Sugar addiction is on the rise. Sugar is found in many foods we eat, it is often used as a reward, and it is completely legal. Just the sight of a sugary treat can generate cravings and cause people to eat even if they are not hungry. Sugar is found in countless foods and beverages even found in some foods most do not consider sweet. It is one of the most commonly consumed substances even if we are not aware of it. While it may seem harmless, studies show that sugar is actually addictive and it can lead to a number of health issues later in life.
Sugar addiction is more common than some might think. It is highly palatable meaning it is incredibly satisfying to consume. Consuming sugar makes a person feel good and increases their desire to eat more. Studies show that the way sugar works is similar to addictive drugs. Much like drugs or alcohol, sugar interacts with the reward system in the brain. When certain behaviors are performed, the brain releases dopamine which makes a person feel good and encourages them to continue the behavior in the future. Over time, the brain adjusts, releasing less dopamine than before. This means that a person must change their behaviors to elicit the response they want. In the case of sugar, this means consuming larger amounts of sugar more frequently in order to achieve the same outcomes. While this can make a person feel good temporarily, it often leaves a person with negative side effects that can affect their physical and mental health.
The Growing Problem with Sugar
Sugar addiction is difficult to break simply because food is necessary to survive. While some might suggest that abstaining from eating sugar is easy to do, the reality is, sugar is added to almost everything we eat, and it is nearly impossible to avoid it altogether. Sugar is easily available and socially acceptable to consume, and once a person associates sugar with something good, it can be difficult to break the connection that encourages continued use.
Most people can easily point to foods and drinks that have sugar in them: soda, ice cream, brownies, cake, and fruit juices all have high amounts of sugar in them. Other foods and beverages that may contain substantial amounts of sugar, but may not be so obvious include yogurt, bread, salad dressing, coffee beverages, cereal, and granola bars. The sugar found in these items is different than the naturally occurring sugar found in fruits or honey. It is highly processed, concentrated, and refined to make foods and drinks seem sweeter.
Candy and sweets are heavily marketed towards children and adolescents, and they are often used as a reward to encourage behaviors. While this may work to motivate a person, it can often shape their sugar consumption habits and affect their relationship with sugar as they grow older. Consuming large amounts of sugar from a young age will likely carry over into adulthood. This overuse of sugar also plays a significant role in the rates of obesity in the United States. This is not solely attributed to overconsumption of sweet treats, but is also due to the addition of sugar to many other types of food.
While it can be nearly impossible to completely remove sugar from your food and beverages, you can make the decision to cut back and reduce the amount you consume. Excessive sugar consumption can increase your risk for numerous health issues including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. It has also been linked to poor dental health and increased risk for depression. There are many reasons to make the change, but reducing your sugar intake is not without challenges.
Because sugar can be addictive, cutting back can produce withdrawal symptoms early on. Everyone experiences sugar withdrawal symptoms differently, but it can be any combination of physical and mental symptoms. These are largely dependent on how much you consumed and how often. Symptoms can last anywhere between a few days to a couple of weeks and may be more intensely experienced when feeling stressed or bored.
Symptoms of Sugar Detox
When cutting back on sugar, you may experience:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty concentrating
How to Beat Sugar Withdrawal
There are a number of ways you can combat these symptoms to help you get through initial withdrawal. Some common practices include:
- Drinking more water
- Getting more sleep
- Eating more proteins
- Consume more fibrous foods
- Practicing better stress management
Often times, while you may be able to cut sugar completely out for some time, you may find yourself eating something sugary from time to time. It is incredibly difficult to cut sugar use altogether, and you may find that depending on your health and individual needs, your relationship with sugar can be modified. Developing a healthy relationship with sugar where it may be consumed in moderation is beneficial for many people, but if sugar consumption is negatively impacting your health, it may be worthwhile to speak with a medical professional about your individual needs before making significant changes.