Sugar Addiction: 7 Effective Ways to Stop Sugar Cravings
Obesity is epidemic. Cases of metabolic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, are skyrocketing at an alarming rate. Heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other chronic illnesses grip the American population. Two-thirds of us are sick, and if trends continue this number is only likely to increase.
While there is no single cause, one dietary demon is a major contributing factor. This white substance is as addictive as cocaine and on average Americans consume 150-170 pounds of it per person per year.
Want to take a guess at what I’m talking about?
In a word, sugar. And too many of us are addicted to the sweet stuff.
“Sugar in all its forms is the root cause of our obesity epidemic and most of the chronic disease sucking the life out of our citizens and our economy — and, increasingly, the rest of the world. You name it, it’s caused by sugar: heart disease, cancer, dementia, type 2 diabetes, depression, and even acne, infertility and impotence,” writes Dr. Mark Hyman.[i]
Even former president Bill Clinton is weighing in on the issue. “I think that America is still insufficiently alert to the damage we are doing long-term to our collective health by too much sugar intake,” Clinton states in an interview in the documentary Fed Up.[ii]
The movie urges viewers to take action and “pressure the government to confront the greatest public health crisis of our time”.
While waiting for the government to finally act, you can do something about it now.
We know sugar is bad for us. But why is it too hard to resist? The simple answer is that sugar is addictive.
Here is an exact quote of the conclusion of one study:
“In most mammals, including rats and humans, sweet receptors evolved in ancestral environments poor in sugars and are thus not adapted to high concentrations of sweet tastants. The supranormal stimulation of these receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, would generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and thus to lead to addiction.”[iii]
In other words, our brains are not designed to handle as much sugar as we’re being exposed to. We can easily lose control and eventually become addicted.
And to make it worse, we have access to sugary foods everywhere, at work, in a drugstore, in school, gas station or in a laundromat. Sugary food is inescapable.
Unfortunately, we have a limited supply of willpower. So instead of relying on willpower, use the tips below to fight sugar addiction.
Eve Schaub, her husband, and their two daughters all agreed to avoid sugar for one whole year. They noticed that their palates changed. In Eve’s own words: “Things that normally looked very appealing looked obscene and disgusting.” [iv]
Once you stop eating sugar you’ll be able to enjoy food more. You’ll detect the subtle savory and delicious tastes you weren’t able to when your palate was still numbed by sugar.
But that’s not all. Here are a few more benefits of going on a sugar detox:
- You won’t feel hungry all the time
- You’ll have more energy
- You’ll have less headaches
- You’ll be more focused
- You’ll lose weight
- You’ll save money[v]
- You’ll have healthier-looking skin[vi]
Saying no to sugar can be done. And these are the tips to help you do it.
Nicola Avena, Ph.D., author of Why Diets Fail: Because You’re Addicted to Sugar advises quitting slowly instead of doing it cold turkey. [vii] Slowly weaning off is the way to go if you’re in it for the long run. Quitting sugar is a marathon, not a sprint.
Dr. Avena recommends these 5 phases:
- Eliminate sugary beverages – sugary beverages spike insulin levels and stimulate craving. Remove one or two sugary beverages a day until you eliminate them all from your diet within 2 weeks.
- Quit sugary junk food – during the next 2 weeks, gradually get rid of junk foods such as cakes, cookies, and candy bars. Avoid processed foods and substitute fruits. (Fruits do have sugar but you can’t eat too many apples. They have a lot of fiber that make you feel full.)
- Reduce simple carbs – at this point, you should have drastically reduced your sugar intake. Now it’s time to do away with simple carbs. Allot another 2 weeks to remove white bread, spaghetti, and crackers from your diet. Eat more lean meat, vegetables, and fiber-rich whole grains.
- Keep an eye out for hidden sugars – sugar by any other name is just as bad. The next 2 weeks will involve some sleuth work. So-called “sugar-free” products may have carbs that instantly turn into sugar once they reach your gut. (We’ve provided a list of names that sugar can disguise itself as below.)
- Soldier on but be realistic – by week 9, you should have gotten rid of your sweet tooth. Too much sugar will taste offensive by this time and you’ll enjoy the just right sweetness of fruits. Don’t punish yourself if you indulge every so often. But always be mindful of what you eat.
Sarah Wilson, author of the best-selling book I Quit Sugar for Life has this to say this about mindful eating:
“For me, being mindful means being aware of what we eat, where we buy it from, and how we actually eat it. One thing I do differently now is make a conscious effort to chew food properly, and my digestion is so much better. So although my topline message is quitting sugar, the underlying message is about how to lose that negative attitude, where you keep eating out of addiction, and then feel guilty.”[viii]
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits recommends “breathing through the urges.” He explains that the urges are inevitable. Babauta writes:
“The trick is to pause, and realize you don’t need to give in to it. The urge will arise, get stronger, then crest and fade away. This will repeat a number of times each day, but you can breathe and do something else and let the urge rise and pass. One urge at a time, and soon the urges will get weaker and weaker.”[ix]
Mindful eating is like willpower judo. You’re not fighting the urge. You simply acknowledge that it exists but you don’t act on it. You are merely an observer. You might be surprised to discover how quickly the urge dissipates if you just take a few mindful breathes.
Most people won’t have enough time to burn all the calories from sugary food by exercising. One 79g Butterfinger candy bar, for example, contains 170 calories and will take 30 minutes to burn through cycling. [x] A 12 oz. can of Coke contains 140 calories and will take 36 minutes to burn, according to Coca-Cola UK’s website.[xi]
Yes, you burn calories when you exercise. But more than that, your body also releases dopamine – the feel good hormone. It’s the same hormone released when you eat sugary food.
James Fell writes for the Chicago Tribune:
“The human brain experiences a chemical reward when we exercise. There is evidence to show that this can be used as an alternative reward for those battling addiction, which can make staying clean easier.”[xii]
Also, short bursts of aerobic exercise supply the part of the brain responsible for self-control with a lot of blood and oxygen. This makes it easier to resist the temptation to eat more sugar.
So, if you really miss that dopamine “high”, go for a brisk walk or a quick jog.
It’s easy to avoid the obvious sugar-laden foods and beverages: soda, cake, and white bread. However, sugar can hide in many names and forms. Here are some of the names of sugar in ingredient labels to watch out for.
USDA lists 21 names for sugar that you can find in food labels:[xiii]
- anhydrous dextrose
- brown sugar
- confectioner’s powdered sugar
- corn syrup
- corn syrup solids
- high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- maple syrup
- nectars (e.g. peach nectar, pear nectar)
- pancake syrup
- raw sugar
- white granulated sugar
A post in the forum MyFitnessPal.com lists 257 other names for sugar.[xiv] If checking labels seem to be too tedious, an option would be to avoid processed foods altogether. Around 80% of all processed food in the U.S .contains added sugar.[xv]
While artificial sweeteners do not contain any calories, their sweet taste may come at a cost. There are several reasons why artificial sweeteners are bad for you particularly if you’re trying to quit sugar.
Artificial sweeteners numb your sense of taste
Artificial sweeteners are super sweet. Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Aspartame, 200 times sweeter. The most potent sweetener, called Neotame, is 7,000 times sweeter than table sugar.[xvi]
“Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes,” according to Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity and weight-loss specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital.[xvii]
Holly Strawbridge, former editor of Harvard Health writes:
“Artificial sweeteners may play another trick, too. Research suggests that they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight.”
Artificial sweeteners increase cravings for the real thing
A Yale University study found that artificial sweeteners may increase cravings for real sugar. Our taste buds do not recognize fake sugar. But our brains do. So if you have been consuming foods and beverages laced with artificial sweeteners, sooner or later you’ll find yourself having a hard time resisting real sugar. [xviii]
Coconut Oil – You can eat it directly from the jar or mix it with raw cacao powder just like Sarah Wilson does. According to Sarah, coconut oil kills sugar cravings immediately. She explains:
“Coconut oil is a source of instant energy, much like sugar and other simple carbohydrates. But although both deliver quick energy to your body, unlike the carbohydrates, coconut oil does not produce an insulin spike in your bloodstream. This saves you from a slump, and is really good news for anyone struggling with insulin issues. Like me.”[xix]
Our nutritionist, Julie Haugen recommends the following can be helpful in beating sugar cravings:
CarbCrave Complex 180 vcaps by Pure Encapsulations
180 vcaps USD $56.20
CraveArrest caps by Designs For Health (DFH)
120 caps USD $46.00
Serocort 90 caps by QOL Labs
90 caps USD $35.00
Sweet Defense 60 caps by Enzymatic Therapy
60 caps USD $22.95
Of course, it would be better to get advice on what would be best for your particular situation especially if you are taking medications.
Your chances of success will greatly improve when you constantly talk to someone who has the same goal. Kimi Harris writes:
‘It could be a spouse, a walking partner, or a co-worker. If you have someone who has the same goal as you, shares healthy recipes, and exchanges food/meals, it can make it much more enjoyable and doable. If you can’t find someone in “real life,” then find an online friend.’[xx]
We’ve learned that quitting sugar, while not very easy, is doable. To make it easier you’ll want to:
- Do it slowly. Don’t go cold turkey.
- Be mindful. Pause for a few seconds whenever you get the urge for sweets.
- Exercise, not just for burning calories but for the dopamine fix.
- Learn sugar’s many names. Check labels. Or just say no to processed food altogether if you can.
- Don’t be fooled by zero-calorie artificial sweeteners. They intensify cravings for the real stuff.
- Use coconut oil and other craving fighters.
- Find a sugar-quitting buddy.
Where to Go from Here
Learn more about the harmful effects of sugar.
Dr. Jonny Bowden wrote “The Four Horsemen of Ageing”. One of the 4 ‘horsemen’ is glycation. If you haven’t downloaded the report yet, you can use the form on the right to get your own copy.
[i] Top 10 Big Ideas: How to Detox from Sugar, Mark Hyman, MD, Published April 22, 2014, Retrieved September 26, 2014.
[ii] http://fedupmovie.com/ Retrieved September 27, 2014
[iii] Intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH. PLoS One (Public Library of Science), Published August 2007, Retrieved September 27, 2014.
[iv] “Year of No Sugar”: The Schaub Family Went Sugar Free For An Entire Year, The Huffington Post, Published April 7, 2014, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[v] The Benefits of Going Sugar Free, sugarfreelikeme.com, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[vi] 5 Ways That Quitting Sugar Changed My Life, Sarah Wilson, womenshealthmag.com, Published May 26, 2014, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[vii] The 5 Phases of How to Quit Sugar for Good, Gretchen Voss, Women’s Health, Published June 12, 2014, Retrieved September 27, 2014.
[viii] How to quit sugar, Gillian Carter, BBC Good Food Magazine, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[ix] How to Beat Food Addictions, Leo Babauta, Zen Habits, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[x] Exercise Equivalent of Halloween Candy, Men’s Fitness, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xi] Work It Out Calculator, Coca-Cola.co.uk, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xii] Exercise: Alternative reward for those battling addiction, Chicago Tribune, Published June 12, 2013, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xiii] What Are Added Sugars?, ChooseMyPlate.gov, USDA, September 29, 2014.
[xiv] 257 Hidden Names for Sugar, My Fitness Pal, Posted December 16, 2014, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xv] Sweet Revenge: Dr. Robert Lustig Explains How to Cut Sugar, Lose Weight and Turn the Tables On Processed Foods, Shelby Pope, Bay Area Bites, Published August 6, 2014, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xvi] Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings, Qing Yang, Neuroscience, Published June 2010, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xvii] Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost?, Holly Strawbridge, Harvard Health Blog, Published July 16, 2012, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xviii] Glucose Utilization Rates Regulate Intake Levels of Artificial Sweeteners, Luis A Tellez, Xueying Ren, Wenfei Han, Sara Medina, Jozelia Ferreira, Catherine Yeckel and Ivan E de Araujo, The Journal of Physiology, Published September 23, 2013, Retrieved September 29, 2014.
[xix] How to break sugar addiction with coconut oil, Sarah Wilson, SheKnows, Published Marched 25, 2014, Retrieved September 30, 2014
[xx] 12 Tips for Kicking the Refined Sugar Habit, Kimi Harris, Mother Nature Network, Published April 11, 2012, Retrieved September 30, 2014.