Recent studies are quick to compare sugar’s affect on the brain to heroin, nicotine and alcohol use. The word ADDICTION is being used to describe the CRAVINGS one may have with sugar consumption, as opposed to the softer and more descriptive word as I see it, HABIT. The word "habit" seems to offer the opportunity for us to take responsibility for our behaviors. It implies we can change if we are willing and able by creating strategies to help ourselves walk away from the habit of consuming too much sugar whether it be in the form of soda, cake or cookies, or in the less obvious processed foods like spaghetti sauce and crackers.
Calling sugar an "addictive" substance is alarming. My concern is this allows for a sense of defeat, validation for it, and excuses to continue caving to the craving and hitting the Oreos, or fill in your blank for whatever food or drink drives this example for you, and then, possibly the remorse of wishing you didn't.
I want to acknowledge that your cravings are real. I am not denying that you may feel out of control sometimes. In return, I would ask that you acknowledge that you know what to do to break this cycle. There are suggested action steps below to help. In addition, I offer the idea that if you lay off the sugar for a few days, your cravings will subside.
Whether you believe sugar is addictive or not will be dictated by a few factors, and two are most significant:
1) Your past experiences with sugar
Your feelings are unique and built upon your life experiences. If you associate drinking a soda with happy childhood memory that made you feel good; like going to the park with your dad, then your neurotransmitters, or your "happy chemicals" have built those connections. Coke will play on that memory in their ads, and seeing a Coke for the sake of this example, will be your cue and you will find yourself wanting a Coke.
2) Your present consumption of sugar both measured in quantity and frequency
If you have created the vicious cycle for yourself consuming sugar laden processed food, then you know it tastes good, it makes you happy, and then you crave it again. Sugar is in more than the obvious foods such as in kids breakfast cereal, soda, candy, cakes or cookies. It can be less obvious and in most processed foods such as spaghetti sauce, crackers, sugary "yogurts", trail mix, added to dried fruits, granola bars, and then starches such as white bread, pasta and so on, break down into sugar. The list goes on.
When you consume sugar (a class of molecules called carbohydrates), your taste receptors are activated and the signal goes to the brain and activates the brain’s reward system. Dopamine is a part of this reward system and associated with our food cues. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and important chemical in your brain that is released when you consume sugar, and connects to the receptors on your brain.
With a bite of sugary food, your brain says Yummy! Yippee! Do I want to do that again? YES!!!!!!! Reward. It is interesting to note that dopamine is also released with sexual behavior, socializing and with drug use. It makes us feel good! Some studies show, for example, that the more sex you have, the more you will want. That makes sense with what we know about dopamine. Experience, once again, being a significant piece of the puzzle.
The reason studies are suggesting that sugar has addictive qualities is that dopamine is also released with heroin, nicotine or alcohol. Although with drugs, the dopamine release goes into overdrive and the response is much more violent and volatile than with sugar and creating addiction and out of control behaviors and subtle cues that make an addict go searching for more drugs; sugar is the one "food" that science has found to be associated with dopamine release with the consistent reward response.
Compare sugar to the consumption of a healthy balanced meal. The healthy meal may increase dopamine levels at first, but it will balance out over time which explains a little about why we get bored with the same foods. If you rarely eat sugar or do not eat much at a time, the affect of dopamine is like eating that balanced meal.
However, if you consume sugar often or in large quantities, you are creating the desire to have more because with sugar consumption, the dopamine levels do not balance out and it continues to feel rewarding. Because sugar is in so many processed foods, you may be consuming more sugar than you think and that keeps the vicious sugar craving cycle alive and well. With more sugar consumption, we are essentially developing a tolerance to it, and want more and more and more. Those are those cravings that you just cannot seem to escape!
Action steps to break your sugar cravings:
1) Know what you are eating
3) Get plenty of rest. Studies indicate that sleep deprivation helps us hold onto extra weight
Know that if you can get one day under your belt without consuming any added sugars, you are well on your way. That is one more day than yesterday. Do it again on day two, and then three. After that, you will already have the hang of it. If you feel a sweet tooth coming on, choose what you will have and limit the amount. You have full control when you know that you do.
Let me hear from you on FB our comment on my blog. I want to know if you are going to try this for a few days and if you find it is working for you. I can offer suggestions if you like. Another option is to call or e-mail me to schedule a coaching session if you would like help finding your way to conquer your cravings. Go to my Inspiring Services page and fill in your contact information.
My passion and purpose is helping people reach their full potential and master their wellbeing.
Disclosure: Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before beginning any diet or exercise program and ask whether you are healthy enough to engage in a diet and exercise program. Never disregard, avoid or delay in obtaining medical advice from your doctor or other qualified health care provider concerning your overall health and wellness, including your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. It is your choice to follow the suggestions, opinions and advice given by a Health Inspires wellness coach.