Are you a sugar addict?

Are you a sugar addict?

By Contributor

Whether we like to hear it or not, sugar addiction is very much a reality in South Africa and it’s time to seriously talk about this illness...

Sugar is a 'drug' that is slowly killing us

Despite the negative effect that eating sugar has on patient’s physical health; they could not stop eating it. There is no such thing as eating these ‘toxic’ foods in moderation; we need to treat sugar as a drug and teach complete abstinence from the very food that is slowly killing them.

When sugar addicts consume sugar and refined carbs (which digest to sugar in the body), dopamine is released in the brain.

This could produce a high similar to the high experienced by illicit drug users. This high (which is a neurochemical addiction) can provide the individual with further motivation to eat sugar.

When sugar addicts consume sugar and refined carbs (which digest to sugar in the body), dopamine is released in the brain. This could produce a high similar to the high experienced by illicit drug users.

Once the effect of the sugar and carbs wear off, the cravings start which creates an addiction cycle.

Studies have shown that for certain individuals the consumption of sugar lights up the same centres in the brain (on fPET scans) as cocaine does in cocaine addicts. For some people just seeing pictures or even thinking of high-sugar foods, such as a milkshake, can trigger brain effects like these.

Craving triggers

A recent study on cravings found that “person-specific cues” which are unique to every individual, have an acute effect on triggering cravings for an addictive substance.

“Person-specific cues include what has been identified in AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) literature as people, places and things that remind you of or you associate with, your addiction. Once we learn to eat or associate certain foods with certain events, just experiencing that event is all it takes to trigger that craving."

Genetics, trauma, fear

Like with other addictions, there is a strong genetic component associated with addiction (Such as a family member suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction or an eating disorder).

Leading researchers in the field believe that exposing children to refined sugar and junk food from an early age may set them up to become addicted to other, more toxic substances.

There is also a strong correlation between childhood trauma and the manifestation of addiction later in life

Whilst not all misuse becomes abuse if an addiction foundation is laid early in life the switch to trigger it may be tripped by a traumatic event.

Many people also get stuck in a vicious (addictive) cycle of guilt, shame and fear. Each feeling feeds the other and many people choose to look for external substances to soothe their feelings they feel they have little control over.

Mindful eating is the way to treat sugar addiction

Learning to listen to your body and identify your needs is of utmost importance, stresses Thomson. Through mindful eating, we learn to eat in tune with our bodies and provide our bodies with the nourishment that it requires functioning effectively. We need to learn how to soothe ourselves in a way that serves rather than diminishes ourselves.

Psychological tools

Finding a supportive community is the key to beating any addiction. Addiction thrives on denial and by being accountable to others, you give yourself permission, to be honest, and identify with others behaviour.

The feeling of isolation that many food addicts experience is also a major contributing factor to keep them stuck in their addictive cycle. And by showing them that they are not alone and allowing them to identify with others recovery occurs.

Likewise, planning ahead is also of the utmost importance, cautioning that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” Meditation, journaling and keeping a food diary, can also assist in keeping a lid on cravings and excessive sugar intake.

Advice, treatment

The sooner overweight people start addressing their sugar cravings, the better.