Health And Wellness

7 Signs You Have A Really Dangerous Sugar Addiction

Photo: Nicole Lonescu / Shutterstock
woman eating sweets

People describe it as a prison, always keeping their minds occupied and trapping them in feelings of guilt and fatigue. Surprisingly, I'm not talking about weight loss; I'm talking about addiction to sugar, a problem that affects more and more individuals every day.

The World Health Organization released a report indicating a global reduction in sugar.

They recommend sugar be 5-10% of one's total diet, indicating "there is 'solid evidence' that keeping added sugars to less than 10 percent of your diet significantly reduces the chances of being overweight, obese or having cavities."

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Larger studies haven't yet been conducted to determine exactly how often addiction affects adults, but recent research showed that about 8% of women aged 45 to 64 could meet the full criteria for food addiction.

This doesn't even begin to describe the many people who suffer from relapsing bouts of sugar cravings, which don't go away and persist for days at a time. Most people's first reaction is guilt because they feel like there's no reason to constantly turn to processed sweets when they're smart, knowledgeable, or motivated to stay healthy. 

The fact is that this affects everyone with a body.

How do you know if your sugar intake is really an addiction?

Most people who hear about others binging on sugary foods may think the solution is as simple as "stop eating sugar." Herein lies the problem: those struggling with sugar will go through bouts of restrictive eating, only to find that their longing for sugar comes back with a vengeance.

This on-sugar off-sugar cycle turns into an emotional rollercoaster where a person loses connection with their behaviors and constantly feels guilty, thinking they're just not motivated enough.

Others may just have extra hunger that occasionally creeps up and brings them to eat more than usual on certain days. The causes include extra activity, lack of sleep, not drinking enough water, or lacking sufficient fiber in the diet.

What are the warning signs that determine if eating habits constitute actual addiction to sugar?

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Here are 7 easy-to-spot symptoms of a legitimate sugar addiction:

1. Always think about ways to incorporate sugar into meals and snacks

2. Lacking satisfaction with meals that aren't sweet

3. Being constantly influenced to eat specific foods or specific packaged products that have sugar

4. Eating just one sugary food causes a loss of eating control, often leading to binging

5. Having "waves" of sugar cravings that last longer than a day or stretch into several days

6. Continually using sugary foods to cope with feeling depressed, lonely, or isolated

7. Not finding enjoyment in usual activities such as being social, exercising, sex, or entertainment when they don't include sugar

Yale University actually created a preliminary assessment tool called the Yale Food Addiction Scale to help determine how addictive one's food (or sugar) behaviors may be.

So yes, sugar addiction is very real and has crept into many people's diets and lives. If some of this sounds familiar, you may find that it's not sugar specifically; cakes, candies, and cookies don't do it for you, but maybe you "can't live" without bread, bagels, cereal, or pasta.

If you've ever uttered those words, I hate to break them to you, but you may be flirting with sugar addiction. The key thing to remember is that these foods are one and the same, since starchy foods like these are just as addictive, if not more, as pure sugar.

When it comes to the glycemic index, white flour products like bagels, baguettes or pasta can have a blood sugar response that is merely a few points different than that of pure glucose.

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You must understand that processed foods are a very well-funded and researched business. The foods you see on the shelves are designed to attract you and hook you.

From the colors of the box to the flavors of the products, these "foods" are designed to be hyper-palatable items. Food manufacturers know that treats that trigger the largest dopamine response in the brain cause the greatest consumption and sell the best.

This is done by creating foods with several types of sweeteners and/or combining sweet foods with high amounts of fat or salt for further addictive properties.

Unfortunately, some of these super-designed foods not only detract from our diet but may also sap your ability to feel great in normally enjoyable moments of fun — socializing, entertainment, having sex, etc. When cravings begin to interfere with our normal lives and feelings of pleasure, this is when the addiction can turn from bad to worse.

I recently sat down with Food Babe, Vani Hari, to discuss her new book, The Food Babe Way.

If you don't know about the incredible work Vani has been doing to investigate the food industry — revealing shady tactics, and encouraging food corporations to change food additives and manufacturing practices.

If some of the stuff I've addressed has you shaking your head in doubt, the realities Vani uncovered with our food supply, sugar, and other addictive and harmful ingredients with absolutely stun you. 

The dos and don'ts of breaking a sugar addiction:

  • Do: Keep a consistent daily intake of all pleasurable foods that are free of sugar (your personal favorite combinations of healthy and delicious).
  • Don't: Rely on sweetness for pleasure in meals aside from just a very seldom treat.
     
  • Do: Have a list of non-food strategies to perk up your mood when feeling down, such as speaking with friends, meditation, keeping a journal, exercising, etc.
  • Don't: Turn to any food in moments of gloom or despair.
     
  • Do: Eat naturally sweet foods that are wholesome and unprocessed — yams, sweet potatoes, berries, bell peppers, bananas, carrots, dates, beets, peas, squash, and apples.
  • Don't: Keep super sweet desserts at home to pave the way to temptations.
     
  • Do: Reach out for additional help from a friend or counselor when needed.
  • Don't: Subject yourself to guilt, assume you just need to be more motivated, or that finding support for eating behaviors is immature.

Whether or not you think you're dealing with a full-blown sugar addiction, eliminating sugar from your diet and focusing on plant-based, whole foods will always benefit your body. 

A great place to start is a three-week sugar fast. That length of time gives your system the opportunity to flush the immediate effects of sugar, eliminate cravings, and reset your body naturally. 

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Yuri Elkaim is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and author of the NY Times best-selling books The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat-Burning Diet.

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This article was originally published at yurielkaim.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.