My name is Shannon, and I am a sugar addict. I volunteered to write this article so that I could examine my own weakness. For a long time, I have known that I needed to quit sugar, my drug of choice. I was hoping by researching the subject I could convert myself to a sugar-free life. But, just beginning the process set me off like the addict I am.
Today, I ran on the beach and cooked myself a healthy meal. Then, knowing it was time to quit sugar, I opened the refrigerator and visited my stash.
I looked at the plastic baggy of leftover chocolate chip cookie dough. My mouth watered, my hands shook, my stomach ached and I argued with myself until I gave in and had a bite of dough. Then, like a true addict, I got caught in the shame blame cycle. Still on the sugar high and craving more, I felt shame over my lack of self-control. I blamed myself for being stupid enough to keep leftover dough lying around the house. Then I did what all addicts do: I gave up and fell completely off the wagon.
Now, with the empty plastic bag at my side, chocolate taste still in my mouth, research complete, steeped in guilt I want to share what I have learned with you.
When I craved sugar, and then gave in and ate sugar, my brain behaved as if I was craving and using cocaine, a lethal and illegal drug, according to Dr. Eric Stice, Ph.D.. In an article titled, "Sugar Addiction", Psychology Today reports, "Eric Stice, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Oregon Research Institute... used fMRI scans to conclude that sugar activates the same brain regions that are activated when a person consumes drugs like cocaine. In addition, he found that heavy users of sugar develop tolerance (needing more and more to feel the same effect), which is a symptom of substance dependence."
So, in essence, I am truly an addict. When I crave sugar, it is like an addict craving her illegal drugs or alcohol. When I use or eat sugar, my brain gives me pleasure like a cocaine addict's brain. I can also build up a tolerance, which means it takes more and more sugar to give me the high I crave. Knowing this, think about your child crying for a cookie.Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and member of ABC's 60 minutes interviewed Eric Stice and Dr. Robert Lustig who thinks America needs rehab for sugar addiction, the same as a drug addict does for drug addiction. Over 4 million people have watched Dr. Lustig's video on YouTube called, "Sugar: the bitter truth." Dr. Sanjay Gupta sums it up in his 60 Minutes interview also on YouTube and attached to this article called, "Is sugar toxic 60 minutes 1 April 2012."
Our brains respond to sugar like the human brain responds to cocaine.
Overeating sugar blunts your brain's reward response to food and leads to the need for increased consumption to reach the same pleasure level. In other words, you can't just eat one M&M out of the bag and be happy if you are a sugar addict.
According to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, research showed obese people have "reduced dopamine receptor availability" (the happy or pleasure chemical) compared to thin people when consuming a chocolate shake. To state it simply, the way our brain reacts to food may increase the likelihood that we overeat.
NPR.org shared Dr. Nicole Avena's research. She showed changes in the brain and behavior in relation to eating palatable foods like sugar. Dr. Avena told NPR, "About 11 percent of the population meets the criteria for food addiction, Avena says - and most say they're hooked on carbohydrates. To make the case to the general public, Avena has just published a book, Why diets fail, which she wrote with John Talbott."
As a mother, after reading the research I feel totally validated. For years, doctors told me that sugar did not change children's behavior. Now research shows that it changes our children's behavior, their brains and bodies in many different ways. Research is also looking at sugar and the possibility that it feeds cancer cells. Are you ready to give up sugar? Dr. Nicole Avena on the Mindbodygreen website shares a plan for completely eliminating sugar from your life. They suggest the following 5 steps:
- Begin by cutting out sugary drinks.
- Follow that by eliminating junk food and sugary snacks.
- Drastically reduce carbs.
- Find and eliminate the hidden sugars in foods you eat.
- Maintain your healthy new lifestyle.
When its time for a party we plan sweets, when we potty train we give treats, when we celebrate success we eat cake. Maybe it is time to examine our traditions.