No one ever wants to believe that they have any form of addiction. When it comes to food, sugar can be the most difficult of addictions to be free from.
Exactly how can you determine if you even have a problem? Start by asking yourself some difficult questions. Your honest answers will reveal the truth.
- Do you find yourself eating certain foods even when you are not hungry? This is a big one. Sometimes, you can fall into a trap where you are eating mindlessly and are not even aware of what you’re doing.
- Does the idea of taking away one of your go to foods provoke fear? Does anxiety come up within you just thinking about it? Do you find yourself justifying your attachment? Constantly defending your need to eat a particular food, should serve as a red flag.
- Do you feel sluggish, moody after you overeat? This is no way to live. Food should not be tied to guilt and should energize you, not make you feel defeated.
Let’s face it, who among us has not felt an overwhelming desire to eat something and have our craving met? However, cravings left unchecked can have a mind of their own. When it comes to sweet treats in particular it has the potential to drive us to our knees. Sugar and the carbs they hide in, can be very addicting. They have done studies that show how sugar/carbs can be as addicting as heroine.
It’s easy to look at someone who may be struggling with a food addiction and make an assumption that it’s just a lack of willpower on their part. Why can’t they just put that food on the shelf and never look back? The question is are we talking about a lack of will power, or is there something more sinister at work?
There is a real debate if junk food, and overly processed food are addictive. By addiction I mean in the same way a drug addict must get their next fix. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that, high sugar foods that are higher in glycemic index can indeed be addictive.
How does this happen exactly? The study showed that high carb foods raise blood sugar even more than common table sugar. Grains, starchy vegetables and all things sweet actually trigger a part of our brain called the nucleus accumbens. This is the area of the brain that gives us a reward response, where dopamine and serotonin are formed. Serotonin is what gives us the sensation of satiety and keeps our inhibitions in check. It is also responsible for keeping our moods stabilized and is a natural sleep promoter.
In this same area is where endorphins, our natural painkiller and GABA, our natural sedative also reside. Once this area is triggered it causes a drug addict to keep going back for more. What these studies show is that drugs can increase the production of dopamine while simultaneously lowering our serotonin level. A terrible roller coast to be on.
So what does this have to do with eating processed high glycemic foods? Well this study confirms that we are stimulating the same areas of the brain when we consume these foods as a drug addict does with their poison of choice.
Personally, this study helps shed some light to the weight and food addiction issues some people are dealing with. That it has nothing to do with a lack of willpower but a biological response to what they are eating. It’s the food choices themselves that causes the addiction.
So how do we address this problem? It is important to examine our foods carefully for hidden sugars that may be sabotaging our desire to lose weight and or be healthy. We can then gain control over sugar and its hold on us. It’s not just about eating so called “healthy” foods. For example, people will have a sugar laden granola bar and think they are making a good choice. In reality some of these granola bars have more carbohydrates and sugar than a regular cookie or a piece of cake. It’s our responsibility to read the labels and know what we are consuming.
Food addiction is a real problem. Our bodies are reacting in a physical way to these hidden sugars. There are true physiological changes occurring in our brains. What’s more the pleasure areas are also very close to our pain centers, which can explain why withdrawal from sugar can be so painful.
If not careful we can fall into a vicious cycle. Where we remove sugar temporarily which then causes an intense desire for something sweet. This then prompts us to seek more sugar in order to stimulate the nucleus accumbens area, just like an addict keeps going back to their drug of choice and needs more of it in order to get the same desired high. We try to raise dopamine with our food addiction only to lower our serotonin levels, and the merry go round continues.
The first step in sugar addiction is to face that we have a problem. In the same way an addict must own up to it. It’s not easy to fix a sugar addiction since we are surrounded by sugar and our society tends to enable this form of addiction. We celebrate with sugar, we use it to comfort ourselves and others. Just think of how a crying child so often is given a lollipop to attempt to soothe them.
Is it possible to stop sugar cravings? Removing the temptation makes it much easier of course. Would we ask an alcoholic to just be strong around a liquor cabinet? Yet we somehow feel that it’s easy to be surrounded by trigger foods and to just learn to say no. Unfortunately, for someone with a food addiction it’s more of challenge.
As a Christian this is where we employ the help of Holy Spirit to assist us. We choose our foods wisely and then stand on his word to help us overcome the temptation. Just like we do with any other form of temptation.
When it comes to a sugar/carb addiction becoming a bit of sleuth is necessary. It’s up to us to find where sugar may be hiding. This even includes items like vegetables, a place we would not think to check, or our table salt under the guise of dextrose. That’s why looking at the carb count of a food item is a quick way to see if it something is high in sugar. Trying to stay within the 20 to 35 carb count a day can help keep a sugar addiction controlled.
Is all this work worth the effort? It is if you want to take your health back and be set free. The first few days will be the most difficult but after consistently turning down the temptation you will notice the desire for sweets to begin to subside. The more you surrender this area to God the easier it will be to pass the test.
You can choose to use sugar substitutes to ease sugar cravings. However, if you have a strong sugar addiction sometimes too many of these sugar substitutes can cause you to crave the real thing. Everyone is different and learning your triggers is vital.
Once you overcome this addiction, similar to how a smoker vows to never smoke you will have a determination to steer clear of this health offender. How many of us know former smokers who now detest the smell of cigarettes? The same effect happens when you are set free from a sugar/ carb addiction. You understand that “just this once” does not work for any form of addiction. This however takes time and this is not to say that there will be occasions that you may cave into a temptation. The key is getting back up and choosing not to stay in the pit of addiction.
What steps can you take to get free from sugar’s grip? Start with eliminating all of the obvious sugars. Toss the candy, cakes, cookies, and all items that include high fructose corn syrup. Next eliminate the simple carbohydrates, these are the items that turn into sugar in your body, the breads, pastas, sodas and fruit juice. Look at what fruits you are consuming. Just because they are natural sugars does not mean you get a free pass. Our bodies still react to these natural sugars. For the most part you can have berries and be ok, once you start veering from these you start to get into dangerous waters, because too many fruits contain large amounts of sugar.
When you have successfully avoided sugar in all its form you will start to use fat for fuel instead of glucose (sugar) becoming fat adapted.
A weapon we can use to reduce or eliminate sugar addiction, is to increase our saturated fat intake. When our country went on a low fat craze the only thing it did was make us crave more sugar and gain even more weight. If you check the label of fat free foods you will see they have significantly more sugar. This is to compensate for the loss of flavor that saturated fats add.
Lastly, don’t ignore why you are craving something. They are a sign that our brain is starving and our biochemistry is out of balance. Over consumption of carbs can lead to a starving brain. However, saturated fats can help feed our brains and stabilize our biochemistry. After all our brains are made up of 60 percent fat. So why not feed our brains and gain health.
Kicking the sugar habit may be difficult but worth every effort. Seek out a support group to help you with this addiction and find freedom. If you live in the South Florida area FITTOSERVE Group our free community group can assist you on your journey to being free. Contact us for more information.
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Feel free to reach out to us with your questions. We are here to support you.