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The facts about sugar addiction

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Food Junkie The emerging science of overeating is Dr Avena's blog in Psychology Today.

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WHY DIETS FAIL

Why Diets Fail
(2013)

This revolutionary eating plan reveals definitive proof that sugar is addictive, and presents the first science-based program to cut out the sugar, stop the cravings that cause most diets to eventually fail, and lose weight permanently.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. What do you mean when you talk about sugar addition? I don't take sugar in coffee or add it to my food, so I would say I can’t be addicted to sugar – can I?
Even if you are not deliberately adding sugar to your drinks or food, sugar is already an ingredient in many foods and beverages – some of which you might not expect. This book discusses which types of foods and drinks contain high amounts of sugar and includes a questionnaire to help readers see if they show signs of a sugar addiction.


2. What is a 'hidden' sugar, and how do I discover which foods contain them?
Hidden sugars are sugars contained in foods or beverages that you might not suspect. We know that many dessert items, such as ice cream and pastries, contain high amounts of sugar, but there are also a number of food and drink items that you may not expect to contain a lot of sugar, including certain yogurts, energy bars, barbecue sauces, etc. Hidden sugars can be identified by looking carefully at a food or beverage’s nutrition label, a topic we discuss further in the book.


3. How does your eating program handle eating out and holiday times, especially if there are hidden sugars everywhere?
This book discusses the types of foods that tend to be high in sugar and that may contain hidden sugars, as well as the social factors that may influence food choices, equipping readers with information to make eating out and holidays less challenging.


4. If I cut out the hidden sugars from my diet, will I be able to lose weight?
If you were to continue to eat the exact same way you have been minus hidden sugars, which also mean hidden calories, you would most likely lose weight, and this weight loss would be even greater if you cut out or reduced the other major sources of sugar in your diet.


5. Is sugar really addictive? When people say they have a chocolate craving – are they being serious, or just saying that so they can eat what they like?
According to the research from our laboratory and others’, binge eating sugar results in similar behavior and brain changes as drug addiction, suggesting that sugar can be addictive. This does not mean that everyone who eats sugar or claims to have a craving for a sugary food is addicted; people often use the term “addiction” in everyday life to refer to their love of sports, online shopping, etc., however, there are certain criteria that are used in the medical field to identify substance dependence. As discussed in the book, these criteria have recently been adapted to refer to food instead of drugs and studies have shown certain individuals to meet the criteria for food addiction.


6. What are the health benefits of this kind of eating program?
By cutting out the major sources of sugar in your diet, weight loss can occur and with weight loss can come a number of important health benefits including reduced sleep apnea frequency, pain in the lower back, and osteoarthritis. Weight loss can also help reduce some of the common risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure and low high-density (HDL) cholesterol levels.


7. I'm on a range of medications for my health, is this kind of eating program still safe for me?
If you are concerned about making changes to your diet due to medications you may be on or a pre-existing health condition, you should consult a doctor before starting any new eating program.


8. Is this eating program suitable for everyone?
Yes – everyone can benefit from reducing his or her sugar intake.


9. How do I handle the cravings I always get when I go on a new eating plan to lose weight? Am I missing the willpower gene - how can this eating program work for someone like me?
Because this book focuses on the addictive responses individuals can have to food, it includes a chapter on how to handle the cravings that might arise when trying to reduce intake of certain foods. Cravings do not suggest a lack of willpower; they simply indicate a history of eating a certain way. Cravings may be a challenge but if you are prepared for them, they do not need to be an impediment to progress or change.


10. Most diets and eating plans seem to assume you are living on your own. I have a family and I hate cooking two sets of meals each day, one for me and one for the family - does this program cater to the whole family?
We were aware of this challenge when writing this book and included a discussion of how to implement this diet regardless of your circumstances, with the belief that everyone can benefit from reducing their intake of sugars.


11. What happens when I hit my target weight - what then?
While exciting, hitting one’s target weight should not be a green light to resume one’s previous diet habits. The plan outlined in this book is not only meant to help people lose weight; it is meant to help people develop new eating habits for life that do not revolve around high-sugar, high-carb, and high-calorie foods.


12. Is binge eating like binge drinking?
While similar, binge eating is typically characterized by two things: 1) eating a larger amount of food than most people would in the same period of time and 2) feeling like one’s eating during this episode is out of control. Binge drinking, on the other hand, is often defined as consuming excessive amounts of alcohol in a certain period of time (i.e., 4, 5, or more drinks in 2 hours) and does not necessarily require a sense of loss of control.


13. What causes a sugar addiction? And can it be cured?
Many factors may lead an individual to repeatedly consume high sugar foods and/or beverages, including social and psychological factors, however, the neurobiological changes that occur in response to excessive consumption of sugary foods is what we believe causes the addictive cycle. We believe that a sugar addiction can be cured by breaking the cycle of overeating these types of food.


14. Why can’t I stop eating?
You may feel like you can’t stop eating for a number of reasons, two major ones being that the types of foods you may be eating are highly palatable (very tasty) and not very satisfying over the long term, a bad combination.


15. Fad diets come and go. How can I cure my eating addiction once and for all?
The first step is being aware that many fad diets may come and go simply because they do not recognize or prepare people for the addiction-like aspects of their relationship to food. In order to effectively address an addiction to food, we believe it is important to understand and expect the specific difficulties that may come along with breaking an addictive cycle, such as withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and to curtail intake of the types of foods that may be fueling this addiction.