Addiction to Sugar

One of my concerns during the bariatric consultation is the idea of meeting the psychologist to understand why I overeat. Based on the series – 600 lbs life, they tend to depict that the patients rely on food as a coping strategy for their trauma or emotional scars they have. 

Even after much consideration, I am afraid that I do not fit into the category so where will the conversation go?

Some may say I am in denial but at the same time, I say nothing but the best about my siblings and parents. There is a stigma about being Malay in Singapore and how there is a black sheep in the family bound to get involved in drugs, gambling or at least small brush with the law but thankfully enough, I might be the slightly grayed one. I remembered being caught shoplifting when I was 12 and even then released before the police came to the store. 

I strongly feel that the issue was with me individually and not my external surroundings. I truly am in love with food. Being a fraternal twin, they mentioned that my twin sister was underdeveloped because of lack of nutrients, when I was an infant, over consumed while in her stomach. This would summarise the start of my love for food in general. I have a wide range of favourite food that is spread over a few cuisines and as of now, I am into Japanese raw sashimi. 

Throughout my 27 years of my life, I am into sweet drinks and to combat poor eating choices, I avoid carbohydrates such as rice and bread as a sacrifice. As my mother is diabetic, I had this assumption that I am bound to get it as well. As carbohydrates translate to glucose,  my reasoning was you could either opt out of sweet drinks or opt out of carbohydrates that are high in glucose. There was about a decade of me consuming coke only and not a single cup of plain water that made me gain so much weight and now I’m still trying to regain stability. I have a true addiction to bubble tea and starbucks frappuccino drinks topped with whipped cream. 

Whenever I share that I struggle with it, people tend to dismiss me about sugar addiction  saying that it was fad and not substantially real. If it was not true in reality, why am I really depressed on weeks that I am not drinking it and why a cup of Koi Bubble tea cheers me up? They say it’s the gluttonous side of me that is leading me to my death, so in this case why are they not making healthier food more delicious for our taste buds.

The happiest discovery of the day is the article that states that sugar addiction is proven true and that there are ways to overcome it. Thankfully before I received any backlash, I am currently drinking tap water daily with an occasional sweet drink once a week. Those days with cravings for flavoured drinks, I opted for Coke Zero or Pepsi Max to limit my calorie intake. 

Defining Sugar addiction

There are several key markers for addiction which include intense cravings, an intense pleasure, calm or high, failed attempts to decrease the usage and withdrawal symptoms upon eliminating substance use. Above expresses my takes and how it fit the bill for my dependence on sugar.

Sugar is addictive because it releases opioids and dopamine in the brain. Eating sugar also increases the release of serotonin, that gives us a “happy” feeling. Thus, eating sugar alters part of the brain to make us feel good, and once that feeling subsided, we are left wanting more. This is partly because sugar is absorbed into the blood as glucose but that sugar intake also causes the release of insulin, which normalizes the glucose level. Thus in turn it repeats itself into a vicious cycle in which we desire to get sugar the moment our glucose declines. This process leads to sugar bingeing — a behavior common to sugar addiction.

Whenever people stop eating a diet rich in sugar, they’ve been shown to experience typical symptoms of drug withdrawal. Sugar withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, a headache, irritability, nervousness and feeling down or depressed. Sugar withdrawal may also come with intense cravings, leading you to hop right back on the sweet train.

Sugar in food 

Now that I had acknowledged that sugar addiction isn’t a conspiracy or hoax and how it is so dangerously addictive, why are sugary foods everywhere?

One reason that we eat so many sugary items is because of the global rise in sugar-rich fast food consumption. Almost all fast food meals contain a surprisingly high amount of sugar. To add on, even if you cook for yourself most of the time, it’s still harder than you think to completely avoid sugar. 

My old self may point out that sugar is natural, and therefore cannot be that bad. However, there is no actual need or dietary requirement for sugar. You need to eat protein. You need to eat carbohydrates. You need to eat fat. Unfortunately there is no need to eat any sugar at all. In fruits, sugar is naturally-occurring and comes along with many helpful vitamins and nutrients but most of the sugar we consume is highly-refined and is LOADED into pretty much every processed and pre-packaged food. 

No matter where you shop — at a 7-Eleven or NTUC — almost all the processed foods on the shelves contain added sugar. Sugar is added to food for several different reasons, including the fact that it enhances the taste, preserving food like jelly, helps bread rise or balances the acidity of food that contains tomato or vinegar — like ketchup or BBQ sauce. This does not include the obvious such as chocolates and ice cream, and this is a reminder that sugar is sneaky and hiding in more of your staple groceries than you may think. Foods that may be labeled “healthy” such as fruit-flavored yogurt, granola, dried fruit but even then, it all contain a significant amount of added sugar. 

So what can I do about my addiction? 

 #1: Remove all sugar and processed foods from your house

Without the presence of sugar, there are no temptations that you’ll face. This is the only way to break your addiction. To drastically increase your ability to resist temptation is to remove ALL foods that contain sugar, even highly-processed canned food, so look through your pantry for any sugary drinks, cereals, snack bars, yogurts, baked goods, breads, and anything else that has sugar as ingredients.

#2: Eat breakfast that is balanced in macronutrients

Sugar cravings are often stimulated because your body hasn’t received the nutrients it really craves. The easiest way to eliminate, or at least minimize, these deficiencies is by eating a well-rounded breakfast. Eat breakfast that includes healthy sources of the 3 macronutrients: Carbohydrates, protein, and fat. 

#3: Drink a lot of water

Chronic dehydration will not only magnify your sugar cravings but it also decreases your metabolism rate which in turns causes your body to store fat. Drink the bare minimum of 8 glasses per day to help your body to help you process the food intake.

#4: Lower your stress levels

If you are under overwhelming stress, your sugar cravings are going to be tough to beat. The short temporary happiness or “high” you get from eating sugar is appealing to momentarily reduce anxiety and feelings of stress. There are plenty of ways to destress besides food which you will need to commit and try it out to beat your sugar addiction. 

#5: Longer quality sleep

If you were to recall, when will your most intense cravings usually occur? If you are like me, I tend to desire it badly at the end of the day or minutes before I actually sleep. It has been said that with poor sleep schedule or general lack of quality sleep, your sugar addiction will be magnified. The most important step you can take towards getting better quality sleep is to set a bedtime and stick to it. 

All above mentioned have been proven to assist in breaking the worst sugar addictions. With all that in mind, similarly the first few days will likely be the hardest struggle, but you will reap the benefits and feel refreshed and amazing in no time.

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