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Why Breaking Up With Sugar Is Hard!

In last week’s post, I covered the ten key signs of sugar addiction. In this week’s post, I’ll explain why sugar addiction is much like falling in love with sugar, and why it is so hard to break up from that relationship.

Why We Love Sugar

Sugary treats are synonymous with emotions. For example, we can associate chocolate with gift-giving and cakes for celebrations. On the other hand, sugar is often used as a comfort after a bad day. In almost all instances, sugar can be there, from getting a sugar fix for an energy boost to using it for relaxation. In many cases, there is hidden sugar in the foods we eat that increase our daily sugar consumption too.

Consequently, we can be surrounded by sugar and find ourselves addicted. With sugar being present in so many foods, this makes it even harder to give up sugar. But, anyone that has tried to limit their sugar intake, will know how hard it is to break up with sugar. So, what is it that makes it so difficult to cut ties with sugar?

Sugar And The Brain

Sugar can be shown to be addictive as it stimulates many of the same receptors in the brain as other addictive substances. When we consume sugar, it releases dopamine in the brain. More specifically, dopamine releases into the nucleus accumbens. This is the part of the brain that is associated with reward, motivation and novelty.

This response occurs with sugar, but also with other addictive substances such as heroin and cocaine.

Why Sugar Is Addictive

It can be hard to break up with sugar because of its addictive properties. In terms of the effect of sugar on the brain, there are several ways that sugar can have an impact. All of which can make it seem impossible to give up.

Adverse Sugar Withdrawal Symptoms

Kicking the sugar habit straight away can cause intense withdrawal symptoms. Short-term sugar withdrawal symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and lethargy. However, long-term sugar withdrawal symptoms can include feelings of anxiety and low mood.

Dopamine Tolerance Increases

Dopamine accesses the feel-good pleasure centre of the brain. Sugar releases dopamine; however, the more sugar we consume, we can develop a tolerance, creating a decrease in the brain’s D2 receptors. As a result, it makes it harder to seek pleasure from other experiences. With this, it can feel like sugar is the only way you can get the same hit.

When tolerance increases, you may find you need to eat more sugar to get the same ‘sugar hit’. You may also find that it is harder to get the same hit from other substances. If another experience once gave you the same feeling as sugar, you may find the experience is dimmed after becoming reliant on sugar.

Opioid Pleasure Hit

Another way sugar becomes addictive is because it releases endogenous opioids in the brain. These are natural opioids that create a rush of pleasure. Consequently, this can cause the same reaction in the body as injecting heroin. Research has also found that there can be a cross-tolerance for this opioid reaction. Studies have shown that when heroin addicts quit heroin, they can show increased cravings for sugar as it follows the same brain chemistry pattern.

How To Break Up With Sugar

  1. Up Your Protein Intake

Protein can help you feel full and reduces the hunger hormone, ghrelin. By focusing on making sure you reach your daily recommended calorie intake, full of nutritious ingredients with plenty of protein, you can help to reduce the chance of reaching for a sugary snack.

It can also help to have protein-rich snacks on hand to stop you from reaching for sugar. Mixed nuts, crudites and peanut butter, Greek yoghurt with seeds or hummus and oatcakes can give you a boost without the sugar.

  1. Start Slowly

Taking small steps can help mitigate the withdrawal symptoms, meaning you may be more likely to continue reducing your sugar intake. For example, swap sweets for fruit, sugary drinks for smoothies and puddings for yoghurt and berries.

If you can make healthy sugar swaps or try to cut one sugary snack out of your diet every day (e.g. one can of soda) until you’re ready to cut the next thing out, you can begin to reprogram your brain to find pleasure in healthier, less addictive treats.

  1. Seek Help

As shown above, sugar can have a significant impact on our brain chemistry. As a result, one of the best ways to reprogram the brain is with hypnotherapy. I have helped many people to combat their sugar addictions, whether they’re addicted to chocolate, Diet Coke and everything in between. I create a bespoke program for every client where we work together to reprogram the brain and lessen those cravings.


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