Refined carbs and sugar can be very addictive. A review of the research published in the "Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care" reported that lab rats, as well as humans, can find sugar even more rewarding than cocaine. Breaking an addiction to carbs and sugar requires using a variety of strategies that address both the physical and psychological facets of food craving.
Nix the Sweets
Keep addictive treats out of your home, car and workspace. Jacob Teitelbaum, an internist and author of "Beat Sugar Addiction Now," writes that if you can't resist eating something sweet, take just a couple of bites rather than eating a whole serving. Cleveland Clinic dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick advises her sugar-addicted patients to keep healthful snacks, such as a nonsweet whole-grain trail mix, on hand to help ward off sugar cravings.
Beware of Sugar Substitutes
Kirkpatrick recommends avoiding sugar substitutes, since using them does not retrain your taste buds to not crave sweets. The authors of a review published in the "Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine" noted that sugar substitutes can actually encourage overeating and food cravings, most likely because the taste buds promise the body a sweet reward -- which noncaloric sweeteners fail to deliver.
Get Enough Sleep
Being tired makes it harder to resist the lure of sweet snacks. A University of California, Berkeley, study published in "Nature Communications" in 2013 showed that sleep deprivation increased activity in the parts of the brain that respond to rewards. Study participants who got less sleep were more likely to reach for the junk food. Sleeping seven to nine hours a night helps keep your energy levels up, decreases your appetite and can help you break an addiction to carbs and sugar, Teitelbaum writes.
Eat Whole Foods
Processed foods often include added sugar, even when it's not obvious. Eating whole fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats and whole grains allows you to better track and reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Replace refined grains such as white bread or pastries with healthier, more filling carbs such as whole-grain bread or popcorn. Beware of fat-free and reduced-fat products, which often contain more sugar to replace the fat.
Watch the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index ranks foods according to how quickly they raise your blood sugar. Some foods, such as white bread, tend to quickly raise your blood sugar, which can then "crash," leading to carb cravings. Except for potatoes and watermelon, most fresh fruits and vegetables rank low on the glycemic index thanks to their fiber content. High-protein foods such as meat, fish, poultry and cheese are other low-GI choices for someone with a sugar addiction.
Exercise releases serotonin, a "feel-good" chemical, in your brain, much as sugar and carbs do. It also helps relieve stress. Stress can trigger "reward-based" eating, according to a review of the research published in 2007 in "Physiology and Behavior."
Keep Your Eye on the Prize
Kirkpatrick reminds her patients that eating sugar in excess contributes to a number of nasty diseases, ranging from obesity to cancer and heart disease. Teitelbaum, himself a recovered sugar addict and chronic fatigue sufferer, writes that breaking an addiction to sugar is an important part of his treatment of patients with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Keeping sugar's harmfulness in mind can make it easier to say "no" when confronted with temptation.
Is This an Emergency?
- Huffington Post: Addicted to Sugar? Seven Steps You Need to Take Before You Can Break Free
- Physiology and Behavior: Stress, Eating and the Reward System
- Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: Sugar Addiction
- Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine: Gain Weight by “Going Diet?” Artificial Sweeteners and the Neurobiology of Sugar Cravings
- Science Daily: Sleep Deprivation Linked to Junk Food Cravings