Am I Addicted To Sugar?
You eat one biscuit but then you want another one... and before you know it you have finished the packet.
You want to just have one square of chocolate, but then it tastes so good ... and so you end up finishing the bar.
You've already had a big meal but you just NEED to end it with something sweet... you fish around for anything that will satisfy that sweet craving.
ARE YOU ADDICTED TO SUGAR?
Many people would describe themselves as having a sweet-tooth. Many people would also, however, describe themselves as feeling out of control around sugar or as eating more sugar than the would like to. When most people think of sugar, they think of cakes, biscuits and chocolate, however there is also sugar in a lot things that many people consider "healthy" such as honey, granola and fruit juice. When the World Health Organisation (WHO) advises on optimum sugar intake for our health, they advise us on how much FREE-SUGAR we should be consuming. FREE-SUGARS are the sugars that are not naturally found in a whole food and include the sugars in cakes, biscuits and chocolate but also the sugars found in honey, maple syrup and fruit juice and the sugars added to processed foods or savoury foods. They do not include the sugars found in whole fruit or unsweetened dairy products. WHO recommends that we eat no more than 6 teaspoons of free-sugars a day.
So what exactly is free-sugar? Sweet foods, including cakes, biscuits and chocolate but also granola and honey all contain two different sugar molecules. They all contain glucose and they all contain fructose. Now glucose is actually the fuel that our body runs off. We also get glucose from carbohydrates (such as veggies, legumes, grains and potatoes) as well as from protein too. Glucose is NOT a bad thing for our body and health. It is however, helpful for our health that any glucose we consume is released SLOWLY into our blood stream. With many sweet foods such as biscuits, sweets or even granola or dried fruit, often the glucose in them is released very quickly into our blood stream as there isn't much fat, fibre or protein to slow the release of the sugar. The sugar molecule that is unhelpful to our health in large amounts is actually fructose. Now fructose is actually the sugar also found in fruit. However, in a piece of whole fruit, fructose is packaged up with lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre and so the small amount of fructose is worth consuming for the rest of the nutrients you get from the whole fruit. However, lots of fruit juice or sweet smoothies can be unhelpful for our health due to the high doses of fructose we are getting. So when we are worried that eating too many sweet foods will affect our health negatively, we are really worried about:
- consuming too much fructose; and
- consuming glucose that is too quickly released into our blood stream and causes big blood sugar spikes.
Sugary tastes can become quite habit forming for a few reasons. Firstly, we have a part of our brain called the nucleus accumbens which seeks out pleasure. It gives us a hit of feel good hormones when we consume something sweet. As it feels really good when we eat something sweet, we can then be driven to keep seeking out that pleasure. Also our taste buds tend to adapt and get used to what we are regularly consuming. This means that if we are eating a lot of sugar, we will then naturally develop the taste for these sweet foods and seek them out more too. This is why many people can feel very driven to eat sugary things once they get into the habit of eating them regularly.
Many people would describe themselves as being addicted to sugar, however there are actually several things that could be going on if you feel that you are "addicted to sugar":
You are in the habit of eating more sugar than you would like to eat and your brain and taste buds tend to seek out sweet tastes regularly (i.e. you feel compelled to eat sugar).
You are suffering with binge eating disorder or the pattern of binge eating shows up for you. Often bingeing on sugary foods isn't just about being in the habit of eating too much sugar. It is a much more complex picture that often involves obsessive thoughts about food, being restrictive with food during the day and then feeling out of control around sweet foods. Someone struggling with binge eating would benefit from a very different approach to managing their relationship with sugar than someone who is just in the habit of eating more sugar than they would like to. Someone struggling with binge eating is also likely to find that trying to completely cut out or go cold turkey on sweet foods is very unhelpful as it can actually just make their sugar binges worse long-term.
You are very tired or stressed and your body is just trying to seek out things that will give you a quick energy boost and high. You perhaps wouldn't feel so compelled to eat sugar if you were less tired or stressed.
You have started turning to sugar as a coping mechanism and so are eating sweet things in moments of heightened emotions. Perhaps sugar has replaced other coping mechanisms for you such as smoking or drinking alcohol (or maybe exercise or meditation).
Our relationship with food is incredibly complex. It is far too simplistic to say that we are just "addicted to sugar". Yes, it is true that sugar can be very habit-forming and we can feel compelled to seek it out, however people's reasons for doing so can vary very widely. It you would like some help to rebuild your relationship with sweet food, please reach out to us at email@example.com to book in a free consultation.
"Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not!" -Author Unknown