There’s no doubt you’ve heard someone openly declare, “I’m so addicted to sugar!” as they added more sugar to their coffee or scarfed down an irresistible sugar snack. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself as you shared the last vegan donut with your coworker!
But is this true… can people actually become addicted to sugar like they can alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs?
Most scientists who have studied this would give a resounding “yes!” to this question. In fact, there are several lines of compelling evidence that sugar is indeed as addictive and habit forming as drugs. Here are two:
Sugar Lights Up Brain Scans Just Like Drugs
In functional MRI scans, the brains in people who eat sugar “light up” the reward centers of the brain in a pattern that is nearly identical to someone who takes a drug like cocaine or nicotine! These images are really something amazing to see and they are very convincing that sugar affects the body in a similar way to drugs, i.e. the potential to get addicted to sugar is there from the very first bite.
Much of this type of research has been directly led by or inspired by Dr. David S. Ludwig at Harvard Medical School. He is also the director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, located in the Boston Children’s Hospital in case you want to google him. In one of his research papers, he provides evidence that simple sugars and double sugars like sucrose (table sugar) and fructose — with a very high glycemic index — cause the reward centers in the brain to immediately light up. However, he also provides evidence that high fiber complex carbohydrates, with a low to medium glycemic index, do NOT have this effect.
Candy, cake, ice cream, and sugary drinks are good examples of foods loaded with simple sugars like glucose, fructose, and galactose. Bell peppers, black currants, blueberries, tomatoes, carrots, and beets are good examples of sweet tasting high fiber complex carbohydrates with low to medium glycemic indexes. So, if you are interested in avoiding a sugar addiction, you can adjust your diet accordingly.
Sugar Addicts Who Cut Sugar Cold Turkey Experience Withdrawal Symptoms
Sugar addicts who cut their sugar intake cold turkey experience withdrawal symptoms very similar to those who are addicted to powerful drugs like nicotine, amphetamine, and cocaine and cut those drugs cold turkey. These withdrawal symptoms include intense cravings, the desire to binge, severe headaches, aches and pains throughout the body, dramatic mood swings, and the “shakes.” These are the classic signs of addiction withdrawal!
If you happen to be a science nerd, or just someone who likes to trudge through the technical details of scientific publications, you can learn much more about the science of sugar addiction, including the withdrawal symptoms, in this 2009 paper published in the peer reviewed journal, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. It was written by a team of scientists from Princeton University.
How to Stop Your Sugar Addiction
If you are addicted to sugar, you will never cut that addiction by simply cutting back on sugar. Think about it. Do you think cocaine addicts can kick their cocaine addiction by simply cutting back on cocaine? Of course not! In fact, a little cocaine will only make it more difficult to cure the addiction. For an addict, a little bit of cocaine just makes her want more!
Therefore, to cut your sugar addiction, you’ll need to cut out sugar completely. This means ALL sugars, including the hidden sugars in processed foods, so read your food labels carefully. Better yet, try to make your all your food from scratch during this period so you’ll know for sure you are avoiding all sugar. Don’t eat out or buy food from delis either. You’ll also want to temporarily avoid dairy and high-sugar fruit because they contain lactose and fructose respectively – therefore, the keto-vegan lifestyle will be really beneficial to you.
You’ll be far more successful at cutting your sugar addiction if you cut sugar completely out of your diet for four or more weeks – or preferably to the rest of your life. Initially, your sugar cravings most likely will be intense so ask your family, friends, and coworkers to help you resist.
Ask your social media friends to give you daily encouragement. Talk about how you’re feeling and share your withdrawal symptoms openly. These actions will help you cope and greatly improve your odds of success. If you do crave and eat sugar, don’t be afraid to admit this to those who are helping you. Take a deep breath and ask for their help again. Keep trying until you succeed. Just like with drug addicts, it sometimes takes sugar addicts a few attempts before they finally break the habit.
Keep in mind that everyone’s body is a little different so the number of weeks it takes you to kick your sugar addiction may be different than your friend. You’ll know you’re almost there when your sugar cravings diminish… and believe it or not, they WILL diminish. Once this happens, wait at least one more week before you slowly introduce natural sugar back into your diet – though nothing prevents you from continuing sugar-free for the rest of your life. Your body and mind will thank you! Being sugar-free for at least a couple of months will give your system time to heal and completely recalibrate.
If you want to reintroduce natural sugar back into your diet, do so SLOWLY and completely avoid the added sugars and processed foods. Concentrate on natural sources of sugar with high fiber and protein. For example, eat some sweet high fiber fresh berries, like blueberries or strawberries, with a few nuts. Another good example would be to add a few slices sour apple and a few walnuts to your “oatmeal” made from almond butter or sprouted porridge made with nuts and seeds.
Once you start introducing natural sugar back into your system, you’ll notice something amazing: Your taste buds will be much more sensitive to sugar. Things that never tasted all that sweet before will suddenly taste deliciously sweet! Adding a teaspoon of pomegranate juice to your homemade vinaigrette salad dressing will suddenly taste as sweet as several teaspoons of table sugar used to.
Even you have cut the sugar completely and follow a strict keto-vegan lifestyle, you don’t have to deprive: Baking without sugar – with grain-free starch-free ingredients – is easy. And when you use natural sweeteners like stevia or erythritol, there is no danger your blood sugar levels skyrocket or you feel like a drug addict.
To avoid getting addicted to sugar again, do not allow yourself to overindulge on sugar. More importantly, if you are not ready to quit sugar completely, make sure you take breaks from sugar on a regular basis. If you go to a birthday party and eat a piece of that delicious sugary birthday cake, follow that up with a few days of a strict keto-vegan diet. It will detox your body and mind.
Now that you know the “secret” to cutting your sugar addiction, it’s up to you to put that into action. I wish you great success!