Sugar is 8 times as Addictive as Cocaine—How to Break the Cycle. 

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The Big Food Lie that Made Us Fat and Sick:

For decades, we aimed at the wrong target. Well-intentioned critics argued that fat makes you fat (duh!), so eating low-fat and fat-free foods logically seemed the pathway to become lean and healthy.

File this under the “catastrophically wrong, total miss” category.

You see, as low-fat fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and fat-free cookie sales escalated, so did our waistlines.

Even in the midst of this fat-free frenzy, manufacturers faced one problem: When you remove the fat, you also remove flavor. Fat-free cookies taste like cardboard.

To remedy the flavorless problem, they added more sugar into these foods, especially as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Too enamored with having our (fat-free) cake and eating it, we were blind-sighted as increased amounts of sugar slipped through the back door. We became duped and misled as we got fatter, sicker and unhealthier.

Today, an average American eats about 152 pounds of sugar a year, or about 22 teaspoons a day. Couple that with 146 pounds of flour (that converts to sugar), and the average person eats a whopping pound of sugar every day. Little wonder that nearly 70 percent of Americans and 40 percent of kids are overweight.

We’ve also become sugar addicts. If you ever ate tasteless fat-free junk foods, you probably didn’t enjoy them, yet you kept reaching for another one…and another one… I had more than a few patients confess they ate the whole box even though they tasted terrible.

There’s a reason why: Sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine. We’ve seen studies where researchers let rats choose between drugs and Oreos. Guess what they go after?

Over the past decade we’ve experienced a paradigm shift as sugar becomes public enemy number one. Tragic though overconsumption’s health consequences are, you can break this addictive, havoc-wreaking cycle in just 10 days. When my patients employ these seven strategies, they break that vicious cycle without boredom, deprivation, eating bland foods, or otherwise suffering.

  1. Eat real food. For 10 days, you want to ditch all sugar, including flour products and artificial sweeteners, as well as trans or hydrogenated fats, MSG (watch for hidden names), and ideally, grains. Avoid any foods that come in a box, package, can or that have a label. The easiest way to do that is stick with real, whole, fresh food.
  2. Eat enough protein. Protein, especially at breakfast, provides the key to balancing blood sugar and insulin and cutting cravings. Start the day with whole farm eggs or a protein shake. Eat nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, chicken, or grass-fed meat for protein at every meal. A serving size is four to six ounces, or the size of your palm.
  3. Choose your carbs wisely. You can eat as many non-starchy leafy and cruciferous veggies as you want. I’ve never met anyone who ate too many brussels sprouts or spinach!
  4. Edge out sugar with fat. Fat makes you full, balances your blood sugar and fuels your cells. Along with protein, have good fats at every meal and snack including nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut butter and avocados. Incorporate plenty of anti-inflammatory fats including chia seeds, freshly ground flax seeds, walnuts and wild-caught fish.
  5. Don’t let yourself get into a food emergency. I keep an Emergency Life Pack with me all the time, filled with protein, healthy fats and good snacks so I never have to make a bad choice. Mine includes nut butters and coconut butter, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, salmon jerky or turkey jerky, a can of wild salmon or sardines and unsweetened wild blueberries.
  6. Breathe deeply. I’m sure someone has told you to breathe when you’ve lost your cool. That’s sound advice whether you’re stressed out or about to eat a meal. Simply “Take Five“: Five slow deep breaths, in to the count of five, out to the count of five. Five times. That’s it.
  7. Sleep deeply. Sufficient sleep balances hormones to reduce hunger, cravings and overeating. Aim for eight hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night.

A wide arsenal of nutrients and lifestyle factors can help you balance blood sugar levels. What one strategy would you add to this list? Share your thoughts below or on my Facebook fan page.


Relephant Reads: 

9 Ways to Curb Sugar Cravings

Are You Addicted to Sugar? 



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About Mark Hyman

Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience. Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and has been a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, the Today Show, CNN, The View, the Katie Couric show and The Dr. Oz Show. Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health MattersAchieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues. Dr. Hyman also works with fellow leaders in his field to help people and communities thrive—with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen,he created The Daniel Plan, a faith-based initiative that helped The Saddleback Church congregation collectively lose 250,000 pounds.  He is an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show and is on the board of Dr. Oz’s HealthCorps, which tackles the obesity epidemic by educating American students about nutrition. With Drs. Dean Ornish and Michael Roizen, Dr. Hyman crafted and helped introduce the Take Back Your Health Act of 2009 to the United States Senate to provide for reimbursement of lifestyle treatment of chronic disease. Dr. Hyman plays a substantial role in a major documentary, produced by Laurie David and Katie Couric, called Fed Up (Atlas Films, September 2014)which addresses childhood obesity. Please join him in helping us all take back our health at his website, follow him on Twitter and on Facebook and Instagram.


7 Responses to “Sugar is 8 times as Addictive as Cocaine—How to Break the Cycle. ”

  1. tom says:

    Great article. However, I struggle to incorporate this into our family of 5 eating plan on a low budget. Any suggestion?

  2. tina says:

    What do you recommend as far as daily fruit intake/types of fruit?

  3. Kalu Mir says:

    Dr Hyman, on this plan, can you eat fresh fruit and can you use a bit of maple syrup or honey to sweeten your coffee or tea?

  4. heather says:

    I read his book and he said no maple syrup or honey because it turns to sugar so quickly in your blood.

  5. kristinalicia72 says:

    These are basically the things that I have done to begin to address my addiction to sugar. I am just beginning month 3 and am slowly taking control back. But I disagree with EJ's commentary on their Facebook post, that these strategies will TAME your sweet tooth. They merely address breaking the cycle. Taming the sweet tooth is a psychological thing and all the sleep and protein in the world ain't gonna fix that. You have to see your habits and how they correlate to the psychology of addiction. And you have to keep sweets out of your house. And not go to the grocery store or convenience store or gas station on a whim – you have to constantly fight the urge to give in to the desire. It is effing exhausting and effing hard!!!

    For me, after the first 2 weeks without any sugar including fruit, I began to eat fruit again and OH MY GOSH it tasted SO GOOD! My tastebuds did a happy dance and it wasn't just the sugar but the actual flavor. Yet… I identified that there was this almost manic response to the fruit, which told me there was still an addiction going on.

    I've lost 18 lbs since May 4 (it's now July 5) and just as importantly, countless inches from my entire body. I was so bloated from my body trying to defend itself, I've lost weight before but have never had such a significant impact to my overall body structure. I went from an XXL in most things to a L in 2 full months without sugar. It's been crazy and AMAZING! And I am still a sugar addict, fight it every single day.

    • Cindy says:

      Keep up the good work! Even if you have an oopsie please forgive yourself and move on. You have tons to be proud of and you just motivated me to start over again. Great job!

  6. Deseray says:

    Some additional tips for ending sugar addiction. Apple cider vinegar mixed with water in-between meals works wonders for curbing sugar cravings. If you do eat fruit, it is best to eat them with cinnamon to lower the glycemic index.

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