Overcoming Sugar Addiction

Overcoming Sugar Addiction - A few years ago, I received an interesting email communication from a colleague who had settled into our Wise Traditions diet of all-natural food, with plenty of butter and other animal fats, whole raw dairy foods, bacon and eggs, meat and fish, bone broth, and lacto-fermented foods.

Overcoming Sugar Addiction

Overcoming Sugar Addiction

Health Viewpoints
A few years ago, I received an interesting email communication from a colleague who had settled into our Wise Traditions diet of all-natural food, with plenty of butter and other animal fats, whole raw dairy foods, bacon and eggs, meat and fish, bone broth, and lacto-fermented foods. She listed the ways in which her health had improved—steadier mood, no more aches and pains, more energy, fewer colds—but admitted she still had one guilty habit. After shopping the edges of the supermarket for meat, eggs, bacon, cheese, butter, and vegetables, she always found herself in the cookie aisle. There she contemplated all the cookie offerings before choosing two packages—her sugar fix for the week.

Then one day a remarkable thing happened—she went to the cookie aisle as was her habit and stood there surveying the merchandise. Which packages would she choose? Then she realized that she didn’t want the cookies! It was not a matter of willpower, she just didn’t want them and was able to walk away, her habit conquered.

How can we explain this sudden evaporation of her addiction?

The Nature of Sugar Addiction

We are only beginning to understand the nature of sugar addiction, but today we do know that sugar raises dopamine levels. In a 2005 article published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers discovered, as the title of the study reflects, that “Daily binging on sugar repeatedly releases dopamine in the accumbens shell [a section of the brain affected by dopamine]” They found that intermittent binging on sucrose had effects similar to “drugs of abuse,” repeatedly increasing dopamine in the brain.
In an earlier study, researchers reported that:
“Repeated, excessive intake of sugar created a state in which an opioid antagonist caused behavioral and neurochemical signs of opioid withdrawal. The indices of anxiety and DA/ACh [dopamine/acetylcholine] imbalance were qualitatively similar to withdrawal from morphine or nicotine, suggesting that the rats had become sugar-dependent.”
A clue to the remarkable release from sugar addiction that my colleague experienced comes from an interesting 2020 study titled, “Chronic high-fat diet affects food-motivated behavior and hedonic systems in the nucleus accumbens of male rats.” The researchers looked at what happened to rats when fed a “chronic high-fat diet (HFC).” The diet contained 42 percent of calories as fat, mostly lard.
“Animals with chronic HFD intake were less motivated to obtain sweet palatable foods. This reduced motivation did not appear to be associated with less pleasure upon tasting sweet food, as no alteration in reactivity to sweet taste was observed ... In summary, chronic HFD causes a significant motivational impairment for sweet palatable foods; these changes may be associated with a decreased dopaminergic and cannabinoid neurotransmission in the nucleus accumbens.”
Interesting wording—the rats showed “significant motivational impairment for sweet palatable foods.” If you were in the business of selling processed foods like cookies, anything that freed people from wanting them—like a diet high in animal fat—would be considered a “significant motivational impairment.” But for my colleague, the ultimate result of her “chronic HFD” was freedom from addiction!
There were other foods my colleague was eating that can regulate dopamine levels. The amino acid tyrosine—found in beef, chicken, and cheese—is the precursor to dopamine. Her Wise Traditions diet provided plenty of vitamin D, magnesium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which contribute to healthy dopamine levels. Glycine in bone broth is also a dopamine precursor—maybe that’s why we think of chicken broth as soup for the soul!
Other facets of my colleague’s diet that may have extinguished her need for sugar are lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut, providing healthy gut flora, which produce feel-good chemicals, and a fat called arachidonic acid (AA), which is unique to animal fats. AA is the raw material out of which our bodies make feel-good endocannabinoids.
The goal is steady levels of dopamine throughout the day, not too low so that we feel listless and depressed, and not too high to make us agitated and anxious. Unfortunately, sugar provokes a whipsaw effect—sending dopamine levels high followed by a calamitous drop—a kind of dopamine roller-coaster where the highs are short-lived and the lows require another sugar fix.

The ‘Fallacy of Willpower’

Charles Eisenstein, author of The Yoga of Eating, devotes the first chapter of his book to the “Fallacy of Willpower.”
“Many people despair at the prospect of improving their eating habits because they think they just don’t have enough willpower,” he writes. Indeed, while willpower helped my colleague pursue a more healthful and satisfying diet, it was not enough to break her cookie habit.
“Often we try to use willpower to improve ourselves: our diet, our bad habits, our selfishness, our temper. The fact is that any effort at self-willpower is destined to fail. If you resolve, ‘I will make myself do it,’ then you are fighting yourself. It means that you are divided, that on some level you do not want to do it. Sooner or later, in a moment of weakness perhaps, or in a moment of self-forgetting, your true desires will express themselves as actions.”
How much better, says Eisenstein, to exercise the will in aligning “joyful, nurturing eating with the authentic needs of body and soul.”

That’s what happened with my colleague. After a year or more of nurturing eating—allowing herself to enjoy butter and bacon, meat and cheese—her body and brain became sufficiently nourished that she no longer needed sugar. Instead of pitting the mind against the body—in following the soulless, low-fat dietary guidelines, for example—we can use the mind to direct ourselves to eating practices that nourish the body. Over time, our food addictions—to sugar, chocolate, coffee, alcohol—will dissipate because the highly nourished body no longer needs them.