The bitterness within sugar addiction

Candy with a side of eggs for breakfast and two packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for lunch were typical meals for sophomore Maria Polyakov during her freshman year. A common dinner for her included fast food, like Steak ‘n Shake, along with something sweet. 

“[With] dinner, I would have a big cake or a whole pint of ice cream,” said Polyakov. “Like I was that addicted to sugar, and I would have crazy sugary drinks. But then I noticed the effects it had on me.”

Polyakov thought she was addicted to sugar and felt it had become a part of her life she could not get out, she said.

“I just kept on eating it and wanting it and craving it more and more,” Polyakov said. 

According to Selena Bartlett, professor of neuroscience at Queensland University of Technology, sugar can be effective at relieving short-term stress and can become a go-to coping mechanism, which is why it can be so addictive for many people.

“After consuming sugar, there’s neurotransmitters released that cause the same activation of the addictive nicotine pathway,” said Bartlett.  “[My colleagues and I]came to the conclusion that sugar is as addictive in long-term consumption as alcohol and nicotine.” 

Polyakov became frustrated with her parents when they tried to regulate her sugar consumption. 

“Physically, I was just not as alert, and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate during class,” said Polyakov. “I was like three chapters behind my English class because my attention and concentration was so bad.”

According to Bartlett, sugar has a compounding effect that can be a contributing factor to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“Sugar addiction can have many snowballing effects on health issues with long-term consequences including diabetes and obesity but also decision-making skills and impulse control,” said Bartlett. “In terms of emotional regulation, there are circuits in the brain that [regulate] stressed emotions, and too much sugar can take those circuits offline, so there is less of an ability to regulate your emotions.”

When Polyakov felt her sugar intake was affecting her athletic performance, she made the decision to back off from sugar.

“I try to have less now, so maybe like one little pastry a day or maybe one tiny Deans’ Office candy,” said Polyakov. “I’m doing better. I’m trying to eat more savory food.”