Can’t Say No to Sweets? Watch Out! It Might Be Sugar Addiction

By Lisa Franchi on July 13, 2012

You might have heard about drug, alcohol, and nicotine addiction for so many times. How about sugar addiction? According to some experts, sugar is not only addictive, it is also becomes toxic when your body absorbs too much of it. Why?

Is there such thing as sugar addiction?

You might be one of those who can’t live a day without having a slice of cake or munching on a few doughnuts. Does this mean you’re addicted to sugar? Some researchers suggest that it isn’t really the sugar itself that drives the addictive behaviour, but a pattern of withholding and bingeing. However, studies are beginning to demonstrate that sugar influences the brain like some addictive drugs such as heroin and cocaine do. In the research conducted by Eric Stice from the Oregon Research Institute, he found that sugar activates the regions of the brain that also get activated when a person takes drugs. He also found that people who love sugary foods develop tolerance, a symptom of addictive behaviour which is characterised by intense craving for more until they have reached the same effect. Another scientist, Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse observed similarities between the brains of obese people and those who abuse drugs and alcohol.

Effects of too much sugar on your brain

And even if you don’t consider sugar to be addictive, consuming too much of it is still bad for your health. Whether it’s just a simple habit or source of pleasure, sugary diets have been linked to a wide range of health problems, including diabetes. And if you didn’t reach your ‘sugar level’, you might suffer from withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, jittering, and cold sweat.

Studies show that sugar influences brain chemicals and alter the brain receptors that regulate the way we consume foods. Clinical experiments on rats showed that sugar creates changes in the brain that lead to withdrawal symptoms, same as those from drugs. On the other hand, studies in humans show that just by looking at some images of milkshakes, the brain responds in the way it does with drugs.

Can you fight sugar ‘addiction’ through abstinence?

Quitting cold turkey hasn’t worked well with smokers and is less likely to work for people who binge-eat sugary foods. Many dieticians encourage complete avoidance of anything that’s sweet, including dairy products, chips, etc. But experts warn that if you do something that isn’t sustainable, you’re more likely to switch back to the old habit. This is the same with restrictive eating which normally leads to weight cycling and binge eating. For instance, if you restrict yourself from eating that doughnut, you only keep the urge on your mind, and it makes you sick until you finally get yourself several doughnuts. And after eating, you feel guilty.

Training the brain to fight sugar ‘addiction’

You can’t just throw away the habit that took you many years to build. But then, the brain, as a powerful organ, can be re-trained. Experts suggest that if we slowly reduce or sugar intake, we can train our taste buds to enjoy even the foods that aren’t sweet. For instance, instead of totally avoiding sugary foods, why not simply limit your usual two-doughnut snack to one? Why not skip the dessert tonight as you eat your dinner? Why not cut the sugar from your coffee? And so on. Giving up sweets may be impossible for many of us. So instead of restraining your sweet tooth, why not look for substitutes like fruits? Mindful eating and therapy may help too in addressing any eating issues, like sugar addiction.

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