Feel like you literally can’t live without chocolate? Always need something sweet after a meal? Can’t stop eating sugar once you start? You are not alone. Here are 9 common signs you’re addicted to sugar.
Can you really be addicted to sugar?
Let me begin by saying that you cannot be addicted to sugar in the physical sense that you can be addicted to alcohol and other drugs. However, high-sugar foods are hyper-palatable and, for this reason, they are easy to consume in excess. Sugar is rarely consumed in its purest form (i.e. eating straight spoonfuls of sugar), rather, it’s typically consumed in the form of highly-processed foods in conjunction with fat, such as cakes, cookies, and ice cream, which are designed to be hyper-palatable and, therefore, easy to over-consume.
In reality, the objective is not to quit sugar completely, it’s to limit your consumption. While most people are aware of this, many do not realize all the different forms of sugar they are consuming, where it is coming from, and how it is affecting them every single day. In fact, the average Canadian consumes 110 grams of sugar per day, or 26 teaspoons, 51 grams of which are added sugars, which is the equivalent of a pint of ice cream, while governing health organizations suggest limiting your consumption of added sugar to no more than 10%, ideally 5%, of your total daily calorie intake. (1)(2)
Signs You’re “Addicted” to Sugar
Here are 9 signs you really like sugar and what you can do instead.
1. You need something sweet after every meal.
If a meal just doesn’t feel complete without a sweet treat at the end, this is one of the best signs you’re addicted to sugar. Sugary treats are supposed to be just that; treats, and meant to be consumed from time to time, not every time that you eat. Although it may seem “normal” to end a meal with a sweet treat or dessert, it is not “normal”, it is simply common because a lot of people do it. Although there are some physiological reasons why you may crave sugar after a meal, for many people it is a psychological or a learned habit that they have created over time. So, if you are already thinking about dessert before you finish your dinner, it is time to re-evaluate your love for sugar.
2. You love carbs, all of the carbs.
Sugar comes in many forms, and this is something that people forget. Sugar, or glucose, is our body’s primary source of fuel and is derived from all forms of carbohydrate-based foods. Carbohydrates, specifically refined carbohydrates, are processed into sugar very quickly and easily by the body and can quickly feed your sugar addiction. Items like crackers, granola bars, and bread may seem like a “healthy” choice compared to refined sugar, but if you are someone who already has a problem with sugar they will only perpetuate the cravings. In the end, these forms of refined and processed carbohydrates only disrupt our blood sugar, making our body depend on sugar for fuel, and therefore only feed into further sugar addiction. Instead, swapping things like pasta, bread, crackers and granola bars for items such as rice, potatoes, veggies, and fruit will help to increase your fiber and nutrient intake and slowly balance your blood sugar over time.
3. Your taste buds are dulled to sweet foods.
Our bodies are smart and our taste buds will eventually adapt to whatever we give to them; the more sugar you eat, the more our taste buds become desensitized to the taste of sugar. As you continue to eat sugar, your sugar tolerance will increase, so over time you need more and more sugar to satisfy your taste buds, and naturally sweet foods begin to tasteless and less sweet. So, if you no longer find fruit sweet-tasting, need an extra spoonful of sugar in your coffee, or can’t stand the thought of drinking plain water, it is one of the leading signs that you’re addicted to sugar.
4. You get bloated after meals.
There are many reasons why you may get bloated after eating, but one of the primary reasons is the fermentation of sugar in your digestive tract. Our digestive tract is a delicate ecosystem of bacteria and excess consumption of sugar, in all forms, can disrupt its natural balance. Excess consumption of refined sugars and natural sugars, such as fructose from fruit, is difficult for many people to digest, especially when consumed in excess and can feed the bad bacteria in our guts causing bloating.
5. You experience dramatic dips and spikes in energy during the day.
Sugar consumption directly impacts our blood sugar and our blood sugar directly impacts our energy levels. So, if you feel great at certain points in the day, but have extreme bouts of fatigue at others, it is another one of the signs you’re addicted to sugar. When you eat a large amount of sugar, or a meal rich in carbohydrates, your body reacts by producing insulin to metabolize the sugar in your blood. This high influx of sugar (or energy) gives you a quick boost of energy, followed by a dramatic dip or crash once the sugar has been removed from the bloodstream. This constant disruption in blood sugar will not only leave you feeling tired during the day but cause you to crave more sugar and refined carbohydrates to bring your energy levels back up.
6. You need to eat every 2 or 3 hours.
Ok, I know that you’ve been told that eating every 2-3 hours is ideal as it helps to “boost” metabolism, but not only is that false, but the need to eat every 2-3 hours is a sign that your blood sugar is disrupted. It is important to keep in mind that sugar comes in many forms, not just sweets, and the need to eat every 2-3 hours for energy or to avoid getting hangry is a good sign you are dependent on it. If you find yourself munching on breakfast at 8:00 am, a snack at 10:00 am, lunch at noon, another snack at 2:00 pm, dinner at 6:00 pm, and a late-night snack before bed just to get through the day, it is a very good sign that your insulin is resistant to sugar and you are unable to metabolize fat for energy. So, if you find yourself mindlessly snacking or constantly thinking about the next time that you will be eating, it is actually one of the leading signs you’re dependent on sugar.
7. Once you start eating sugar you can’t stop.
Although this one seems obvious, the inability to stop eating sugar once you start is one of the most common signs you’re addicted to it. The consumption of sugar, especially in excess over time, can really influence the body’s hormones, specifically insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. Insulin is responsible for managing the body’s energy level and need for more sugar, while ghrelin is the hormone responsible for telling the body when it is hungry or not. However, overconsumption of sugar can cause ghrelin to become less sensitive and therefore can lead up to over-consumption of sweets even when we are not hungry. So, the more you consume sugar the less sensitive your insulin and ghrelin become, and the more sugar you need to get that same sugar “high”.
8. You feel irritable when you miss a meal.
Get cranky when you miss a meal? Feel irritable when you don’t have a snack? Get hangry during the day? Believe it or not, the body should be able to go multiple hours without eating without any negative symptoms, but for many people, this may seem almost impossible. Although symptoms can vary slightly from person to person, the irritable feeling you experience when you miss a meal is the body’s dependency on sugar for energy, inability to metabolize fat for fuel, and our brain’s inability to produce our feel-good neurotransmitter because of it.
9. You’ve tried to stop eating sugar, but you can’t.
If you’ve tried to cut it out, but just can’t, it is certainly one of the best signs you might be addicted to sugar. If you tried to cut back but started to go through withdrawal symptoms, it’s only natural to go back to your old ways. Although cutting out sugar cold turkey may work for some, it may be difficult for others, and therefore make it more difficult to quit. However, with the right approach and some well-planned steps, it can be done.
The Bottom Line
It is important to remember that not all sugar comes in the form of sugary treats and desserts, but can also come in the form of crackers, granola bars, sweetened beverages, and any other form of refined carbohydrates. Quitting sugar doesn’t mean that you will never eat sugar again, it simply means that when you do consume it, you will be able to do it under control.