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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Is sugar an addiction for all of us?

If you’re only willing to make one change to your diet, what should it be? Our recent discussion revealed our answer: limiting sugar intake is the single most important change you can make. Knowing what to do is only part of the equation, however. Actually decreasing your sugar intake by a significant amount is far more difficult.

Sugar, in the form of glucose, is one of our fundamental energy sources. Evolutionarily, it makes sense that our body would reward sugar intake. Many of our genes were shaped during times when sugar was sparse and diseases of overconsumption were essentially non-existent. This is a sharp contrast to today, where sugar is everywhere around us and in places we wouldn’t even expect. The problem is that although our environment has changed, our drive for sugar and the reward systems for it remain a part of our DNA.

My approach is to treat sugar like a true addiction — because in many ways it is. Sugar consumption triggers dopamine and opioid release, like many other addictive substances, and can even cause bingeing and withdrawal. I’m sure you’re thinking this must be an exaggeration, but breaking a habit of heavy sugar consumption is seriously difficult.

In my personal experience, it has certainly felt like an addiction. It took me several months to initially work my way from the standard diet I was eating during college to one free from added sugar and with minimal natural sugar. Only once I had been free from sugar for months did I finally stop having cravings. The worst part for me is that when I temporarily increase my sugar intake (for example, during our Ironman training), the addictive qualities return full throttle and breaking the habit is just as difficult as it was the first time around.

While this may be discouraging, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is. Heavy sugar consumption is simply incompatible with health, even if the damage takes time to appear. My personal advice? Wean yourself down gradually, and utilize sugar substitutes as necessary. They’re not perfect, but are generally better than the real thing. Our current favorites are allulose and monk fruit.


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