Have I got a problem? Is sugar addiction a thing? Why do I crave sugar/ chocolate / biscuits? Do I need to go cold turkey?
If the post egg comedown is upon you and you start to question your relationship with chocolate, pause and think…
Often times, anxiety coupled with post eating remorse can make us start to question whether our eating has become problematic. Tell me more you say.
Many times in my clinic, I will be confronted with the statements ‘I can’t have chocolate in the house’ or ‘If I buy it, I have to eat it all in one go’. This is generally from women, usually peri or post menopausal and almost always coupled with great feelings of shame and guilt.
Now that’s not to say that I have not worked with many men who experience a similar lack of a ‘food brake’ when it comes to the sugary stuff, but more often it will be my female counterparts who experience food as being so powerful and all consuming, that whether it even gets across the threshold is up for debate.
Hopefully this article will provide some answers as to how to start to tackle this issue.
But Firstly What is ‘Sugar Addiction’?
Those who subscribe to the idea of sugar addiction, outline the potential for similar reward seeking brain pathways being triggered on eating sugar – in a similar way to ingesting illegal drugs. They describe the release of neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) in response to specific energy dense foods and highlight the impact of these pathways on our ability to even control our intake of these foods in susceptible individuals.
So What is The Deal…. Is Sugar Addiction a Real Thing?
To be fair, the evidence regarding sugar addition is both complex (brain neural addiction pathways anyone??) and mixed however what is clear is that:
– Most research studies are animal models and are difficult to replicate in terms of applying to humans;
– It is perfectly natural to enjoy sugar. In fact from infancy, we have a natural affinity for sweet foods as from an evolutionary perspective, this indicated that a food was safe (unspoiled). Plus for anyone who has had to prise a Jaffa Cake out of a toddler’s clenched fist and not lose a limb, I know you understand this ‘affinity’ all too well!
– Sweet foods act upon the reward centre in our brain and certainly in the short term they can makes us feel better however this can also be a form of ‘self sooth’ or even a distraction technique when we are feeling stressed and overwhelmed;
– Researchers are unable to agree on what specifically is the ‘addictive’ substance in food – carbohydrate / protein / fat – or a combination of any three?
– Most people do not ‘binge’ or overeat on pure white table sugar – but rather on the foods they put on a pedestal or feel overpowered by;
– Often times restricting access to certain foods, can make our perceived lack of control greater as when we do ‘allow ourselves’ to eat these foods, we end up overeating, eating in an uncontrolled way or eating in secret
– Potentially this is followed by large difficult emotions (shame / guilt / disgust etc).
I often describe this scenario as the passenger and the bus driver. Clients will describe a situation where they are almost passive to what is happening. Although they are eating the food, it can feel beyond their control, without any sense of awareness and more importantly with minimal enjoyment.
Like a passenger on their own bus, but with food in the driving seat.
So What Can I Do?
Firstly I would advise anybody who feels they have a genuine difficulty with a certain food group to see advice from a qualified nutrition professional such a s *Dietitian. Someone who can help you manage your dietary intake in a evidenced based but compassionate way.
Often times when I work with someone who wants to try to manage their weight or reduce their intake of a specific food group (chocolate for example), the first thing we do is ‘add more’ (into the diet) rather than restrict or reduce.
– Good fats (Poly and monounsaturated). VITALLY important for mood and one of the few nutrients responsible for telling our brain that we have eaten!
– Low GI carbohydrates
– Regular eating – think about stable blood glucose levels, avoiding large gaps between meals and ensure you have a good balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat)
As well as considering other lifestyle factors:
– Sleep hygiene
– Exposure to natural day light
– Moderate intensity exercise
– Diaphragmatic breathing
In regards to chocolate and snacks, it is absolutely possible to have these foods but at a time of YOUR choosing. Therefore my key message to you is:
SCHEDULE YOUR SNACKS IN.
Instead think of them as an act of self care but on your terms.
Savour the food item. Eat them sitting down. Think about how they taste, smell, feel in your mouth. Buy only what you intend to eat at that sitting. No multipacks until you are at a stage where overeating is less of a problem.