You knew right away I was talking about you, didn’t you? Chances are you’re reading this article because you are hopelessly addicted to sugar or suspect that you are, or you have a loved one who is a sugarholic and you want to know what can be done about it.
There are generally two kinds of sugar addiction: emotional and chemical. To make things even simpler, if the emotional void is not addressed through some other means, it can very easily morph into a chemical addiction. So in this blog, we will be primarily discussing the chemical variety. For more on how to address the emotional aspect of sugar, see my previous blog on the topic.
So how do you know if you’re an addict? Chances are you crave something sweet after meals and you don’t stop thinking about sugar until you get it. If you are a true addict you plan ahead and usually have a steady supply of sweets in the house so you are never without. I should know. I was born an addict. As an Italian American, I was raised on pasta and bread and pizza. And if there is one thing that will promote a sugar addiction almost as quickly as actual table sugar, it is refined carbohydrates—your white, flour-based foods.
In my experience a sweet tooth is typically handed down from generation to generation. I’ve seen it time and again with my clients and I’ve seen it first hand with my daughter. With a nutritionist for a father, she certainly didn’t get much sugar from her parents growing up. In fact, she has a pretty healthy diet and for the most always has. She didn’t even know candy canes were edible until at the age of five she finally saw another child eating one. We never told her. Some of you would probably consider that child abuse, but the way I saw it we weren’t going to be able to keep sugar from her completely, so we managed it where we could and saved the sugar for special occasions, which we still do. The point is she doesn’t get a lot of sugar. She knows that dessert nights are Friday and Sunday and we also allow her to have it at birthdays and holiday gatherings.
So my daughter has a sweet tooth. Some kids don’t. They get excited about the idea of having birthday cake or a lollipop, but they never really eat the whole thing when they finally have them. Their taste for sweet just isn’t as strong. I am convinced that we are either born with a sweet tooth or we are not. This is not to say we cannot develop an affinity for sugar later in life, which I will address later.
So how do you distinguish between the two types of sugar addiction? Let’s just start by acknowledging there is a very thin line between the two. As a matter of fact, what distinguishes them is more a matter of complexity. You see, when we consume sugar it triggers the activation of opiate-like chemicals in the brain (opioids). These are essentially “happy” chemicals that make us feel good almost instantly. This explains why sweets and high-glycemic foods (like refined carbs) are referred to as “comfort food.” If we are feeling sad or depressed, sugar is what we go for or crave. That’s the emotional addiction. It’s filling a void or addressing an emotional need.
The chemical type is when the brain actually becomes addicted to its own opioids, as it would heroin or morphine or any other narcotic. In fact, studies have shown that an addiction to sugar can be even stronger than an addiction to narcotics. And yet it’s completely legal! Don’t get me started. So you can see how eating more sweets or eating them frequently can create an addiction or dependency.
To make matters worse, there are countless other factors that can promote or influence this chemical component. A deficiency in chromium, phosphorus, or sulphur is associated with more opioid receptors in the brain. Chromium has long been used to help manage insulin resistance. More specifically, chocolate cravings have been linked to magnesium deficiencies.
Speaking of insulin resistance, low blood sugar or hypoglycemia can trigger a chemical reaction that leads to sugar cravings. When your blood sugar drops, as it does by letting yourself get hungry, eating or drinking sugar is the quickest way to get it back up. Similarly, eating a high-glycemic snack or meal triggers a spike in blood sugar which in turn can trigger a release of insulin which drives blood sugar levels back down. If you create this dynamic often enough, you can develop insulin resistance which is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Oncologists are beginning to tell their patients to avoid sugar while in treatment because it can encourage tumor growth.
Then there is the burst of energy that a sudden rise in blood sugar can give you when you consume something high in sugar. This temporary “high”, so to speak, can become addicting as well.
And yet another source of sugar addiction is candidiasis—a fungal imbalance that starts in the gut and can spread throughout your body. Candida thrive on sugar and this in turn creates a chemical desire for sugar. This is yet another example of the chemical pathology rearing its ugly head.
One can even develop a taste for sweets as we get older. Younger adults have over 10,000 taste buds on the tongue and some of these receptors are more sensitive to sweet, while others are more sensitive to salty and still others to bitter. The funny thing about these distinctions is that as humans the sweet buds are the first to develop and the last to die, meaning sweets tend to be the first taste we prefer as infants and the last taste we lose in the aging process. It’s one of the cruelties of nature. This is why it is quite common for adults to acquire a sweet tooth as they get into their senior years.
As you can see, the whole sugar addiction thing is a vicious cycle that can lead to serious health consequences. So how do you kick the habit or beat the addiction, as it were? Well, let’s put it this way. I could have just as easily entitled this blog: “How to Manage a Sugar Addiction” because just like an addiction to heroin, alcohol, or anything else, it is not to be cured; it can only be managed.
Once the biochemistry has changed, the body tends to fall back on it in times of weakness or lapse in consciousness. I have seen and personally experienced this phenomenon. Even after a prolonged period of abstinence from sugar, it only takes one isolated binge or having a dose of it on consecutive days to throw you right back into a full-blown addiction cycle.
Here is what I’ve found to be an effective strategy for managing a sugar addiction. They are listed in order of priority so I recommend starting at number 1 and working your way down.
- Address the Emotional Component – Because there is typically an underlying emotional component to a sugar addiction, or any addiction for that matter, the emotional issue must be addressed or at least acknowledged before one can hope to take on the addiction. Otherwise, slip-ups will be frequent and significant. There are many ways to approach this: therapy; meditation; journaling; energy work, etc. Choose the method that works best for you and, most importantly, put your faith in it.
- Identify and Treat the Gut Issue – If you suspect a fungal issue like candidiasis, it must be addressed or any other efforts will result in you just spinning your wheels. See my blog on how to identify and eradicate candidiasis.
- Get the Sugar Out – Abstain completely from consuming refined sugars and limit intake of fruits to one serving per day (preferably in the A.M.) and refined carbohydrates (flour-based foods) to just a few times per week. You can expect to experience symptoms of withdrawal for a few days after stopping sugar. The goal is to get to a point where you don’t crave it anymore. Use the L-glutamine (below) to help you get through this period.
- Eat a Balanced, Whole Food Diet – A diet consisting of whole, fresh, unprocessed foods with a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and natural fats is an excellent way to maintain optimum glucose levels and keep sugar cravings in check. This means including some kind a meat or eggs or dairy (unless you have a milk allergy) for your protein and fat. Your carbs should consist mainly of fresh vegetables and the lower glycemic fruits such as berries, melon and grapefruit, and whole grains like rolled oats, brown rice and quinoa. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can also be helpful.
- Supplement with B-Complex Vitamins – B vitamins help with sugar metabolism and the regulation of blood glucose levels.
- Supplement with Chrominum Picolinate – studies have shown this micronutrient supports the regulation of proper blood sugar (glucose) levels. Check with your nutritionional consultant or other health practitioner for dosage.
- Use L-Glutamine to Knock Out Cravings – This is an amino acid that occurs naturally in animal-based foods, but many people are deficient in because their bodies don’t assimilate it as efficiently as others. Simply dissolve the contents of one capsule under the tongue upon the onset of craving.
- Exercise Daily – Numerous studies have shown that exercise helps to regulate glucose levels. After having used this approach with countless clients, I can say with confidence that it works with the vast majority of people. If you are still having difficulty after having tried it, I’d be happy to help you with more personalized and targeted guidance.