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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 theĀ  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. Day 7.

    I’m not gonna lie. This day has been hard. I knew it would be. Detox+PMS symptoms (sorry for TMI, fellas, but I know you ladies will understand!)=awful awful. I thought I was through the worst of it, but then today happened. I am actually hoping that my”womanlies” ease up after awhile of no sugar. I have heard this is so? But I expect I am still in the throws of withdrawal from fake sugar and sugar. I was consuming anywhere from 15-20 pieces of sugarfree gum a day! Addict anyone? not to mention those healthy choice bars, which also have aspartame. Once or twice a day. Fiber One Bars? ALL KINDS OF CRAP. Once-Four times a FRIGGEN DAY! not to mention everything else on top of that I won’t even mention. That said, my body is probably going to take longer than most to get over these addictions. Amazingly, mentally, I am pretty homeostatic. I am fine, because I attribute those foods to feeling like death. If there were any day I was going to give in, it would be today. but I will not. These daily check ins empower me! Ahh, the joys of hormones and being a woman! No offense fellas, but I think we might have a few more obstacles in our diet to becoming sugar-free and health-full:) Happy success everyone!

  2. Hi everyone
    I am new to this site, having discovered it while researching how long the withdrawal symptoms might last after eliminating sugar from my diet. You all make fascinating, and helpful reading. I gave up sugar over two weeks ago and although my tummy has stopped swelling up, I am still suffering headaches and insomnia. I guess this is from a long-term dependence (60 years) and I am not surprised. I do not eat dairy, wheat, gluten, eggs, nuts, or soy and am sorry that I seem to have passed these intolerances onto two daughters and possibly one grandson. I am hoping that sugar is at the root of all the food reactions and that I may be able to re-introduce some or all of them after a while. So does anyone have any idea how long the withdrawal will last?
    You guys are an inspiration, thank you

  3. Wow. I just found this site today after my counselor suggested I google “sugar addiction.” I’ve been struggling with emotional eating and I’m starting to journal about feelings and food. But we are starting to wonder if there is a physiological addiction to sugar happening with me. I daily eat ice cream with jam, pastries, donuts, chocolates, etc. and no “real” food, meaning anything with nutritional value. I cook for my husband and son regular meals, but the thought of eating what they eat makes me physically ill. Needless to say, I am obese (and have been for years); but I don’t understand how I got to this place of addiction. I used to eat somewhat regular meals with dessert, now no meals and no physical hunger, just sugar. I see how many of you have chosen to eat whole, healthy foods, using protein and goods fats to get you off sugar; I can’t even relate to that because I just can’t eat those things. When it comes right down to the moment of making a food choice, I always choose refined sugar — I WANT the sugar. Is there hope for me? I think I am slowly killing myself with sugar. I feel so weak. Is this a real addiction that goes beyond my will-power? Because I am really down on myself for not being able to beat this.

    • Cindy, being down on yourself is actually part of the addiction. There is definitely a way out, but I think you should consider getting help instead of trying the “will power” route. Ask your doctor for a referral to a clinical hypnotist. Try that, and see if it works. Many people have been helped that way. You might also ask your doctor if the sugar is causing your depression, which is common. While you’re there, get tested for diabetes.

      You will not feel good when you first come off sugar, and since you aren’t eating anything else now, you could have really wild blood sugar swings. Make sure your doctor knows what you’re doing, and check in with her regularly. And you might also want to watch the video by Dr Lustig, and watch the Forks Over Knives video, too.

      Sugar addiction is a physical problem that causes emotional problems. Just remember that it’s not your fault, and get the help you need. We’ll all be rooting for you.

  4. I’m fourteen and cut sugar from my diet for eight weeks, it was pretty tough, I never realized just how addicted I was to it. I mean, no fruits or candy, the only place I got large amount of sugars from is milk, because lactose is much more healthy for you than the others.
    After just a week of eating no sugars, I began to drop weight and throughout the whole eight weeks I dropped more and more, and I actually wanted to get out and exercise more than when I was eating sugar.
    I started to struggle on my fifth week though, and I got a book from the library called Sweet Poison. It was super helpful! It talked all about how, in the past, we didn’t eat a lot of sugars *fruit included* and when we did get sugars, we had to work hard to get it. The book also explained how our minds don’t have an ‘off’ button when it comes to sugars, and how it goes straight to fat.
    It really helped me, so I recommend reading Sweet Poison if you’re considering going on a sugar free diet.

    • Allidog,
      I am so glad to hear someone your age dealing with their sugar addiction it is great. Keep going, you will be a great inspiration to those around you and keep on reading good books on the subject. If you would like to go a little further, watch the video Forks over Knives it will give you some insights into the life of the vegan world and further studies on health, I am sure you will be interested in.

  5. Hey guys,
    I too am a bonafide sugar addict. I’ll eat any ‘normal’ person under the table when it comes to sweets. I go on massive binges, feel like a slut the next morning, as if I had done something shameful like had a one-night stand, then throughout the week taper off. The one positive is that I do love healthy eating and am a vegetarian in the midst of going 90% vegan. I love making healthy shakes now and I wanted to share a recipe with u that is sugar free and completely satisfies my sweet tooth:

    Healthiest Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake (makes 1)
    -handful of ice cubes
    -1 banana
    -1 scoop of “Amazing Meal Chocolate Infusion” protein powder by Amazing Grass*
    -some chocolate almond milk (or unsweetened vanilla almond milk)
    -TBS of all-natural nut butter
    -dash of vanilla extract
    -dash of cinnamon
    -1 or 2 dates to sweeten
    -dash of coconut oil for health benefits & taste

    Optional add-ins:
    -rolled oats
    -bee pollen
    -unsweetened bitter chocolate for antioxidants
    -grated ginger
    -frozen berries
    -carob powder
    -any other healthy thing u can think of

    * (it’s an organic vegan protein powder that is the best, most satisfying shake powder I have ever tasted. Yes it has 6 grams of natural sugar but u don’t taste it. I mixed it with almond milk once and spit it out because it wasn’t sweet)

    I consider myself a ‘shake’ connoisseur. If u need any other healthy shake recipes just let me know. I drink this every morning for breakfast and I wake up excited because I feel like I’m getting a milkshake!

  6. Hello everyone-
    Today I am officially through 10 weeks of no sugar, flours, processed foods such as cheap carbs, pastries, ice cream, candy and more importantly, thank to a committed label reading program, hidden sugars. A few thing may have slipped through like in a sauce my wife made and 20 minutes later I could feel the change in my body. No big, deal just keep plugging along and deal with the aberation.
    I broke through the 22o pound plateau this week. My workouts are much better with more aerobics, sprints, and greater weight/strength exercises.
    My body has begun to take an a new appearance. Clothes fit much differently and people are starting to notice the difference.
    My mood and emotional equalibrium is excellent. The change is evident at work where I’m seeing better results, greater sales and increased income opportunities. I finish what I start.
    I’m 54 years old and sex is great; I didn’t think I could even put those words in the same sentence.
    As a recovering alcoholic, I ‘m using the same 12-step principles to food. Honest, it has not been that hard. Since I know what it is like to address addiction and the process of stepping away, i.e, withdrawl symptoms, I expected it would be hard. On the other hand, I also knew I could get through it, because I have before. Hang on a bit longer and generally speaking you’ll find relief.
    I enjoy this site. There is quite a bit of arguing for your own limitations, or the ” I’m really not that bad”, “just a little bit pregnant” rationalization.
    As I read other comments, I too agree, the best way to do this is to just stop. You need a plan…
    Good luck to everyone. I wish I had done this years ago.

  7. Hi,

    As a sugar/white flour addict I can relate to most of these comment. I desperately want to give up sugar but despite following a ‘diet’ of vegetables, good quality protein and oils along with some low glycaemic carbs I can never get past day one due to hypoglycaemia. I’m not talking about hunger, rather full on hypos – sweating, feeling about to pass out, aggression, weak, wobbly feelings etc. Has anyone else experienced this and if so, how do you get over it?

  8. Getting over the sugar addiction seems freaking impossible. Every day, I have to have something sweet, even if it’s just a cup of coffee. Even that is not enough. I never realized that I was addicted until I started getting curious and researching it. I just thought I really liked sweets. Never knew it was an addiction until I also realized how i feel on days where I have very little or even no sweets at all. I even noticed whenever Im feeling tense or down, sweet stuff seems to lift me up somehow… It’s a bit depressing when you think about it.

  9. I’m really glad I stumbled across this blog post.

    I’m a sugar addict. Gummies are my poison. Gummy bears, gummy cola bottles, gummy fruits, etc etc etc.

    About two months ago, I stopped eating bread, pasta, rice etc and found that not only did I drop some weight (I still have 10 lbs to go) but I felt less “foggy”. In the last couple weeks, I have been eating way too many gummy treats and sure enough, the foggy feeling has returned, I get tired during the day and who knows what other problems are related. I exercise almost every day (weights, hiking, walking) but after reading many of the responses here, I know what my next step needs to be.

    Looks like a few bags of gummy fruits and cola bottles are going into the trash. At least I don’t have to change the rest of my diet as I eat healthy for the most part (lean meats and plenty of veggies) but I’m sure it will be an uphill battle.

    Wish me luck.

    • Ellery,

      I get the “foggy” feeling too. The day can go so much better when your mind and body feel clear, right?

      Good for you. Keep up the focus on your exercise and healthy diet. Everyone needs a positive diet philosophy to replace sugar, and I think you’ve got it!

      I hope you keep eating well and feeling well.

  10. Hey guys,
    i also found this site by accident. I am still young(a teenager), and my dad says i am addicted to sugar, and i sort of agree. I think i have gotten better, because a few months ago, i used to be searching for something sugary to eat all the time. I felt like if i didnt have it i would go insane.(it wasnt that bad, imm exxagerating a little) but then, in december, i went on a trip on a boat for 12 days and there wasnt much sugar besides cookies occasionally, nutella for bread in the morning, and banana bread. I didnt even realize it until now, but after a fewdayson theboat i wasnt craving sugar everyday. I still enjoy something sugary once in a while, but i am getting better. I try to not buy gum even if it is sugar free, and i feel myself becoming healthier everyday by cutting back on sugar. You dont have to go insane by not eating any sugar at all, but trying to avoid processed sugar is very helpful. Instead of grabbing a cookie(which we dont really have that much anymore anyway) i grab an apple or an orange. If i am thirsty for a soda, i instead pour myself a glass of milk, ehich still has sugar, bit it is natural. Even doing small things likethese has helped me become a healthier person and has inspired me to become more fit by doing pushups and sit ups every day and going jogging around two times a week. Thank you all s much because this site has helped me tremendously. I hope i have helped you.

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