The average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar per day — that's four times what the World Health Organization recommends.
Many of us are addicted to sugar and don’t even know it, given that it’s not only in obvious culprits like desserts and candy but also hidden in many non-dessert foods like pasta sauce and flavored coffee drinks.
Sugar meets all the criteria for an addictive substance. It stimulates the release of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain (e.g., dopamine, serotonin, etc.) and many people eat sugar compulsively, even if we say we want to stop.
There are many causes of sugar addiction. Do any of these sound familiar?
You often feel exhausted and have energy dips during the day.
When you eat something high in sugar, your blood glucose level goes up then crashes. Your brain interprets that crash as the need for more sugar. So you eat something sugary, get another spike, then a dip, spike, etc.
This puts you at the point of secreting excess insulin (which leads to fat storage) and excess blood sugar — it's an insidious downward spiral!
This cycle can be exasperating if you start off the day exhausted. When you're tired or haven't gotten enough sleep, the instinctive reaction is often to eat something that will give you a quick energy pick-up like carbs, sugars, coffee, etc., which then kicks off the blood sugar spike/dip cycle.
You often have indigestion or feel like you have poor digestion.
Certain conditions that manifest as poor digestion can actually cause sugar cravings. For example, low stomach acid or an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
The irony is that these conditions are then aggravated by feeding them with sugar. That’s why fighting sugar addiction involves not just limiting sugar intake but also adding healthy nutritious foods to your diet.
Your first instinct when you encounter a stressful situation is to reach for sugary, processed food.
Studies have shown that physical or emotional stress results in an increase in consumption of fat, sugar, or both.
And it’s no surprise since the brain produces the “feel-good” substances serotonin and dopamine in response to sugar, giving you an overall feeling of physical and emotional well-being … at least until your blood sugar dips and all those feel-good feelings go away.
That’s how the vicious cycle starts.
You know that you eat too much sugar but can’t stop.
You need dessert or sweets after meals and as a pick-me-up. You eat sugar even when you are not hungry and sometimes until you feel “stuffed” and sick.
Sugar can be a true addiction. Even with the best of intentions and armed with knowledge about this addiction, many of us can’t seem to give up sugar and we consume it compulsively. Then we feel guilty for it, which just makes the situation worse. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
The great news is that you can reverse sugar addiction! Try these tips:
1. Eat whole, non-processed foods.
Fresh meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Include low glycemic, high-fiber foods like nonstarchy vegetables.
2. Eat regular meals with snacks between meals.
All meals and snacks should include protein, too (meat, fish, chicken, cheese, eggs, nuts, tofu).
For meals, eat a protein the size of the palm of your hand and half that for snacks. Protein helps balance blood sugar and reduces “between meal” cravings.
Unlike sugar, when you eat protein, the rise in your energy levels is slower and sustained over a longer period of time without a crash in blood sugar.
3. Avoid extreme hunger.
Extreme hunger can lead to poor decision-making. Plan your meals and snacks.
4. Keep sugary foods out of your house.
Stock your cupboards with healthy foods that will keep you satisfied throughout the day.
5. Get your sleep in check.
If you have trouble sleeping, work on more regular patterns. Here are some tips on how.
6. Manage stress.
If you have stress, look into relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or massage.
7. Limit artificial sweeteners, too.
Using artificial sweeteners may increase your sugar craving as much as eating sugar. Sugar substitutes may perpetuate your sweet tooth merely by being sweet.
Your body also may need nutrition and energy when you're reaching for a zero-calorie food.
8. Pay attention to your cravings.
Examine the cause of your cravings to determine whether they’re from physical hunger or are stress-/emotion-related.
If you find yourself eating too much sugar, be gentle with yourself, let go of the guilt and keep trying. It takes many failures as well as victories to change a habit or rid yourself of this addiction.
There are many causes of sugar cravings and some are not within our immediate control. But that doesn’t mean how we respond to these is out of our control.
The best thing we can do is to nourish our body with healthy foods and to develop true compassion toward ourselves.
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