I’m pretty sure I’ve never been a drug addict. I mean, it’s the kind of thing you’d remember. Even though I’ve spent half my life on tour playing in bands, this is one rock and roll cliche I’ve managed to avoid, but that was before I gave up coffee.
All of a sudden, my life felt like a scene from Trainspotting. A pounding headache and an almost uncontrollable urge to dive into the nearest Costa to inhale 16 double espressos, meant my caffeine abstinence didn’t last long. In terms of addictions, caffeine doesn’t get that much negative press. Sugar, on the other hand, has its addictive qualities blamed for anything from the obesity epidemic to Davina McCall’s “prickly” feeling skin.
While Caffeine is a drug with very real addictive qualities, sugar most certainly isn’t. Yet, stories about sugar addiction litter the internet like a trail of skittles. Sugar addiction seems like a real problem, but is it?
Dopamine is a hormone that helps regulate emotional responses and works to broker reward and motivation. Dopamine is one of the reasons you get a kick out of sex, getting a pay rise, and being in love. It’s also one of the core reasons that we show addictive behaviours as humans. While fluctuations in dopamine are perfectly useful and normal, drugs increase dopamine to crazy high levels, to the point where your brain recognises these levels as a new baseline. A once great achievement now seems boring AF in caparison to the drug-fuelled high, and the motivation to perform the once goaltastic behaviour is lessened.
Over the years, studies on rats have found that although drugs stimulate a huge increase in dopamine, super tasty foods that are high in sugar, fat, or both (think cheesecake) induce a similar effect. This research has slowly been dumbed down by the press, turned into headlines, and labelled as sugar being as addictive as cocaine.
Getting Mickey Mouse hooked on crack in a lab is one thing, but can sugar be addictive to humans? According to the American Psychiatric Association, if sugar stops you from showing up to work or it’s use results in legal problems, then it fits the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of dependence. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that it’s unlikely that you’ve ever failed to do your job because you had to drop everything to get your next fix of jelly babies before the withdrawal symptoms kicked in. Actual human studies also report a lack of evidence for any physical dependence on sugar:
”Given the lack of evidence supporting it, we argue against a premature incorporation of sugar addiction into the scientific literature and public policy recommendations”
“There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders”
Panicking about missing another episode of Game Of Thrones, or wanting to give up the cereal you have for breakfast each morning doesn’t mean you’re addicted to these things. You just like them. So much so that you want to let your pleasure sensors run wild. As soon as you eat a food packed with fat and sugar that tastes amazing, your sensory systems notice the amount of energy in the food, it’s appearance, smell, and texture. They then quietly whisper all this information to your brain by releasing dopamine which reinforces the drive to find this food and eat more of it. Chocolate, ice cream, whatever; ever done a midnight dominos order just because? Yeh, its that feeling.
Let’s be clear, you can eat sugar and be perfectly healthy. It can fit into anyone’s diet, and there is nothing bad about it in non-stupid quantities. However, if you feel like you’re addicted to sugar, or have cravings for any sucrose laden foods that lead to overeating, then you can manage that without experiencing one single withdrawal symptom, but it takes work. A good place to start is to look at when you might want to eat sugar in an uncontrolled way. When you feel that you crave sugar, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you hungry at this point?
- Are you feeling negative emotionally?
- Are you feeling bored?
- Are you tired or feeling overwhelmed?
In asking yourself these questions, you can start to understand how you feel at that time and search for patterns. If craving sugar, or overeating it stems from any of the above, addressing the things that trigger it are a better bet than trying to alter your diet. If hunger is the issue, consider not dieting for a while and see how that affects things. Yes, I mean it. If weight loss is the goal, tackling negative eating habits now will pay off later.
Being aware of how your day is structured, and having set meal times is also a great way to reduce any “addictive” eating patterns. Nibbling outside of regular meals should also be viewed with caution, especially if the snacks you reach for the most are often trigger foods. By always eating the trigger food, you could actually induce a craving for it. As much as you want to be flexible with your diet, if having only a small amount of a food leads to wanting more of it, it might be an idea to get it out of the house for a while or stop going to Nandos on a Wednesday.
If cravings are a problem, simply making it hard for yourself to give in to them is usually the best bet. Not giving in to cravings actually reduces them rather than makes them worse. The uncontrollable urge to eat something soon disappears when you realise you have to walk to the shop to get it at 10 pm in March.
Thinking you’re addicted to something gives power to that belief. Knowing that you’re not gives you control. You are not addicted to sugar.
Want to lose weight while still going out to eat the foods you love? Get the eat out stay lean system and never worry about eating out again.