Sugar is a highly desirable and very tricky staple of the food world. Cutting sugar from your diet can be a difficult task, because many foods have a hidden sugar content that can top off your daily allowance before you know it. And there is evidence that proves that sugar is not only detrimental to your health, it can also be a legitimate addiction.
How can this be? People think of alcohol, drugs, and even gambling as addictions, not brightly wrapped treats lining the grocery store checkout aisle. But science has shown that the effect sugar has on the reward center of our brains is very similar to that of a much more powerful substance. Major drugs, such as cocaine and nicotine, operate on the pleasure center in our brain. When we ingest these types of substances, our brain ‘rewards’ us with a release of dopamine, which is a natural upper. Having such easy access to something that makes us feel good then leads to cravings and ultimately addiction. Even though we may consciously know that a particular habit is bad for us, carrying it out makes us feel good, so the cycle continues.
Where does sugar fit in? Like certain drugs, consuming sugar is another way to access the brain’s reward system, and as sugar is so readily available it’s that much easier to overload without even trying. This is a big factor behind ‘stress eating’. People in a state of high anxiety or sadness crave a physical boost, and consuming sugary foods is a quick and easy way to get a brief respite. The dopamine that is released is also something of a culprit, since it can be tweaked in anticipation of reward, before it is even received. In essence, dopamine causes us to crave items that will release more dopamine. And like anything else, the body can build up a resistance to sugar, meaning that as time goes on, more and more is needed to get the desired effect. There is even evidence that cutting sugar can cause physical withdrawal symptoms.
Overindulging in sugar has many negative effects, such as weight gain, sleep disturbances, and mood swings. Cutting it from your diet entirely can be a daunting task, but if you’re dedicated to going sugar-free, the negative effects are not permanent. In fact, the general rule of thumb is that sugar cravings will leave you after about two weeks. And the positive effects will be felt fairly quickly too—people who have cut or significantly reduced their daily sugar intake report fewer energy crashes and better sleep.
Quitting any vice takes steely determination, but when your health is on the line it’s worth the effort. Take the time to document your sugar intake, make cuts where you can, and start on the road to a healthier diet.