Sugar addiction is far more common than we think – after all, most people include sugar as part of our daily diet, whether we do so consciously or not. We’ll add sugar to our tea or coffee, grab a sugary soda without thinking twice, and eat dessert after dinner every day. It’s habits like these that can help a sugar addiction go undetected, so how do you know if you have a sugar addiction or not?
Here are 6 clear signs you may have a sugar addiction:
6 Clear Signs You Are Addicted to Sugar
1. You Graze All Day
If you find yourself constantly getting up to look in the kitchen for something to snack on, that’s a clear sign that you’ve got a problem with sugar. We often graze all day, failing to eat a proper meal, and our snacks are processed and full of sugar. If this describes you, try to eat full, nutritious meals, and if that’s not possible due to your schedule, divide your meals up into 2 portions and eat a small portion more frequently. The key is to avoid those unhealthy snacks that are preventing us from eater better, balanced meals.
2. You’re Gaining Weight or Struggling to Lose It
If you’re on a diet but still consuming sugar, you may be struggling to shift the fat. Our bodies are dependent on sugar for fat-storing, as it kicks our blood sugar into overdrive when we are likely already satisfied. That means our cells have all the energy they need, and so will signal our bodies to turn the excess energy into fat. That means that even if you’re eating in a deficit, if you’re eating sugar after mealtimes, your body may be returning to fat-storing mode before your current stores can be metabolized.
3. Lack of Self-Control Around Sugar
Can you walk into the kitchen and ignore all the healthy fruit, but eat an entire packet of Oreos if they’re there? That’s another big sign you’re suffering from sugar addiction.
This is often linked to emotional overeating and binge eating, which are also much more common than most people think. Many people turn to sugar for comfort and reassurance because it gives us that rush of dopamine that makes us feel happier. If you’re struggling to break free of sugar, try to become conscious of when you eat and why. Do you feel bad or guilty about something, or are you genuinely hungry?
4. You Can’t Stop
Do you remember that old Pringles jingle? While you may remember it as “once you pop, the fun don’t stop,” the original slogan was “once you pop, you can’t stop!” If that’s something you can wholeheartedly agree with, that may be down to your sugar addiction. Think about when you open a bag of chips – can you eat a small portion and leave the rest for another day? What about large servings when you’re out at a restaurant? If you find yourself eating until it’s all gone, rather than when you’re no longer hungry, that’s a big sign.
5. You Feel Physically & Emotionally Worse After Eating Sugar
While our tastebuds love sugar, and a part of our brain loves the temporary good feelings we get from it, the rest of our body isn’t so crazy about it. Sugar isn’t good for us, so you may find you get headaches or migraines regularly, you’ll feel tired and experience fatigue, and experience bloat and stomach issues.
Emotionally, if you have a sugar addiction, you’ll likely feel guilt. If you hide food from the other people in your household or say things to yourself like, “just this one last time,” you have a sugar addiction. We often think of this secretive and guilty behavior in terms of people with other, more dysfunctional addictions, but the same behavior can be found in those with sugar addictions.
6. You’re Actively Trying to Avoid Sugar
This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re trying to avoid sugar, you may have an addiction. People with a healthy diet and a healthy relationship with treats don’t feel shame or guilt, and they don’t constantly think about whether they can sneak in a little sugar.
People with a sugar addiction are constantly snacking to try and satisfy the craving, try to find excuses to run to the store if there is no sugar in the house, can’t control their portion size, and struggle with their weight.
I think I have a sugar addiction, what next?
Don’t panic, and don’t try to starve yourself – those hunger pangs will eventually get you, and you’ll go to the wrong type of food. Start by becoming aware of what you’re eating when you get hungry, and why you feel hungry. Grab a journal, make a note of what and why, and be honest. Writing down “3pm: ate a chocolate bar because I felt bad after my boss made a passive-aggressive comment about X” is totally valid.
Next, start switching out the food you’re eating for healthier options. This is where you’re going to need some willpower. Start turning to fruit and healthy snacks when you feel that craving for chocolate something sweet. Pack your meals full of healthy vegetables, protein, and whole wheat grains. If you don’t finish your meal, put the leftovers aside and eat them as a snack later. Eventually, you’ll be able to wean yourself off snacking because your meals are keeping you full, and all the fiber in your meals will help keep your blood sugar balanced, which will end those physical cravings.
It’s also best to stay away from situations where you can fall back into old habits – don’t allow yourself to buy a big bar of chocolate once you’ve gotten over your addiction with the intention of only eating a little after dinner. The temptation will be too strong and you may fall back into old habits. Shrugging off your sugar addiction won’t be easy, but it will be worth it as you feel healthier, better about yourself, and see the natural weight loss you’ll experience!
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.