Studies have found sugar to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Has your fondness for all things sweet past the point of no return?

Swallowing a bitter truth

Most of us know that eating large amounts of sugar is bad for us. It can make us put on weight, which in turn can lead to health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The problem is, most of us just can’t shake off our love for the sweet stuff. 

Fizzy drinks are seen to be at the heart of this addiction, so much so that it has prompted the government to take action and impose a sugar levy. A recent  study[1] suggested that a reduction in sugar sweetened drinks over the next 5 years could lead to 500,000 fewer cases of people being overweight and one million fewer cases of obesity. Of course this would have other knock-on effects too, such decreasing cases of type 2 diabetes and other weight related diseases.

Pop goes the sugar rush

This seems like such a simple change to make for the benefit of our health, so why do so many people choose to reach for a fizzy drink as their afternoon pick me up or to accompany meals? The simple answer is they are addicted to the sugar rush. And once you’re on that sugar rollercoaster, it’s very difficult to get off – regardless of whether your fix came from fizzy drinks or starchy carbs.


[1] The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal 

So what are the signs of sugar addition?

Physical Signs

Even though it might be difficult to recognise sugar addiction in yourself, there are several ‘red flag’ symptoms that may appear in combination when you’re eating too much sugar. These include:

  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Hair loss
  • Brittle nails
  • Bloating
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Acne and other skin problems
  • Premature ageing
  • Tooth decay
Breaking the cycle

So even if we don’t recognise the physical symptoms of sugar addiction, what about the affect it has on our behaviour? Here are some of the common behavioural symptoms you might display:


Eating sugary foods even when you’re not hungry
You’ve just finished a big meal and are full yet you’re aware of that packet of biscuits, chocolate bar or other sweet food that’s lurking in your cupboard. You need something sweet and you just can’t resist.


You find it almost impossible to exercise portion control
This is where “just one bite” can lead to gorging. You often consume large amounts in one sitting, despite feeling full.


You use sugary foods as a pick me up
Much like some people have a cup of coffee to perk themselves up, you rely on a sugary treat to give you an energy hit.


You get irritable or feel shaky without a regular sugar hit
You know when you’re hitting a sugar low because your mood and energy levels dip dramatically.


You have a preoccupation with food
No matter how well you eat, you never feel fully satisfied without a sweet, sugary hit.


Going cold turkey

If you recognise any of these symptoms, don’t worry. You can overcome them quite easily with a change of approach and a little willpower. Going without sugar for just one week can go a long way to cracking the habit.

Usually, after this period sugar cravings do die down, just as long as you don’t feed them. This is because blood sugar levels stabilise and you’re not getting the highs and lows in insulin caused by eating lots of high carb foods.


Replace the sugary foods with fatty foods
Low carb, high protein and good fat foods are much more satisfying. They’ll fill you up and stop cravings in their tracks. So, instead of a plate full of chocolate biscuits with a sugary fizzy drink how about a plate of olives, cheese and cooked meats for a mid-afternoon snack?


Get rid of the sweet stuff from your house.
Stop buying fizzy drinks, biscuits and other foods that are going against your new healthy lifestyle. Usually if it’s not there, you won’t dip into it.


Take baby steps
Start with sugary drinks. Go without fizzy pop or sports drinks for a week and see how you get on. Then try giving up your after dinner dessert or swap it for a low carb/low sugar alternative. Taking smaller steps will make it easier, especially if you’ve been addicted to sugar for a long time.


Find a lower carb alternative.
If you’re finding it hard to give up the sweets then try having a low sugar, reduced carb Atkins bar or shake. A Snickers bar contains 33g carbs compared to Atkins Chocolate Peanut Caramel bar, which contains 2.9g net carbs.


Don’t feel downhearted that your new healthy lifestyle will be boring – it won’t! There are so many tasty foods you can eat that are low in sugar and it’s easy to find low sugar/low carb alternative. Check out some of our favourite recipes including this irresistible chocolate cheesecake.

Posted by Linda O'Byrne
Atkins Nutritionist