Written by Lucie Villeneuve, nutritionist, M.Sc.
So many people feel that they are addicted to sugar or that they have major sweet tooths. Are you someone who feels out of control whenever you are around sugar?
Today, I’m going to tell you how to finally stop sugar addiction for good, and I guarantee it’s not going to be the way you think.
But in order to get to that, we need to address what your sugar addiction actually is.
What is a sugar addiction?
In reality, it isn’t really a sugar addiction, it’s more like an eating addiction, or an addiction to the feeling you get while eating highly palatable and sugary foods. In fact, no evidence supports sugar addiction in humans .
People aren’t addicted to sugar, but rather adopt addictive eating behaviors around highly palatable food. Addictions involve a strong desire for the active chemical content of a drug. When it comes to food, it’s about craving its taste and texture more than the chemical content.
While I know a lot of people who would binge on cookies or ice cream, I don’t know any who would shovel down spoonfuls of table sugar to satisfy a craving.
Ultimately, the concept of food addiction is flawed: food cannot be compared to drugs or any other addictive substance. Unlike drugs or alcohol, food is essential for survival. The term “eating addiction” is therefore more suitable. It describes the behavioral addiction without including any “substance-based” addiction. While eating can certainly be addictive, food in itself is not .
In addition, the components of addiction include both tolerance (needing more and more of the substance in order to experience the same effect) and withdrawal symptoms (unpleasant effects that happen when the substance is taken away) . Neither of these has been shown with food items.
How to break your sugar addiction
Even if we now know that truly being addicted to sugar isn’t a thing, it may certainly feel like it, and behavioral eating addictions can still very well exist.
In most cases, if you are obsessed with sugar, it’s because you’ve been restricting your eating in some way.
I’m sure you can look back on your past and think of a time when you weren’t allowed to have a certain food, and this only made you crave it more.
If you prevent a child from eating cookies, chances are they will often think about having cookies, ask for cookies, and wolf down a ton of cookies when they’re finally allowed to have them. If cookies had been available to them regularly, they wouldn’t be seeing them as something so special and probably wouldn’t be obsessed with them in the same way.
So first, let me tell you all the things that aren’t going to work for managing your sugar addiction: Trying to control your sugar intake, preventing yourself from having any sugary foods in your house, actively a limiting the amount of sugar that you’re allowed to consume, trying to replace the “bad” sugars that come from processed foods, snacks, doughnuts, cookies, cakes… with fruit, telling yourself that you are bad and feeling guilty for craving sugar, telling yourself that you have no willpower or self-control…
So basically, the key to getting out of this addiction you feel to sugar is to not restrict it. Now I’m not going to tell you to just have unlimited sugar, which certainly sounds scary and difficult. Instead, I’m going to give you a few steps to help remove the restriction that you have around sugar.
1. List the foods you are “addicted to”
These are the foods that give you these feelings of addiction, even if the feelings are very moderate. Try to rate them from the least addictive to most addictive.
2. Create an exposure plan for these foods.
The main goal is for the foods you’re addicted to to become neutral foods that you can eat just like any other food. In order for this to happen, you need to incorporate them regularly into your meals without giving them any specific attention. You also need to know that they will always be available to you, and that you’re not saving them for any special occasion. That way, the novelty factor will slowly wear off.
Start with the foods that you are the least addicted to and try to incorporate them into one of your meals, and then work your way up to the foods you are most addicted to. Make a plan to introduce these foods as often as you can into your meals.
If you feel less addicted to cookies than ice cream, for instance, start by having a cookie after a meal, then once you feel yourself getting bored of cookies, you can start incorporating some ice cream instead.
To make sure that this exposure plan doesn’t spiral out of control, I also suggest that you don’t wait until you really crave these foods to eat them, which might set you up for a binge and give the foods unnecessary power.
It’s better to have everything planned out and stick to that plan so that these foods are just part of the meal. That way, they won’t seem like a big deal or an intense craving to satisfy. If you wait until you’re desperately craving chocolate to eat it, it will be hard to incorporate normally into your dessert, but if it’s planned ahead, then it will be easier.
3. Make sure that the rest of your meals are healthy and balanced
When you are letting yourself eat the foods that you feel addicted to, you may feel like you’re not hungry for the rest of your meals. However, you need to make sure that you are still giving your body healthy and balanced meals all of the time.
Again, the goal is not for you to eat only sugar throughout the day and nothing else. You should still be aiming for healthy and balanced meals, with the addition of some sugary foods throughout the day.
If every time you eat chocolate or a doughnut you tell yourself that you have eaten too many calories and therefore can’t have the meal that you initially planned for yourself, it’s not going to work.
You’re going to restrict after having the sugar, then you’re going to feel hungry because you’re not getting the nutrients and energy that you would have gotten from your balanced meal. This is going to lead to more binging to compensate for this feeling of restriction that you’re imposing on yourself. To break the cycle, you should be balancing out your sugary food with normal healthy meals.
This is the way to break your sugar addiction for good. It won’t be easy nor immediate, but it will be long-lasting and so worth it.
If you feel like this is too scary for you and you need one-on-one help, I offer online video consultations or email consultations, more info here! We can come up with a plan together to help you remove this restriction that you have around sugar.
I also offer an online course that deep-dives into all of this and helps you create lasting healthy eating habits without any restriction. You can watch a free webinar and get more info on it here!