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Sugar Addiction – Why Sugar Addiction Matters, and What You Can Do to Stop Sugar Cravings

Sugar Addiction – Yes, It’s Real

The theories surrounding the issue of sugar addiction are still being debated by scientists, but there is a growing pile of evidence convincing nutritionists and doctors that sugar addiction is real. The most famous researcher in this field is probably Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., author of a number of bestselling books on the subject, including Potatoes Not Prozac, Little Sugar Addicts: End the Mood Swings, Meltdowns, Tantrums, and Low Self-Esteem in Your Child Today, and Your Last Diet!: The Sugar Addict’s Weight-Loss Plan.

Simply by reading the titles of her books, you can see that over-consumption of sugar can affect both your weight and your state of mind. It was this last symptom of sugar addiction – it’s connection to chronic depression – that first alerted me to the dangers of sugar and other highly-refined carbohydrates.

I think the first book I ever read on the subject was called Sugar Blues, by William Dufty. Research continues to be done, and sugar has now been found to contribute to tooth decay, gum disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and some auto-immune diseases. How can something as innocent-looking as sugar, something we’ve eaten since we were toddlers, do so much damage to the human body? And how can a common food substance become addictive?

If you have the time, be sure to watch this 89 minute video that explains some vitally important things about sugar and the American diet. I think this video is so important that I’m fitting it into the middle of this post – even though I know you may watch the video and never read the rest of my article.

But that’s OK, because what Dr. Lustig has to say if far more important – if you feel you’re addicted to sugar, if you have kids, if you’re worried about being overweight or getting diabetes, or if anyone in the family has heart disease, you need to watch this video. I admit that it isn’t a short YouTube entertainment flick, but it’s worth every minute of your attention, I promise. He explains, among other things:

  • Why sugar is the primary cause of obesity in both children and adults, and where we get most of the sugar in our diets.
  • The connection between sugar and high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, insulin resistance, and more.
  • Why some calories make us fat, while other calories don’t – which also means that everything we’ve been told about dieting and losing weight is wrong.

The video is by Robert H. Lustig, MD, Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology and Director of the Weight Assessment for Teen and Child Health (WATCH) Program at UCSF.

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

And now, to the rest of my article. Be sure to chime in with your comments down below, and join the conversation.

A Short History of Sugar

Sugar has been around for a very long time, but it remained a luxury of the very rich for most of human history. Extracting the simple sugars from beets or other plants was a painstaking task, so only the nobility could afford it.

Then, several events happened at around the same time – the Industrialization of Europe began, which required lots of cheap labor; explorers discovered islands in the Caribbean that were ideally suited for growing sugar cane, a form of tropical grass; and the slave trade made the growing of sugar cane cheap.

In addition, machinery was invented that could take the syrup and refine it into the white powder we now all know as cane sugar. This new substance packed a powerful punch of calories in a very small package, and it was soon discovered that men, women and children working in factories could be kept working at their machines if they were occasionally given bread and jam and heavily sweetened tea, which they could eat right at their work stations.

The beginning of sugar addiction, and its accompanying health problems, began with the need for cheap labor in European factories. Almost as soon as sugar became a cheap commodity in the eighteenth century, doctors started to notice its ill effects on the human body. Current research is simply reinforcing the opinions of doctors who warned against sugar 200 years ago.

Why Sugar is Addictive

Sugar is a highly refined substance that does not appear alone in nature. It looks a lot like cocaine, and sugar acts a lot like heroin when it hits the brain. Although the idea that sugar was addictive was controversial among scientists for years, they began to take note when the paper titled Sugar and Fat Bingeing Have Notable Differences in Addictive-Like Behavior was published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2009.

The study showed that sugar affects the brain chemistry and thus might be expected to cause addictive behavior. In the study, written by Nicole Avena and others, it was shown that sugar bingeing can cause withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

The behavioral effects are similar to the  neurochemical changes in the brain that also occur with addictive drugs. One finding of that study is seldom discussed — both sugar and the taste of sweet activate beta endorphin receptor sites in the brain, the same receptor sites that are activated by heroin and morphine.

The implications of this finding are that sugar substitutes, which have become a major industry in the United States and other nations, may not be the answer for people who want to lick their sugar addiction. Children who are given sweet candies and drinks made with sugar substitutes may still become sugar addicts when they grow up, and will find it just as difficult as the rest of us when it comes to giving up the sugar and other refined carbohydrates in their diet.

The bottom line – sugar is addictive, and it’s dangerous to one’s health. Because of its addictive qualities, it is very difficult to give up sugar, but the benefits in improved physical and emotional health make it worth the work.


575 thoughts on “Sugar Addiction – Yes, It’s Real”

  1. Wonderful article. I’m currently on day 4 of no sugars. I did 40 days prior to that, but caved on Thanksgiving and boy did I feel horrible. I know I’m addicted, I can feel the bloating, sleepiness, restlessness, unable to sleep because my stomach is full of “nothing”. When I start to eat salty foods, I can’t stop. It’s terrible.

    I just want to be cured of this. I feel so good when I’m off sugar, but I don’t know why I fall short and cave. Just like drugs I guess.

  2. hi all,
    I have been off of sugar for 14days!!! I am so excited to have control of my eating for the first time in a long while. I feel good, sleep better, and have more energy. I have decided that sugar is stupid! and I am going to try to never eat it again. I know that sounds like a tall order but, with God all things are possible.!
    Merry Christmas everyone and happy New year

    • Yes, Angel cake all things are possible with God he is the only one that can see us through any addictions we may be stuggling with. I myself struggle with the sugar cravings. My Doctor told me to give up the sugar and caffiene habbit I do feel better, but it is a struggle the worst part is that it is in so many things even in the “Health Food Stores” items. All I can say is “keep going don’t turn back”, your body and mind will appreciate it. It will save you lots of money in Doctor and Dentist bills.

    • Ive been off sugar and refined foods for almost 2 weeks and it’s much easier than I thought it would be. I have no desire for it because it’s not in my system. I agree…sugar is stupid. There is no reason for it.

    • “i have decided that sugar is stupid” oh my gosh you are so funny!!!i wish i could friend you here or on FB or SOMETHING!!

  3. My name is Nikki and Ive been off sugar and carbs for 3 days. I still have cravings and have a hard time getting through till the end of the day. I ‘ve heard that after a period of time I will stop these cravings and start to feel wonderful… How long does this take ? Anyone know? . In 2 weeks I will start to add good carbs back into my diet such as brown rice wheat bread whole grains etc.. I like to read all of your comments. I have been on a sugar binge for months and have gained 20 lbs! FAST! HELP

    • Hi Nikki. I think one of the best ways to overcome the cravings is to pack in as much nutrition as you can. Lots of veggies, grass-fed beef if you can find it, etc. It will also help you feel better.

    • Hi! I don’t know for sure, but I am guessing it’s best to have a complex carb, at least in the morning. Maybe giving everything up cold turkey is a big shock to the system, not to mention Dr. Atkins died of heart disease. From what I’ve read, it’s good to have some whole wheat bread or good carbs in moderation for colon,liver and heart health, just maybe stop the refined grains. I recently found out I have insulin resistance with normal sugar levels, and my Dr. suggested eating only three meals a day, breakfast with muesli, oatmeal, and egg, some fruit. Lunch with a protein, veggies, potatoes and a fruit for dessert, and dinner with no carbs at all- just protein and veggies. Today, I am REALLY feeling the withdrawal, but I am happy to have the slight stomach growl feeling again- fat is burning! Anyway, good luck to you! I am no expert- just a thought! 🙂

      • Hi, just really re-assuring to find other than me having these awful symptons- I really want to give up and now will try to follow you’re comments. i never used to have a sweet tooth- the exact opposite and it has crept into my diet like an invisible wrathe!
        Not really into meat- prefere fish and also have a wheat intolerance-so have to get round that one. since coming off bread , I no longer have the feeling of that “brick” sitting in my stomach!!! any more tips gratefully received!!!!

  4. hi,
    again it is day 19! and I am still abstent from sugar!! I will be weighing for the first time at the end of the month. I know that I have lost weight I can see it in my clothes. I am very happy.

    feeling fabulous!

  5. I gave up refined sugar almost completely for about 6 weeks and feel MUCH better in every way, although it was extremely hard for the first 2 or 3 weeks.. The best motivation is not wanting to go back to feeling awful (I have Lyme disease), so that is enough to keep me on this healthy (lots of vegetables, no coffee / alcohol, no refined sugar) diet! What I would like to ask is, is it OK to eat raisins..? I mean, I know fruit in moderation is fine as it is natural sugar, and obviously raisins are very high in sugar but at least are natural, but I have been eating slightly too many of them in the last week or so, and wonder if I should try to stop that as well, which would be hard.. Any advice would be appreciated!!

    • Congratulations, Clara. It sounds like you’re doing great with your new, healthier diet.

      About those raisins – if you really believe that it would be hard to give them up, that isn’t a good sign. I would try very hard to replace them with a fruit or veggie with less concentrated sugars – something you enjoy, but which won’t give you that mini-sugar rush. Then enjoy your raisins in moderation after you’ve had time to really get your body back in balance.

      • I read about raisins with interest as I LOVE flame red grapes and eat quite a lot every day when avaible. They are full of antioxidents as well as delicious!

        I hope this isn’t too dumb a question, but do you know if fresh grapes have the same level of sugar as dried grapes (raisins)? Common sense is telling me that the quantity of sugar doesn’t increase or lower, but as stranger things happen, I’m asking the question anyway:)

  6. Honestly, how do you get the mindset to stop the sugar addiction? The thing is I feel like I can stop one moment then the next I’m eating icecream. I really would like to get sugar out of my diet permanently. Can you give me some good advice to how you got yourself to stop because this is effecting me in the following ways; I can’t sleep, I’m not having very many bowel movements, I’m angry, I feel sick majority of the time I’m awake, It’s just making my life a living hell. So I would appreciate some advice from people who’ve overcome this sucessfully.

    • The thing that did it for me was knowing the glycemic index of foods. I eat low glycemic foods and try to combine with protein most of the time. It’s a miracle. I don’t crave sweets or refined crap anymore and I’m always full and satisfied.

  7. Jonni, I stumbled across your book just before Thanksgiving. Thank God! Thank YOU for writing it! What a gem. It’s small but packed with wonderful advice. So far, everything and everyone you’ve recommended has proven for me to be right on the money. I am having a blast with your reading list and feel so much better now that I’m on Dr. Fuhrman’s diet. Your book is on MY Top 10 of all time!

  8. Brittany,

    I join OA HOW.(overeaters anynimous) they help you deal with why you overeat.
    you have a sponsor that you call everyday and let them know what you are eating. it helps me to have accoutablility. I have made a good friend there to. she and I help each other. I know the first few days are hard but, the long term effects are worth it!. I don’t have cravings anymore. I am not saying that I don’t think of the bad stuff but, I feel like I have control and can say NO! to my cravings. I love the benefits to. I feel great, I am not tired all the time and my legs aren’t swollen anymore, my clothes fit better and I feel free!

    hope at the end of the tunnel

  9. Hi all! I’ve stumbled across this website after recently realizing that I am a full blown sugar addict. So depressing. I don’t have the energy at the moment to go into specific details of my addiction, and I have not stopped eating sugars (yet), but I am so happy to have found a place where I can come for motivation and support.
    Thanks to everyone who has shared their stories I know I am not alone in this – and I know I am not the only one who will struggle to overcome it. I WILL be back…

  10. I just discovered this site after admitting to myself and a friend – out loud, today, for the first time – that I am a sugar addict. I really hesitated to admit this because, just like any addict, I HATE the idea of a life without my drug of choice. Sugar is definitely my way of numbing/stuffing uncomfortable feelings. But I am so tired of feeling slightly sick and “hung over” on the mornings after my sugar binges, which lately is most of the time. Today is my first day without sugar. I’m sure the cravings will hit, and some might say that the Christmas holiday is no time to start this, but I honestly feel like now is the time. Tonight, instead of binging while waiting for my husband to arrive home, I am going to spend my time in prayer and with my long-neglected journal, spewing my emotions instead of sedating them. I’ll keep you posted on how I’m doing, and I hope all of you will continue to do the same. It really helps to share the struggle. God bless, and Merry Christmas.

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