Rethinking Sugary “Treats” vs. Sugar “Addiction”

Posted: Dec 09 in Weight loss, Weight Management Strategies by

As the Holidays approach, I’m reminded of a discussion I’ve had many times with my kids. When they ask me for candy, I always ask them, “Why do you want candy?” The reply is always the same: “Because it tastes good.” Of course, I’ve taught my kids about the adverse effects of sugar, so I ask, “Is sugar healthy?” And, even my 7 year old knows the answer to that one, “No – it makes you gain weight and causes cavities. Now can I have my candy?”

Sugar as a reward

It seems like we use sugar to reward both those we care for and ourselves. Time for bed? How about a cookie. Good job on a test – how about some ice cream? Tough day at work – time for chocolate! We eat these foods – and give them to our kids – knowing full well that they are unhealthy and contribute to a multitude of health problems ranging from weight gain to type 2 diabetes. But we continue to buy them and eat them every day, and oftentimes multiple times a day.

Why? “Because it tastes good?” I don’t think so.

Sugar to relax

As my time has gone on working in the field of obesity medicine, I now believe it is much more powerful than that. Sugar has a biochemical effect on our brains that is highly addictive. It helps us feel calm – after a stressful day, after we fall and scrape our knee – “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” We use it to relax at night. It’s almost like alcohol, just without the buzz.

Sugar as a punishment?

Many years back, one of our food vendors sent us a protein cookie – let’s call it a prookie (not the same as the ones we have in our store these days). It looked really good. I brought some home for my test subjects – my kids. They were so excited to get the giant prookie! But they each took a bite, then started crying, “Dad – why are you punishing us? These are disgusting! Do we have to eat the whole thing?” Interestingly, that’s how I view many desserts – especially the mass produced highly processed ones like candy. Why would I spend all day trying to be healthy, then punish myself with sugary snacks designed to be highly addictive? To me, the incredibly sweet snacks are “Disgusting.” I would view them as a punishment. What we should be doing is, “Kids – stop fighting this instant! If you don’t, I’m going to make you eat sugar candy so you get cavities and diabetes!”

Sugar as an addiction

Is sugar really addictive? With alcohol, we use something called a “CAGE” questionnaire to screen for alcohol misuse. The same questions can be adapted for sugar. Ask yourself the following four questions regarding your consumption of sugar:

  1. Do you ever feel you should Cut back on your sugar consumption?
  2. Are others ever Annoyed with you for eating too much sugar?
  3. Do you ever feel Guilty about the sugar you eat?
  4. Do you ever feel you need an Eye-opener? (sugar in the morning) – I’d adapt this question – do you ever feel you need sugar before Eye-closing (before bed)?

Solving sugar addiction

If you answered “Yes” to some or all of the above questions, you are exhibiting signs of sugar addiction. How do we deal with this? All you need is two simple rules:

  1. Get it out of the house! An easy solution is the trash can.
  2. If people bring sugar to your house, see rule #1.

Example: Still have Halloween Candy? See rule #1.
Have a Christmas party and people brought sugar? The next day, see rule #2 which refers to rule #1.

Next, think of other rewards you could choose that do not involve sugar (or food for that matter). Listen to music. Watch a favorite show. Take a hot bath. Call a friend. Read a chapter in your favorite book. Work on a hobby. These things will prove far more relaxing and satisfying than the quick hit of the unhealthy, addictive sugar.

A New Year is here. What do you have to lose?

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