The low-down on how hard it is to beat a sugar addiction can best be explained in one sentence.
“No one can exert cognitive inhibition, willpower, over a biochemical drive that goes on every minute, of every day, of every year.”– Dr. Robert H. Lustig, Pediatric Endocrinologist
Dr. Lustig is a recognized authority on sugar and obesity from the University of California at San Francisco. And if you ask him directly if too much sugar in your diet can be addictive, you had better be prepared for a long answer. He is very passionate about teaching people why it is so important to limit the amount of sugar you eat, and why it is so difficult to do so.
If you have struggled to cut back on eating junk foods and sugar-filled food items, you may feel that you just do not have enough willpower. This is a depressing thought, and can lead to frustration and lower self-esteem. To self-medicate this anxious, depressed feeling you reach for the very thing which seems to have hijacked your brain … another sweet and sugary treat. Why?
Incredibly, this is a sign of a very natural process in your mind. Sugar delivers both glucose and fructose. Your body needs glucose to live, but fructose is unnatural, not produced by your body, and totally unneeded. It can also be dangerous. Sugar has a uniquely fattening quality because of fructose. And when you eat a large amount of sugar at one time, or consistently ingest sugar over a period of time, it triggers dopamine in a part of your brain that is called the Nucleus Accumbens (the reward center).
Without getting into a lot of scientific language, just understand that dopamine makes you feel good. It is a neurotransmitter in the brain that tells you what ever you just did was very pleasurable. This makes you want to do it again. Unfortunately, dopamine is very responsive to sugar because of its chemical composition. That is why you may receive heightened feelings of pleasure when you eat too much sugar.
So why is it so hard to just cut back? Because the more sugar you eat, the less intensely your dopamine receptors are affected. After just 3 weeks of too much sugar, to get that pleasurable feeling that your brain is begging for you have to increase the level of junk food and sugary sweets you eat in the future.
The effect is not unlike the dopamine which is released when nicotine, morphine, heroin, cocaine and other harmful and addictive drugs are used. Fortunately, slowly lowering the amount of sugar you eat returns your dopamine production back to normal levels over time. Just remember that many drinks and foods already contain sugar. So start reading food labels, cut back or eliminate all the unnecessary processed sugar you add to your drinks and food, and you can successfully beat your sugar addiction.