When I quit smoking several years ago, I used the smoking cessation resources available at the website whyquit.com. The website features videos for every day during your initial quit as well as a number of articles. Everything on the website is an aid to help someone quit smoking. I believe the lessons I learned from there helped me understand the “why” of my addiction to the point where I could attempt controlling it without it getting the best of me. First, I would say that just as with cigarettes, everyone is different. I was a two-pack a day smoker though I knew people who only smoked on occasion when they drank and never seemed to get “addicted” like I did. I believe it is fair to say that there is a certain subset of the population that may be more prone to addiction than others.
Does smoking cessation apply to sugar? The Law of Addiction states “Administration of a drug to an addict will cause re-establishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance”.
According to a 2005 study “under select dietary circumstances, sugar can have effects similar to a drug of abuse”. Intake of sugar can lead to other substance abuse symptoms like withdrawal, behavioral modification and cross-sensitization. Why? It is because of sugar’s effect on your brain. When you ingest sugars, dopamine is released which signals the reward pathway in your brain. We all like reward and that is the reason why cigarette’s, though they smell like ass and kill us, continue to be smoked by the smoker until they either quit or die. The reward center ends up getting hijacked by the substance and voila, you have addiction.Are cigarettes and food different? I can’t say they are exactly the same though I think they share several commonalities.
When you quit smoking, especially at the early stages, you find yourself trying to barter or come up with excuses with yourself in order to get that nicotine into your system so you can have that fix. With diets, after a few weeks, most people find themselves coming to an internal agreement that they deserve something sweet since they are doing so well. These appear to be similar negotiation tactics at work in the brain between both substances. Your brain is saying give me what I want to signal reward. The mind is very creative at justifying its needs in order to get what it wants.
When you quit smoking, after a long time you might “forget the bad” ones and only remember the “good”. Meaning you forget all of the cigarettes that got you to the point where you wanted to quit in the first place. I find this comparable to when you are on a diet for a long time and doing well, you might forget all of the meals and binges that made you want to strive for that diet in the first place and before you know it, find yourself sitting on the couch with a quart of ice cream (Nope, never done that… OK maybe a few times and almost always with Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup).
When many people decide to quit smoking, they will decide to keep it to themselves so that they do not have to share with others that they are quitting. Simply put, they are afraid of failure. If it does not work out, they can go back to smoking and nobody knows. Otherwise, people may express their disappointment which would make the smoker embarrassed or feel like a failure. Many people diet the same way. “Oh, I am trying to eat a little better”, meanwhile you are thoroughly counting every calorie, or carb, or gram of whatever in order to try to drop that clinging weight.
When many people smoke, they will make all sorts of excuses not to quit. “Momma didn’t raise no quitter”, “Freedom”, “It helps me stay calm”, “It helps me maintain my weight”. Of course, these are just excuses used in order to convince you that you need to smoke, so you can get your next fix. How about some of these: “I’ll start tomorrow”, “Just this last one”, “Don’t want to waste it”, “My momma raised me to clean my plate”. Do we see any similarities?
When I eat sugars, it makes me want to eat more and makes me want to eat more things like that. Is this merely cross-sensitization at play since I am a nicotine addict? Just as Nicotine drives Nicotine, does sugar drive sugar and could my nicotine addiction drive my sugar cravings? I believe it is possible. With smoking, the addict will think they got away with that one puff and maybe sometimes they do. A majority of the time, that puff will come back even stronger (could even be a few days) and turn into a cigarette, then two cigarettes, a pack, and so on. Even at that point, the smoker is believing wholeheartedly that they have control of the situation, but they just let their reward center take control and let nicotine seize the day.
For me it is the same with food on a diet. When I am eating clean and “treat” myself I find that the cravings will come back maybe a few days to a week later. If I give in this will continue to snow-ball out of control until I ended up back where I started, or worse. I find that I have difficultly with just one bite, one scoop of ice cream or one piece of chocolate.
I know what it feels like to be addicted and “need” something. When you “need” something as an addict you will do everything in your power to get it. You will experience mental (and sometimes physical) discomfort until you get what you need. The same is true for every sugar binge I have ever had. At that moment, I “needed” that food and wanted it so bad. In some instances, I even got dressed and drove to the store. That might sound pathetic, but it is what it is. I needed that as much as I needed nicotine when I used to smoke. I know for certain that I am not alone.
But…. did I really want the food or was it just my brain wanting the pleasure that the food would bring? After-all, who wants to get ready to leave the house when they are feeling lazy on a weekend? Just as the smoker doesn’t “really” want to go stand in the rain, snowstorm, or hurricane. They feel, because of their substance problem, that they have no choice.
Would cessation tactics for smoking work for treating those which are susceptible to this type of addiction? I believe this answer is yes though implementation would probably be met with some disbelief.
I know firsthand that smoking just one puff of another cigarette or ingesting nicotine from another source (e-cig, dip, chewing tobacco, hookah, etc.) would be enough for me to likely relapse soon enough into a vicious cycle of addiction and deterioration of health. If sugar has the same effects on dopamine receptors and can cause the same symptoms as other addictive substances, doesn’t it make sense that cessation is applicable?
Does the person say “I want a cookie” while the guy outside is saying “I want a cigarette”. The smoker doesn’t want a cigarette; he needs to feed his addiction. He tricks himself into believing he needs the cigarette, but what he really needs is the dopamine release. Is the cookie eater merely feeding their addiction and disguising it the same way? While it is true that everyone has to eat, the types of foods chosen would probably be the indication of sugar addiction. Processed foods especially are crafted to create the “bliss point” upon consumption. Bliss point is a quantity of consumption where any further increase would make the consumer less satisfied; it maximizes the “reward” of the food.
If the things I discussed above seem applicable, you my friend, could be a sugar addict. Here are a few “Cold-Turkey” cessation tips based on information available at WhyQuit.com:
- Remember the Law of Addiction “administration of a drug to an addict will cause re-establishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance”. Sugar is your addictive substance.
- Accept the fact that you are addicted to sugar. You are an addict.
- Know that the “bartering” mechanism that is telling you to eat sugar is nothing more than the effects that sugar is having on your brain.
- Sugar doesn’t actually help you cope or deal with anything.
- Acknowledge the cravings for what they really are, an attempt to get you to ingest sugar in order to release more dopamine.
- Take it one day at a time. Don’t think about “forever”, focus on the moment.
- List the reasons why you want to stop eating sugar; if you are feeling weak you have something to look back on for reference.
Please let me know your thoughts on this subject. Do you feel sugar addiction is like nicotine addiction? Why or why not? I look forward to reading your thoughts and engaging in more discussion.