3 dietitians explain your sugar addiction

Can you be addicted to sugar or is there something else going on? The idea of ​​sugar addiction has been the subject of many media headlines and is often categorized among other “abnormal behaviors around food” similar to eating disorders by organizations such as Overeaters Anonymous. But does sugar addiction really exist? We interviewed three dietitians to get the scoop.

Defined as “an emotional or psychological dependence on sugary foods and beverages,” the general consensus seems to be that sugar addiction, in the truest and most literal interpretation of the term, may not exist. In fact, some addiction experts agree that there are neurobiological differences between dependence on a substance and a compulsion that focuses on something you need to survive, like food.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Food addiction is a controversial term used by some researchers to describe the parallels between the difficulties some people experience in limiting food intake and substance addiction. However, unlike addiction, where an individual is addicted to a particular class of drug, it is difficult to identify a food underlying the ‘food addiction’. Similarly, withdrawal syndrome caused by dependence on a drug of abuse is difficult to demonstrate in overeaters. Despite the similarities between eating disorders and substance abuse, and the evidence that reward circuitry in the brain is involved in both conditions, the neurobiology of binge eating and drug addiction is not the same.”

At the same time, other animal studies have shown that sugar consumption may reflect addictive behavior, but that does not necessarily mean that sugar is addictive in humans.

Here’s what the experts say about sugar addiction and what to do if you think you may be addicted to sugar.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Stop Sugar Cravings Before They Start

Can you be addicted to sugar?


“The debate is still open as to whether sugar is truly physically addictive. Some research has shown that rats behave similarly when exposed to sugar as they do when exposed to addictive drugs like opioids, but these reactions may be behavioral rather than physical.” Melissa Mitri, RD, explains regarding current research on sugar addiction. “This could mean that some people may be more prone to sugar cravings than others, just as some people are more likely to become addicted to other activities, such as gambling.”

“Further human studies are needed to confirm the ability of sugar to be physically addictive,” shares Mitri.

Also, we know that not everyone has a preference for sweet taste.

“Sugar intake is determined in part by our preference for sweet taste and cravings for certain foods and beverages, and also by our genetics. People who carry the glucose transporter type 2 (GLUT2) variant appear to have a greater preference for sweet foods and a higher intake of sugar. Karolin Saweres, RDNHe says Eat this, not that!

Why do you feel addicted to sugar?

There are both physical and psychological reasons to feel addicted to sugar. Physically, you may not be eating enough food in your day, so your sugar cravings feel powerful and intensify because your body tells you that you need energy fast.

“You could also be waiting too long to eat or not eating enough during the day, so your blood sugar is low,” says Mitri. “This can increase the desire for sugar to provide energy and bring blood sugar back up.”

The psychological reasons for feeling addicted to sweets are more complex.

“You can feel addicted to sugar for any number of reasons. It may have become a habit and your body is conditioned to want it,” adds Mitri. “You may also crave sugar more often if you’re stressed or not sleeping well, as both of these things increase your hunger hormones, making these cravings feel harder to control.”

“There are pleasure-generating signals in the brain that are emitted in response to eating or drinking something sweet,” says Saweres. These pleasure cues offer a reward that could reinforce eating sweets over and over again.

How to feel more in control of sugary foods

sugary food

Your sugar cravings and eating habits could be your way of trying to satisfy or compensate for an emotional need instead of responding to a physical cue. For example, many people reach for sugar when they are tired, angry, sad, or bored. Identifying what was going on before the urge to eat something sweet can be a powerful exercise.

“Look closely at what you are addicted to […] When we learn what specific thing triggers our craving for sugar, we can learn to control it. I prefer to dig deeper and find out the triggers.” Abigail Thomas, RDadvise.

Mitri and Saweres agree that you should eat balanced meals regularly and avoid skipping meals.

“Eating enough protein, fiber, and whole grains with each meal can keep blood sugar levels stable and curb sugar cravings. Manage stress regularly through exercise, self-care, and meditation,” suggests Mitri.

“Try to keep high-sugar foods out of the house,” says Saweres. “If you are used to having something sweet as a reward, try to practice having rewards other than food; like a massage, facial, pedicure, shopping, or saving money for trips and trips.”

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