Why are you addicted to sugar?

Are you addicted to sugar? - Get out of the addiction

"Sugar addiction? So what is that? It's just a newfangled invention to demonize sugar. " That was pretty much my opinion on it. At least a few years ago. At that time I never dealt with the fact that we can become addicted to sugar. It also sounded completely absurd that something we can buy in every supermarket should be addictive. It could have occurred to me that we could also buy alcohol and cigarettes.

Sugar Addiction - Does It Really Exist?

The answer is yes. And that's not what I say, but various studies.

In one study, rats were given a sugary liquid. After a short time, the rats wanted more and more of it. After 4 weeks, the researchers switched back to the original sugar-free diet. It was noticeable that the rats showed addictive withdrawal symptoms. They were trembling, restless, and afraid. The rats had become addicted to sugar.

When you eat sugar, an area in the brain known as the “reward center” is activated. The so-called nucleus accumbens ensures that dopamine is released. You probably already know that dopamine makes us happy. It is not for nothing that it is presented everywhere as a happiness hormone.

When we eat sugar we make our own opioids². Not that sugar affects us as badly as heroin, but the changes in the brain are very similar.

It is interesting that the rats that continued to eat regularly showed no withdrawal symptoms. Only those who had binge eating struggled with withdrawal. Conversely, it only becomes really dangerous for us when we stop eating our normal meals. That is not to say that you are immune just because you continue to have 3 meals on a regular basis in addition to the 3kg of chocolate.

Hidden sugar in everyday life

And here, in my opinion, lies the danger. Sugar is in so many foods that we don't expect it to be. And we don't even taste it. Instead, we get used to the "permanent" sweetness in our food.

It is often advertised that a product is low in fat. But if you take a closer look, the product still has the same number of calories or even more. This is because, instead of fat, sugar has to be used as a flavor carrier. What good is it for us to go shopping on a reduced-fat basis if it has no health benefits whatsoever. And it probably doesn't help with losing weight (after all, nothing changes in terms of calories).

In summer it becomes dangerous again when we start barbecuing. At all barbecues that I have been to so far, there were at least 3 (but rather more) different sauces for dipping. And guess what; No matter how hearty they taste, they still contain sugar. And yes, they are of course available in special shops and online, sauces that do not contain sugar. But of course I'm talking about those that we can buy anywhere.

It's the same with salad dressings. While everyone thinks they are eating a healthy salad, the truth is that they are pouring spoons of sugar into themselves. The vegetables are not to blame. It's the finished dressing to blame (and you can stir it up so quickly).

We should ask ourselves why there is sugar even in bread. The answer is just as terrifying as realizing that we can become addicted to sugar. It is our own fault. Because wheat bread is increasingly considered unhealthy, we look around for dark bread when shopping. The problem with this is that the dark bread is often just colored wheat bread.

And how is the bread colored? Right, with brown sugar. You think you are eating healthy bread, instead you are eating the same bread as always (only worse). I can only advise everyone to look carefully at the list of ingredients.

Caution is advised with almost all ready-made dishes. Almost all ready meals contain sugar. In any case, I have not yet come across a dish that did not contain any sugar. At least not if the dish is not advertising it to be sugar-free. I find it terrifying that there is sugar in everything. On the one hand, many manufacturers claim that the sugar is necessary to make the dishes last longer. On the other hand, I ask myself why are preservatives added? And apart from that; how quickly can a frozen product spoil without sugar?

It is also important to know that other foods such as sugar can also have an effect on our body. White flour (pasta, cake, bread, ...), rice, fruit juice, ... are quickly absorbed by your body and have a similar effect to sugar.

What if you leave out sugar?

As mentioned above, our brain releases dopamine when we eat sugar. Similar to drugs, it is also the case with sugar that we need more and more of it to feel just as happy again. If you don't eat sugar again, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Who does not know the advertising slogan: "You are not you when you are hungry". And what is shown then? The obligatory chocolate bar with peanuts and caramel. For people who are addicted to sugar, withdrawal can manifest itself in a very individual way.

Possible withdrawal symptoms:

  • a headache
  • Mood swings
  • Blemished skin
  • fatigue
  • insomnia
  • nervousness
  • Feelings of frustration

Similar to drug addicts, people who are addicted to sugar may find themselves hoarding sweets. Something is kept for emergencies and usually eaten during a weak moment.

The dangers of sugar addiction

It's not just that you get addicted to sugar. To be dependent on something is not nice in itself. But there are also many other risks.

We don't have to think twice to find the first point. Sugar has about 390 kcal per 100g. In addition, sugar does not fill you up. There are people who can eat 10,000 calories a day in the form of sugar and other processed carbohydrates. And then still be hungry. With protein and fat (alone) it is rather difficult to overeat.
It makes sense that we gain weight when we eat too much sugar.
(There are other theories as to why processed carbohydrates lead to people gaining weight. One of the reasons could be insulin. More on this elsewhere)
It's not just an aesthetic point. Obesity, by itself, carries many risks. Too much weight puts a strain on our bones and joints and, of course, our heart.

So far, sugar has been less likely to cause diabetes directly. Personally, I don't care whether it promotes diabetes directly or indirectly. Diabetes is diabetes. Nevertheless, there is also a study that was able to show how sugar directly affects diabetes³.

For many years we have all wanted to know that fat is very unhealthy for our hearts. The more recent findings are of a different opinion. It is not the fat, but the sugar that harms our hearts. The refined sugar that is pumped in everywhere is particularly cruel.

In the case of cancer, too, researchers do not yet agree on whether sugar promotes cancer or not. Personally, it is enough for me that there are studies that can prove it⁵. Why should I risk it just because it's contradicting here and there.

And bad teeth, of course. I almost forgot to mention them. Probably because it's so natural that I didn't think about it. Healthy, white teeth don't just put a beautiful smile on your face. They are also necessary for a healthy life. Whether you sleep poorly, have a headache or are tense, the cause could be your teeth (not necessarily, but possible).
Incidentally, inflammation of the teeth has also been linked to other diseases, including heart disease.

Are you addicted to sugar?

Often we do not even notice that we are dependent on something. Especially with things that don't really get us "high" like drugs, it is rather difficult to tell whether we are already addicted. That's why I think it's important to control your eating habits from time to time. Sugar addiction is not yet a recognized addiction disease. Unfortunately for this reason there are still no official tests and questionnaires from psychologists, nutritionists or the like.

Still, there are of course some clues and questions here and there that we can ask ourselves.

  • Do you eat sweets or processed foods that contain sugar on a daily basis?

That is certainly the first and most obvious question that we should ask ourselves.

  • Do you get in a bad mood if you don't get what you feel like?

Before you quickly say no: really ask yourself if you are not acting differently because you realize on a Sunday that you no longer have Cookie Triple Chocolate ice cream? Do you even walk to a gas station and pay 3 times the price?

  • Do you often crave sweets?

Similar to an alcohol or drug addict, the body asks for the "substance" more and more often in the case of sugar addicts.

  • Do you find it difficult to pack away the bar after a piece of chocolate?

You won't be addicted to sugar straight away if you just eat a piece of chocolate. For many, however, it is often the case that they can no longer pack the board away until it is empty.

  • Do you have candy somewhere just in case?

I used to buy lots of sweets, especially when they were on sale. I always thought to myself that someone could visit me someday. In the end, I mostly ate everything by myself.

  • Do you often feel guilty? Especially when you see the empty packaging?

Many say that they do not even notice how much they have eaten. Only when you see the empty packaging do you feel bad.

  • Do you often secretly eat sweets because you don't want anyone to know how much it is?

In this question too, I recognize my former self. When I was a child, I started eating sweets hidden away. Mainly, I was afraid that they would be taken away from me. Over time, however, I secretly fed her because I got bigger. I haven't eaten anything in public anymore (according to the motto: I can't help that I'm so fat).

  • Do you often drink sweet sodas and juices because water just doesn't taste good?

Water is life. Nothing is as refreshing as a cool glass of water. A glass of soda has about as many calories as a whole chocolate bar. And you're guaranteed not to get full of it. You are consuming a bunch of empty calories and getting none of them.

  • Do you really need dessert after a normal meal?

Many people who are addicted to sugar find that they do not feel full until they eat something sweet.

  • Do you sometimes snack without being hungry, but because you are not feeling so well right now?

We are often taught in childhood that a candy bar relieves our pain. We memorize something like that. It only has to be repeated a few times until we always have the feeling that we need something sweet as soon as something hurts us. (And that doesn't have to be the knee. It can be stress, frustration, sadness, boredom, etc.)

  • Does your mouth water when you see a picture of candy?
  • Have you ever made a promise to yourself that you won't give in to any more food cravings?

And? How is it looking? How many questions did you answer clearly with yes? Did you answer yes to more than 3 questions? Then I would think about whether you want to do something about your sugar addiction. And of course you can find out how to do it here.

Get out of sugar addiction⁶

In any case, it should be clear to you that you will not get rid of your addiction overnight. What has developed bit by bit must also be dismantled bit by bit. With every successful step, your confidence in yourself grows. If you want to combat your sugar addiction, it is basically about restoring your old body feeling.

There aren't 10 tips on how to replace sugar or what to eat instead. If you want to end a sugar addiction, then it is more about changing yourself and not the product that is in front of you.

Transtheoretical model of behavior change (TTM)

The TTM from Prochaska and DiClemente describes the behavior change as a 6-step process. We start at a level of carelessness where we are not aware of any problem. In the end, we find ourselves at a point where we have acted and can maintain our changes.

We are completely unaware that our behavior could be problematic. We're not even aware that we have a problem.

We are slowly realizing that we have to change something. We don't yet know exactly what and how, but we are aware that our behavior is problematic.

Since we know what our problem is, we can work out plans in preparation. The plans should help us not to lose sight of our goal.

We are at a point where we are showing the first changes. We avoid alcohol, drugs or, in our case, sugar.

We realized that sugar is not good for us and have already begun to do without it. But we all know how quickly it is possible to relapse again. Now it's just a matter of not relapsing. We need to maintain our changes from step 4.

The relapse is not an original stage of the model. But neither is it simply ignored as if it doesn't exist. Relapses are seen as something completely normal and inherent. This is followed by reintegration into the process of change⁷.

  • Continuous maintenance

Step 6 is the ultimate solidification of behavior change. It should flow into our process. The behavior we have shown no longer occurs in this sense. We no longer feel tempted to show our old behavior in it. Instead, we find it easy, almost natural, to resist temptation.

If you are now wondering what level you are at, I have good news for you. You can find that out very easily right away⁸.

  1. Do you currently still eat sugar?
    a = yes b = no
  2. Are you seriously thinking about fighting your sugar addiction?
    a = yes b = no
  3. Do you plan to quit in the next 30 days?
    a = yes b = no
  4. In the past last year, were there 24 hours in which you didn't eat sugar?
    a = yes b = no
  5. How long have you been out of sugar?
    ………… days / months / years

Carelessness: Question 1: a Question 2: b

Awareness: Question 1: a Question 2: a or Question 1: a Question 3: a Question 4: b

Preparation: Question 1: a Question 3: a Question 4: a

Plot: Question 1: b Question 5: less than 6 months

Maintenance: Question 1: b Question 5: more than 6 months

This model doesn't necessarily help you at this point, but you have a certain basic idea. At least you now know that it can take a while until you really decide to act. That you have to motivate yourself first.

In the same model there are also so-called change processes. These are activities that should strengthen our willingness to change. There are ten of them in total, divided into 2 categories. Five cognitive-affective (how we perceive and feel) activities and five behavioral events.

Cognitive-affective processes

  • "Increasing awareness of the problem" - In order to be able to change problem behavior, one must first become aware of it. Are you or are you not addicted to sugar? Many are unaware that it is so. You have already found out above whether you are addicted to sugar.
  • "Emotional experience" - Only when you are passionate about something does it have enough meaning for you to tackle it. Knowing that if you stop eating sugar you can mitigate your health risks, you will gain emotional relief.
  • "Reassessment of the personal environment" - What about the people around you? Do you not only harm yourself but also others? Can you no longer play in the park with your children because you always feel tired and sluggish, or because you are overweight?
  • "Self-reassessment" - Create a new identity for yourself. Instead of thinking that you are weak and lazy, consider yourself fit and vital. A person who can fight their addiction.
  • "Perception of beneficial environmental conditions" - You no longer see cafés and snack machines everywhere, instead you take part in more sporting activities. You pay more attention to where you can move, no longer to the nearest places to eat.

Behavioral processes

  • "Counter conditioning" - You consciously intervene in your problem behavior. You are gradually trying to give up sugar. (Bit by bit).
  • "Control of the environment" - Removing temptation from your surroundings. You are in control of your surroundings. If you don't shop for candy, you won't have one at home to eat.
  • "Using helpful relationships" - Actively ask someone for help. You could ask your family if they could help you with this. By telling you that you shouldn't eat the candy bar.
  • "(Self)Reinforcement " - Reward yourself for your small achievements.
  • "Self-commitment" - Publicly announce that you want to address your sugar addiction. This makes it official and you feel obliged to go through with it. A contract with yourself can also help.

The strengths model

The model has 5 principles. They should help us believe in ourselves. We are responsible for our actions. Instead of leaving our fate in the hands of therapists and doctors, we act independently.

  • Principle 1: The focus is on our strengths, not on our ailments

First and foremost, our strengths and interests are of interest. We don't have to keep getting addicted. Instead, we can first develop our skills. That doesn't mean we ignore our addictions. However, we gain more control over our behavior when we can nurture our strengths.

An addiction often arises because we are missing something in life. We have no goals, made wrong choices in love, chose the wrong profession. (Of course, those are not the only possible reasons. Addictive substances can seemingly relieve you of stress in the short term, comfort you in sad moments, ... Nonetheless, this principle can be helpful in some cases, even if it was not the trigger for our addiction If something is missing, such a change can help get rid of the sugar addiction.)

If we are not really satisfied with everything, we look for something that satisfies us. If we find our strengths and promote them, we become more self-effective. We realize that our life is in our own hands.

  • Principle 2: Community is a resource

The second principle suggests that we establish contacts. Contacts who may have already been through the same thing as you are particularly helpful. Or people who have simply turned their back on sugar for health reasons. They can help you understand that sugar is harmful. They can tell you about their experiences and give you tips on how they made it through.

Nonetheless, community is also important for those addicted to sugar. For example leisure activities, they can help us to distract us. But we can also strengthen our self-esteem when we find friends and see that they value us. But finding contacts to whom we can turn when we are not feeling well is part of this resource. Probably everyone has needed someone to talk to at one point or another. We all know that talking about your feelings when you are not feeling well can help. If we don't have anyone, addictions can arise. So talk to someone rather than eat a cream cake.

  • Principle 3: self-determination

You determine your own life. You have decided to take action against your addiction and you decide how to do it. When you do therapy, it is not your therapist who decides how often you need a session, but you. Especially at the beginning, a coach is expected to endeavor to have many meetings. And that doesn't mean you shouldn't have anything recommended (you absolutely should). However, at the end of the day, you are the one who decides how often you actually need help. What is also promoted by this is your self-efficacy, because you take care of your appointments yourself. So you don't give your life into the hands of a therapist, you learn to live independently from the start.

  • Principle 4: Community action

When you are in therapy. In a practice there are no temptations anyway. If, on the other hand, you meet in a café, you can convey directly how you feel now (without the piece of cake with your coffee, although you would normally order one with it).

  • Principle 5: learn, grow and change

The fifth principle means that you need hope. Everyone in this world can change something if they have the necessary resources. Always remind yourself that others have made it too. So why shouldn't you be able to do it? Read a few testimonials or life stories from people who have left their addiction behind.

Formulate your long-term goals into smaller goals. After each step reached, the hope of mastering the next increases. Your coach's job is to help you not lose hope. He can help you to formulate your goals, which may have been set too high, more appropriately. He could also connect you to other people who have already battled their sugar addiction.

Your own recovery plan

If you are now ready to take your life into your own hands, you will now find out how. Don't let your food cravings determine your eating habits.

Whether at work, at university or when moving house. It usually only goes really smoothly if we have a plan. A structure that we can hang around on. And if something does go wrong, then we look at the plan and know where to continue.

Important points to create a plan

  1. When problems arise in our lives, we all process them differently (some with candy). Even if we often don't know how ourselves. The task now is to find out which obstacles have thrown you off track. Why did you start eating so much candy?
  2. As a sugar addict, you can now learn more effective problem-solving strategies. It matters less that you just do something because someone tells you it works. Rather, it is about learning to tackle your own problems yourself. Learning how to find a solution can be more helpful than simply getting a handful of solutions. We all know the saying: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for life.“
  3. We know from psychology: we are only ready to exchange one behavior for another when there is just as much or more of us. What is more or less useful now is a matter of opinion. Is your health more important to you than the brief happy moment after the candy bar?
    (By the way, psychology also says that it is much easier to pursue short-term goals than long-term ones. It is all the more important that you have a plan!)
  4. Relapses only occur because there are gaps in the plan. It is not due to a lack of motivation to abandon a certain behavior, but to a lack of planning. Did you just make plans for home? Then you may run into problems the next time you are invited to "coffee and cake". If you don't think about it beforehand, you may not know how to act on it either.

First step for your plan

The first step is to find out what drives you to practice your addictive behavior.

To say that it just happens is not a satisfactory analysis. Every time you feel an insatiable craving for sugar and processed carbohydrates, there is a cause. I have put together some questions for you to download that can help you to find the cause.

Try to remember the last time you really wanted sugar and carbohydrates and think about what you felt before or what or what you were thinking about. If you can't do this, try a food journal. As soon as you feel an insatiable desire to eat, you grab your journal and write down what you think and feel. After a few days you will realize which thoughts and feelings make you want to return.

If that doesn't help either, a therapist could help you explore your feelings more deeply.

A few pointers for creating your plan

  • Pick a small problem to start with. For example, try not to buy any more sweets first. It's about increasing your self-efficacy, not decreasing it. It is important for you to understand that you are responsible for achieving a goal. If you fail over and over again, you might get the impression that you are not succeeding. Smaller goals are easier to achieve, so you will also get the feeling that you can take it into your own hands and are successful with it.

Example: To go without all sugar and all carbohydrates is too difficult. Instead, it can make sense to just do without household sugar for the time being.

  • Pick behavior that you are motivated to change. If you don't feel like giving up the chocolate from the start, you won't go through with it.

Example: I would also not be motivated to be able to eat ANY sweets anymore. It's better if you just evade. Not eating sugar does not mean not being able to eat anything sweet. That motivated me.

  • Break down large behavioral changes into small ones. Instead of completely foregoing anything sweet, initially just forego the chocolate. Or just eat dark chocolate with no sugar.

Example: If it is too difficult for you to drink only water and tea, then drink the zero variants instead of the sugary lemonades to start with.

  • Formulate your goals in positive language. We find it easier to focus on goals that require us to do something. Less motivating: "From today I don't want to eat anything unhealthy". This goal does not require action, it expects us to delete an action.

Example: "If I feel like something sweet, I'll bake a ketogenic cake from now on."! This goal forces us to act instead of renounce.

  • Set yourself realistic time limits. It is important that you have a deadline. Otherwise, you'll be pushing it around forever.

Example: "By the 1st of Advent I'll be able to ensure that only sugar substitutes end up in my shopping cart instead of household sugar." It is unrealistic to say that we will stop buying sugar from tomorrow. After all, we have to deal with the food before we know what we can buy without a guilty conscience (without sugar).

  • Share with your friends and family. They serve as reinforcement and can also monitor your behavior at the same time. If you achieve a goal you will be praised. This will give you praise in addition to your own sense of being successful.

Example: Also ask your spouse or friends to point out that you have food in the basket that contains sugar. As I said, we often buy something as a matter of course that we don't expect to have sugar in it. Let them know if you notice they are eating high levels of processed carbohydrates. They might be impressed with your new knowledge and thus praise you.

  • Formulate a goal specifically and in such a way that it is measurable. Don't write that sometime next month you will be eating less candy. When is sometime next month and how much is actually less.

Example: "In exactly 2 weeks (14 days), instead of buying normal chocolate, I will only be able to buy chocolate without sugar."

  • Avoid punishing yourself. This has a demotivating effect and could prevent you from continuing if you relapse. As mentioned above, relapses are part of behavior change. Don't see it as a step backwards, it would be more helpful to observe why you relapsed in the first place. Better be proud that you got this far in the first place. You didn't succeed in doing that before and you also learned something new.

Example: “Now I ate sugar after all. Well, now I know that spices can also contain sugar. Now I can go on with even more knowledge. ”!

Regina K. with comments from Verena Kuhn

Have you ever been addicted to sugar?

What tips and methods did you use to stop you being addicted to sugar?

More on the topic: addicted to sugar

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15987666
  2. http://www.selfness.de/zuckersucht.html
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15328324
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26586275
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01019-z
  6. http://www.williamwhitepapers.com/pr/Recovery%20Coaching%20Manual%20Loveland%20%26%20Boyle%202005.pdf
  7. https://www.alterundsucht.ch/de/aerztinnen/alkohol/problematischer-alkoholkonsum/transtheoretisches-modell
  8. https://www.psychologie.uni-freiburg.de/forschung/fobe-files/154.pdf