Why is Sugar so Addictive?
It seems so simple and unthreatening, doesn’t it? A spoonful of sugar on the morning breakfast cereal, a candy bar for an afternoon pick-me-up, or some soda to unwind after work…they all seem harmless enough. But, when looked at as part of a total diet that includes processed sugars, natural sugar, and hidden sugars in foods we eat, many people are surprised to learn that they have a sugar addiction. As a Santa Barbara therapist I work with many patients who are trying to free themselves from the control sugar has over their lives.
In a landmark report that focused attention on our national sweet tooth, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that the consumption of sugar calories hit a record high in 1999 – an astonishing 155 pounds per year! The food industry practice of using high-fructose corn syrup as a sweeter has resulted in sugar showing up in some of the most unlikely places such as hot dogs, pizza, boxed rice, soups, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, flavored yogurts, ketchup, and mayonnaise. It can be difficult to control sugar intake, even for people who maintain a healthy diet. For people who have difficultymanaging anxiety it can be downright impossible.
As a Santa Barbara psychologist, I often witness first-hand the connection between sugar addiction and mental health problems. The relationship between food and mental health becomes so intertwined that patients sometimes depend on food and sugar to help them get through the day. While a medical doctor can help manage the physical aspects of withdrawing from a sugar addiction, I provide counseling to help patients work through the mental and emotional reasons behind their sugar addiction.
Understanding Sugar Addiction
According to WebMD, there is a fundamental connection between sugar and brain cells. While sugar does supply the fuel brains need to function, your brain can also come to see sugar as a reward. When it kicks into high gear, the brain starts demanding more and more sugar to keep it happy. The feeling can be similar to the effects of drugs or alcohol, which provide an artificial “high.”
The “rush” we get from our mid-day sweet snack can be attributed to sugar. This turns into glucose in our bodies, and spikes our blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, blood sugar levels then drop quickly, which can wipe you out and make you crave even more sugar. When combined with a stressful job situation, unhappy marriage, or traumatic life events, the sugar high can become an addictive way of making ourselves feel happy.
Some people don’t realize that highly refined, starchy, carbs,” can have the same effect. Things like pretzels, white bread, pasta, potatoes and crackers raise and lower blood sugar levels quickly.
Signs of Sugar Addiction
It may be hard to realize that you have a sugar addiction. Think about your daily food habits and your relationship with food. Here are some questions that might help determine whether sugar is starting to exert an unhealthy influence in your life:
- Does it feel like you are always “craving” something sweet?
- Do you often think about eating sweets?
- Do you lose control when eating sweet foods?
- Is it difficult for you to say “no” to sweet foods?
- When you try to cut back on sugar, do you feel intense cravings?
- Do you experience mood swings that go up and down quickly after eating sugar?
- Have you even eaten more than you planned, or more than you know is needed, because of a sweet taste?
- Have you ever felt guilty or ashamed about the amount of sugar you have eaten?
- Do you turn to sweet foods to help you deal with emotions such as depression, sadness, anger, or loneliness?
- How often do you use sugar as a reward for yourself?
- Do you associate sweet foods with any specific positive memories or emotions?
These questions don’t necessarily indicate that you have or don’t have a sugar addiction, but they can be helpful guidelines. If you think there is cause for concern it is always best to check with a medical doctor and a psychologist for anxiety to confirm your suspicions.
Overcoming a Sugar Addiction
You may have seen some advertising about sugar detox programs, but this is a very drastic approach. If the sugar addiction has been linked to a mental health issue, it becomes even more difficult to reduce a dependence on sugar. Patients may requiredepression counseling, in combination with exercise and a healthy diet from aNutrition and Eating Disorder Consultant such as Julie Hayes-Nadler, R.D. . It can also be helpful to replace your consumption of soda and sports drinks with plain old water. Try to aim for 100-150 sugar calories per day. Prevention® has a helpful book,The Sugar Smart Diet, which can help you get started on the right path.
A slow but steady approach may be more effective at reducing your dependence on sugar. If you feel you are being controlled by a sugar addiction contact my office immediately to set up a session, and let me help you find a path to a better life.Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke The Santa Barbara Therapist
About MySantaBarbaraTherapy.com: If you are looking for a psychologist for depression, consider making an appointment with Dr. Adina McGarr-Knabke. TheSanta Barbara Therapist provides therapy for anxiety and therapy for depressionfor patients who are dealing with many types of eating disorders. The office, which is located at 1187 Coast Village Rd., Suite 10P in Santa Barbara, also provides alcoholism and addiction treatment services. Visit the website athttp://mysantabarbaratherapy.com to download a complimentary PDF, the “Top 10 Ways to Cope With Depression and Anxiety.” “Like” the Facebook page to receive updates, tips, and information on sustaining good mental health. Appointments forcounseling for anxiety and other needs may be made online or by calling 818-518-6775.