Do you crave something sweet at the end of each meal? Do you wake up thinking about donuts, soda, brownies, and cookies?
Do you use sugary treats to "get you through the day?" Do you tell yourself "I'll only eat one cookie," and then suddenly realize you've eaten all of them?
Do you ever promise yourself, "Tomorrow I'm not going to eat desserts," yet when tomorrow becomes today you find yourself unable to follow through?
If so, you might be addicted to sugar.
Sugar, Sugar Everywhere
According to California endocrinologist and researcher Dr. Robert Lustig, the average American consumes 130 pounds of sugar annually - that's equivalent to a third of a pound of sugar daily.
The recommended amount of sugar intake a day? Six teaspoons for women, nine teaspoons for men.
All of this extra sugar in our diets isn't totally due to decadent cupcakes and ice cream cones. Food processors add copious amounts of sugar to foods such as bread, sauces, sport drinks, granola, flavored yogurt, and even ketchup. For example, one serving of flavored yogurt contains five teaspoons of added sugar, almost the entire daily, recommended amount for a woman.
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of Beat Sugar Addiction Now!, says our bodies are not designed to handle this much sugar. "For thousands of years, humans ate sugar found naturally in their food. Sugar was not a problem; it was a treat."
Sugar is as Addictive as Cocaine
Many people might admit to having a small sugar addiction where occasionally they crave sweets. However, some scientists, such as neuroscientist Eric Stice, argue that eating a cupcake for some people is the same as using a street drug.
When you eat a sugary item, the brain responds by releasing happy, feel-good chemicals such as dopamine causing a "high" from eating excess sugar. But gradually, the body builds up a tolerance and you need to eat more and more sugar to feel that same level of satisfaction.
Dr.Lustig reports, "Numerous studies, both in animals and humans, show that the area of the brain, the reward center, is affected by sugar the same way it is by tobacco, alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and therefore it fosters continued consumption."
What's more, when scientists simply showed pictures of milkshakes to research participants, scientists observed brain effects similar to those in drug addicts. Women's brains responded most strongly to the pictures, leading to questions of women's increased susceptibility to sugar addiction.
According to Dr. Teitelbaum, people use sugar like a drug for different reasons. Some people use sugar for the rush of easy energy. Simple sugars and carbs give the bloodstream a quick shot of glucose that causes blood sugar levels to spike and a jolt of energy to rush through the system. The problem occurs when the body produces excess insulin to combat the onslaught of sugar, and blood sugar levels drop dramatically. When blood sugar drops, energy flags again and the body cries out for more sugar - exacerbating sugar cravings and fatigue.
Others use sugar as a mood enhancer, to fend off irritability and anxiousness. The problem here, says Dr. Teitelbaum, is that simple sugars make up one-third of the average American's caloric intake. These calories usually lack any nutritional value, which means less energy for vital functions such as repairing tissue and making serotonin - the natural chemical responsible for elevated mood. So using sugar to feel better actually makes you feel worse in the long run.
Doctors and researchers stress the need to understand that the body also recognizes sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, fructose, glucose, dextrose, and sucrose in the same way as refined sugar. In addition, the body treats starchy carbs like those found in white bread, pasta, and French fries in the much same way it treats sugar from cupcake frosting.
Many doctors blame the food industry's penchant for adding these extra sugars to our foods as the reason why so many Americans are sugar addicts and suffering the associated health problems. Dr. Sherry Pagoto, associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says the food industry has conditioned us to crave sugar and therefore made us loyal addicts to their products. "Tony the Tiger, my friends, is hardly different than a drug lord."
Prevent Sugar Addiction
Once a person has created a pattern of eating excess sugar regularly, taking it out of the system creates withdrawal symptoms. Headaches, exhaustion, irrational moodiness, brain "fuzziness," and intensified cravings are all symptoms of sugar withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms, if not paired with constructive dietary and lifestyle changes, could drive you back to an even worse binge on sugar-laden confections.
Some of the most widely mentioned steps for breaking sugar addiction are:
1. Cut Out Sugar. Dr. Teitelbaum recommends starting with hidden processed food and fast food sugars and gradually eliminating more sources of sugar such as sodas and obvious dessert sugars.
2. Add More Whole Foods to Your Diet. Web MD calls this "training your taste buds." Taste buds can change; once you start eating less sugar, your taste buds will recognize even mildly sweet items as sweet enough to satisfy your palate.
3. Eat Sugar with Fiber. Fruit does have sugar, but its fiber content allows the body to absorb the sugar slowly. This helps the body avoid the blood sugar rollercoaster.
4. Get Enough Sleep. This step is critical for those people who use sugar as a pick-me-up.
5. Drink More Water. Many times dehydration causes fatigue. Drinking more H2O may help stave off sugar cravings.
When these steps still fail to keep sugar intake at the recommended level, some people find more comprehensive, holistic measures necessary. People with severe sugar addictions may find that they've used sugar as a comfort, a friend, or a distraction from life problems and may need the help of a counselor or fellowship to change old thinking and behavior patterns.
Achieving success breaking sugar addiction, like any other addiction, requires sustained effort and is easier done with friends than alone.