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Most people have a heightened preference for sweet taste – it is in their genetic makeup, it ensures survival, and it is the first taste they are exposed to when they are born, through their mothers’ milk.
However, some people claim that they are addicted to sugar and that their desire for sweets is so strong it is almost impossible to overcome.
Sugar addiction, or food addiction in general, is not an official diagnosis. It is a term people use to describe an overwhelming liking of everything, or almost everything, sweet.
The consumption of sweet foods elicits a response in the brain, similar to what common recreational drugs do. (1) However, eating many non-sweet foods or fruits essentially does the same, without being regarded as an addictive behavior (show me an apple addict!).
Most people would not eat sugar straight out of a jar. The cravings they have are typically for sugar-sweetened foods or combinations of sugary-fatty things, disproving the “addiction.”
Most sugar-addictive behaviors are conditioned by the overconsumption of sweets, which leads to desensitization.
What happens in desensitization is the amount of feel-good hormones released in response to the same amount of substance (sweets) is reduced. As a result, you desire even more sweets and overeat, hence the notion of sugar addiction.
The current environment contributes to the overeating of sugary foods. Every store, pharmacy, vending machine, and gas station offers highly processed food-like items with lots of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
It is easy (sort of) to do away with illicit drugs as drugs are not needed to survive, but people do need food.
However, you have to make a clear distinction between real food for survival (whole, unprocessed, fresh food) and food-like items – the highly processed stuff – which you do not need. The latter should be consumed mindfully, in moderation, and with caution.
So, how do you beat sugar addiction or, generally, sweet cravings?
1. Set clear boundaries with sugar
Willpower is not what you need to set clear boundaries with certain foods. It is practicing self-respect and self-care.
Put yourself in control. Do not let sugar navigate your ship – your body is yours to live in, and you need a healthy, resilient one to ensure a long, happy life.
Excess sugar contributes to oxidative stress in your body, leading to inflammation. In turn, inflammation causes chronic diseases (2), including type two diabetes, heart disease, (3) cancer, (4) obesity, neuropathy, and dementia.
Put your mind to it, and make an agreement with yourself that you will minimize processed and sweetened foods.
But do not just focus on taking stuff out of your diet, focus on adding stuff in.
2. Eat more fresh fruit
Fruits are naturally sweet, offer a variety of potent nutrients and antioxidants, are full of fiber and water to fill you up, and are rich in flavor.
Fruits are an excellent, nutritious way to beat your sugar addiction. Start with adding a serving of fruit to every meal, and you may find yourself craving less sugar.
Fruits were found to have anti-obesity effects in many studies (5) through known mechanisms, including improved satiety, reduced sugar cravings, gut flora modulation, and effects on hunger and satiety hormones.
Some mechanisms are still being researched, and scientists believe they might lie in nutrigenomics – the ways genes are being turned on or off through the diet. (6)
By adding more fruit, instead of taking foods out of your diet, psychologically it will be easier to deal with dietary changes. Inadvertently at the end of the day, you are eating less since the volume of food increases.
Is a Twix bar your daily answer to an afternoon slump? Slice an apple alongside, try this snack for a few days, and watch the difference. Trust the science on this one.
3. Eat foods high in chromium, magnesium, and zinc
Chromium, magnesium, and zinc enhance your body’s sensitivity to insulin, thus stabilizing blood sugar levels and reducing cravings for sweets. They are also abundant in whole, unprocessed foods, which should comprise the bulk of your diet.
Here are the common sources of these minerals:
- Chromium-rich foods: Apples, bananas, broccoli, bran cereal, whole grains, wheat germ, oranges, romaine lettuce, raw onions, potatoes, green beans, raw tomatoes, black pepper, grape juice
- Magnesium-rich foods: Nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, figs, avocado, raspberries, legumes, vegetables, seafood, whole grains, raw cacao, dark chocolate, tofu, chlorella powder
- Zinc-rich foods: Oysters, beef, lamb, spinach, pumpkin seeds, nuts, dark chocolate, pork, chicken, beans, mushrooms
4. Out of sight, out of mind
One study found that “making snacks less accessible by putting them further away is a potentially effective strategy to decrease snack intake, without risk of compensatory behavior.” (7)
Clean up your pantry and desk drawers! Do a total makeover by taking out the junk and replacing it with healthy options.
However, do not throw food away, even junk food. You can load a box and donate it to a homeless shelter, or simply pass by an area where homeless people are. You will declutter your diet and feed someone in need.
5. Snooze and distress
Chronically sleep-deprived people, like those working night shifts, tend to have lower metabolic rates, heightened appetites, and sugar cravings.
They often replenish their low energy from lack of sleep with fast-acting sugar boosts from candy, soda, and sweetened coffee.
Layer sleep deprivation with high-stress levels and you’ve got a perfect hormone storm! So, get adequate sleep, 7-8 hours every night.
Find ways to reduce stress, such as practicing mindfulness, meditating, taking walks, spending quiet time, and doing your favorite activities, to reset and calm your brain.
Having a written plan for your goals – whether professional, personal, or health-related ones – is an important step toward achieving them, and practice makes progress.
Do not expect to be perfect, that is not realistic and may set you up for failure and loss of motivation. Do expect changes and improvements, track them, celebrate (without cupcakes), and keep going until you are, not sugar, in control.