How to break sugar addiction
So if you’re already hooked on sugar, how do you let go? ...
Sugar intake causes dopamine and opioids to be released, in much the way addictive drugs do.
Beating the addiction will take some reorganizing of your grocery list to exclude sugary sodas and processed foods, and to include more protein, high-fibre, and low glycaemic load foods. Exercise, mindfulness training, chewing gum can help kick the sugar habit.
Sugary sweets are a guilty indulgence for most of us. As young children there's little that matched up to the thrill of reaching into that candy jar for an illicit treat.
As adults giving in to that decadent dessert or second piece of chocolate was the allowance you'd make once in a way.
But when that turned into a routine pattern or habit, you probably knew something was wrong. You've may initially have joked about how sweet your sweet tooth is. But this frequent indulgence can actually turn to addiction.
So if you're already hooked on sugar, how do you let go?
Why is it called a sugar "addiction"?
Sugar is of little to no value to the body. In fact, it can potentially be problematic even for those who aren't addicted, raising the risk of cardiovascular problems, obesity, and metabolic disorder, among other things. Which is why the American Heart Association wants the United States to cut down how much sugar it is consuming.
Researchers have said sugar can actually be even more addictive than certain drugs. Sweets and sugar cause cravings and are associated with rewards by your mind and body.
Some have compared it to cocaine and said sugar is actually even more attractive and perceived as more rewarding, as far as neurobiological responses to it are concerned.
This has been attributed to the dopamine and opioids released by the body when sugar is consumed. And that's why sugar addicts exhibit compulsive uncontrollable behaviour typical of addiction like craving, bingeing, and even withdrawal.
There are some ways to set yourself on the path to beating that sugar addiction. Some, like reorganizing your grocery list may seem easy but are the hardest to live with. Others that seem tough, like exercise or mindfulness training, may actually be more welcome than you think. Whether you find these steps difficult or easy, just know that the results are well worth it.
Take it slow
Remember, you may not be able to do this overnight. As one sugar addict who beat the habit suggests, start to wean yourself off sugar one step at a time. Ease yourself into the program by cutting down on how often you indulge, slowly put in the rules, and work your way up to a diet that isn't loaded with sugar.
Cut back on sugar in drinks
Skip the sugar you have in your tea or coffee. If you drink milk, avoid adding syrups or flavours to them that contain sugar. You may not be able to quit the sugar in your drink all at once, so try cutting back a little.
Go from two spoons of sugar to one, then half, then to a quarter, until one day when you won't miss having any in that cuppa anymore! It goes without saying that you should skip the sugary sodas. A 12 ounce can of cola can contain as much as 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Buy foods with no added sugar
Switch from pre-sugared brands of foods to those that allow you to add the sugar or sweetener yourself. This way you'll have more control over the sugar you're consuming and will be clear on just how much you are having too. Cereals are a common culprit when it comes to high sugar intake.
Completely cut out readymade sweet foods from stores and restaurants like cake, ice cream, biscuits, or chocolate. For most people, limiting intake and knowing when to have how much prove to be challenging.
And if you stock these foods at home or allow yourself the "occasional indulgence", you could easily fall off the wagon on a bad day and binge.
Watch out for sugar in savoury food
Don't forget savoury foods have sugar too! You'll also need to check the food labels of any readymade sauces and processed foods you eat. Many savoury foods like salad cream, sauces, and ketchup actually contain a lot of sugar that isn't as obvious or easy to spot.
Pick healthier sweets
Substitute heavily sweetened food and drink for healthier alternatives. For instance, you could enjoy a bowl of fruit or a spoon of homemade granola that is sweetened with dried fruit or a dash of honey instead of sugar. Instead of a sugary milkshake or soda, make your own fresh fruit juice.
You can even throw in some vegetables to up the nutrient intake and cut the sugar you're having in the drink. Instead of store bought cake, bake your own that's sweetened with the natural sugars of beets, ripened bananas, or dates. And remember even if you do switch to healthy alternatives, moderation and small portion sizes are still key. Continue to treat these as "desserts" or "treats".
Consuming protein is another trick those who are successful at kicking their sugar habit have shared. Protein is known to keep you satiated longer, making you less susceptible to sudden hunger pangs that are easily quelled by a sweet treat, candy, or chocolate.
Choose low glycaemic index foods
Low glycaemic index foods (especially those with low glycaemic load) do not cause a sudden rise in blood sugar levels in your body. Your body doesn't burn through the sugar at a frenetic pace.
Instead, it is released slowly and steadily. Because of this, you will be able to enjoy a snack without a case of the munchies kicking in an hour or so later. Aim at foods with a low glycaemic load of 10 or less like whole wheat tortillas, tomato juice, couscous, skim milk, or grapefruit.
Get in some fibre
Fibre, like protein, keeps you satiated longer. Your blood sugar won't suddenly rise after eating a high fibre snack. Which means you won't experience a "crash" and subsequent craving for sugar either.
While this isn't ideal - because even sugar-free chewing gum contains artificial sweeteners which come with other health implications - it can help you through the early days of trying to cut out sugar. It has worked for some and could work for you as a last resort. Some research also backs this up. Researchers found that chewing gum can curb the appetite, especially when it comes to desire for sweets.
Find other rewards
Due to the strong association of sweets and sugar with rewards, you will need to also find a way to reward yourself that doesn't involve sugar. And it will have to be something that's really worth it or something you know is special, if the plan is to work. Depending on the level of reward you feel you deserve this could be a special dinner (as opposed to dessert), buying a new book, or just meeting a friend at a cafe for a cup of tea, coffee, or some fresh juice.
Stress is known to trigger a craving for hyper palatable high sugar and high fat foods. Exercise works well for a lot of people when it comes to managing stress better. It triggers the release of feel good hormones and can cut stress, reducing the need for you to turn to sugar to ease stress.
This approach can help you use visualization techniques to cut your cravings. Researchers have found it was effective in treating food cravings.