Growing evidence reveals the addictive qualities of sugar— many similarities can be found in the effects of sugar and other addictive substances such as cocaine and nicotine on the brain. Around the world adults are now seeking help for their addiction to food, and sugar addiction may be the root of food addiction.
It is here a serious question emerges—if adults can become addicted to sugar, and experience this addiction similarly to other addictions, can children who are consuming added sugar at alarming rates also become trapped in a world of addiction?
It is painful to imagine your child is suffering from addiction, but in fact they may be addicted to sugar and the physical and psychological consequences are immense. The addiction to sugar can begin at a young age. According to Dr. Kathleen DesMaisons, author of Little Sugar Addicts, the main symptom of sugar addiction in younger children is behaviour problems. Sometimes extremely difficult behaviour and psychological issues can be linked to a child’s diet and consumption of sugar.
Children crave sugary foods because often after eating them they experience a crash—like adults—and want to eat more to feel better. Eating sweets may become a child’s main way to comfort him or herself and down the road this becomes problematic for the child’s overall wellbeing, physical health, and self-esteem.
One study looked at teenagers’ and pre-teens’ battles with obesity as reported on an anonymous online forum. Youngsters aged 12-18 used the anonymous forum to talk openly about their struggles with weight. These teenagers’ posts suggested that many, if not most, struggled with food similarly to those suffering from other addictions. They described an inability to stop eating even when the consequences were devastating to them, many unsuccessful efforts to cut down on their food intake, and intense cravings for certain foods—mainly chocolate, sweets and fast-food— all full of added sugar. Many described themselves as addicted to food, and feeling hopeless about their situation. These young people reported that information on healthy eating was easily accessible but not helpful to them. What they wanted and needed was information on how to overcome cravings for food – and essentially beat their addiction.
The study suggests that these children actually meet the DSM–IV criteria for substance dependence (addiction). Their addiction to sugar and food was wreaking havoc in their lives, socially, emotionally, and physically. Feelings of depression, stress, and low self-esteem seemed to have caught them in the thralls of a vicious cycle: not knowing how to comfort themselves with anything other than food—and feeling terrible about it.
Young children cannot recognise the connection between what they eat and how they feel – and their diet may lead to acting out, mood swings, and obesity. As they get older many are enduring an emotional and physical struggle that they feel is out of their control. Children need to learn about healthy eating habits and form a healthy relationship with food as early as possible. As the teens in the study suggested—it was too late for them to learn about eating healthier—they needed help controlling a complex addiction to food. If you suspect your child is struggling with addiction to sugar talk to your doctor for help.
At The Cabin we help treat adults from around the world with their food addiction. Contact us for more information about our leading treatment programme.