Sugar is not like cocaine. To say that it is, is a dangerous, distorted, and misleading view of the actual truth.
Here’s a little biology 101: The human brain has a “pleasure center” wherein dopamine is released into what is called the nucleus accumbens. Ever hear of a dopamine high? The faster dopamine releases into this little party of nerve cells, the greater the pleasure or high one feels. Guess what? “The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal.” (See this article in Harvard Health Publishing from Harvard Medical School.)
Whether you eat a piece of chocolate, laugh at a hilarious joke, jump out of an airplane, inject a recreational drug, melt into a sultry kiss, smell freshly baked bread, or whatever your pleasure may be, your brain responds the same way by releasing dopamine and titillating the nerves that make you smile and feel giddy.
There are two intensely significant differences between sugar and cocaine:
- Sugar is a nutrient. Cocaine has no nutritional value.
- Sugar is an energy source. Cocaine is a drug.
I know many people (including myself) who’ve gone on strict sugar-free diets and cleanses because they think they have a sugar addiction. Addiction is a serious mental illness that is rooted in deep emotional disconnect from one’s feelings, healthy relationships, and healthy coping mechanisms. If you think you have an actual addiction with sugar or food as your drug of choice, you don’t need a diet; you need help from a mental health professional–specifically an eating disorder therapist–to address the feelings underlying your addiction and to create new neuro-pathways in your brain for healthy coping.
However, if you crave sugar (even if all the time), remember that sugar is the body’s number one source of fuel–energy. Your body is simply asking for the energy it needs to do whatever you are asking it to do (run around with your kids, get through that afternoon meeting, run five miles, etc.) Your body is always burning energy, not just in your physical movements, but also when you are thinking, feeling, and sleeping.
It’s also important to note that if you have gone on a sugar cleanse or sugar-free diet or even a low-carb/no-carb diet and felt like total crap, blaming your irritability, lightheaded-ness, shakes, and headaches on sugar withdrawal, these symptoms are not evidence of a sugar addiction. These are the symptoms of hypoglycemia, which is low blood sugar. Your body is trying to tell you it needs an energy source and it needs one quick. (See previous paragraph.)
Can you have too much sugar? Yes. And your body will tell you when it’s had enough or too much; it will also cleanse on it’s own what it doesn’t need. Do different bodies need different levels of sugar? Yes. Do you need to control and limit how much you take in? No. (Unless you have diabetes! Then please, please take care of yourself!) You have to listen to your body. If you’re crashing all the time or often feel sluggish, then you probably need to look the variety in your diet. Make sure you’re getting plenty of protein, fats, and fiber with your sweet stuff, and make sure you are getting plenty of quality sleep. Check in with your mental health too. Stress, anxiety, and depression are big culprits of fatigue and general not feeling well.
You guys, it’s okay to love sugar and eat it. We were created to enjoy all of our food, including sugar. Two of my sweetest pleasures is soft, freshly baked chocolate cake with gooey chocolate frosting; the other is the sweet, fizzy crispness of ice cold Coca Cola. If sugar is like cocaine, then so is hearing the sound of your baby giggling, or the cozy pleasure you feel on a cold winter evening in front of the fire, or the warmth you feel snuggling under the covers with your sweetie. All these things light up the pleasure center, an amazing little gift God put into our brains when he created us, and are meant to be enjoyed. So enjoy!