One of the things I hear regularly from clients and prospective clients is that they feel an overwhelming desire to eat sugary foods, leading them to feel like they are addicted and cannot live without it. These feelings are certainly valid, although sugar itself is not physically addictive. This article unpicks what an addiction is, and also how what can be done to help ease the intense cravings for sugary and sweet foods.
What is an addiction?
An addiction is a strong, habitual dependence on a substance or activity. People can become addicted to a wide variety of substances, including:
Illicit drugs (such as cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine)
Prescription drugs (such as painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants)
Inhalants (such as glue and paint)
Addiction can cause significant harm to a person's physical and mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. It can also have serious social and legal consequences.
There are many factors that can contribute to addiction, including genetics, environmental influences, and mental health issues. Treatment for addiction often involves a combination of therapies, support from loved ones, and self-care strategies to help the person overcome their dependence and lead a healthy, balanced life.
Why do I feel addicted to sugar?
It is possible for people to develop a psychological dependence on sugar. This can manifest as a strong desire or craving for sugary foods, and difficulty resisting the urge to eat them. Some people may also experience withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability or fatigue, when they try to cut back on their sugar intake.
There are several factors that may contribute to a psychological dependence on sugar, including taste preference, cultural and societal influences, and the use of sugar as a coping mechanism for stress or negative emotions. It is also worth noting that many processed and packaged foods, particularly those high in added sugars, can be highly palatable and may trigger the release of pleasure-inducing chemicals in the brain, which can contribute to a desire to consume more of these foods.
How can I reduce these intense cravings?
Some things you can do to help reduce sugary cravings are:
Eat regular meals: Consuming balanced meals at regular intervals can help regulate blood sugar levels, and help reduce getting 'too hungry' by having regular meals every 3-4 hours this may help reduce intense cravings for sugary foods.
Choose healthful and balanced snacks: Opt for snacks rich in protein, fibre, and healthy fats, such as nuts, yogurt, and whole fruits, which can help keep you feeling full and satisfied.
Reduce stress: Stress can lead to emotional eating and sugar cravings. What helps you to relax? You might like to engage in stress-reduction techniques like walking outdoors, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga.
Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep can increase cravings for sugary foods when you are tired. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night.
Consider reducing sugar intake gradually: Slowly reducing on the amount of sugar you consume can help your taste buds adjust to less-sweet flavours.
Practice mindful eating: Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues, and savour each bite of food. This can help you better recognise when you're truly hungry for something sweet, as opposed to eating out of habit or boredom.
Remember that it's okay to enjoy sugary foods! It is important to maintain a balanced diet to ensure you are getting a range of nutrients too.
If you think you may be experiencing a psychological dependence on sugar, it may be helpful to seek guidance from a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian. Dietitians like me, who specialise in intuitive eating can help you develop strategies for managing your sugar intake and address any underlying emotional or psychological issues that may be contributing to your desire for sugary foods.
I hope you found this helpful. If you need help and you need help now, check out the Bitesize Guide to Intuitive Eating™ today - and take the first steps to improving your relationship with food.
Please note the information provided in this article is not a substitute for medical or dietetic advice. If you have any queries regarding your diet or your physical or mental health, please speak to your GP or a registered healthcare professional.