Am I Sugar Crazy? The Truth About Sugar addiction and Whether It’s a Real Thing.


Feeling sugar crazy? Like you cannot stop eating sugar, no matter how hard you try? If you feel that you crave sugar and that it consumes your every waking thought, you’re not alone. But as you’ll learn in this article, sugar isn’t solely to blame for feeling sugar crazy. Even better to know is that there are steps you can take to break the grip you feel sugar has on your wellbeing. 

What is Sugar?

First, let’s clarify a few basics. This will ensure we’re on the same page about what sugar is before we go any further.

Sugar is often interchanged with the use of the word carbohydrate. I want to clear up any confusion. Let’s explain the difference between these words.

All carbohydrates are composed of sugar molecules. Sugar molecules are the building blocks of carbohydrates.

The three different types of simple sugars (called monosaccharides) include:

  1. Glucose
  2. Fructose
  3. Galactose

These monosaccharides bond together to form what’s known as disaccharides as follows:

  1. Sucrose (glucose + frutose)***
  2. Lactose (glucose + galactose)
  3. Maltose (glucose + glucose)

***You know sucrose well because that’s what traditional table sugar is.

When a molecule exists that contains more than two monosaccharides bonded together, it’s what is known as a polysaccharide. A form of polysaccharides you’re very familiar with are starches – or, carbohydrates.

This quick structural breakdown is important to understand. Whether you consume a sweet potato or a sweet tart, each breaks down in the body to a single element of glucose. This is the body’s preferred fuel source.

And, as I’ll circle back to later: your body’s primary and preferred fuel source is sugar (glucose). This is true for your heart, muscles, brain, and nervous system…

What’s the difference between added and natural sugars? 

Natural sugars are those sugars inherently found in foods, such as the simple sugar “fructose” commonly found in fruits. Added sugars refer to the human addition of sugar (such as sucrose) to a food, such as when sweetening natural fruit juice with sucrose.

What Does “Addiction” Mean?

As defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “addiction” can be defined as “compulsive, chronic, physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance, behavior, or activity having harmful physical, psychological, or social effects and typically causing well-defined symptoms (such as anxiety, irritability, tremors, or nausea) upon withdrawal or abstinence.

Other definitions within the medical community are similar and also mention addiction having a profound impact on brain chemistry. This is the true culprit for the addictive tendency that results.

Your Brain on Sugar

When we eat a food containing a significant amount of sugar, it triggers the release of the pleasure and reward-based neurotransmitter, dopamine. This is the same neurotransmitter that releases when drug addicts use illegal, highly addictive drugs, such as heroin. 

The release of dopamine signals that a positive event occurred. When this system fires, it reinforces the behavior that initiated it. This means we are more likely to have a strong desire to repeat the behavior. (Read: we become addicted to that behavior). 

As you repeat that behavior more and more, our brain adjusts to release less dopamine. The only way to feel the same “high” as before is to repeat the behavior in increasing amounts and frequency. 

This is known as substance misuse, or, in this case, feeling sugar crazy or craving sugar.

Is Sugar Really to Blame?

Sugar has been amassing negative media attention for decades. The consumption of sugar has increased in an eerily similar manner alongside the number of people who are overweight and obese has.

But is sugar to blame?


Not on its own.

If sugar were that addictive on its own, wouldn’t it make sense that there’d be an incredibly strong demand (and likely government regulation) on purchasing sucrose (table sugar)? 

What is to blame, perhaps, is the creation of hyper-palatable foods…

Hyperpalatable Foods are Engineered to Be Addictive

A hyper-palatable food is a food scientifically engineered to produce a strong production of dopamine. The goal is that you continue to want to eat more and more of this food. 

Food considered to be hyper-palatable usually has a combination of sugar, sodium, and dietary fat. 

Think about it. Food manufacturers and large parent companies want you to buy more and more of their processed product – remember money is their top priority, not your wellbeing.

They pay top scientists incalculable amounts of money to make their products taste as great as possible. The goal is to make you a repeat customer. Products undergo rigorous testing to find the perfect blend of sugar, sodium, and fat to elicit the repeat-customer response they’re looking for. 

In an article published on entitled, “Hyperpalatable’ Defined as Foods Driving the Obesity Epidemic,” researchers defined hyper-palatable foods as those that contain either:

  • > 25% calories from fat and ≥ 0.30% sodium by weight (such as bacon or pizza); or
  • > 20% calories from fat and > 20% calories from sugar (such as cake and ice cream); or
  • > 40% calories from carbohydrates and  ≥ 0.20% sodium by weight (such as bread, buttered popcorn, and chips)

In this particular study, they evaluated nearly 8,000 foods found in the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS). The FNDDS is representative of the US food system.

What did they find?

That 62 percent of those foods are considered hyper-palatable.


Are You Sugar Crazy and Is Sugar Addiction Real?

The word addiction is too strong to use to describe the impact sugar may have on your desire to eat highly-processed, sugar-rich foods. However, Consider how sugar itself interacts with the brain and the effects it may have on control, tolerance, and withdrawal. It’s fair to say that sugar can exhibit some misuse tendencies with ease.

This is highly amplified when paired with other hyper-palatable ingredients, namely salt, and dietary fat. Each of these has a strong impact on the brain’s reward chemistry. This creates a synergistic, potent impact when combined with sugar. 

Although you may feel sugar crazy, you’re not addicted. 

In addition to what we shared above about the synergy of sugar, sodium, and dietary fat, there’s more. It’s also important to keep in mind the effect highly-processed, sugar foods have on your energy levels. 

When we consume sugar-rich foods, they often lack adequate amounts of fiber. The foods quickly pass through our digestive system, and lead to a quick spike and drop in blood glucose levels. 

The result: a quick burst in energy that is shortly followed by a crash in energy.

Given sugar is a very-fast source of fuel, our brain naturally craves instant fuel when trying to come out of this crash. We’re conditioned to crave and desire more sugary foods when we eat them. Our brain needs help stabilizing energy (blood glucose) levels.

This is a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle that can leave you feeling stuck and hopeless…

Stop the Sugar Crazy Cycle

I’ve learned a lot by working with thousands of women over the years. They felt they were sugar crazy upon beginning to work together. By implementing some of the following small, yet, significant behavior changes I list below, this feeling completely disappeared:

  • Adequately hydrating throughout the day (aiming to drink at least 60 percent of their body weight in ounces each day)
  • Prioritizing high-fiber foods (which slow down digestion and promote steady energy and appetite management).
  • Prioritizing adequate amounts of protein each time they eat – whether a meal or snack (which promotes satiety and slows digestion).

They spent time bringing awareness to the common situations in which they often craved sugar foods. This way we were better able to deconstruct this habit by identifying the trigger (cue), routine, and desired reward loop present, and ultimately able to replace the routine of eating sugary foods with a new routine that satisfied the reward they were really after.

If you want my seven best research-backed tips for behavior change strategies, check out my recent article, “7 Behavior Change Strategies That Actually Work!

Feeling Sugar Crazy Reflects the Internal Work to be Done

The major reason we’ve been able to help thousands of women like you transform their relationship with food, rebuild a sustainable foundation of healthy eating habits, and maintain their weight loss for good is by focusing on achieving each transformation described above from the inside out.

We invite you to join us to break the toxic sugar crazy cycle once and for all and to reclaim your confidence, control, and sense of inner calm related to food choices. 

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Paul Salter

Paul Salter is a Registered Dietitian and Founder of The 5% Way. Since 2013, Paul has worked one-on-one with nearly 1,500 men and women, helping them to collectively lose tens of thousands of pounds of body fat and keep it off for good. He’s also published nearly 1,000 articles, two books, and 175 podcast episodes (and counting) on all things related to our five core elements of sustainable weight loss.

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