One of the most frequent questions I get asked privately as a nutritionist is, “How can I break my addiction to sugar and carbs?” People ask for all kinds of reasons, even if it’s “for a friend.”
The thing is, I don’t judge. Because I’m a ‘recovered sugar addict’ and I’ve been in the trenches for years, completely miserable and defeated over and over every time I tried to stay strong. And every attempt to quit sugar and refined carbs ended up not just giving in to the cravings, but bingeing hard-core in secret.
In fact, I’ve been an addict since I was a child but didn’t know it until the last few years. Research is finally catching up, but the media can make it really hard for those who truly need help because of hype headlines and articles declaring “sugar addiction” is bogus, “eat what you want”, and that “the body ‘needs’ sugar to operate.”
So many people who feel like they’re chained to sugar are being told that they’re crazy and there’s no need to quit the sugar and refined carbs. This couldn’t be further from the truth, and it sends horribly mixed messages to those who are suffering.
People are desperate for help, and with good reason: It’s estimated that we now consume 60 pounds or more of added sugar every year.
In 2017 the prevalence of diabetes was 451 million. It’s estimated that by the year 2045 that number will increase to 693 million. And that figure didn’t even account for the estimated 374 million with impaired glucose tolerance.
It’s obvious that people are searching for a way to break their sugar addiction that works.
My practice helps people begin and maintain an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle for all sorts of reasons. But when surveyed, 50% of thousands of women who are trying to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet state that they can’t because they’re hooked on sugar and refined carbs.
So let’s get into the breakdown of a true addiction to sugar and carbs so you can determine if you have a mild sugar problem, or a much larger one that requires more in-depth help than a one-week ‘sugar detox‘.
Table of Contents
Can you really be hooked on sugar to the point that it’s an addiction?
Addictions are defined as actions that one keeps repeating over and over regardless of the detriment, and will eventually build tolerance (you need more to get the same effect), and withdrawal when you take it away. This is precisely what happens if you’re addicted to sugar. The latest science has shown that the same reward centers in the brain light up as the ones when drugs like cocaine and heroin are taken.
So for people to say that sugar isn’t addictive rubs me seriously the wrong way. I think it’s pretty disrespectful and naive to underestimate the wiring of our brain and physiology in its efforts to make us feel better.
Psychology and physiology are extremely complicated, but they will always operate to try and keep us in homeostasis, even if it means attempts to keep us ‘happy’ with a dopamine hit of glazed donuts.
The other problem I have with people not only dissing the idea of being addicted to sugar but also maintaining that sugar is essential for energy and that trying to get off it is stupid. Well, to say the least, these people are misinformed and uneducated on the matter.
Not only that, they’ve probably never been on the end of cravings that are so severe that they cause uncontrollable binges that result in a self-berating cycle of guilt and out-of-control weight gain and inflammation. (Not to mention the resulting depression.)
Many people have been told by their doctors to lose weight for a myriad of reasons, which starts with quitting sugar and refined carbs. But going cold turkey just seems to make the cravings worse.
Thus the battle cry of those of us addicted to sugar is this: “If we were able to just ‘take one bite’ and move on with our life, don’t they think we would’ve?? “Laura @truewell.co
How do I know if I’m addicted to sugar?
Knowing if you’re addicted to sugar really needs to start with knowing a few things behind the mechanics of sugar addiction. There is obviously a chemical component to it that’s known as the ‘reward cycle’.
But there is also a genetic component as well. Then add in:
- the length of time you’ve been consuming large amounts of sugar and foods that are metabolized like sugar in the body,
- as well as the total amounts.
So when you add all those together, you really have a spectrum of ‘levels’ of addiction probability.
This is important because where you fall on the spectrum determines the strategy you’ll need to break the sugar addiction and carb cravings cycle.
This is the springboard to your success in losing weight and living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Signs and symptoms of sugar addiction
At the lowest end of the sugar addiction probability spectrum, people may feel cravings every once in a while for something sugary, chocolately, or even breads, but they don’t have an issue just having a bite and then moving on. They don’t usually experience guilt about it either.
The mid-level of sugar addiction probability looks more like cravings more than they’d like to admit, some emotional eating, and reaching for sugar, caffeine, chocolate, etc during times of the day that they feel dips in energy or emotions. There’s a modest to more intense level of guilt.
At the most severe end of the spectrum is a constant craving for something with sugar or bread, and every meal and snack is full of sugar and usually includes bread.
Severe exhaustion, shakiness, and irritability happen when it’s been longer than about 2 hours after the last meal. There are frequent binges, especially after 2 events: trying to quit sugar and carbs for a few days in a row, or after (or during) a stressful event.
There is nearly always an intense level of guilt, most especially after the binges happen.
I usually direct clients to answer some questions to help better determine their level of being hooked on sugar and refined carbs before deciding which direction to take.
These questions are in our QUIZ if you’d like to take it and see for yourself.
Sugar detox: Hope or Hype?
Many people ask if sugar detox diets really work.
The short answer for that is if you fall in the lower end of the sugar addiction probability spectrum, it will probably work to get you off sugar to kickstart weight loss and help control conditions you may have that require lessened inflammation and balanced blood sugar.
If you’re in the mid to high range of probability, a sugar detox will just make things worse.
This is because most sugar detoxes not only go cold turkey, but they don’t allow enough time for the shifts needed to truly deprogram from sugar and refined carbs.
What is needed in this case is called Sugar Deprogramming.
How to break the sugar addiction and carb cravings cycle with sugar deprogramming
Step 1: Shift your mindset about sugar addiction
When we typically think of sugar addiction, we think it started or keeps going because of weakness. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Shifting your mindset is the foundation to undoing sugar addiction through sugar deprogramming. You can’t debug a computer program without knowing there’s a bug in the program, right?
Once you know the science and mechanics (biologically and psychologically) you’re able to more clearly see the bird’s eye view of it all and how to fix it.
Addiction has such a negative connotation to it because people largely believe the person addicted has chosen 1- the first dose of the addictive substance, and 2- continues to use it.
The thing is, when it comes to sugar and carb addiction, there is no ‘gateway’ to any of these substances like there is for drugs—they’re literally right there in the grocery store or even the vending machine in the office, readily available.
So there’s no warning sign or message from the Attorney General about the addictive nature of the ingredients in what you’re about to eat.
We’re hooked on something we never thought possible and never had an option.
When you shift your mindset about sugar and carb addiction, you’ll understand where cravings come from, why they happen over and over again, and why you’ve never been able to resist them.
Another mindset shift involves the number of days your recovery will take. So many ‘sugar detox plans’ claim you can be free of cravings in 7 days, 21 days, or even 30 days.
The truth is that everyone is so different that you won’t know this number until you are consistent with a sugar deprogramming program. This consistency will allow your body to accomplish the next two shifts.
This is your starting point for a blueprint to break the sugar addiction and carb cravings cycle for good.
Step 2: Shift your metabolism
If you’re hooked on sugar and refined carbs, your body has become accustomed to getting energy from the quickest form of fuel there is: simple carbs. These don’t need to be broken down any further to harness immediate energy.
By taking simple carbs out of the diet and giving your body complex carbs for sustained fuel, your body will inevitably rebel, because suddenly it has to work for fuel. Your metabolism has gotten lazy.
For many, this alone will create rebound cravings. This is why it’s crucial to understand the types of carbs and how to adjust them in your meals during your healing and recovery period.
And lastly, shifting your metabolism also involves discovering nutritional deficiencies and filling these consistently.
Step 3: Shift your emotional involvement and connections to sugar and carbs
If you’ve ever thought or been told eating is emotional—the answer is a resounding Yes! Especially when it comes to sugar and refined carbs. So many people are programmed as a child to connect sugar and carbs with rewards. (If you have kids you’ve surely seen this complete nonsense at your kids’ school. Candy is given relentlessly as a reward.)
Pinpointing your emotional involvement in the addiction to sugar and carbs is a crucial step to disrupting that cravings cycle.
The next step in the emotional shift is knowing what to do with that information and how to heal emotional traumas, as well as manage daily stressors that are contributing to the cycle.
Step 4: Shifting your confidence
So many clients come into this journey expecting absolute failure. And why not? They’ve failed a thousand times before at quitting sugar and refined carbs.
The truth is that there IS a proven process to breaking the addiction to sugar and carbs. It’s called Sugar Deprogramming.
And building your confidence in that truth helps keep the momentum going until the full metabolic and emotional shifts can happen that will free you.
This last step in sugar deprogramming is really the cherry on top where it will all come together to keep you going and know that you have all the tools, gameplan, and confidence to finally kick-start that weight loss, balance your blood sugar, and manage your energy and emotions all day.
This is where you find your truth that allows you to confidently face sugar from now on.
If you’re ready to start your journey of sugar deprogramming, check out the program we offer at TRUEWELL by clicking HERE.
And if you have any questions, feel free to DM me @truewell.co
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