I was a self-confessed sugar addict that could never get enough and couldn’t stop even though I wanted to… sound familiar?
I’m sure you’ve heard the statement “sugar is as addictive as cocaine” and if you haven’t, don’t be alarmed as this not the case. It honestly seems like sugar is everything that is wrong with the world.
In this episode, I am going to share why you cannot be addicted to sugar, and believing that you can will do you more harm than good.
I legit thought I was a chocolate / sugar addict
Throughout my dieting life, I genuinely thought I was addicted to sugar. I read books about it that seemed to describe exactly what I was experiencing and I followed people who had given up sugar for good and that had “beaten their addiction” and who were now living their best, healthiest life of freedom.
I’ve read books claiming that after reading I’d never want to eat chocolate again. I’ve had hypnosis during my desperation of giving up chocolate, I’ve paid people to hold me accountable to stop eating it and I’ve shamed myself drastically when I always failed.
After each failure, everything pointed to the word “addict.” I was a self-confessed sugar addict that could never get enough and couldn’t stop even though I wanted to… sound familiar?
Yeah well, the thing about addiction is that you need more and more of it to get the same “fix” whereas through personal and professional experience and research when we allow the foods we think we’re addicted to, over time we actually eat less yet get the same amount of enjoyment from eating them.
If sugar was addictive, you would get an equal high from fruit and yoghurt or you’d be eating sugar out of the bag
Many foods are naturally rich in sugar, namely fruits and dairy. Have you ever heard of people bingeing on bananas or yoghurt? Probably not (unless you’re severely restricting calories and you’re allowed as many bananas and as much yoghurt as you’d like on whatever BS food plan you’re following and so you eat them just because you can #beentheremanytimes.) Despite the fact that fruit and dairy contain naturally-occurring sugars, no one ever claims to be addicted to these foods.
You’re also most likely not eating sugar out of the bag with a spoon. If it were a true addiction, you’d go straight to the most potent source of the thing you were addicted to.
Jan Ulbrecht, associate professor in biobehavioral health and medicine at the College of Health and Human Development, says. “Since the human body does not become physically dependent on sugar the way it does on opiates like morphine and heroin, sugar is not addictive.”
Sugar is more addictive than cocaine
In 2017 there was a study that gave rats the option of a sugar solution or cocaine and the study found that 94% of the time the rats chose sugar over cocaine. This suggests that the rats preferred the sweet taste of sugar over cocaine. People have taken that to mean that sugar is more addictive than cocaine… but what it’s really showing us is that the rats simply prefer the taste of sugar over the taste of cocaine.
I don’t know about you but if I were given a choice between eating sugar or cocaine, I’ll take the sugar thanks! Rats want food, and sugar is food. Of course, they choose sugar over drugs. It’s their primal drive for survival kicking in.
In a further and similar study, the rats were actually starved for over 36 hours before they were given access to the sugar which they then binged on… no surprise there then!
Again, it’s their primal drive kicking in; lack of food – must be a famine – presented with sugar – eat lots of it to protect from another possible famine. It’s a life-saving primal reaction. The same goes for us.
What feels like an addiction is almost certainly restriction
Behaviours that on the surface look and feel like sugar addiction are often a function of diet mentality which can be just as powerful of a feeling as addiction. Through restriction or labels of good or bad foods, it creates a real or perceived deprivation that can trigger a primal drive to eat.
In other words, bingeing occurs in the context of limited access rather than the actual neurochemical effects of sugar.
When we restrict a food and we don’t allow ourselves to have it as often as we really would like, the brain starts to overly focus on that food. The brain wants that food more. we desire what is forbidden. It is restriction that results in an upset of the natural balance. Because you have interfered with the body’s ability to self-regulate, it reacts by going into a scarcity mindset. When you restrict a food and create scarcity you give it power over you.
It’s also quite ironic because research shows that;
Restriction of sugary foods actually seems to correlate with a higher intake of these foods…
So the restriction doesn’t actually cause you to eat less of it over time anyway!
If you want to feel addicted to something, restrict it and then make yourself wrong for wanting it or having it.
Restrictive eating patterns have become the norm in our society. When our bodies don’t receive the energy they need, biological reinforcements kick in to ensure our survival. This can come in the form of craving sugar or feeling out of control around it.
Whether you’re in the middle of a no-added-sugar challenge, on a low-carb diet, or just trying to cut your calorie intake, your body’s natural response is to crave sugar as a quick source of energy. It’s pretty smart when you think about it.
Your body doesn’t care about your #bodygoals it cares about survival first and then health and vitality second.
Pleasurable doesn’t mean addictive
When you eat sugar it releases dopamine in the area of your brain associated with motivation and reward. In simple terms, it makes you feel good. Yes, the same thing happens when you take addictive drugs, but it can also happen when you exercise, have sex, stroke a puppy, listen to music or when you’re in love but we’re not claiming that those are addictive or going to kill us are we…?
Your body knows what it’s doing
When you stop restricting sugar it comes down from the pedal stall you’ve put it on and ends up being a pleasurable part of life. Just like sex is a pleasurable part of life but you wouldn’t want sex multiple times a day forever… Even if you have a high sex drive you’d come to a point where you felt fully satisfied (and most likely sore…)
Your body knows what it’s doing and I promise you, your sugar consumption will balance itself out to a place that is healthy for you and your body.
Unconditional allowance to eat sugar
No one is saying that sugar is a health food, but we need to stop demonising it and comparing it to a drug habit. By identifying as a sugar addict you will act as if that is true. Thinking of sugar as something you can’t quit (FYI – you don’t need to and shouldn’t quit!) will almost certainly make you feel out of control around it.
It feels so counter-intuitive to ALLOW SUGAR WITHOUT TRYING TO MODERATE IT but here’s the thing:
When you try to moderate sugar from a place of fear (eg- fear of the health impact it may have or the fear of weight gain etc) then this is restriction.
And we know what restriction leads to;
An equal and opposite REACTION to said restriction.
In simple terms, when you try to moderate chocolate by only allowing yourself to eat a few squares due to fear of weight gain or health implications, what you’re doing is showing your brain that you’re not eating as much food as you’d actually like. Your brain then takes this information and decides that FOOD IS SCARCE.
It will then change your biology to drive you to eat more food – especially foods with a high-fat high-sugar content in order to prepare for the perceived famine (I’ll count on you having dieted and repeated this cycle for many years…? )
You then binge and perpetuate your belief that “sugar is bad, you’re clearly addicted to it and therefore you can’t trust yourself around it” and so you continue on in the diet binge cycle.
When you ALLOW all foods, yes that includes sugar, and practice allowing your natural instincts and desires to lead you – just as they do when you need to pee or put on another layer of clothing if you’re cold – you will not be restricting.
Try recognizing your cravings for what they are: a physiological response to your body needing carbohydrates or a simple pleasure-seeking response.
Because dieting is not an action it is a state of mind, you will then be able to naturally and effortlessly “moderate” your sugar intake because you genuinely won’t want more to eat it in excess anymore because you’ll know that if you wanted to eat a ton of chocolate then you could. Your brain will not pick up on the scarcity of food and therefore won’t send your biology into overdrive to eat more sugar. Women who restrict are 12 times more likely to binge. Will-power cannot override your natural biological response.
Moderation through choice for health reasons or blood sugar or whatever (just NOT due to weight-related fears) from a place of abundance and allowance is absolutely KEY to your food freedom and body liberation.
When you mentally un-restrict sugar, there may be a honeymoon period in which you eat a lot of sugar. However, after this time, the desire to eat a lot of sugar diminishes. Go with it and know it’s the best thing you can possibly do if you want to live in food freedom and feel “normal” around food.
The stress of eating the thing is way more damaging than actually eating the thing
Research tells us that the stress of worrying about eating certain foods is way worse for your health than eating the food in the first place… so eat the damn cake my love and enjoy it!
4 tips to stop feeling “addicted” to sugar
#1 stop restricting food AND sugar
#2 Prioritise sleep
Research shows that getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night increases your daily sugar cravings. Not that craving sugar and eating sugar is bad, it’s just helpful for your overall health to ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
#3 Explore other ways to self-soothe
Share how you feel with people you trust.
Express your emotions without bottling them up.
Explore and add in other things that bring you joy and pleasure.
Don’t make eating sugar bad or wrong and allow yourself to enjoy it when you eat it. If sugar is your only preferred method of pleasure and self-soothing that is ok too!
#4 Add in nourishing satisfying foods
Adding in nourishing foods and meals that satisfy you physically and emotionally can help to stabilise your blood sugar and fulfil your emotional cravings.
All in all, the best and only way to stop feeling addicted to sugar is…
to eat more sugar…! Scary I know but it’s the only way and the freedom is SO worth it!
If you’d like support through this, join other women going through the same journey as you in the life-changing Body Love Buffet. Hope to see you there!