In today’s interview I get to speak with clinical health psychologist, Dr Jen Unwin, about sugar addiction, how we can test ourselves to see if we are addicted to sugar/carbs & what to do if the result comes back as yes.
Jen is very passionate about helping people improve their health and wellbeing by reducing their sugar consumption and educating them on the side-effects of consuming too much sugar.
While there has been some dispute about sugar addiction being a real thing, most of us will agree (from personal experience), that quitting sugar can be a challenging process.
Addictive behaviour towards sugary foods and drinks is increasingly becoming recognized as a growing problem with similar symptoms to other substance addictions.
In today’s interview Jen shares the easy to do eleven questions that will help us figure out if we have a sugar addiction or not.
If you know someone who is interested in testing themselves to see if they have an addiction to sugar, as well as learning how to go about overcoming this problem, then this interview is for them.
I enjoyed this interview and after talking to Jen I have a better idea of the addiction signs and symptoms to look out, how to go about quitting sugar and the recommended online resources to turn to for help.
Special thanks to Jen for joining me on the show. Enjoy the episode!
The Eleven Sugar Addiction Quiz Questions
Answer yes or no to the following questions:
- Do you take those foods in larger amounts or for longer than intended?
- Do you want to cut down or quit these foods but are unable to?
- Are you spending a lot of time obtaining these foods?
- Do you have a craving or a strong desire for these foods?
- Are you finding yourself being unable to carry out obligations at home/work/school?
- Do you continually eat these foods despite persistent social or interpersonal problems linked to them? (secret eating is another feature).
- Are you stopping or reducing important social occupations or recreational activities due to these foods?
- Do you find yourself eating these foods in hazardous situations? (this question is more applicable to drug addiction, but we explain how it can apply to food addiction).
- Do you persistently eat these foods despite acknowledging the persistent psychological and physical problems arising from them?
- Do you have a need for an increased amount of these foods to get the same desired effect?
- Do you have cravings when the food isn’t available/are symptoms relieved by consumption of the food?
If you score your answers and have two or less YES answers then that means that you are mildly addicted. If you score three or more yes answers that indicates you have a bigger addictive type behaviour issue with sugar.
Show Notes with Timestamp Links
Highlights of what we talk about during the interview:
Click on one of the timestamp links in the brackets to jump to that point in the interview audio[00:19] – Introducing, Dr Jen Unwin, a consultant clinical health psychologist who has been working for the NHS for over 30 years. She also works with her husband, Dr David Unwin, to support patients in primary care to manage their diabetes. Jen and David were also recently featured on a BBC food documentary called The Truth About Carbs. Jen also recently presented her talk called “Bitter Sweet – Food Addiction and Diabetes” at the 2018 Public Health Collaboration conference in London. [01:49] – Is sugar addiction a real thing? While a lot of people would say yes, there is some controversy when looking at the mental health literature. Jen explains how the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) still does not have a category for food addiction, and that some research papers argue it isn’t a real thing. [03:53] – Inspired by Dr Zoe Harcombe, whose PhD busted the myth around saturated fat, Jen took a closer look at the one paper most adamantly disputing the existence of food addiction. The problem was she found it was funded by Rippe Health and there could be a conflict of interest. Jen recommends people Google “Rippe Health” and “Dr Rippe” to look into more information on his connection to the Corn Refiners Association. [05:37] – Most people are recognising the problem of sugar/carb addiction and are gravitating towards a low carb lifestyle as a result. [07:09] – Jen explains that the DSM book is a way of categorising mental illness, and why she is not a fan of labelling or categorising people this way. The DSM is used for research, medication and diagnosis purposes. [08:36] – Is addiction the same as having cravings? No, cravings can be one of the indicators of addiction, but there are other symptoms that need to be present too in order for there to be addiction. [09:16]- To figure out if you might have an addiction to sugar/carbs answer the following Yes/No questions. [09:20] – Question One: Do you take those foods in larger amounts or for longer than intended? [11:48] – Question Two: Do you want to cut down or quit these foods but are unable to? [12:50] – Question Three: Are you spending a lot of time obtaining these foods? [14:29] – Question Four: Do you have a craving or a strong desire for these foods? [14:57] – Question Five: Are you finding yourself being unable to carry out obligations at home/work/school? [16:36] – Question Six: Do you continually eat these foods despite persistent social or interpersonal problems linked to them? (secret eating is another feature). [19:42] – Question Seven: Are you stopping or reducing important social occupations or recreational activities due to these foods? [21:26] – Question Eight: Do you find yourself eating these foods in hazardous situations? (this question is more applicable to drug addiction, but we explain how it can apply to food addiction). [22:42] – Question Nine: Do you persistently eat these foods despite acknowledging the persistent psychological and physical problems arising from them? [23:31] – Question Ten: Do you have a need for an increased amount of these foods to get the same desired effect? [25:17] – Question Eleven: Do you have cravings when the food isn’t available/are symptoms relieved by consumption of the food? [26:28] – How to score your answers. Two or less YES answers means that you are mildly addicted, but anything more than two indicates you have an issue. [27:22] – Sugar is so ubiquitous in our environment, are we all sugar addicts? In the 25 years working in his practice Dr David Unwin saw an increase of type 2 diabetes grow from 59 patients when he first started, to now having over 600. [30:50] – Once we worked out if we have an addiction what can we do to overcome this? Jen explains that because everyone is unique with their own particular set of goals and circumstances everyone’s approach will vary. Generally, there are two approaches one can take. [32:01] – Option one is using a cutting down process and making substitutions. There is lots of helpful information on websites like diabetes.co.uk and Diet Doctor and the Public Health Collaboration has David’s infographics available for people. [35:41] – Option two is going cold turkey, with addicts this is often best course to avoid relapse – as addicts often struggle with moderation. She recommends people (especially those on medication) do plenty of research and get support to ensure they are doing it safely. [37:52] – Jen shares her own experiences cutting out sugar from her diet. After a period of experiencing side-effects like headaches and low energy, she woke up one morning feeling better than ever. There are resources and information available that will help people through and even help reduce some side-effects, like headaches which can be due to loss of water and sodium for example. [39:28] – Falling off the wagon is all part of the journey. Don’t feel discouraged if this happens. Jen explains that eventually most people learn they feel better without the sugars and are less tempted. [41:28] – People have to eat, but they can choose what they put in their body and carbs are not essential. Jen explains that some people are fine with eating sugar in moderation, but it is important to recognise if you are one of these people. [43:52] – Jen emphasizes that she is a psychologist not a dietitian, and urges people to do their own research and get proper medical advice before undertaking any major dietary changes. Don’t assume that what we’ve been told is always the best choice for you. [45:46] – To follow Jen (or her husband) find them on Twitter: Jen @jen_unwin and David @lowcarbGP She also recommends the Diabetes.co.uk website for information on their low carb programme (for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes) as well as Diet Doctor website for recipes, additional information, videos and articles.
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