. You often make special trips to the store to satisfy your sugar craving.
6. You frequently reward yourself with something sweet.
7. You may have a secret sugar stash, or when alone, you binge on sugary foods.
8. You have tried multiple times to stop eating sugar, and you just cannot stop.
9. You feel rage if someone ate your sugary treat without your permission.
10. You often experience sugar hangovers (i.e., headache, irritability, and depressed mood only relieved by something sweet).

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a sugar addict. Some of you, up until now, may not have used the word addict to describe your attachment to sugar. Addiction is a powerful word. But, as most of you know, sugar is a powerful substance. In fact, research with animals suggests that sugar is more addictive than cocaine and heroine. Yes, you read that correctly… more addictive than cocaine and heroine. Thus, research states that if you consume high quantities of sugar for long periods of time, your brain is affected like that of a cocaine addict. This is because heroine, cocaine, and sugar cue the same circuitry in the brain. Furthermore, researchers also found that sugar withdrawal is very similar to heroin withdrawal, with similar changes in brain chemicals and behavior. Withdrawal from sugar includes irritability, anxiety, and depression, which is followed by cravings and only relieved by consuming additional sugar.

So, after reading this, you may be thinking is there any hope? The answer is YES! Below are 5 helpful tips to break free from your sugar addiction:

1. Give yourself non-sugary rewards
As previously mentioned, current research suggests consuming a significant amount of sugar enhances the reward center in the brain, thus making it grueling to break your sugar addiction. This is extremely important because once you remove sugar from your diet you will need to find non-sugary rewards that also enhance the reward center in the brain. Here are some healthier rewards that have helped many:

· Guilt-free you time! Begin by giving yourself at least 30 minutes to engage in any activity you want (i.e., watch mindless television, play a computer game, sleep, read a magazine, etc.)
· Calling a friend
· Listening to your favorite music
· Playing or Cuddling with your pet(s)
· Exercising
· Soaking in a hot bubble bath
· Going out to meet a friend (maybe seeing a funny movie)
· A massage at a spa
· Doing something new

2) Naturally boost your dopamine with these healthy foods

Below is a list of foods, drinks, and spices known to increase dopamine:

· Nuts
· Apples
· Avocado
· Coffee
· Green leafy vegetables
· Green tea
· Turmeric
· Cheese

Also, if you must satisfy your sugar craving with a sweet treat, reach for berries instead. Berries have a low glycemic index, which means they produce very little sugar in your body. Most importantly, they will not reinforce your sugar addiction, and they are allowed on RM3®!!!

3) Don’t replace one addictive behavior for another
It is all too easy to replace one addiction for another. Unfortunately, this happens way too often when people attempt to reduce or eliminate sugar. Please be careful about looking for unhealthy behaviors that give you the same temporary euphoric feeling that sugar does. Try to avoid alcohol or shopping, especially if spending can be problematic for you. Try using one of the behaviors listed above. Keep trying new healthier behaviors until you find one that works for you!

4) Be aware of the “I’ll only have one” (denial) game
If you eliminate sugar from your diet, after about 3-5 days, you will find your sugar cravings nearly disappear and you will feel surprisingly satisfied without sugar. Until… one day, you arrive at an event that has an irresistible selection of decadent desserts, so you tell yourself you will only have one. At this point, you may have been able to stop at one. However, the next day, your body is craving sugar again, so you indulge again “just this once.” But… the next day it happens again, and then again, and so on… back to square one, until your pants don’t fit again and you feel depressed and defeated. Does this pattern sound familiar? If you are a true sugar addict, you may not be able to just have one. Try to be honest with yourself so you don’t sign up for the “I’ll only have one” (denial) game.

5) Do NOT have it in your home!
This is a very simple rule and it really works. If you don’t have it available you can’t eat it! Try to resist running to the store to purchase whatever you were craving. Research suggests a craving only lasts 30 minutes. Before you choose to make a run to the grocery store or bakery, try distracting for 30 minutes. Chances are you will forget about the sweet treat and you will have tolerated your craving. That reward feels better than any sugary treat!!

Most importantly, please remember that breaking your addiction to sugar takes time and patience. If you fall off the wagon yet again, try to avoid beating yourself up. Just talk yourself to success and start the process over again. Feel free to set up an appointment with me so that I can begin to help you break free from your sugar addiction.
Don’t try harder, try different!

References:

1. Lenoir, M., Serre, F., Cantin, L., & Ahmed, S. H. (2007). Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. PloS one, 2(8), e698.]
2. Ahmed, S. H., Avena, N. M., Berridge, K. C., Gearhardt, A. N., & Guillem, K. (2013). Food addiction. In Neuroscience in the 21st Century (pp. 2833-2857). Springer New York.
3. Tang, D. W., Fellows, L. K., Small, D. M., & Dagher, A. (2012). Food and drug cues activate similar brain regions: a meta-analysis of functional MRI studies. Physiology & behavior, 106(3), 317-324.
4. Avena, N. M., Rada, P., & Hoebel, B. G. (2008). Evidence for sugar addiction: behavioral and neurochemical effects of intermittent, excessive sugar intake. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 32(1), 20-39.