Everyone loves a sweet treat now and again. We use sweets to celebrate holidays and birthdays or as a reward when someone achieves a goal, good grades, a promotion, and on and on. Many people also reach for sweets when they feel down or stressed. Americans today consume too much sugar and have a serious problem stopping. Sugar addiction is real. Just like a habit-forming drug, our bodies experience a dopamine rush when we eat sugar, and once it’s gone, we crave more.
What is Sugar Addiction?
When we eat sugar, our blood glucose levels spike, and dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. It is released during pleasurable situations and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity again once it is gone. This is where the addiction part of a sugar addiction comes into play. It becomes a vicious cycle. Mass insulin is released to lower the blood sugar levels in our body, which also results in immediate fat storage. The high insulin causes our sugar level (glucose) to plummet, leaving us feeling tired, sluggish, and craving that high again.
How Does Sugar Addiction Work?
In the below graphic, Dave Smith, of Make Your Body Work, explains how the cycle works within our bodies.
Eat Sugar – Blood Sugar Increases – Dopamine is Released – FEEL GOOD – Insulin is released – Fat gets Stored– Blood Sugar decreases – We crave that FEEL GOOD feeling again and repeat the cycle.
This cycle explains why it is so hard to stop eating sweet foods. There is a real craving within our bodies to get that high, and we have severe increases and decreases in our energy level throughout the day. But the real problem is that as time goes on, we need more and more sugar to reach that same level of satisfaction.
Why is Sugar Addiction Bad?
Sugar addiction is bad for our health. In medicine, addiction is defined as a situation where someone’s brain chemistry has been altered to cause them to repeat an activity or substance despite harmful consequences. Sugar has been proven to cause weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease. Sugar can also affect our skin appearance by increased acne, appearance of wrinkles, sagging skin, and slower healing of cuts and scrapes. There have also been studies done that indicate high sugar consumption is correlated with depression.
Sugar can also affect testosterone levels. When you eat a snack or meal that is full of refined flour and sugars, you get a surge in aromatase. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen, further depleting free testosterone levels. For men on Testosterone Replacement Therapy, increased sugar can actually rob your body of free testosterone because it is converting it to estrogen. If you want to keep your free testosterone levels up, you need to reduce sugar intake.
How Do You Break the Cycle?
Some individuals suffer from sugar addiction more than others. If you are one of those individuals the best method may be cold turkey. Addiction is a powerful thing and most individuals are not able to have self-control because the cravings are so intense. The good news is that the longer you go without sugar, the easier it becomes. The physical desire decreases, but you will still have emotional triggers that may tempt you to get that sugar high again. You may have a particular food that is your biggest problem – a particular candy, soda, cake, donut, or sugary cereal. You should make an effort to avoid that particular food, so you don’t fall off the wagon. If you want something sweet on occasion, choose something you know you won’t overindulge in.
Sugar is a tricky thing because it also hides in foods we may not typically think are high in sugar. Foods like ketchup, barbecue sauce, cereals, flavored yogurt, protein bars, and cereal bars all contain sugars. Many drinks, like iced tea, fruit juice, sodas, sports drinks, and energy drinks, are loaded with sugar as well. According to the American Heart Association, the max amount of sugar a male should consume in one day is 36 grams. One 16 oz cola contains 52 grams of sugar. You can see how easy it is to get off track.
Are There Good Sweets?
While diet and exercise are good for your health, they don’t give you a pass to go overboard with sugar. You are still doing harm to your body and putting yourself in a vicious cycle of highs and lows. Find healthier alternatives with lower sugar and higher fiber amounts to satisfy a sweet craving. Stay away from refined flours and sugars.
Omitting sugary foods for an extended period, typically 2 weeks, allows you to reprogram your brain to know what “sweet” really is. If you eat a bag of skittles and then have an orange, the orange isn’t going to give you much pleasure. But if you haven’t consumed processed sugar in a week and then eat an orange, you would be surprised how sweet and satisfying it can be. Fresh fruit is a great healthy sweet treat, and it contains fiber. Using a little raw local honey and chopped nuts can make for a healthy dessert.
Stopping sugar addiction is hard but achievable. Make a plan to significantly decrease your favorite sweet food addiction or cut it out completely. Find healthy alternatives to turn to when you are craving something sweet. Your energy levels will be more stable, you will lose weight, and you will feel great. If you are working out at the gym, you will really see the results of your hard work.