I keep seeing ever more articles from people like Dr. Schopick who know that indeed sugar is addictive for many people. Always worth theread.
Do you have a sugar addiction?
By Dr. David Schopick
Many of us have a sweet tooth and enjoy a nice dessert or indulging in the occasional candy bar. There is nothing wrong with a treat now and then, but for some, eating sugary foods is a true addiction, and one that can lead to an assortment of health issues. Let’s talk about how to tell if you have a sugar addiction, and how to best treat it.
How do I tell if I have a sugar addiction? Those with a sugar addiction find that they have a serious craving for sugar throughout the day. They may start the morning with a sweet pastry, coffee drink or sweet cereal, then find that by mid-morning they need a soft drink or another sweet snack, and that this pattern repeats throughout the day. In fact, the more sugary foods they eat or drink, the more they need to eat to maintain that sugar “high.” And, as the addiction progresses, they not only need to eat more, they need to eat even sweeter foods to get their “fix.” If they do not eat these foods, they may feel sluggish, grumpy and out of sorts.
Why do we crave sugary foods? To some extent, we are born preferring sweet foods. According to the American Dietetic Association, humans prefer sweet tastes from birth. Sugar also stimulates the same parts of the brain as hard core drugs such as heroin and cocaine. It temporarily provides a “feel good” high, and a burst of energy, but as time goes by, more sugar is needed to produce the same effect. We also see sweet treats as a reward, so eating sugary items plays into this mindset.
Why is a sugar addiction a problem? Sugar is the number one culprit when it comes to weight gain and heart disease. The American Medical Association reports that people who receive more than 25 percent of their daily calories from sugar are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets only included 10 percent added sugar. Consuming excess sugar can lead to diabetes and disrupt the healthy levels of triglycerides in your bloodstream. (These are a type of fat found in your bloodstream and in your fatty tissue.) High triglyceride levels can increase your risk of heart disease. Sugary foods also provide only “empty” calories, meaning these calories are not combined with fiber, vitamins, minerals or other nutrients that benefit the body. When you fill up on sugary foods, you are less apt to eat healthy foods.
How do I fight a sugar addiction? There are a number of ways to help wean yourself away from the excess sugar habit:
Indulge just a little. Try reducing your sweet snacks to just a small cookie or a mini candy bar. Enjoying a little of what you crave can sometimes ease the transition to a healthier diet.
Combine a sweet food with a healthy one: Try mixing small candies like M&Ms with nuts and raisins, or dipping a banana in honey. Again, the overall goal is to transition away from sweet snacks, but reducing sweets while adding healthier foods is a step in the right direction. Try to reduce the sweets to no more than 150 calories.
Quit cold turkey. This approach is not for everyone, but for some it works the best. If you feel that eating even a small amount of sweet foods will trigger you to keep eating more, then the cold turkey approach may be a good fit. Be prepared that the first two or three days may be hard, but your cravings will diminish. Once you’ve cut out the excess sugar for a few weeks, your taste buds will start being satisfied with less.
Chew gum. Chewing gum can help reduce food cravings, but be aware that this practice can be harmful to teeth.
Stock up on healthy snacks. Have fruit, nuts, granola bars, apples with peanut butter, veggies and hummus and other things on hand to feed your cravings. In time, you won’t miss the sweet snacks, plus these kinds of snacks give you fiber and nutrients.
Take a walk. When that sugar craving hits, instead of reaching for a soda, get up from what you are doing and move around. Taking a walk is great because it takes you away from the place where you are used to munching on sugary foods; it gives you exercise — which also releases feel-good hormones, and, if you go outside, you are distracted by the change of scenery. If your job does not allow you to go outside, then try getting up and walking around the building for a bit.
Ye Olde Cobbler in Portsmouth
Remove temptation. To truly kick the sugar habit, try not to have too much in the way of cookies, candy, soft drinks and other sweet snacks in the home or at your office. Remember, excess sugar can also lurk inside yogurts, cereals and store-bought goods. If you want a treat, try to bake something yourself where you can control the amount of sugar used. If your typical route to work regularly takes you by the drive-through with those tempting sweet coffees, alter your route.
Savor small bites. When you do indulge in something sweet, make it a small treat, and really savor it. Eat slowly and let all your senses enjoy the texture, taste and smell. Truly enjoying a good dessert will satisfy your brain and make you less apt to grab for more. (Indulging now and then is actually better than total deprivation, as you are more apt to break your fast and binge when desired foods are withheld.)
Make sure you eat regularly and drink lots of water. Getting too hungry can make you more apt to opt for sugary foods. Similarly, people often feel sluggish and tired because they are dehydrated, so keep the water coming and you’ll keep your energy up — and won’t need that candy bar.
Avoid artificial sweeteners as these will not lessen your cravings for sugar.
Plan your meals and snacks. This will help you map out healthy alternatives in advance.
Reward yourself for successfully reducing your sugar intake. If you can make it through a week without excess sugar, treat yourself to movie or other outing. Give yourself an incentive to keep kicking the sugar habit.
What if I need more help? In some cases, there are mental health issues behind the sugar addiction, just as there can be mental health issues behind other food issues. Depression, anxiety, abuse — all of these can lead to issues with food, including sugar addiction. If you have tried repeatedly to reduce your sugar intake without success, it may be time to talk to a mental health professional or a nutritionist. Sugar addiction can be overcome with the proper guidance.
Remember, no one becomes addicted to sugar overnight, and that this is a true addiction. It may take time to undo years of a bad habit, but it is possible and you will be healthier for it. Better choices will help you feel more energized and put you on the path to a healthier life.
Dr. David Schopick is a psychiatrist in private practice in Portsmouth. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in adult, adolescent and child psychiatry and has been serving patients in the Greater Seacoast area and beyond for more than 25 years. For information, call 431-5411 or visit www.schopickpsychiatry.com.