Scientists are debating whether sugar addiction can be compared to dependency on caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. People who consider themselves "sugar addicts" report that they experience intense cravings for sweet foods, develop an increasing tolerance for sweetness, and suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and fatigue after they have gone without sugar for several hours.
Scientific studies suggest that foods high in sugar, fat, and certain carbohydrates are especially likely to stimulate the brain in ways that can become addictive. The consumption of sugar-rich foods or drinks triggers the release in some brains of endorphins, natural hormones that block pain and create a sense of well-being. Sugar activates the same areas of the brain as drugs like cocaine. Sweet foods also affect the production of stress hormones in ways likely to provide temporary relief from feelings of anxiety.
These studies suggest that, at least for some people, overcoming the desire for sweet foods requires more than just will power, and that genetics make some people more inclined to sugar addiction. Emotional and physical factors also contribute to overconsumption of sugar. Children are often rewarded with sweet treats, creating a lifelong association between sugar and positive experiences. Cakes, candy, chocolate, and desserts are associated with celebrations and holidays, and with luxury and self-pampering. Many people eat sweets when they are under stress, or eat them as comfort foods. When you feel sleepy or fatigued, it is tempting to eat something sweet for energy.
When you overload on sweet foods, the excess sugar may alter the parts of the brain that control how much you eat and cause you to eat larger quantities. Sweet foods often combine sugar with fats and other high-calorie ingredients. Starchy foods like bagels, chips, waffles, French fries, white bread, and pasta also feed a sugar addiction because the body breaks them down into simple sugars that make your blood sugar surge. Sugar contributes to obesity because the body stores excess calories as fat.
Sugary foods surround us at home, at the office, in the supermarket, and in restaurants. It is more convenient to grab a cookie when you are hungry than to prepare a meal or a healthy snack. Even supposedly health foods like breakfast cereals, yogurt, granola bars, and dried fruit have sugar added to them.
To overcome an addiction to sweet foods, you have to make conscious choices to avoid sugar. Here are some tips for controlling the sugar in your life: