The idea that sugar is addictive is extremely popular. However, this view is not shared by the scientific community. Are we confusing addiction, attraction, preference and compulsion ?
Is there such a thing as sugar addiction?
There is a widely held belief that sugar is addictive. That’s because the term addiction is often used to talk about an uncontrollable appetite for palatable foods (i.e. it has a pleasant taste). Without denying the existence of food compulsion, and which is more often the case for sweet or savory fatty foods, a WHO report in 2004 found no evidence for the existence of addiction or dependency of a food nature.
Pleasure “alone” is suspicious
Any moral judgement associated with a behaviour linked to the very notion of pleasure is ambivalent. Pleasure is only considered to be totally legitimate if it helps to cover a need linked to the survival of the individual. Pleasure “alone” is suspicious, and its repetition without being necessary is sufficient to categorise it as pathological.
In reality, cognitive restriction imitates addiction
In a weight control context, the ban on certain foods considered to be “fattening” gives rise to a state known as “cognitive restriction”, in which the eater is disconnected from his or her internal hunger and satiation signals which regulate food intake.
When, for one reason or another, the consumer “gives in”, they break the rules in a compulsive manner, followed by feelings of guilt or even anxiety. This gives rise to behaviour marked by hyper-control and restriction.
In reality, the cognitive restriction imitates the addition: there is the same feeling of dependence, heightened desire and the intense but fleeting pleasure of eating a forbidden food.
When the ban is lifted and the person learns how to eat reasonably, regulated by feelings of hunger and fullness, they can put an end to cognitive restriction and compulsive phenomena, very often via behaviour therapy. The challenge is to transfer the food from its role as a “drug” to a “food”.