“Is there such a thing as food addiction?”. “Are carbs addictive?”. “Is sugar addiction a real thing?”
This question has been asked in a billion different ways.
And it’s received a billion different answers.
The problem is that as soon as a study shows that sugar is addictive, a disproving one comes up.
As a person who struggled with sugar for years, my opinion on the matter is very clear: sugar addiction is damn real!
And, I’m baffled to see how many people still refuse to believe it.
My own mother still thinks I exaggerated the whole thing. So much for unconditional motherly support…
So, you know what? I decided to do the impossible: answer that question once and for all.
We’re not sure whether sugar is physiologically addictive
Is sugar a drug?
There’s one thing scientists agree on: eating sugar makes the brain release dopamine, which in turn makes us feel good.
And well, that’s exactly what drugs do!
But that’s also what laughing does, and there’s no such thing as a laugh addiction.
So what’s the difference between drugs and natural pleasurable activities?
Let me tell you! Substances like nicotine, alcohol, cocaine or heroin come from natural products. But they’ve been distilled to their essence. So they’re like a concentrate of goodness.
That’s why they make us go bonkers! When we consume them, their impact on our reward system is so unnaturally powerful, that it sends our dopamine level to the moon and makes us crave for more.
Then sooner or later, the brain starts forgetting how to produce normal amounts of dopamine on its own.
That’s when the cravings begin… and that’s when we stop ingesting the product because it makes us feel good, but because it makes us feel normal again.
That’s also why when we’re off the it, we feel like shit. We experience all sorts of withdrawal symptoms because the body’s working hard at going back to its natural functioning.
So anyway, those big similarities are what sparked scientists to test the addictive effects of sugar compared to those of cocaine on rats.
And that’s what lead to the striking statement that you’ve probably heard before: “sugar is more addictive than cocaine”.
But is that so?
The reality is that, we’re not sure.
Those studies came out in the media like a sucker punch and became the argument of choice of anti-sugar advocates.
But since then, lots of researchers have come forth to say that this conclusion was way oversimplified.
First, those studies were not close enough to real life conditions (after all, rats and human beings are very different creatures).
And second, they failed to address the overall higher danger of cocaine over sugar.
We can’t overdose on sugar for instance.
Even in large amounts, it doesn’t impair our judgement or make us lose consciousness. It gives us a brain fog at most.
There are also no reported cases of people selling their house to buy their sugar fix and ending up living in the streets.
It’s more about the fat + sugar combo
Plus, the mood boost we get doesn’t only come from sugar. Fats and textures also play a BIG role in the whole experience.
Let’s be honest, just because ready-made soups contain hidden sugars doesn’t mean you’ll want to binge on them when you’re sad!
I won’t list them here because I’d hate to trigger you, but all our staple comfort foods contain sugar and fat.
And when you think about it, do you know any natural food that combines fat and carbs?
I’ll give you 10 seconds.
Couldn’t come up with one? Yep! That’s because there’s none.
Ok actually that’s not quite right, there’s one: human breast milk.
Human breast milk contains a 1:2 fat-to-carb ratio. And we’ve recently discovered that so do all our beloved comfort foods.
So this got some scientists wondering: is there a golden ratio of fat to carbs that creates supra addictive foods?
That would make sense! First, these foods would make us fall back into childhood when life was a lot less hectic. No wonder they’re comforting.
Second, human taste buds have been designed to love sweetness and to love the texture of fatty foods.
That’s because they both indicate high-calorie foods, which was pretty convenient when we were all starving in the wilderness.
So mix the two together, and you’ve got your ultimate mindfucking food.
But these findings are quite new, so there’s not enough evidence yet. Which as you’ve seen, is the recurring issue when speaking of sugar addiction.
And anyway just 50 years ago, the sugar lobby was paying scientists to demonise fats to take people’s minds off sugar. So it’s hard to listen to anything they have to say.
So, maybe the relevant answer is not a physiological one but a behavioral one.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be whether sugar is addictive or not. But whether it makes people feel and act like addicts.
And the answer is to that is: Hell. Yes.
Sugar addicts do behave like drug addicts
Fortunately for us, there’s a little something called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
That’s the official chart used by the medical community to detect substance use disorders using 11 criteria, and that’s what we’re going to use to assess the behaviour of a ‘sugar addict‘:
- Using the substance in larger amounts and/or for a longer period of time than intended
- Increased time spent obtaining, using and/or recovering from the substance
- Unsuccessful attempts to cut back on the substance
- Activities given up because of the substance
- Failure to fulfil major role obligations because of the substance
- Social and/or interpersonal problems caused from using
- Negative physical or psychological consequences
- Hazardous use: use of the substance in dangerous ways and/or situations
- Tolerance: the need for an increasing volume of the substance to experience a high
- Withdrawal: physical and psychological pain when detoxing from the substance
Sounds familiar? Yep, that’s because sugar can cause all of these behaviours.
So, whether it is physiologically addictive or not doesn’t matter.
What does, is the fact that it makes people behave like drug addicts.
The debate on whether sugar addiction is real or not has been tormenting the media for years now.
But for each study that says it is, a disproving one is published.
Yes, it has the same impact on the brain and the nervous system as drugs like cocaine do.
But so do all pleasurable activities. Yet not all are addictive.
Plus, not all sugary products are equal mood boosters. New research shows that comfort foods all contain sugar and fat at the same time. And this unnatural combo, rather than sugar alone, may be just why they’re so addictive.
To put it in a nutshell, there’s no consensus over the physiological addictiveness of sugar.
So, what if instead, we looked at its behavioral impact?
If we look at the clinical definition of substance use disorder, we see that the way ‘sugar addicts’ consume sugar meets all criteria.
So, the big take here is: who cares whether sugar is an addictive substance?
The evidence is there to show that it makes some people feel and behave like addicts. And that should be enough for the public opinion!
Psychological addictions are as destructive physical ones.
So whatever people around you may say: yes, your sugar addiction is real.
By the way, I’ve been considering creating a social network dedicated to food addiction. To centralize information and create a strong community.
Because there are lots of support groups out there and that’s great, but they’re all scattered everywhere.
If you know one that I should know about, or if you think we should start one from scratch together, let me know in the comment section or shoot me an email at [email protected].