Processed sugar is a huge problem across the globe. It is in almost everything that we eat, and it is contributing to the increasing diabetes and obesity epidemic. In this blog post, we will discuss the consequences of eating processed sugar and what you can do to avoid it.
There are people who will vigorously defend their consumption of sugar. They claim that it’s not addictive, and they can stop eating it anytime they want, and besides life is for living, right? But is that their addiction speaking? Yes, processed sugar is addictive. And like any other addiction, it comes with a whole host of problems.
Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to control yourself around sugar, why you are always looking for that little treat or snack? Do you wonder why you crave a particular food or why you can’t seem to stop eating? You’re not alone and it’s certainly not your fault that you can’t resist the lure of sugary laden foods, and when we talk about sugary foods, we don’t just mean the obvious sweets and desserts. Food manufacturers add sugar to everything, and they do this purposely because they know that sugar is addictive. They want you to keep eating, craving and spending your hard earned money on their products. Sugar is in everything. It’s in the ketchup and tomato sauce you put on your chips, or fries, the salad dressing you drizzle or pour on your lettuce, and even in the bread you consume. And it’s not just in processed foods—sugar is hidden in so-called “healthy” foods such as yoghurt, fruit juice and muesli/granola bars, too. Did you know that tobacco companies also add sugar to their product to make cigarettes taste better and of course, more addictive?
Sugar causes a biochemical reaction in the brain that is similar to the reaction caused by drugs like cocaine. When you eat sugar, your brain releases a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as the “feel good” chemical because it makes you feel happy and satisfied. The problem is that the more dopamine you have, the more you want. And the more you want, the more sugar you eat. This can lead to a vicious cycle of craving and consuming and craving and consuming.
When the brain releases dopamine, any thoughts you may have had to limit yourself or to abstain are overridden as the frontal lobe (the reasoning part of your brain) shuts down and the primitive part of your brain takes over. This is why it’s so hard to say no to processed sugar, even when you know you should.
When you’re addicted to sugar, you’re always going to be chasing that first high. You’re never going to feel satisfied, and you’re always going to want more. This can lead to overeating, which can then lead to obesity and all of the health problems that come with it. Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure – these are just a few of the things that can be caused by processed sugar addiction.
Are You Addicted To Sugar?
You may not think that you’re addicted to sugar, but if you find yourself unable to go without it or experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back, then it’s likely you are. Withdrawal symptoms from sugar include:
These withdrawal symptoms are happening as your brain is seeking the feel-good neurotransmitter.
You may be forgiven for still rejecting the notion that sugar is harmful and not addictive and that there’s nothing wrong with sugar, after all, it’s a natural product, right?
Unfortunately sugar in processed foods is anything but natural. In fact, it’s been shown to have some pretty serious consequences on your health. Here are just a few:
- Sugar can wreak havoc on your metabolism, leading to weight gain and insulin resistance.
- Sugar is a major contributor to heart disease.
- Sugar can damage your liver. Just like alcohol, sugar can lead to fatty liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and even death.
- Sugar is a major contributor to diabetes. In fact, sugar is the leading cause of type II diabetes.
- Sugar can cause inflammation throughout your body. Inflammation has been linked to a host of chronic diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
- Sugar can impact your mental health and has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
As our society is becoming more and more sick, we are beginning to realise the detrimental effects of sugar on our bodies. While it may be hard to believe, there are far too many consequences to eating sugar and Nancy Appleton, a noted clinical nutritionist, has compiled a list of over 140 Reasons Sugar Ruins Your Health. It’s no surprise that sugar is responsible for a lot of the ills in our society today, whether we believe it or not.
What is promising to know is that when one cuts out highly processed foods and sugars, most of these conditions can resolve, the body is amazing in it’s desire to always reach homeostasis, it’s constantly striving to heal and balance itself and we can take control by introducing some simple dietary changes. Whilst on one hand it’s easy to say the changes are simple, your brain will be fighting you every step of the way, but we are not powerless to retrain our brains to desire wholesome nourishing foods.
What can I do to be healthier?
These days, it’s hard to know what’s really good for you and what’s not. There is so much information – and misinformation – out there, and it can be tough to sort through it all. It’s always important to remember where the promotion from eating these foods is coming from. Food manufacturers are masters at marketing their products as healthy, even when they’re not. They use insidious tactics to make you believe that a little bit of their product is good for you, and it’s your fault if you can’t moderate your consumption. They want you to think that you lack willpower or don’t exercise enough, and that if you just listened to the ‘experts’ then you would be thin and healthy. They put the blame solely on you. But the truth is, often these ‘experts’ have been paid by the food manufacturers to give their products a clean bill of health, (or tick or five star rating on the packaging). So it’s important to be sceptical of the ‘good news’ about certain foods, and remember where the message is coming from. Do your own research, read the labels, the ingredients and make sure you know what you’re really putting into your body.
If you think you may be addicted to processed sugar, the first step is to cut back on your consumption. As noted above, this can be difficult, your primitive brain will be strongly resisting this change, but it’s important to try. There are a number of ways to do this, and it may take some trial and error to find what works for you. Here are a few suggestions:
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible. This includes anything that comes in a box, can, or package. Stick to whole, unprocessed foods like meat, whole fruits and vegetables.
- Read labels carefully. Many processed foods contain hidden sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, or other names.
- Cutting out sugary drinks like soda, soft drinks and juice, and replace them with water or unsweetened tea or black coffee.
- Eat more protein and healthy fats. These nutrients help to stabilise blood sugar levels, keeping you feeling fuller longer and helping to reduce cravings.
- Incorporate enjoyable movement into your day. Exercise helps to reduce stress levels and increase feelings of well-being, both of which can help to reduce sugar cravings.
- Join a community of like-minded individuals. Connection is the antidote of addiction.
While it may be difficult, cutting back on processed sugar can have a profound effect on your health. Just remember, you are not alone in this fight, and there are many resources available to help you. With a little effort, you can break the sugar addiction and take control of your health.
Start with baby steps in your planning and execution, but it’s worth noting that many of us who are addicted to sugar and suffering the consequences of consuming too much processed food, will only find success in approaching this by abstaining from these foods altogether. It’s not easy, but it is possible. Addicts can’t moderate. It’s not because we lack the willpower or aren’t capable of making the decision to have just one cookie/biscuit instead of the whole packet, it’s because addiction changes the chemistry of our brain.
When we’re addicted, the rational part of our brain that would otherwise tell us to stop, suddenly becomes overruled by the primitive part of our brain that just wants more and more and more. And it’s why many of us who are addicted to sugar and suffering the consequences of consuming too much processed food, will only find success in approaching this by abstaining from these foods altogether. Because if we could moderate, we wouldn’t be addicts in the first place.
So what can you do? Firstly know that you are not without the power to change this. The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem and that processed sugar is the enemy. Next, you need to make a commitment to yourself to avoid processed sugar. This means reading labels and becoming label savvy. It also means being prepared with clean food so you’re not tempted to eat processed sugar when you’re feeling hungry. And finally, it means being patient with yourself as you break the addiction. Just like any other addiction, kicking your processed sugar habit is going to take time, effort and determination. But it is possible and it will be worth it in the end.
So what’s the bottom line? Sugar is not your friend —plain and simple. If you want to protect your health, it’s important to cut back on sugar as much as possible and eat a diet that is based on whole, unprocessed foods.
If you’re struggling with processed sugar addiction, reach out for help. There are many avenues of help (my website) available to support you on your journey to recovery. And remember, you are not alone. Millions of people across the globe are facing the same battle and many have overcome. You can do this.
Pauline Atchison (Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) www.nextstophappy.com
(2020). Processed Food Addiction, Foundations, Assessment, and Recovery (J. Ifland, M. T. Marcus, & H. G. Preuss, Eds.; pp. 57–66) [Review of Processed Food Addiction, Foundations, Assessment, and Recovery]. CRC Press.
The Last Resort Sugar Detox Guide (M. Collins) 2021
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