Sugar is an addiction

Duh. I know you know that. At least on some level because you probably are addicted to it yourself. Many of us are.

Once you get that taste for sugar it’s really really hard to untaste it. In recent years studies have confirmed that when somebody eats sugar it lights up the same centers in the brain that make us feel good as if we had just taken a drug like cocaine or heroin. So if you are consuming sugar, then you really are getting a dopamine response which triggers actions in your body that make you feel good, relax you, and leave you wanting more.

But it’s not long-lasting and eventually you’re going to be craving that feeling again.  It feels good. And worse much like somebody who is addicted to a drug, eventually you’re going to require more and more of it to get the same feeling, which has also been suggested in recent studies.

It’s why so many of us can’t quite kick the soda habit. Fun fact: Coca Cola was named after cocaine because at one point it did contain cocaine. That has since been replaced with caffeine (arguably equally as addictive) and high fructose corn syrup. Next time you’re around people between the hours of two and four PM, observe their behavior and probably your own, too. It’s what I like to call the “3 o’clock low”. This is when people start looking for coffee, soda and a snack. The snack is something like chips, cookies, crackers, or something high in carbs and low in protein. Everyone wants/needs a sugar high to make it to dinner time (or at least to clock out time.)

It’s not a secret that this isn’t good for the body. But what do you do about it? It’s possibly the most common and most difficult habit standing in the way of my clients and their health goals.

Eliminate it. That’s right. I said it. Cold turkey. In many addictions, weaning is the way to go because of withdrawal dangers. But not in this case. Even small amounts of sugar prove to keep the brain stimulated and wanting more. Can you really eat just eat one Hershey kiss? One Oreo? Ten potato chips? One doughnut? A one inch square brownie? 1/4 cup m&ms? Five crackers? You get my point.

I love me some coffee. But I’ve learned to have it without sugar. That includes the substitutes too. Why? Because when we have sweet tasting things, we are signaling our brains that a feel good response is coming. Except it doesn’t with zero calorie sweeteners because they don’t illicit the dopamine response. So guess what? You start looking for something that will. We all want to feel good. Especially when stressed, sad, mad, bored, or in pain. And dopamine does the job well.

So ya, cold turkey. Will you magically no longer want to eat sugar anymore? Not quite. Physically, it’s going to take your body about two solid weeks to move on from the cravings. In a rat study done at Princeton, there were withdrawal symptoms including chattering teeth and heightened anxiety which kept them staying in one place rather than exploring as rats normally do.

Emotionally, you’re going to need to find another means to deal with it. Trial and error. Some find emotional peace in journaling. Others in a new hobby (or revisiting an old one). There’s also meditation, talking to trusted friends, taking a walk outside, reading, my favorite – essential oils, and the list goes on. We live in a world with lots of options. Options that aren’t as readily available as food. But they’re there. And not all of them work. That’s why I said trial and error. You will find something that works better than food, without the guilt. Without the calories.

Let me know in the comments what you’re trying. What works, what doesn’t.

P.S. Looking for online support with like minded women? You may be interested in joining my Facebook group for support from women and moms trying to get healthy and lose weight just like you!

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LD