This has been a hot topic in the last few years.
Am I addicted to sugar?
Am I addicted to processed foods?
Am I addicted to carbs?
Let me dispel this myth right now… No. You most likely don’t have a food addiction.
What’s likely the problem? Chronic dieting and/or restrained eating.
I remember when I thought I might be addicted to sugar. I was frankly terrified of it! I had always been a self-identified “dessert person,” but was also afraid that sugar was the very thing that was going to make me fat (we’ll talk about fat phobia in another blog post). So, I generally would try to avoid dessert.
Once I started going on diets and trying different “meal-plans” I would try to avoid sugar as much as possible down to added sugar in dressings and natural sugars like, honey. My cravings for sugar went through the roof. I was convinced if I cut out sugar that I shouldn’t be craving it right? I thought the more sugar you ate, the more you craved.
When I would try moderation and eat some sugar here and there, it would inevitably turn into a binge fest. I felt like I couldn’t get enough and I was thinking about it all the time. So, naturally I thought the fact that I couldn’t eat sugar in moderation meant that I must have an addiction to it.
But here was the problem, I was still trying to control my sugar eating and constantly defined the behavior as “bad” in my head. Every time I ate sugar, I thought I was doing something forbidden.
I went to see a nutrition therapist about this behavior because I genuinely thought something was wrong with me. She told me something that I thought was cRaZy at the time, “allow yourself to eat whatever you want.” I remember being terrified at this thought and swore I was going to go crazy around food and gain a massive amount of weight in a short amount of time.
But you know what happened? I did eat a lot of sugar in the beginning, yes. But eventually, my eating normalized. I actually eat less sugar now than I did when I was trying to “moderately” eat it after trying to cut it out completely.
I love sugar, but when I’m allowing it all the time, it’s just like any other food to me. I don’t always want that sugary taste, but when I do, I eat it. That’s what true balance feels like.
Now let’s dig into a bit of the research to back this up here.
One study showed that people who claimed to be food addicts were also far more likely to restrict the food or foods they felt addicted to leading to more cravings for that food and disinhibition. This reinforces their belief that they are addicted (1).
A systematic review showed that the vast majority of studies only use the Yale Food Addiction Scale hinging all their findings on one instrument that does not definitively prove food addiction (2). Many items on that scale could be the direct result of dieting and restriction.
Another study, looking at sugar addiction specifically, found that a behavior that might be a subset of food addiction, bingeing, only occur when there’s intermittent access to sugar (3). Again pointing to chronic dieting or restrictive eating more likely being the culprit of feeling addicted to food.
Basically, there are a lot of limitations to this believe that food addiction is in fact a real thing. There are many behaviors that are not examined, the instrument widely used could point to chronic dieting instead of food addiction, and there’s simply not enough conclusive evidence.
If you feel like you have a food addiction, examine your eating behaviors. Are you chronically dieting or refraining from eating that food? Try eating that food whenever you feel like it. Don’t call it “bad,” but try to look at it in a neutral, non-judgmental way. Allow that food into your life completely, not only allowing a certain amount.
Your eating behaviors will normalize and you will find freedom.