Sugar in all its forms isn’t just bad for your shape, but research shows it boosts your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes—it may even increase your risk for some cancers, too. Sugar addiction is no joke—brains can rewire themselves to crave sugar, and you can end up withdrawal symptoms when you don’t get enough of the sweet stuff.
“Sugar addiction is a measurable, physiological phenomenon many people suffer from,” says Ken Berry, MD, author of Lies My Doctor Told Me. “Sugar addiction makes it very difficult for many people to make the dietary improvements needed to improve their health.” Watch for these foods that are surprisingly high in sugar.
You hide your sugar habit
Some people with a sugar addiction may recognize they’re eating too much, but instead of finding ways to cut back, they hide it. “Making excuses or making deals with yourself concerning sweets and desserts is a definite sign of sugar addiction,” Dr. Berry says. “No one hides broccoli in their closet; if you hide sweets, or sneak to eat them, you might have a sugar addiction.”
You need more and more to satisfy the craving
As with many addictive behaviors or substances, your tolerance to sweets may build over time. “A sign of sugar addiction is the need for more to satisfy the craving,” says Erin Akey FNC, KNS, a nutritionist and chef. “At first, one scoop of ice cream does the trick, but as you become more addicted you need more and more to get a fix.”
You eat sugar even when you’re not hungry
Stuffed after a big meal—but you still have room for a big slice of cake? “The number one sign you have an addiction is that you’re turning to sugar when you’re not physically hungry,” says Lisa Rachel Snyder, intuitive eating coach and founder of the Beautiful Badass Method.
You always crave sweets
“After a sugar binge, your blood sugar will fall because insulin pushes that sugar into the cells to prevent sugar damage,” explains Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, a health, diet and nutrition expert and author of Hormone Balance, The Magnesium Miracle and The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health. “That fall causes low blood sugar and more cravings.”
You crave salty foods
“Cravings for salty foods are one sign that your body is not getting the nutrition that it needs. This is surprisingly common among those who are addicted to sugary foods, as these people are often deficient in key nutrients,” says Lisa Richards, a nutritionist and creator of the Candida Diet. “If you find yourself regularly eating sugary snacks, you’re probably not eating enough of the healthy proteins and fats that your body needs. Cravings for salty and savory foods are one way that your body might be telling you to take a break from the sugar and eat something more nutritious.
“The inverse is true too,” she adds. “If you eat too much salty food, you might find yourself craving sugary foods or simple carbohydrates. The key is balance—eating foods that are rich in the micronutrients and macronutrients that your body needs to function and thrive.”
You try to quit and have unusual symptoms
Sugar addiction can be both a behavioral addiction—you get used to eating sugar after meals or at certain times of the day—and it can also be a chemical addiction. When you quit or interrupt your normal schedule, your body may show signs of distress or withdrawal. “Quitting sugar too abruptly can cause your body to have withdrawal symptoms,” says Adam Kadela, founder of Dexafit.
“Some of the most common sugar addiction symptoms may include headaches, lethargy or feeling tired, cravings, muscle pain, nausea, bloating and even insomnia. In most cases, these symptoms intensify after 24 hours. The best way to give up sugar is slowly, by cutting back a little at a time.” Here is what happens when you try to give up sugar for a month.
You use sugar to soothe
If you’re craving something sweet after a break-up, sad movie or a bad day, watch out. “A psychological symptom of a sugar addiction is when individuals continuously turn to sugar as a means to cope with life stressors, boredom or other psychological issues such as depression or anxiety,” says Lin Anderson, LMHC, M.A., Ed.M and Aaron Sternlicht, LMHC, CASAC, licensed therapists specializing in addiction at their private practice Family Addiction Specialist. “Indulging in sugar to acquire such emotional relief is unhealthy, as it does not allow the individual to feel their emotions or deal with them properly.” And one recent study suggests it doesn’t even boost your mood.
You know the potential consequences and eat sugar anyway
It’s a bad sign “if you eat sugar and junk food compulsively, even though you realize the negative consequences,” Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction For Dummies. Did you know that there’s a lot of sugar hiding in your condiments?
You go out of your way to get sugar
If you’re making special late night trips to the gas station to pick up a pint of ice cream, you should take a hard look at your priorities, according to the Addiction Center. This is a clear sign your need for sugar is spinning out of control.
You have feelings of guilt about eating sugar
Feelings of guilt about eating any food may be a sign of an eating disorder. If you feel shame about your sugar habit, you may want to discuss this with your doctor or a therapist. Watch for these silent signs that you could have an eating disorder.
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