Am I Addicted to Sugar

Am I Addicted to Sugar?

I wrote a blog back in 2016 titled “Is Sugar Really Addicting?”  You can read the original blog here

I decided to tackle the topic again because it’s something that so many people ask about.  Plus, my previous blog wasn’t super robust in answering how to overcome it, but it does give a deep dive into the science behind the addiction.  Today, I’ll refresh you on the addiction aspect, we’ll talk about where sugar can be found, steps you can take to give it up, and some sugar withdrawal symptoms you might be hit with.

You might be asking yourself, “Why do I crave sugar?” 

Let’s refresh your memory on the science.  Previously, I spoke about how people can have a genetic mutation that causes them to lean more towards sweet/fatty foods for comfort.  Oddly enough, this gene tends to express more in women than in men…HELLLLLOOOO stress and menstruation!

Sugar also activates the reward center of the brain...your dopamine receptors. FYI…heroin and alcohol activate the same receptors.  Each time you eat sugar, your body is telling you how ah-MAZING that made you feel and that you MUST have more of it…like now!  This is why you’re craving sweets.  You have it once and your body tells you that was nice.  You have it again and your body tells your that was very nice.  And it’s also telling you that it really wants more of that thing that makes the brain feel nice and cozy.

So, can you be addicted to sugar?  Yes…yes you can.  No, sugar has been listed as an addicting substance.  I’m baffled as to why…realistically it probably has something to do with lobbyists and funding.  Maybe one day it will be listed appropriately.  But, I’m confident that most people understand the fundamental basis that sugar = bad (except in moderation).

Where can we find sugar?

Sugar can be found in things we often associate with sugar…cookies, cakes, candies, sweets, etc.  But sugar can also be found in foods we never really thought would contain sugar like salsa, peanut butter, and salad dressings. 

It’s important when you’re shopping that you’re reading labels.  I’ve read labels where a product has 4 to 6 different types of sugar in it!  It can be daunting at first but once you find brands you like that have little to no added sugar, you’ll spend less time reading labels. 

Speaking of food labels, they are in the midst of being changed.  Some foods will have natural sugars in them and many have added sugar.  It used to be fairly difficult to discern natural from added but the new label takes the guess work out of it. 

Some labels already reflect the updated information but large corporations have until 2020 to make the change.  Added sugar should be capped at around 20g/day. The FDA allows for higher but the lesser amount the better. 

Here’s what the new label will look like:
How can you stop eating sugar?

There are two main approaches…I call them the Band-Aid method or the step-down method.

The Band-Aid method is just how it sounds…you rip off the Band-Aid and quite sugar cold turkey.  The benefit of this method is that you’ve made a decision and you plan on sticking with it.  The downside is that you will have withdrawals pretty significantly and may give up on your newfound decision and go back to eating sugar. 

The other option is the step-down method.  

This is where you take a good, hard look at where your primary sugar consumption is coming from and then slowly remove that from your life. 

For instance, let’s say you really like to stop into Starbucks each morning and grab a tall caramel macchiato.  But you’re surprised to find that this one tiny drink has 25g of sugar!  You decide you’re slowly going to reduce your sugar but you’re not so willing to give up your morning trip to Starbucks.  You could start slow by changing the type of milk it’s made with.  Using almond instead of cow’s milk reduces the sugar content from 25g to 17g.  Once you adjust to this change, then you can move to a regular ol' tall cappuccino made with almond milk…this has 5g of sugar. 

The point is, isolate where your largest intake of sugar is coming from and make slow, progressive changes to reduce that amount. 

Some can easily do the Band-Aid method like a champ.  Others can’t hack it…and that’s okay!  There’s no right way for everyone.  Giving up sugar may be easy for some and may be difficult for others.  Just know that it’s a struggle most of us have at some point in our lives.

Now, let's talk symptoms!

Sugar withdrawal symptoms

Usually, those that decide to utilize the step-down method will have little to no withdrawals.  Those that employ the Band-Aid method will likely experience significant withdrawals.  Here are the common withdrawal symptoms:


Feeling feverish

Increased agitation/irritability

Feeling jittery

Increased cravings for the sugar

Fatigue (this is a big one and usually hits hard)

Know that withdrawal symptoms will hit anywhere from day 2 of no sugar through day 5 with no sugar.  After that, it’s smooth sailing.  If you know what you’re in for, you can hit it head on.

What is your biggest source of added sugar and what’s holding you back from breaking up with it?  Let me know in the comments below.  Oh, and feel free to share with your friends. When you give up sugar with someone else, you have an accountability partner.

Want to hear what I had to say about this blog on my weekly Facebook Live broadcast? Click to watch the replay on YouTube.

Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS

I'm Sunny! I'm a board-certified clinical nutritionist with an MS in Clinical Nutrition. I help individuals reduce fatigue, eliminate bloat, and lose weight by healing the digestive tract and balancing hormones. I provide individual and group nutrition consultations nationwide. Grab my metabolism boosting guide!

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