Anatomy of an Addiction – How to Break the Sugar Cycle

eating a donut

Think you may be addicted to sugar? Most people wouldn’t put it that strongly. They say they “love” sugary treats. Or that they “just can’t stop” or “can’t help themselves”. No matter how you want to phrase it, the fact remains (and is backed by science) that it’s hard to kick the sweet stuff. You’re going to need solid facts and help to break the sugar cycle in your life.

Cookie vs. Cocainepile of oreos

What’s a harmless little cream-filled cookie got to do with cocaine? Hopefully nothing right? I mean, we put them in our kids’ lunchboxes every week. How bad could they be?? Turns out, the 2 could be more similar than you’d ever imagine.

Rats studied at Connecticut College were given morphine, cocaine and Oreos. Scientists measured the amount of neurons activated in the rats’ brains after receiving each substance. Guess which one the rat’s brains like the most? Yep, the Oreos. This study indicated that the potential for addictive behavior may be even stronger with treats than with hard drugs.

candy colored drugsWell, OK, but cookies aren’t going to kill me like drugs would. Right? You can’t overdose on Oreos. Perhaps not. At least, not as quickly. Sugar’s insidious internal damage can go unnoticed for years. Until one day, years down the road, you’re diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, or liver failure. These things can be sugar-induced and they CAN kill you. More slowly than an overdose would.

Considering how much easier and more affordable it is for the public to obtain cookies than cocaine, the potential for problems is more widespread.

Why Do We Love Sugar So Much?

Simply put, when we eat sugar it releases “feel-good” hormones like dopamine and our own naturally produced opioids. Every time this happens, you’re training your brain to expect these good feelings when you go for a treat. You start to look forward to, and crave, the hormonal rush of happiness it brings.lick the frosting

Over time, you become less sensitive to the hormonal effects. But the neural pathways have already been set. The habit has been created and you will continue consuming sugars. Now, in order to get the same benefits, you’ll have to consume even larger amounts since you’ve developed a tolerance to its effects. You will keep on being lured back even when the intelligent part of your mind tells you it’s a bad idea.

Plus it tastes good. There is that…

What If I Want Off This Path?

You’ve been living for years under the influence of sugar and you’re ready to free yourself from its control. Excellent! A wise decision for sure. Unfortunately, it won’t be as easy as simply making a choice. You’re probably going to have to fight for your freedom.

Symptoms of withdrawal are likely, just as when coming off of drugs. You may experience headaches, sweating, sleeplessness, lack of energy, dizziness, mood swings, upset stomach, and intense cravings pushing you to give up.

Suddenly you’ll notice that sugar is everywhere! It’s seemingly inescapable! You’ll soon realize, you’re going to need more than sheer willpower to make it through the day. You’re going to need a plan and support.

What’s Your Exit Strategy Going To Be?exit sign

Only a rock solid plan for breaking the sugar cycle is going to be effective in breaking your addiction. So where do you start?

The good news is, you’ve already started! Just by reading this information you’re beginning to prepare yourself to overcome your sugar addiction. Knowledge is power!

  1. Step one is what you’re already doing, gathering information that will help you make wise decisions. Learn about the harmful effects of sugar so you’ll be more determined to give it up. Find out where sugar is hiding so you won’t be tricked into eating it unknowingly.
  2. Now you know your enemy. Do you also know yourself? Take some time to think about your own situation. Consider where your weakest points are. Snacking in the car? Mindlessly munching at your desk or in front of the computer? Maybe you enjoy dipping into the sweets along with your kids. Or some people might stay up too late and be unable to resist the midnight munchies. It could even be indulging in several fancy sugary coffee drinks throughout the day. Also don’t forget about other carbs like chips and breads. They may not taste sweet but as soon as it hits your digestive tract, they become sugar too. Figure out where your personal trouble spots are. What are your triggers? Boredom? Being in a specific place or at a certain time of day? A morning routine that might need to change? Figure out ahead of time what situations might need to change to give you the best chance at victory. I suggest using this time of discovery to start a journal or notebook. Writing down your thoughts will help clarify and ingrain them in your mind.
  3. The next step in knowing yourself will involve figuring out your reason for taking this journey. Find your “why“. It will be different for everyone. For me, I want to be able to have the healthiest pregnancy I can have. You might want to be able to fit into clothes you haven’t worn in years. Or have a better shot at avoiding a disease that runs in your family. Do you have infections or skin conditions you want to clear up? Maybe you want to set a good example for your kids and help them grow up healthier too. Perhaps you are sick of the feelings of guilt and shame that come with sugar bingeing and you want to be in control of yourself and your emotions. Whatever it is, be clear about why you want to do this.
  4. Decide on a strategy for replacing old habits with new ones. By now, you should know what weaknesses and triggers cause you to fall into the habit of reaching for sugar. To kick the old habits you’re stuck in, you’ll need to pick something else to replace them with. For instance, a smoker may choose to replace his cigarette habit with chewing gum. The idea is, you can’t create a vacuum. You can’t just remove something from your life and not expect something else to take its place. Decide ahead of time what the replacements will be.

good food

The best strategy will be one you can live with for years to come. An approach that covers your entire lifestyle to work towards better health will be the most effective. There’s no point in doing all the work for a few weeks then slipping back into they way things were before. For that reason, I recommend researching the Whole 9 or Paleo/Primal ways of eating and living. They both encourage wholesome foods, movement, and stress reduction techniques. This holistic approach to life is easiest to maintain long-term.

Build A Support Team

The Final Step I recommend is finding a support group. This can be your family, friends, a group that shares your same goals, or hopefully, a combination of all three. If you enjoy using social media, a Facebook group may work for you. Or you could even start a local group in your hometown for recovering sugar addicts. Just find other people who can help keep you accountable. It helps to know there are other people on your side, people to share your frustrations and successes with, someone to pick you up on your bad days and cheer on your good days.

Make sure you tell your friends and family members about your goals. They will be more supportive if they understand why you want to quit sugar.

victoryWhat If It Doesn’t Work?

Remember, if you do your best to walk a path towards sugar freedom, there will be bumps. You may fail. That’s just a fact for addicts; recovery can be a long process that includes relapses. I myself have failed numerous times. As long as you get back on track, you won’t be a failure. Continue to work through the steps, adjusting as needed, and one day you’ll wake up and realize you’ve made it!

Have any questions or concerns about how to start the process to break free from sugar? Please leave your comments below and I’ll be sure to follow up asap!



8 thoughts on “Anatomy of an Addiction – How to Break the Sugar Cycle

  1. I didn’t know I am addicted to snacks, drinks and cookies that contains so much sugar until my friend told me about it. I didn’t know why I like that but now I can understand it from reading your post. I have definately reduced the amount that used have before but many times it is not easy to control your tongue . Right? I would definately take your advice on building a teeam. Thanks

    1. You’re lucky to have a friend honest enough to tell you. It is hard to quit so I hope you find more like-minded friends as a support team.

  2. Oh Anna!  I love your website and graphics.  I sense that you too have struggled with sugar addiction – an addiction I know is very real.  Our bodies are so uniquely designed, that they adapt to what we feed them.  Even in our very gut, there are microorgainisms that send out messages to compel us to consume sugar – their energy source!

    I followed you discussion with great interest and amusement, knowing that in the end to “quit” sugar is a very personal decision.  And you are right – you have to have team members that will encourage you at the right moments and provide a way out in those moments of weakness.  For me breaking free only occurred after I simply made up my mind to do it.  But like you, due to illness, stress, or just the weather, I relapsed only to get up and get back up on the horse again.  Because once you’ve succeeded, you KNOW that you can again!

    I’m wondering if during your sugar-free states, you experienced intense sweetness inherent in natural foods?  Thanks for an engaging and well-written piece.

    1. Thanks Sharon! I have noticed that I enjoy natural foods more when I don’t have processed foods. Since quitting sugars I enjoy fruits more than I did before and they have more complex flavors. I don’t have to each much fruit to be satisfied either.

  3. Great article, Anna. I needed this right now. I’ve been fighting the sugar fight for the last few months quite hard, but I keep slipping up. It’s good to be reminded about the science behind it, and realise that sugar is basically a drug, and no wonder it’s stop hard to stop! 🙂 I think the key, for me, is to stop beating myself up when I slip up. And to remember to eat healthy again the next meal – and not binge the rest of the day because “I messed up”. The little slip ups won’t hurt over time, if we keep making slow progress…

    Well, this is what im learning after almost 40 years of trying to “be better” and going All IN and Failing. It’s the small steps, the daily small steps, and not changing everything at once. And, as you said, focusing on and knowing the WHY. This is key.



    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us, Erica! I too struggled with feeling like giving up when I’d slip. I probably still will! But realizing the failures were what helped me learn and grow was a turning point. Never give up!

  4. In your very first picture I started laughing. That’s half the employees at my job at 6 in the morning. Actually, that’s myself included. Half way through your post I realized that my morning work routine is my weak spot. It’s because I have to get up so early and have little time to prepare anything and absolutely NOTHING is open near my house at that time of the morning either.  I actually have the book the  A Whole30 that you discuss here on your website sitting on my bookshelf.  Looks like it’s about time to dust that thing off and get to meal planning for my work days. I can bake a breakfast fritatta the night before and take a slice to warm up at work for breakfast.I do notice a big difference in how I feel based on what I’m eating and I’ve slowly edged sugar back in after months of going without it. Thanks for reminding me of WHY I cut it from my diet in the first place!:)

    1. It takes a wise person to see where their weaknesses lie so I’m glad to see you’ve spotted yours. I do hope you’ll think about prepping a healthy breakfast ahead of time for a week and see how it goes. Your work performance is sure to improve when you’re properly nourished!

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