Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar

Why this matters:

Nothing is easier than blaming sugar when it comes to unsuccessful dieting, but that blame is often very misplaced. Learn what sugar is and why it’s not as devilish as you’ve been made to believe. 

[Read time: 25 minutes (stick with it; it’ll be worth it!)]


“When you start from an incorrect assumption, you reach an incorrect conclusion.” – Lyle McDonald

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The above are examples of comments I see all the time, all over the internet, as well as from clients, friends and on talk shows.

Don’t stiffen up. I’m not here just to tell you that “sugar is OK.” That’s not the argument I want to make. I am not going to throw in an “if it fits your macros argument in” either, or lecture you to not “restrict yourself and practice moderation cause it’s good mentally to have treats.”

You’ve heard that all before.

I want to discuss sugar specifically and the misconceptions surrounding this food or “category” of food.  I hear of many “cutting out sugar” as a diet resolution, or berating themselves about their “sugar addiction” as the reason for their lack of weight loss. Or attempting to minimize sugar for vague health reasons that are related to body composition goals.  I thought it would be useful to do a blog post pinpointing this topic specifically, especially as it applies to success in fat loss. And I also wanted to address the topic from the “sugar” perspective as opposed to the “carb” perspective.

Those two words have so much lumped into them, that it’s time for a bit of clarity. My own sanity demands it.

You don’t know how many times I hear people tell me they “are just going to cut out sugar” when they start a diet or health kick. They shake their heads sadly when they admit that they have been indulging too much. Maybe they have. Yet, somehow it’s sugar’s fault.  They try to cut out sweets, fruits, desserts, chips and bread, etc, but will give in eventually and binge or think that they need to resist forever. Sugar is always bad, and that presumption is the basis from which they start their diet journey.

Here are examples of several cycles I see when this approach is taken:

1. Cut out “sugar” > Give in > binge > try moderation > eat too much overall anyway > stay the same

2.Cut out “sugar” > Give in > binge > decide to have cheat days > binge weekly > repeat > no progress

3. Cut out “sugar” > Give in > binge > horrible guilt > over compensate > binge > disordered eating

4. Cut out “sugar” > Give in > binge > artificial or natural sweeteners only > still overeating > can’t fathom why > spends more money on “natural” sweets

5. Cut out “sugar” > Give in > find confirmation bias for the evils of sugar in a diet jihad from a popular dieting method (ie, primal, paleo, low carb, keto etc) > stack up fallacies, dogma, and anecdotal-evidence-disguised-as-irrevocable-truth faster than paleotard chasing down his dinner > be forever closed to evidence-based rationale > preach against sugar for the rest of their lives. Even if their “belief” starts to do them harm, they can never change their opinion

6. Or they spend their life reconciling themselves to the fact that every sweet to pass their mouth is “wrong,” but there’s no way to have cheesecake AND slimmer legs. What a pain. But it’s a reality.

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Problem is, we like to have something to blame if our health isn’t going the way we want it to, something to blame that takes the responsibility away from us having to think and apply context and find balance in our own lives. There are things to blame per se when things aren’t going our way.

Problem is, what we think we are doing wrong is usually flawed because we start with assumptions rather than evaluationsAnd nothing is easier than blaming sugar (and carbs by default) when it comes to unsuccessful dieting. 

I posted a quote on my Facebook page the other day. I said:

“How you come to believe is more important than what you believe.” Because it’s the “how” that leads to the “what.”

A lot of us believe that sugar is “bad.” We act on that belief and still don’t get what we want, or maybe we do, but end up with an unsustainable diet method that we are not happy with. Is this belief that sugar is BAD well-founded?

Defining what someone means by bad ranges from the seemingly appropriate to potentially ludicrous.

Here are a few common “reasons” given for sugar being bad.

Some of these are a result of research taken out of context and used to support certain diet styles. Some can be “true” only under specific contexts, which are usually not mentioned:

  • Causes inflammation in the body
  • Causes insulin resistance and Type II diabetes
  • Increases fat storage in the body through insulin resistance
  • Is the reason for excess fat storage in the body regardless of caloric intake
  • Acts like a drug in your brain so you can’t stop eating it
  • A.K.A. physically addicting
  • Is poison
  • Is the reason for the modern-day obesity epidemic
  • Is out to get you
  • Is evil
  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup and fructose specifically are to blame for a myriad of health problems including the ones above

It’s also rather unclear what is meant by “sugar.” Here are a several foods and food groups that are usually grouped under “sugar.”

  • Granulated sugar, powdered sugar
  • Honey, agave syrup, maple syrup
  • Jams
  • Fruit
  • All manner of candies and chocolates
  • Cakes, pastries, pies, cookies, frostings
  • Pudding, sweet creams, taffies, mousse
  • Certain vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes and beets
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • BBQ sauces, Ketchup, glazes
  • Sodas, sparkling juices, dessert wine, certain cocktails
  • Fruit juices, both packaged and fresh
  • Ice creams

There is this huge vague category of what sugar is, and what it is to blame for. You can make a million correlations and connections between list one and two based on innumerable combinations of circumstances and variables and then add in list 3 below to end up with how someone comes to believe sugar is to blame:

  • Genetics
  • Education, what and who you have read
  • Personal bias
  • Personal experience
  • Weight gain/loss history
  • Metabolism and the fucking (aka adaptation) up there-of
  • Psychological components
  • Friends
  • Taste buds
  • Training and exercise history or goals
  • Geography
  • Financial status
  • Resentment of your mother
  • Doctor
  • Medical history
  • Childhood scarring
  • Phobias
  • The lollipops in your gyno’s office

No doubt, plenty of people reading this will “feel” in some way that sugar is the reason (or an overly large part of the reason) for being overweight, or hyperactive, or unhealthy. I am often told: “But when I did this blah blah sugar blah blah, this happened and the world was right again.”

I am not here to argue against that. If something works for you, great. If you believe that sugar is evil, than this blogpost won’t convince you otherwise. And I don’t care about convincing those people. The people I care about are those who like to apply common sense to their lives, regardless of the topic. The others will argue in the comments.

I am here to present what can be known from an evidence-based point of view regarding sugar as a consumable food item and ingredient (up to know at least), so that you can make better, more enjoyable decisions for your personal “known.” And guess what? Education is empowerment. Nothing else. The decisions you make are at the mercy of what you know and can implement successfully. That’s my disclaimer before you read.

I got no problem if someone decides that no sugar crystal shall ever pass their pure lips for the entirety of their days!

I do have a problem with them preaching bad science and bad information that messes up people’s decisions about diet and leaves them frustrated and cupcakeless.

Let’s explore the “why” of sugar damnation and the science behind what sugar is and address the most common questions.

Then, believe what you like. Perhaps you need some safeguards in order to have a healthy diet; perhaps sweet foods are a weakness for you, and you find yourself indulging too often to the point of not reaching your goals for health or body composition. That’s fine. We’ll go over practical considerations at the end.

What is not fine is using sugar as the scapegoat for why you are fat and have no control over your cravings due to lack of basic nutritional education, so you can avoid the facts and blame something convenient. 

My Story

Here’s a bit of my story about food from the age of 16-24 approximately.

You can skip this part if you like.

Once upon a time, I felt powerless to how good sweet things tasted. Never more so than when I KNEW I should practice some goddamn moderation. The more I knew I shouldn’t feel so out of control with my cravings when they appeared, the less I felt in control. It felt more and more like there was a mysterious pull involving neurons, genetics, Satan, and hormones going on, rather than just a matter of food and will power. My will power kept going on vacation!

The enjoyment I got from eating used to embarrass me. Not because I didn’t like enjoying food, but because I felt guilty with how uncontrollable that enjoyment seemed to be.  I alternated between handling my “feelings” for food, and reveling in them.  Feeling guilty, indulging, and then feeling resolute again. Sometimes I didn’t mind bingeing because I felt so motivated to return to “being good” when it was over.

There was this state I was supposed to achieve where food was fuel, yet also enjoyable, but nothing was ever really out of control. This Utopia I was envisioning was possible (because fitness people said so!), but how could I get there? I would hold lectures with myself; “It’s JUST food. I should. I should….”

And knowing it was just food made it worse. Sugar, sugar, sugar. I felt justified that it was Carbs’ and Sugar’s fault the more I read popular or well-marketed arguments and advice on diet.

I was just addicted, right? “Sugar turns on the same areas of my brain as drugs.” My taste buds had been corrupted. It wasn’t just the food, it was more. Every argument for chemicals, processing, modern agriculture, big business, huge food corporations and their marketing, insulin resistance, “sugar” genes, etc.,  took on greater importance in my confused brain.

These arguments shored up my convictions (confirmation bias anyone?) that there was “something” to sugar that was more devious than innocent little peanut butter cups sitting sweetly on the gas station shelf, minding their own business and not trying to TEMPT ME INTO SINNING!  If I could just get rid of this “sugar addiction” and these cravings, the world would be right again!

Right and wrong. Good and bad.

Does this sound like you?

I would be good, good, good, and then life would get in the way. Another party. Or ‘cause it was Friday. Or ‘cause after all, “I need moderation.”  I’d be strict, feel great for a bit, and then give in and binge or let it all go for a couple of days and feel guilty all over again. How tiresome!

Nowadays, I still like food. A lot!  But there’s a difference. I don’t experience cravings, binge cycles, food-guilt, food-avoidance/fear, or mental hunger. Food occupies a VERY small part of my life, whereas it used to be a huge part in the planning, preparation, shopping, worrying, thinking, and denying.

Right now, you may be slightly horrified.  Maybe something about your relationship with food has always been normal, or this just sounds worse on paper. Reading this, you might think “this bitch is crazy.” But in talking to SO many women about diet, helping them diet, trying to find them answers that will ease this relationship and let them find peace and progress, it’s not a little thing. Well, it is and it isn’t.

You still live your life, you have your family, your work, your hobbies. You are normal. It’s not like you are sitting in front of a bowl of ice cream looking like Gollum after losing the ring. But there is just this constant struggle. This low-grade hum of “I haven’t solved it” regarding diet that permeates your life. You think more discipline, a better plan, a better “understanding,” more blogs, SOMETHING must work. It will work, it will work. I have to stick to it. That is why you write people like me. That is why you buy diet books. That is why you follow 20 eleven blogs. This is why you become a fanatic about certain diet styles that worked once upon a time for you in some way. You are trying to recapture the magic of “what works.”

But what if you are starting from the wrong assumption in the first place, and always were? Which is why you never kept your results or are becoming more resigned to the fact that “nothing works.”

In fact, ever since I thought about “eating healthy” when I was 16, food was always a bit of a demon on my shoulder right up till  a couple of years ago when I first started finding and reading the works of people like Alan Aragon and Lyle McDonald. They laid out the science clearly, and gave me an educational foundation from which to judge information and claims. The two things I consider most important about their approach to examining diet is:

1. You are never told how or what to eat without regard to context.  They ask questions and examine the appropriate evidence including research, anecdote, expert advice, and “this is what we know for now.”

2. Context is never ignored! They teach you to ask questions by telling you where an argument has its root, or how to look at it. The right environment is fostered to provide the framework for finding the right answer. Whatever that answer is. The mark of a true scientist is not to hunt for the answer, but hunt for the questions, and let the evidence found provide the answer. Not the other way around!

To quote Lyle,

“You don’t reach your conclusion and then go find the data to prove it; that’s backwards. You gather the data and then develop the model.”

This is what is missing in the heaps of recommendations and advice being given in the fitness industry.

So in that spirit, I want to talk about sugar. Then, as with my carb article, you are free to frolic through the myriad of choices that fit your needs and pick the approach for you. But if in the end, you still decide against regular spoonfuls of Nutella, I shed a tear for you now.

Beyond just being a source of calories, does “sugar” hold some other claim to being a danger in diets? Is there good reason to cut out sugar from your diet? What IS sugar?

As usual, it all starts with definitions. So let’s lay those out clearly.

What is sugar? 

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Lyle McDonald explains in this article titled “A Primer on Dietary Carbohydrates.” 

“The primary role of carbohydrate in the body is energetic, that is it is broken down in cells to provide energy through a variety of pathways.   At the same time, strictly speaking, carbohydrate is not an essential dietary component; that is, you can survive without eating it at all.”

Another term that is sometimes used to describe carbohydrates is saccharides, and there are three primary classes of carbohydrates:

  • Monosaccharides
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides

Monosaccharides are the ones we are most interested in regarding the average Joe’s diet. They are often called simple sugars. Mono = one, saccharide = sugar. One sugar. Simple. They are:

  • Glucose – blood sugar (which originally comes from food of course)
  • Fructose – fruit sugar
  • Galactose – milk sugar
  • (Sucrose – crystallized table sugar which is a di (2) saccharide of glucose and fructose)

Sound familiar now? Those are names we recognize. But “sugar” = carbohydrate. The words sugar and carbohydrates are often used as if they are separate categories for food, but chemically and nutritionally, they are one and the same.

If you understand the role of carbohydrates in the body, you really can just stop reading here.

As Lyle goes on to explain (which I am paraphrasing), glucose is the form of sugar that floats around in our bloodstream. That is what diabetics measure, or what we refer to when we say “high blood sugar.” Of course the level of sugar in your blood is affected by what you eat. This is related to what people think of when they talk about insulin spiking, glycemic index, and sugar crashing. Those are separate topics for the time being, though.

Naturally ocurring fructose is most commonly consumed from fruit. Roughly half of the sugar in fruit is fructose, and the other half is glucose. In refined sugars, fructose is almost always present with glucose, usually as sucrose (a 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose) or high fructose corn syrup (a nearly even mix, typically 55% fructose and 45% glucose). Fructose is converted to glucose through the liver before being released to the blood and is not usually floating around in the blood on its own (except in some uncommon situations). Galactose is the sugar found in dairy products and is metabolized similarly to fructose.

I ate some potatoes = glucose
I ate some watermelon = fructose converted to glucose

So, sugar is a carbohydrate. This is often confusing when talking about “cutting out sugar” because what does that mean? The most common meaning can range from not eating what are considered desserts, sweets, and added sugars to cutting out bread, cereals, and fruit which are not solely carbohydrate. All of those foods, as primarily carbohydrates, contain either glucose, fructose, or other sugars (like lactose in dairy). What’s funny is when someone says they switched out table sugar for honey or agave syrup. It’s still sugar. The chemical structure will differ depending on the kind of sugar, but to your body, it is a carbohydrate and is processed as such, whether it is organic liquid gold honey from heavenly primal bees or a little white square plopped in your tea and therefore “poison.”  When you say you are “cutting out sugar,” what do you mean, and what foods are you cutting out? Think about that first.

Are there “good” sugars and “bad” sugars then? Eating a piece of fruit can’t be the same as eating a lollipop!

No, there are neither good nor bad sugars.

And yes, it is the same thing to your body, BUT with some frame of reference for context.

Both are carbohydrate-rich. But a piece of fruit will also contain fiber and micronutrients. Lollipops do not. From an energy supply perspective, your body doesn’t know the difference and can use both as fuel because they are both carbohydrates.

Fruit = carbohydrate, fiber, micronutrients (including phytonutrients)

Lollipop = carbohydrate

From a health perspective, you cannot argue the chemical structure of the sugars, but the addition to your diet as a whole. Fruit would overwhelmingly win out as the better option for nutrient content. From a fuel perspective, a lollipop would be just as helpful for your afternoon deadlifts.

But come on. Refined or processed sugar can’t be the same as sugar from “natural sources”! 

First off, refined sugar (syrup or granulated) is a natural product. It comes from sugar cane or sugar beets. What most people refer to in separating “natural” from “unnatural” sugars is the level of processing. What is conventionally thought of as processed sugars are white sugar, brown sugar (coated in molasses), high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, milled sugars (powdered sugar), and invert sugars (syrups blended specifically for baking/products). Unfortunately, other so-called healthier sugars are also usually processed either through heating or extraction to get the sugar. So if that is your basis for unhealthy versus healthy, please reconsider your stance. Agave nectar is commercially produced from several species of the agave plant = still processed. Maple syrup is boiled and reduced from maple sap = processed. Raw honey is unprocessed.

Some sugars endure more processing than others, for sure. But what is a more important question is whether the level of processing affects the nutrient quality of the carbohydrate once ingested.

It does not. Your body processes it as a carbohydrate. Any considerations for health would come from

  1. Other ingredients
  2. Presence of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
  3. Value to your diet as a whole for satiety, enjoyability, and macro/micro balance, aka “health”

We imagine that additional processing makes a type of sugar more “unhealthy” to the body. Not so. Your body will process a carbohydrate the same way regardless of its origin.

If you are stuffing yourself with Twinkies to the detriment of a balanced diet, well, hey that ain’t balanced now is it? If removing sugar from your life in all forms means you end up a paranoid prude who sees sin in all sugar regardless of science and common sense … see my point?

The most common culprits of being “bad” sugars are high fructose corn syrup and fructose itself. There are two people who stand out to me when reviewing the research and debates on sugar. The reason I appreciate their work is because:

1. They have not built their work on an image that is tied to particular stance on particular diet dogma which they must uphold at the cost of scientific integrity.

2. They evaluate ALL the available literature, not just the studies that support one side or the other.

In order to trust a scientist, doctor, or other professional, we must have reason to believe that they can remain objective, analytical, and can remove personal bias from the discussion as much as possible. That’s hard to do when you are being funded by people with vested interest, or you’re trying to sell something. On the topic of sugar, I turn to James Krieger and Alan Aragon to argue the intricacies of the debate. Below, I have linked their work on the fructose debate. If you have questions regarding the work of Dr. Lustig, Jeff Volek, and Gary Taubes who are the most well-known names demonizing sugar and carbs in general, I invite you to remove any personal bias you have toward one side or the other and just compare the evidence from BOTH sides. Its ok, shhhh, no one will know. You can pretend that you don’t believe anything for a bit, and clear your mind to be objective for a tad. You can be the judge! But a judge hears both sides dispassionately and devoid of emotional investment in the topic. Hard to do, but give it a try.

Should You Be Afraid of Fructose? by James Krieger

Good Calories, Bad Calories: The Mythology of Obesity or The Mythology of Gary Taubes?  by James Krieger

Insulin; An Undeserved Bad Reputation by James Krieger (big series, please read this if you are confused about affecting your insulin levels and/or all the warnings about insulin levels)

The Bitter Truth About Fructose Alarmism (classic article!) by Alan Aragon

A Retrospective of the Fructose Alarmism Debate by Alan Aragon

That should get you started!

For the sake of brevity on the subject in this post, I quote Krieger from his article Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Worse Than Regular Sugar?,

“The bottom line is that there is no valid reason for HFCS to be any different than sucrose (table sugar, glucose+fructose) in the way that it affects your body.  They are both nearly identical in their composition, containing roughly half fructose and half glucose.  They are both nearly identical in the way they are metabolized by your body.  There is no practical difference between the two as far as your body is concerned.  Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and consume all the HFCS that you want.  The point is that there is nothing uniquely “bad” about HFCS compared to regular sugar.  HFCS is not uniquely responsible for weight gain as some people would have you believe.”

In a review of the literature on HFCS, Lyle quotes the conclusion from his research review of a 2008 paper titled “Straight talk about high-fructose corn syrup: what it is and what it ain’t.”

“Sucrose, HFCS, invert sugar, honey and many fruits and juices deliver the same sugars in the same ratios to the same tissues within the same time frame to the same metabolic pathways.  Thus, it makes essentially no metabolic difference which one is used.”

Can sugar (or HFCS specifically) be blamed for the obesity epidemic? 

No. Not if you have respect for context (i.e., we are not rats being force-fed unrealistic amounts of fructose for instance). But again, it’s much easier to rage against “sugar” than it is to discuss and implement long-lasting dietary and physical activity changes. Especially when it’s a matter of society and culture as a whole.

Yes, we are living differently. There are different battles to fight regarding health in the modern day world (as opposed to dying from childbirth, smallpox or beheading), and availability of food (very important factor), technology, and the changes in physical demands are different. We are a product of our environments, our century, our society’s mores, rules and regulations and yes, our diets.


YOU still control YOUR life, YOUR shopping, YOUR money, and YOUR household. All opinions are open for YOUR judgment. You can choose what’s best for you. And you can change your mind and grow your awareness.

You are allowed to change your mind.

You are allowed to expand your knowledge.

You are allowed to get results.

Sugar is not at the bottom of this argument! It’s increased calorie consumption and food availability in general along with the psychological components of habit.

This quote from a paper titled “High-fructose corn syrup: everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask” in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  broached this topic from the HFCS standpoint and concluded:

“The data presented indicated that HFCS is very similar to sucrose, being about 55% fructose and 45% glucose, and thus, not surprisingly, few metabolic differences were found comparing HFCS and sucrose. That said, HFCS does contribute to added sugars and calories, and those concerned with managing their weight should be concerned about calories from beverages and other foods, regardless of HFCS content.”

It’s not the sugar.

Is sugar ever THE bad guy in a diet? 

“As long as you want to blame one thing, there will always be one thing to blame.” Joy Victoria 

You can only pinpoint “sugar,” aka excessive carb intake, as an accomplice when respecting overall calorie intake, activity levels, etc. You know the drill.

And yes I just quoted myself. Heh.

Some people choose the method of restrictive heuristics (rules) in order to force themselves into good habits and avoid their weaknesses, like an affinity for sweets and uncontrollable cravings and overeating. The problem with this is not that they can’t work, but that often you are not getting to the root of the problem. And that spells trouble later on. You might not actually find the solution that is sustainable and successful because you started with the wrong assumption. This is not the same as putting restrictive habits in place for a time in order to help yourself (or someone) exhibit better habits as part of the learning process.

The difference is in:

  1. Using restrictions and safeguards as a part of a plan, not THE plan
  2. Education on the “why” so the “how” can evolve

For example:

Jane has a sweet tooth. Jane decides she just CAN’T have sugar in the house whatsoever. She removes all temptation and swears off all “sweets” including sugar in her tea, oatmeal, and even ketchup. She’s on a sugar fast. She even rejects artificial sweeteners or anything that tastes sweet to “train” her taste buds to not crave sweetness. Jane is trying to lose fat.

Jane does not lose the fat as hoped. She drops a couple of pounds of water weight and but can’t stop thinking about Oreos.

Jane has fallen off the wagon.

Jane recommits to start again.

Jane has no idea how to feed herself correctly with a balanced diet, so her body is constantly “hungry” and food is always a temptation in all forms.

Jane is pretty frustrated and unhappy.

Jane continues to blame sugar.

Jane stays fat.

Jane grabs on to any reason she can find for why she is still fat. The more soothing her mental dissonance and confusion, the better.

Jane needs access to proper information, and hopefully a mindset open to evaluating it.

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Maybe I need more experience in order to make this statement, but I’m going to say it anyway (and eat my words if I have to later). I think allowing wide-sweeping statements like, “But it’s healthier so why not let them” just contributes to the same problem we are fighting in the first place.

The “just do this” mentality that does not encourage mindfulness and individual responsibility and thereby lasting change is the horrendous state of “dieting” and “fitness” we find in our societies. Sure, telling someone “no junk food” might make them eat healthier, but it’s not helping them understand anything! Why not do both? Unless we are relentless in helping construct the mindsets, reasoning, and approach to what goes into diet choices, are “heuristic rules” really worth it? Or is that grading on the curve? I am not against telling someone, “You need to cut out junk food,” or “You are not allowed to eat this, this, and this for now because you go overboard.”

But it goes beyond that eventually. Are we ingraining responsible and self-regulated decision-making?

When you stop to think about it, simple solutions like “cutting out sugar” come with a wide range of consequences, some of which we might consider unrelated because they are consequences that are built off the domino effect of one “simple” conclusion we acted upon. Imagine you decide to resist sugar and sweets in all forms. Related actions may be changing your schedule to avoid certain foods or situations so your social life is inhibited substantially, this affects stress levels and your support system, you start  buying sugar substitutes but are eating more calories of other “safe” food to compensate for hunger, you experience mood changes that trigger bingeing or guilt-induced cycles of dieting, etc.

Am I making the two sides clear? I am fine with telling someone to cut out something in particular if it’s hindering their progress. But I’ll tell them exactly why. Not that that food “is the problem,” the problem is them with that food. And that can change when their relationship with food changes. If someone has to get all ice cream out of the house because it’s attached to a binge, then do so! But it’s not the ice cream. Alternatively, I might say they need to eat ice-cream, as much as they want, as long as they want and not feel guilty about it. This often break the mental “good/bad, right/wrong” cycle as well. Different strokes.

Often when we are dealing with out diet habits, it’s the psychological, emotional, and mental attachments we have, not the food itself. Want to change a habit? Find out what you associate it with and change that association, either negative or positive. The emotional, mental, circumstantial, or physical connections you’ve built can help strengthen a good habit or weaken a bad one. If social drinking 4-5x a week is sabotaging your fat loss attempts, then you might need to change that association of Fun! Friends! Flirting! you’ve built with drinking.

No, sugar is not THE problem, and no, I will not let you blame it exclusively, no matter how much short-term success it might bring you because of other factors combined.

Is sugar addictive?

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There are two distinct factors to this argument that I see.

1. We feel sugar is addictive because there are plenty of circumstantial and correlative behaviors we can link to disordered or “unhealthy” eating practices that revolve around food, and particularly sweet and calorie-dense foods. Anecdotal evidence abounds regarding “food” addiction. Brain-mapping of pleasurable experiences often results in the “sugar turns on the same areas as cocaine” argument. Anything pleasurable does, per se.

Tied to these actions regarding food are feelings of disgust, helplessness, frustration, embarrassment, and guilt, which are strong psychological components that influence action, decision making, and habit. Another factor is the easy access and constant availability of food, which compounds the above. Correlational research has suggested that sugar could be labeled an addictive substance under certain interpretations of the definition of “addictive.” Here, here and here are some examples.

2. BUT Sugar has not been proven to be addictive through direct chemical, biological, or neurochemical processes distinct from psychological, circumstantial, and emotional factors. A sample of the language used when admitting this lack of firm evidence is “food consumption shows similarities to features of other addictive behaviors.” But sugar as a substance does not CAUSE addiction in the scientific definition of addiction like here, for instance.

My conclusion: Cause and effect cannot be separated neatly. From its chemical structure, sugar may not be able to make you “addicted” to it in the same way an actual drug can, but you can most certainly experience addiction-type symptoms resulting from a combination of factors including both physical and psychological components. Addiction is the realm of the mind, it’s about pleasure, desire, restriction etc. so it’s a tough argument especially when you are looking at it from a legal standpoint (like banning sodas for instance; personally I don’t see this as a very effective or logical measure against obesity). It’s not like arguing that sugar makes your pee turn blue, which would be directly measurable.

The debate regarding sugar as addictive is varied because of the very strong anecdotal backing it has from the correlational evidence with the obesity crisis. You can argue that the state of our health is tied to the state of our diet trends. Processed foods, and food availability are a factor. But it is not THE factor. Period.

Broken down into a argument regarding singular food choices, it is entirely unsupportable.

Addiction psychology is another vast topic, and there is no way I can get in-depth into this side of the argument in this post alone (I don’t even feel confident enough to broach it). There is a proclivity to sweet, palatable, and calorie-dense foods when we examine addictive behaviors revolving around food. Should someone limit their intake of “junk” food while trying to lose fat? Perhaps – If it means they have a balanced diet that leads to their goals and provides the nutrients they need.

The most common and generalized definition of “sugar” addiction is exhibited in someone like the fictitious Jane above. Or even like my personal story above. Most women (and I make this distinction for the moment) can sympathize with the desire to eat sweets. Some don’t, but can still overeat other foods. But I think I am safe in saying that chicks love their chocolate (and there is research on that)!

So does an overconsumption (note my use of the word OVERconsumption) of sugar create an “addiction” that is beyond the realm of “this is a food and I am just being a greedy piggy”?

Well, look at that sentence right there. This tastes good! Eating palatable food does trigger the same areas that are lit up in response to other addictive substances that make us feel good. Like drugs. And sex. And adrenaline. And massages. And French kisses. Emotional eating is just that. Emotional.

If your eating habits are disproportionately tied to emotional triggers, sure you can make a case for food/sugar addiction.

But it’s not really the food per se. It’s your brain processing the experience of the food, which is related to the food itself. It’s a feedback loop. And that feedback loop is in your control. I still eat whatever foods I like on a regular basis, but the cycle is different. I understand how my body uses food, and can adjust my intake appropriately for whatever I want and still show ample love to ice cream on a regular basis.


No, sugar is not THE problem.

The end.

Questions to ask yourself if you continue to experience sugar cravings, binge cycles, constant “diet” problems, “uncontrollable” hunger, or struggle with fat loss:

1. Am I eating enough? Without regard to hardcore dieting for physique or competition, even in a calorie deficit, you should be feeding your body ENOUGH to avoid rapid changes (even if we like those changes) in weight loss. Constant feelings of hunger or the constant desire to eat can also be a signal that your body is not getting enough nutrients even if you are eating a lot of calories, which leads to the next question…

2. Do I eat enough satiating, nutrient-dense foods in sufficient quantities? Whole foods are harder to overeat.

3. Do I adjust my training to my diet and vice versa? Low calories and intense exercise don’t mix well. Intense exercise and no carbs don’t mix well. Long endurance exercise and low calories don’t mix well.

4. Am I sleeping enough? A lack of sleep can wreak havoc on all bodily functions. Do you work at night?

5. Do I compensate for special occasions with diet, and/or wait for them so I have an excuse? This cycle may be more subtle than you realize, and one that I put here because I am often asked about it. When you only allow yourself certain treats or leeway when you have an “excuse,” you encourage that be-good-and-then-binge-then-start-again cycle. Get far away from that. Completely. There is no cycle! Say it to yourself. One of my clients the other day, who is tracking calories and macros at the moment, said she still enjoys her one day or not tracking. Previously, she considered this a “cheat day.” I said “Great, no problem! But there are no cheat days. There is just life.”

6. If eating sweets makes you want more sweets, avoid regular sweets and eat larger amounts of protein and carb foods first. Fill up! If you find there is an imbalance in the foods you eat and you gravitate toward very palatable, calorie-dense and nutritionally lacking food (aka “junk” food), then maybe you DO need to be stricter and get your body used to eating whole and nutritious food. “Junk” (I use this term loosely) type foods are often less satiating despite being very high in calories, and as mentioned, leave you lacking in certain nutrients.

7. Craving carbs? You can satisfy your body’s desire and need for carbs from sources like rice, potatoes, bread, fruit, beans, grains, etc., and eat larger amounts that are more satisfying and nutritious overall as opposed to smaller, more calorically dense amounts of carbs from desserts, chips, etc. It’s still carbs though, which is why you can have room in your diet for the foods you enjoy. Eating a proper amount of carbs no matter what your diet style can ease cravings and hunger that might trigger binge and guilt cycles that are more damaging in the long run. Find out if you are the type of person that functions better on higher carbs despite whatever a popular diet fad might suggest. Leigh Peele discusses carbs and their role in the body and metabolism in her book Starve Mode (review coming to a post near you). But I liked this quote from Chapter 11: “You need to learn to love what carbs will do for you.”

I leave you with two pics. Clearly causation. Not even correlation. That was sarcastic FYI.

Carbs = lift heavy (that’s me rack pulling 275). Science right there for you.


If this post was helpful and educational for you, I would very much appreciate you sharing and spreading. Thanks for reading!

P.S. Alan Aragon was gracious enough to edit this for me, many thanks to him for his help.

Additional Reading:

Wait a Minute, Lustig. The Threat of Fructophobia. And the Opportunity. 

No Dr Gupta Hummingbird Fuel is not Toxic

National Geographic Flunks Sugar Science

Straight Talk about HFCS; What it is and what it ain’t

Get Fitness Baddies In Your INBOX

I write articles all over the web - subscribe here for updates on all my latest articles from the blog and elsewhere!


  1. Great article Joy! You have addressed a very complex topic, but I think the more important point is garbage carbohydrates in general rather than sugar by itself. While I agree with you that some binge eating is emotional or psychological, there is that other side of the ‘addiction’ argument that you didn’t address: the physical ‘off switch’. There are entirely too many women in this world that can relate to ‘Jane’, but why? How many women have you run into that are addicted to sex, French kisses, or crave broccoli with cheese sauce like there’s no tomorrow? Why is chocolate a fairly common item with women, but it’s no big deal to lots of men? Why is it always the garbage carbs? While we know that women comfort eat, and we stress eat, or go through hormonal eating, why aren’t we pigging out on apples or sushi? More importantly, why do you have an ‘off switch’ while I don’t?

    Consider this for a moment, pick any day of the week you like, any time frame, it doesn’t matter. Put a pan of brownies, or scones, or cake, or almond croissants, or ice cream, or any garbage carb for that matter, in front of the two of us. I’ll clean that pan out and be looking for more garbage carbs while you’re under the table holding your stomach praying you’ll throw up soon. Why is that? Why are you sick while I’m looking for more? Is that all psychological? Emotional? Can I teach you, or your body, to crave brownies with Ben and Jerry’s like there’s no tomorrow? Why do we have people that eat a bite of cake and put the fork down “Oh, that’s too rich.” or “Oh, that’s too sweet.” but we have other people that have no sense of ‘too sweet’? We go through THOUSANDS of carb calories without ever feeling full nor sick. Worse still, eating these things just leads to cravings for more of the same. I don’t eat a peanut buster parfait and then crave steak. I don’t eat steak and then crave chicken or sweet potatoes.

    Unfortunately, I have found lots of women that also have no ‘off switch’. The problem gets worse for some of us when we try and lose weight. We cut carbs down to 30 a day. That’s fine. But the first few days aren’t lethargy and foggy headedness, they’re angry days. They’re craving days where I’m pure evil at everyone and anything because I want a cinnamon scone with whole milk but I’m not going to let myself have it because I know it’s going to lead to something else I don’t want to do. Yet, restricting me from garlic cauliflower, apples, cheese or pizza doesn’t create the same physical anxiety and cravings. But why is that? Even after I’ve been successfully dieting for over a year, low carb and intermittent fasting to the tune of nearly 100 pounds, I still can’t put a garbage carb in my mouth without craving more. Is that emotional? Is that psychological?

    Maybe it’s possible we don’t know yet. There is some preliminary research out there but if we keep dismissing it under the realm of personal weakness, no one is going to be interested enough to do the deep research. Personally, I think it’s too big a ‘coincidence’ that so many women can relate to me and ‘Jane’ for all of it to be just a lack of personal discipline.

    • Intriguing comment, and I’d be interested to read any replies or thoughts to the questions you pose. I can definitely relate to the “I’ll clean a pan of brownies out while you feel sick” mode.

      • I hear you ladies. Joy, you have got to be kidding me if you say garbage carbs aren’t “addicting” in the least. Sure maybe there’s not enough science to support it at the moment but I can tell you from personal experience they are. When I stop eating them for awhile, the edge comes off the cravings and I actually start craving healthier foods. When I get lax and start eating chocolate and icecream every night before bed after about two nights I am hooked and want it badly. It’s a batshit crazy way!

        I also have a question for you Joy, are you completely happy with your body as it is now? Like do you still want to get leaner, thinner, more muscular etc? Or are you genuinely (being completely honest) happy with it? I think whether or not us ladies are happy with our bodies plays a big part in the way we look at food and our attitudes twoards eating in general. My girlfriends who have perfect bodies and have an easy time maintaining no matter what they eat don’t have any eating issues like binging, cravings, starving themselves etc. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when they are full. They have a piece or two of cake at a party but don’t eat the whole cake etc. I think body image is definitely connected to food addictions. And people can say it’s not important and be happy in your skin and blah blah, but it IS important. People can say cellulite is normal; get over it. But I don’t like it. I don’t want to have big thighs and cellulite. And most women who pretend to be happy with their bigger thighs and cellulite are actually really unhappy and just pretending to act like they don’t care.

        • Tania, without addressing your “feelings” about whether you feel so called dirty carbs are addicting or not, I would take a look at your diet as a whole. Do you try to restrict carbs on a regular basis? Either way, unless you are going to be USING the carbs from chocolate and ice cream every day, I would not recommend eating them every night before bed. Does that sound balanced to you? Personal experience is powerful, but before I would go and tell you that garbage carbs is making you addicted, I would look at your diet and training as a whole. Palatable and calorically dense foods are yummy. No one denies yummy. Did you not read the part where I talked about addiction? I reiterate here; “Cause and effect cannot be separated neatly. From its chemical structure sugar may not be able to make you “addicted” to it in the same way an actual drug can, but you can most certainly experience addiction-type symptoms resulting from a combination of factors including both physical and psychological components” Read that last sentence again, and I think you will find a caveat that corresponds with your personal experiences.

          To answer your second question. I am happy with my body yes. I look forward to many years of training, exploring and improving on my strength and athleticism, and am not actively trying to “change” something aesthetically if that is what you mean. I have never been obese, or even fat fyi. And I think self-compassion and love are huge to change for sure. As for cellulite, you can improve, but rarely get rid of. I recommend lots of water, and lots of strength training.

    • My case is probably not the same as every case. I can eat. I can eat a lot, regardless of whether it is cheesecake, cookies, steak, pork belly, whatever. I can eat exorbitant amounts. Yet, I can easily choose not to. I don’t feel crabby if I don’t eat at all either. I think the association with ‘garbage carbs’ and the cognitive process that follows is a larger factor than what people may believe. Memories and experience of a ‘reward’ followed by deep guilt, and often an all-or-nothing way of thinking that allows a ‘garbage carb’ binge to ensue. Like, “oh, I’ve already screwed up, I may as well eat everything I wasn’t going to eat now.” It’s like a spoiled kid throwing a tantrum at their parents for not getting them EVERYTHING they wanted for christmas. One request out of the dozens of gifts was missing so they refused to acknowledge the rest of the efforts and accepted none of the gifts.

      Men with their (generally) larger TDEEs and naturally lower levels of body fat may not feel the same ‘guilt’ after eating a couple of slices of calorie dense sweets. Why? Because from their experience, it doesn’t actually have a huge effect on their body composition or weight if they have some. If anything most men in the fitness scene want to pack on extra mass -and from their personal experiences, carbs help. Glycogen stores are necessary for performance in strength and power oriented sports – something most guys will take in from high school physical education when the topic of anaerobic vs. aerobic activity is taught, which would be ignored by most girls obsessing over their weight rather than their muscles or performance in sports. Women hear a bunch of crap through fad diets and bullshit studies about the effects of carbohydrate intake on their waistlines and become psychologically conditioned to feel guilt and powerlessness over their choices when it comes to any carbohydrate. They hear ‘high-calorie’ and feel slightly seduced by the term because it makes it seem so much more pleasurable to consume high-calorie foods because they tell themselves they can’t have anything with that label on it.

      My solution was to step outside the hysteria created by falsely purported ‘science’. Learn the biochemistry; the chemical structures; the KREBS cycle; understand what happens during a conversion from phenylalanine to tyrosine; what is a BCAA? How are proteins structured? How does metabolism differ between micronutrients? In a sense, Joy is correct, education is empowering. To truly be able to pick out what is logical and concordant with basic principles in biology from the fear-inducing subtext of publications that are chosen to make profit rather than to provide the dry reality of the truth that no-one wants to hear.

      • I agree with you Jessica but I still think it’s putting sugar and carbs up on a pedestal. It’s like she is making it out like she can now “eat carbs” because she is not fearful and held back by her eating disorders. But it’s the whole big focus on carbs and calories, and making such a big deal about it that only serves to people’s disorders. They feel special and above everyone because they have it all figured out and when someone wants to eat more nutritious foods because it makes them feel better/work better they are looked down on or seen as uneducated.

        • I think the point of the post wasn’t to make people who eat ‘clean’ feel uneducated. I think it was to liberate people from fear by putting something sound out there to explain why something does or doesn’t work for individuals. It’s not an argument of ‘you should eat sugar and processed carbs’ vs. not. It’s saying ‘you can…’ and still achieve results. It doesn’t talk down upon anyone, the tone is nowhere near imperative. More conversational -hence why it contains personal experiences within it which I think is quite valuable and an insightful way of getting a point across. Unfortunately, there IS a lot of disordered thinking towards food out there… perhaps you may not experience it, but I assure you, there are many who do.

          I think if you were aiming to be extremely lean, I’m talking below 15% body fat for a woman, then yes, eating ‘clean’ can become quite important for the sake of nutrition. Otherwise, no. For the majority, excluding a whole food group is not necessary to get there.

        • Well then Ameena, I think you need to get over yourself. 🙂 If you care to argue specifics, feel free, otherwise you are “feeling” something that is a result of your interpretation of my writing, not the facts of it.

    • Hi Harlow, took a bit longer to respond to your comment so that I could address it properly. I will have my answers in point format so I can be as clear as possible.
      1. Garbage carbohydrates are relative to what YOU think garbage is. Sugar by itself is a carb, I suppose you are referring to calorie-dense foods with a high carbohydrate level, and contain other ingredients (fat, sodium, etc) that enhance their “garbageness”? I am assuming this is what you mean. Did you read the part where I referred to a general outline for how to judge a foods “healthiness” in your diet? I copy pasted here to remind you
      “Any considerations for health would come from
      1.) Other ingredients
      2.) Presence of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
      3.) Value to your diet as a whole for satiety, enjoyability, and macro/micro balance aka “health”.
      We imagine that additional processing makes a type of sugar more “unhealthy” to the body. Not so. Your body will process a carbohydrate the same way regardless of its “origin”.”
      2. You did not define what you mean by the “physical off switch”. Are you referring to hormones that act independently of the brain aka emotional/psychological, that cause us to overeat, because that is impossible. Do you mean that “sugar” acts on the appetite independently of the brain aka emotional/psychological, because that is impossible.
      3. Personally I AM addicted to french kisses, but I won’t use my anecdotal evidence on that score to booster my evidence base on this point. You asked “why is it always garbage carbs”. Well, first off, we have to go back to question 1, secondly, what is always? You mean something like “Why when I am pms’ing or upset do I want to eat something sweet?” And by “sweet” we can assume that chocolate cake takes precedence over fruit. Right? Hence the why we aren’t pigging out on apples or sushi. Personally, I pig out on both, but I think there are two considerations to answering this question.
      1. What is your diet like as a whole? Those who overly restrict carbs, may have more problems with a.) reintroducing them b.) handling them. I point you to this quote by Leigh Peele, from her book Starve Mode. She goes into great detail about macronutrients and their processing/effects/need in the body. Please consider purchasing her book as I can’t copy paste the whole book here. 😛 “From a vitamin and mineral standpoint, carbohydrates are logically essential. Another point of consideration (PLEASE READ CAREFULLY) is the role carbohydrates can have on mode, energy, and hormonal behaviors. Extremes on both ends of the spectrum have the potential to raise red flags in the arena of health, both physically and mentally. This is where carbs become relevant based on need.”
      Unfortunately I do not agree personally with demonizing carbs based on my evaluation of the evidence in research. Your very emotional questions regarding why you like to eat sweet things, would have me pondering a couple questions which would including; why do you think its necessary to cut carbs down to 30 a day?
      It’s not, and I refer back to the first point; maybe you need to keep carbs in your diet and avoid either extremes and very low carb diets which tend to be unsustainable in the long run for a large majority.
      I think the coincidence is NOT that carbs are “bad”, but that women (since you made that distinction) think that cutting them out = way to fat loss. And therein lies the frustration and impassioned pleas for explanations.
      As an aside, please point me to where I said it was exclusively a matter of will power. In fact, I don’t subscribe to that notion, as I blogged about before. My approach is education + structure that respects preference, enjoyability and individuality + work smart not just hard = Grrrrrreat succcesss (BORAT voice).

  2. Thanks, enjoyed this article, I have so much ‘additional reading’ to do now… 🙂

  3. Just a quick note to point out that at least some of the links in the article are broken, like the ones to Alan Aragon’s stuff (they have the address of this page inserted into the start of the URL).

  4. Joy I do agree with most of your post, however having been a trainer for quite a few years now I disagree on the part where you say you feel the “tough love” approach is not needed anymore and only education is needed. Have you trained any actually obese people? I have trained one who is a RD and knows all about calories and food. She tends to binge on sugary foods which are calorie dense so cutting back on those foods and making healthier choices / not allowing herself to have them all throughout her house/ kitchen is what actually finally worked . A bit of tough love . All the knowledge and education in the world is all good and well but means nothing if it can’t be properly implemented .

    • Bella, did you read the part where I said ” I am not against telling someone “You need to cut out junk food” or “You are not allowed to eat this, this and this for now because you go overboard.But it goes beyond that eventually. Are we ingraining responsible and self-regulated decision-making? I am fine with telling someone to cut out something in particular if it’s hindering their progress. But I’ll tell them exactly why. Not that that food “is the problem,” the problem is them with that food.” because I think that addresses your concern about obese clients.

  5. I have something to say, and I mean no offence by this at all. I will start off by saying there are many reasons why we eat, such as pleasure, fuel, boredom, to bond and to celebrate. All of these are perfectly valid reasons. But can’t we just leave it at that? I have heard way too many fitness people talk about their flexible diet and their sugar intake etc saying: “it allows me to be normal”. When you translate what they are getting at when they say ‘normal’ it means, ‘I have finally found a diet that supports my love of junk foods and I have found a way to justify it to myself’. That’s honestly the plain truth. It seems to be people like you who used to experience guilt and eating disorders who now think their newly discovered ability to have treats and not freak out means they are now “normal”, but imo dwelling on it so much , having to find science to “excuse” it and thinking about how they have attained now that they can eat junk without being guilty seems anything but normal. How does counting your food, announcing your cupcake intake, allow you to be normal? Why not just enjoy and be done with it? I use my girlfriend as an example. She eats sugary foods or not so nutritious foods when she feels like it, but has never given so much time and thought to it as some of you people do. She gives more thought to her healthy meals and food choices, the ones that will benefit her more. Spends her energy on researching about her training, technique etc. as that is more important to her. Are you maybe using all your research on sugar, your rebellious Instagram “I love my massive cupcake and I don’t care” photos to justify eating something that you really just don’t want to feel guilty about? Just eat the damn sugar and stop telling everyone how you’re “over” your past eating disorders. It doesn’t look like you are over it with your constant “I’m such a rebellious badass because I’m stopping by a French bakery and have no guilt” posts. (By “you” I mean the collective flexible dieter fitness people). People will say things like “flexible dieting is a way for me to be normal”. Normal because you keep telling us about your carb intake? Yep, that’s real normal.

    • Mark, hahah, did you miss the part where I said “that’s all gone now”. The way you describe your gf, I totally agree with and the only reason I sit down to put out this info is to help others educate themselves, not to glorify anything about me. I also did not talk about macros, IIFYM, etc. If you would like to see the energy I put into my training and coaching, just scroll down cause there are lots of posts about that as well. And no, never said I was normal. I am extraordinary 😛

    • Mark I have to disagree with you.Growing up I loved to eat things like cupcakes and sweets and I never gave it a second thought so yes if being a “flexible dieter” brings me back to how I used to be when I had no worries then maybe that is a better option for most people Also yes to the people who post up there indulgent food photos and fair play to them for finally gaining the strength to be able to have those treats and make it fit their eating plan or and lifestyle and if they choose to share it on Instagram so be it, but that’s a totally different argument altogether and was a bit petty out of you to say in the first place. I’m happy your gf can eat treats and not think about it.good for her 🙂 alot of people blame a food group and have strong opinions clearly Joy is just staying facts so people can make decisions based on actual facts..

  6. But what if I want a better/leaner, more muscular, better performing body? Doesn’t it then make sense to eat more nutritious foods? I don’t care either way when it comes to sugar; I am not fussed. Wouldn’t I be better off giving myself natural nutritious filled foods like fruit and veggies, lots of proteins, meats, potatoes, whole grains etc. instead of grabbing cookies? I like the taste of all foods and want to be in peak health, lean and shredded and perform well. Isn’t it common sense to make as many healthy food choices as possible? This is where I feel you are overcomplicating things. Take athletes for eg, they want to be the very best they can in their sport. They will care snout the nutrition, their supplements, their health, over excusing low-nutritious foods they can happily do without if it will mean they get more nutrients in. Why do you assume everyone wants or needs sugary treats and if they go without they will binge or become obsessive? Not everyone is the same as you. Use common sense too and stop trying to over complicate it all.

    • Yeah, but I personally don’t know any athletes who don’t eat ‘less nutritious food’. It’s difficult to eat the calorie requirements that a full-time athlete has with a solely whole foods diet.

    • Ameena, did you not read the part what I said “from a nutrient standpoint” that whole foods are highly preferable. Your rant was unnecessary if you had read that. I did not make any assumptions, I presented an evaluation of a continuing theme I see in my clients, nutritional literature and debates. If you don’t like reading about nutrition, than don’t read it.

      • “I presented an evaluation of a continuing theme I see in my clients”

        Couldn’t agree with this more. I’ve only been training clients for a year or so, but over and over again I hear, ” I just can’t give up sugar or XYZ food, or I know I will eventually give in and over do it”. Actually just heard this yesterday. In regards to Ameena’s comment, no, not everyone feels this overwhelming drive to eat a certain food, but some do and this is where epic articles like this are meaningful. Thank you Joy for your insight.

    • Doesn’t Michael Phelps famously eat like a bajillion pancakes each morning to hit his daily calorie goals?

    • Ameena did you miss the part where I said “from a nutrient standpoint” whole foods are preferable? Using the example of fruit. Please point out where in the post I advocated eating 1.) junk food 2.) lots of sugar 3.) grabbing cookies 4.) not choosing whole foods 5.) where I assumed that everyone wants and needs sugary treats 6.) where I said everyone is the same as me.

      I am unclear as to what parts of my post I expressed these claims specifically.

    • And Ameena, you can get all three of those goals from a balanced diet that includes supposedly “dirty” foods as well. For more on clean vs dirty (which seems to be your issue), take a look at this.

  7. I don’t like the title. It’s insinuating that everyone has a problem with eating/food disorders. Some of us just don’t care about these things like making sure we get our sugar does without feeling guilty.

    • I suspect this article isn’t necessarily written for those people? I’m thinking it’s more for the people who DO struggle with sugar.

      I’m with you – I could happily avoid sugar (because there are plenty of other awesome foods to eat) or healthfully eat sugar to my hearts content (which would probably land healthily in the realm of moderation anyway).

      I know a lot of people who do have weird/fetishized ideas surrounding sugar though, and I bet this article spoke really well to them.

    • Sorry you feel that way. Feel free to change your perception of it, since it is based on YOUR assumption, not one I make.

  8. Ah this is great!

    The links about the sugar debate aren’t working for me.

    Your shiny rack pull pants are prrrrretty badass.

    This article made me kind of hungry …

  9. Sasha Zhukov says:

    Great article! I think we gonna translate it for the russian audience 🙂 Thanks.

  10. Just to say its a useful explanation. I observe that timing and quantity of when carbs are consumed is not mentioned. This might be important in relation to curb cravings. It falls under the topic of hormonal weight loss and preventative eating.

    On the emotional front its about our relationship with food as a society and individually and balancing many things including emotions, exercise, nutrition, sleep. Not everyone has food cravings and those who do may well find they are linked thinking patterns and emotions. I bet with correct life balance a lot of the craving issue is gone.

    For me it was exercise that leads to control of emotions that leads to control of cravings that leads to control of nutrition. Until such time i feel unloved or stressed and those old habits poke themselves in the way… then i just go for a walk or get more sleep and it helps. For others they talk about managing the mind first and others talk about managing the nutrition first… Figure what works for you I guess.

    • Jonathan,

      You are right about balance easing cravings. As for timing and quantity of carbs, I look at someones 1.) Schedule 2.) Activity level to determine carb intake. Timing of carbs is not as important a consideration as getting in their total calories for the day. The great thing is you can eat carbs anytime depending on convenience to your schedule and what allows you to get the best out of your workouts.

  11. Great article by the way. I agree fully that people are confused as to what sugar is. This is exactly what I go through when consulting. You cannot blame the sugar as you are the individual putting it into your mouth. I can see sugar being addictive when someone is not eating according to their metabolic racial needs, disrupting hormone balance which can then lead you to eating everything on the table. At that point, all you see is carbs but the reality is, it is not the carbs fault.
    However, there is a very big problem when the sugar binge starts(especially in young children). I see for example my niece and nephew who go ape shit for sweets. If I make a healthy alternative, they will not eat it at all and the first thing they say is: it’s not sweet.
    Anything that is made as an alternative will not match the taste from an item that is bought. Thats a fact. So this means that there is something more tasty and highly attractive about that particular product. From all my years of experience with digestive disorders and helping people with their issues, I do put the blame on crap food (which is what i call it) because sugar can play a manipulative game with the mind. Of course it is up to us to ultimatley pick it up and eat it however, some of us have an easier time than others. Forget about weight loss because that is not what my point is, it is based on the fact that i do believe sugar can be bad to the individual that is not eating calorie dense foods and is only eating empty calories. The brain knows what it wants. If you feed it an artificial sweetner, it isn’t stupid, It will send the message back once it processes that message to tell you that there is nothing here that is satiating, go and eat some real food. You interpret that as ok, eat more sugar. So the viscious cycle continues and continues.

    Moderation is key. Do what you feel is right for you and forget science. Carbohydrates are not needed from a biochemistry point of view (as stated above), however, we are going to get carbs and my point is that some carbs are healthier than others. What I mean by that is there can be less glucose load or a lot of glucose load. That is where the problem lies. The more glucose you take in, the more your brain wants.

    Anyway, that is my personal opinion.

    Cheers everyone

  12. Hi Joy! U always look good! Interesting article & good research.
    Here is some of my research on High Fructose Corn Syrup which is why I avoid it & check every label. Sugar also contributes (all carbs) to the decline of the brain & being that in our world of today, Alzheimer’s has no known treatment, it makes me stop & think about effects of sugar. Also, consider the rate that cancer is growing rapidly as well and it is fueled by sugar, which is another research point I gave below. I realize that in training you do get it out of ur body but I would still not mess with too many carbs in general. Perhaps as trainers you do need some but our physical body is not the only area that sugar (carbs) affects.
    Points below taken from::

    what Dr. Seyfried talks about in his book, is the fact that cancer cells do not have the ability to any significant degree to metabolize fat and are almost completely dependent on metabolizing sugar. Normal cells can metabolize fat; cancer cells cannot metabolize fat and only require sugar or thrive on sugar. Deprive them of sugar and you have the opportunity to allow normal cells to thrive while cancer cells will die. That’s called the Warburg effect.
    It’s interesting when you ask or are dealing with a cancer patient, as I do here every day. They may come in to my office and they show me their PET scans. I ask them, “Do you understand what they gave you for this PET scan and what you give to get a PET scan to find cancer?”
    JM: It’s glucose.
    DP: It’s something called FDG. It stands for fluorodeoxyglucose. Basically, they’re getting a radioactive sugar, a radioactive glucose. What does it do? It goes right to the cancer cells that lights up, and that’s what you image. When you see a PET scan in a cancer patient that’s showing you where the tumor is, it’s lighting the tumor up because that tumor is sucking in the sugar that you administered.

    Although high fructose corn syrup (called HFCS and “corn sugar”) may sound healthy, it actually is anything but. This dirt cheap, chemically-altered sweetener shuts down leptin, a fat-regulating hormone in your body that is responsible for sending “hunger signals” from your stomach to your brain.
    Essentially leptin lets you know when you’re full. And when your brain doesn’t get the message, you keep eating and eating and eating while the manufacturers of high fructose corn syrup, and the products that contain it, keep making more and more and more money.
    Here’s an example from a recent study. Test subjects were divided into two groups—one was given a glucose (sugar) beverage to add to their diet, while the other group was given a beverage containing high fructose corn syrup to add to their diets. While both test groups gained weight, the group consuming high fructose corn syrup packed on intra-abdominal fat (or belly fat).
    Why is that so startling?
    It’s because this particular kind of fat causes diabetes and heart disease. So, not only is high fructose corn syrup causing you to eat more than you should, it is literally putting your health at risk.
    According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes 42 pounds of HFCS a year. That’s more than 75,000 empty calories that have no nutritional value! What’s more, teenagers are consuming 15 to 20 teaspoons of HFCS a day when they need to be eating nutrient-dense foods for growth and lifelong health.
    It’s no wonder that The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition says that HFCS use increased by 4,000% between 1970 and 1990. The manufacturers of HFCS really are cashing in big… just like drug dealers… while America is adding belly fat at a very dangerous rate.

    Bye! Interesting website, enjoy visiting u here. Love, J. Yonan

    • Hi Mom,

      1. Do not turn to Mercola for any research period. Choose someone who is objective about ALL research. He is not. He is a quack with enough “truth” to appeal to those interested in “health” topics.

      2. Have not researched cancer and sugar. Cancer does not rely on sugar to survive, I am pretty sure, but I would ask an oncologist, not a website.

      3. Healthy is a categorization for food that varys depending on who you talk to. But no where did I say that HCFS was “healthy” per se. A food being “healthy” depends on 1.) It’s context to your diet 2.) It’s macro and micro profile dependent on the context aka need in your diet. I would like to see how you support the argument that sugar “shuts down” leptin. There is a definite tie between insulin, leptin, etc, in those who develop insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, and unfavorable metabolic adaptations and obesity. But again, that is not the HCFS itself. That is a carb.

      4. Please link the study you are referencing so I can read it and respond. You must look at how a study was conducted before you can draw a conclusion like that. The variables make all the difference, and it is never that cut and dry. Sorry 😉

      5. Unfortunately you missed the point where I am advocating a balanced diet. OVERconsumption of calories is never good period = you end up fat. We all know that. But there is no direct causative link between a carb and creating body fat without the context of overall calorie consumption.

    • David Platte says:

      LOL. Mercola. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!

      HFCS. Guess what this is made up of?
      Guess what fruit and vegetables also have??


  13. Lance Barrett says:

    Great article and very valid…”There is no direct causative link between a carb creating body fat…” However we may need to look into research on indirect links between sugar/processed carbohydrates and weight gain. Then we can answer the question why binge eaters and obese individuals choose sugar and processed carbohydrate as their food of choice for bingeing. Why for example does a binge eater or obese individual not choose apples or pears to binge on?

  14. Excellent…excellent! As well sugar is a decent supplement to help build muscle which in turn improves metabolic rate. Post weight training carbs speed muscle recovery. This is particularly helpful for ladies and older men who lack lean mass. Great Stuff!

    Best Regards,
    Andrew and Tierney

  15. Larry, not even gonna bother with you. Sorry bro, you’re balls deep in the bs and sound happy there.

    • This is not in regards to weight gain but on the topic of wheat: was it meant for humans to digest? Not really. One of the main causes of leaky gut syndrome. A fairly new type of food to humans which came into existence 9-12000 years ago. No wonder disease became so widespread. We don’t need it and can live without it. Nothing it can give you that meat, fish and vegetables can.

      Couldn’t resist:)

  16. Good article. I always felt instinctively like it had to be pretty much the same in the end once it hit your stomach, but it’s nice to see the facts laid out. Thanks.

    Did you run across anything in your research relating to the other old anti-sugar advice that has to do with immune system suppression? Generally something along the lines of “eating too much sugar will make you catch more colds” which is said to happen because sugar suppresses/weakens/shuts-down the immune system. Basically it was the “You can’t have ice cream right now, there’s a cold going around” I got as a kid all my life. 🙂 Anything to it?

    • Dan, heard that all my life too. Have not come across anything that makes that link. While I understand that all some people seem to take away from this is “eat sugar” (I can’t help them anyway), I think that connection could be made from a poor diet in general that is devoid of nutrients which will make your immune system more vulnerable….?

  17. Hi, love this post!

    Just a quick correction though (not sure if it’s mentioned already).

    Galactose is the sugar primarily found in legumes.

    Lactose is milk sugar, not galactose.

    You shoudl probably correct that in case you get some holier than though crazy anti-sugar campaigner harping on that :O

    Will be sharing with colleagues, well done.

  18. omgaaaa THANK YOU FOR THIS ARTICLE! I’ve always had trouble staying away from desserts but it wasn’t a serious problem till I was 16 and started dieting which started years of disorded eating.

    The part of your article where you describe the cycle “Give in > binge > decide to have cheat days > binge weekly > repeat > no progress”, that’s the stage I’m in now. I’m alwaaaaays around sugar- my mom is a baker and I’ll wake up to muffins and homemade cake on the table and my boyfriend eats a ton and is always tempting me with cookies. I really have a problem giving up the mentality that if I mess up for the day, that means I should eat everything I’ve been dreaming about and then start again tomorrow. What usually happens is I binge on thousands of calories then the next day I feel like crap and continue eating to make myself feel better from the pleasure I get from food. After about 2 weeks of this I feel really depressed so start back restricting again. Because I exercise alot I remain at a healthy weight but throughout the year I fluctuate 10-20lbs depending on how well I control the sugar binges.

    I also had no idea why sugar was bad exactly. I’ve berated my mom for buying food with high fructose corn syrup but I couldn’t tell her exactly why it was bad for you- I was just reiterating the opinion of the media. I’m really glad I took the time to read your article! Educational procrastination at work lol.

    My favourite part was when you said “…there are no cheat days. There is just life.” I’ll try to remember that the next time I’m faced with a cupcake and start thinking about what else I’m going to eat if I have that cupcake. I know that sugar’s not the problem, it’s my emotional and psychological response to it that needs to change. Hoping I can follow your example and eat a balanced diet that includes eating sugar in moderation without feeling guilty! I don’t want to be tormented by thoughts of the cake in the fridge anymore lol

  19. Hi Joy I just had a suggestion in regards to your style. you come across very condescending in your replies to people’s questions. Why do you keep asking in every one of your replies is people have read your well “cited” blog post (which isn’t even properly cited if you are going to get picky). Most likely people have read and didn’t understand it all so are asking questions because of it. You are alienating me and some of my friends because of your replies. You seem intimidating and a know-it-all, extremely defensive (taking after miss go kaleo who is annoying as fuck). You can temper things with a bit of humility/humor/self depreciation sprinkled in sometimes. It would make you so much more endearing. People who I like to follow are Jen Sinkler and Neghar Fornooni. They are so much friendlier in their online persona. They are fun and at the same time give sound scientifically accurate advise but aren’t afraid to be themselves and talk about their personal quirks even if not everyone has the same diet/training style/likes and dislikes (I.e calling their diet paleo+wine etc). They are still human. Don’t turn into a robot. Share your dreams, your mistakes, your weaknesses. That will endear us to you so much more. Please don’t be the next go kaleo. I want to like you because I like the information but sometimes I struggle (as do some of my friends) with your style.

    • Well said Joanne
      I have to say she does sound like a know it all and comes across very rude!
      Most of this is taken out of a text book and not coming from the knowledge and experience that one has gone through.
      Immature and no experience makes one talk this way.
      I subsided to this post because I liked the article as I am a guru myself. Not only through text book but real life challenges. I have seen too much in life to sit here and listen to someone say that sugar is not the enemy.
      Again, I suggest to the Blogger that she get some experience/wisdom before make bold comments like that.
      Lets take a look at society and the obesity rates in in children and newborns and then tell me what the problem is.
      Thanks for posting Joanne:)

      • Hi Steven,

        Since you want some personal experience, feel free to click through other blog posts, as I have been training/writing for several years! And/or feel free to unfollow me if you are offended.

        • Well I for one enjoy your tone and responses. I think you are neutral, don’t take the sometimes personal attacks to heart and reply respectfully to your poster’s questions. First time visitor to your site, I will be back. Excellent article with a lot of solid science and educational links. <3 keep it up!

        • I LOVED this article. Regarding people saying you’re condescending or a “know it all”—people really can’t stand the cognitive dissonance. I really hope they can get past it and take off their tin foil hat, it’s extremely liberating. Keep up the great work!!

    • Hi Joanne,

      You seem conflicted, since you “want to like me” but feel alienated due to your interpretations of my typing. Feel free to change your perception of my responses as I assure you they are not personal (since I don’t know you). I like Amber Evangeline Rogers and Go Kaleo very much (thanks for the comparison).
      As for the citations, if you mean I put links instead of works cited, you are correct. Chose to do it that way so you could just link yourself to what I was talking about!

      • Good points on manner in which writing comes across from Joanne, dear Joy. Wouldn’t you know… You said “always question everything” so let us question you without feeling like we are so uninformed. We all read & research more on different topics & they may even all be about carbs & sugar but are different. I did give my links when I commented on sugar, check again. Sugar, bottom line is NOT good for us. Our population consumes so much each year. I think the staticis are 130 lbs or more. Yuck! And diabetes is an epidemic as is cancer nearly. And whether you think so or not, sugar does fuel cancer. Maybe not totally but I’ve read enough on it to know that it does. And as far as speaking to an oncologist, well, I would’nt go to them for nutrition for sure. Cancer patients are dying & dying & oncolgist are not poor. From being around doctors enough to having been able to ask many questions, nutrition in any form is not their forte. I eat meat, vegies & lots of fat all the time & have normal cholesterol. No doctor would recommend that. By the way, I do read many research papers, not just form one website. I did hear your first podcase, well done. Love, Mom

  20. Thank you for your extensive opinion, it’s a real refreshing outlook, given the usual ‘sugar is evil’ doctrine.
    It’s turned into a ideological problem rather than a scientific issue.
    I was one of those ‘sugar is evil’ followers, but thank ‘God’ I have woken up to my use of my grey matter.
    Keep up the good work, will look forward to more posts.
    Great lifting 🙂

  21. But why don’t you like any critics at all? I see the good in people like you and Amber as well and said I want to like you, but at the same time I find you both annoying. I tried to tell you some ways in which you are annoying and you brushed them off. You refuse to see yourself as anything but perfect, and this is one of the things in particular that makes you so condescending. With all due respect, you write nothing in regards to proper health and nutrition. You and Amber and even Alan Aragon and others cater more towards those who want an easy route to a good body, and moderate levels of strength and fitness. You are all very smart, using research based evidence, but this in regards to the average person, especially the people who want an excuse to eat all the junk food as possible and do the bare minimum while still looking and feeling pretty good. I have nothing against that, just your attitude in making it out like that is the only way to be? You might be like that, and want the less possible stress on yourself and your body, want to enjoy life and still look pretty good while doing it. But what about those of us who are after something more? I am a semi-professional hockey player (trying to get to state level) and I am just personally not after doing the bare-minimum both diet and strength wise. I have tried eating whatever i want and just making sure i hit macros and calories and I am constantly run down and unable to keep up with my rigorous training schedule. Not everyone wants to be average. What about proper sports nutrition, supplementation, strength and conditioning training for those during the off-season?

    • Joanne, a lot of top tier athletes follow the “IIFYM” guidelines. Floyd Mayweather, for one, is known to cheat on junk food semi-often…probably more often than most pro athletes. Though, he does not party like a traditional superstar athlete. He avoids drugs and alchohol. I agree that most athletes have to be a bit more strict to achieve top tier results, but if anything someone as active as you should be able to get away with a bit more sugar and calories in general, simply due to the grueling demands of your sport. Don’t over-stress it. It’s not like you have to be under a certain weight class. Which is a huge issue for fighters and powerlifters since they compete in strict weight divisions and still must perform optimally. And the people like Alan and Joy and Amber are absolutely not like “my way or the highway”. They are writing to refute those who are like that! She admits more than once, that you should do whatever works for you. But don’t try to preach it as the best thing for everyone else when the scientific evidence says otherwise. These are smart, analytical people for a reason.

      • Thank you for your reply Joe! I appreciate it. I am trying not to overstress things, but it’s hard when you have a placing in the State level at stake. I am doing all the right training but I feel something is missing with my diet. I just wish these guys would write more in regards to fueling for performance and sports not just general lifestyle fitness. It’s become a bit of a “cult”, the whole “I can eat what I want and still look good” deal. I get that already. Of course you can eat whatever you want as long as you stick to a number of calories and macros and you won’t put on bodyfat. Like I said above, not all of us care about that. Some of us have serious competitive driven aspirations, nothing at all related to enjoying life or staying lean-ish AND enjoying life at the same time. If these people are so scientifically based then they should be willing to offer proper information regarding athletes as well, they should know about how to fuel for events, what to eat to be the best at a competition level, not just how to be “average”, look good, enjoy life and have moderation. And I feel like she (as well as Amber) don’t take criticism or suggestions at all, which drives me further away. I respect the science, and want to know their thoughts on these other issues, not just how they can eat sugar and continue to get away with it.

        • Joanne, no problem in asking a blogger to address a topic, but you do realize we are writing for a specific audience right. Did you happen to see my blog post where I outlined nutrition advice for my highschool athletes? How about instead of complaining, you request it. Your criticism is unfounded because it stems from a personal frustration you have and the information YOU want, not something to do with what we are writing about. We clearly are targeting a specific audience, which at this point does not include highly competitive athletes. On the other side though, the basics would remain the same. There is no one food that will “fuel performance”. There are no magic foods just because you are an athlete. Adjustments would be made for an athlete the same way for a regular person, but taking into account higher performance needs and perhaps more specific nutrient timing. The more you ask of your body, the more you have to take care of it. Maybe instead of getting frustrated at “answers” you should ask some better questions about your personal intake that is causing you frustration. Fueling for performance and sports would abide by the same principles people like me and Amber lay out, but of course the more specific your needs, the more specific you can get. I also find, that often someone can *think* they have the basics nailed (protein intake, sufficient carbs, good macro balance etc) but are not ACTUALLY consistent with it. Are you? And if How have you evaluated?
          As an aside…..did you see Usain Bolt eating massive amounts of chicken mcnuggets in China? Please forgive my brief appeal to authority, because you did make the point that this whole “eat what you want and look good” bothers you highly….again due to personal frustration with your own nutrition. If you care to ask a proper question about your diet free from prejudice and a bitter undertone, I will do my best to answer.

  22. Joy, you might really enjoy this podcast:
    I sure did! 🙂

  23. Holy cow! Some interesting comments. I, as a recovered dieter, completely agree with you. Sugar in all forms is abused because it is tasty, and people really like the “all of nothing” mindset, and don’t really understand scientific process or thinking. At all!

    The fact that you don’t think HFCS isn’t any more evil than sugar must mean that you think people should eat it in unlimited quantities. After all, there’s no middle road there at all.

    I, too, will eat an oreo, if a plate is stuck in front of me. I will not eat a dozen of them. It’s yummy, but not health food, but one won’t kill me, nor cause weight gain. If I beat myself up about it, I will eat much more.

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  14. […] Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar via Joy Victoria […]

  15. […] Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar – Great article Joy! You have addressed a very complex topic, but I think the more important point is garbage carbohydrates in general rather than sugar by itself…. […]

  16. […] Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar – Great article Joy! You have addressed a very complex topic, but I think the more important point is garbage carbohydrates in general rather than sugar by itself…. […]

  17. […] Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar – Great article Joy! You have addressed a very complex topic, but I think the more important point is garbage carbohydrates in general rather than sugar by itself…. […]

  18. […] that sugar is bad, sugar is evil, sugar is the cause of all kinds of diseases, death, etc. So, I wrote my first article on sugar and explored the definitions and misconceptions about […]

  19. […] Fact: This claim of High Fructose Corn Syrup being the evil sugar, here is an excerpt from James Kreiger by way of Joy Victoria […]

  20. […] of her most popular articles is Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar, which you should absolutely […]

  21. […] Weekly Insulin: An Undeserved Bad Reputation, Part 3…MOOOOO!!!! | Weightology Weekly Your Problem With Sugar is THE Problem With Sugar – Joy Victoria […]

  22. […] Joy Victoria makes the point very well that “the problem” is not with the food per se – the problem is ‘you with the food’. She argues that this problem can change when your relationship with the food changes. []. […]

  23. […] vilify gluten, sugar, red meat, saturated fat, and all sorts of other foods so we can feel more secure about what we do […]

  24. […] and excuses really matter. There’s always some kind of scapegoat. Sugar made you overweight? No. Eating too much made you overweight. You’re always late because (insert excuse here)? No. You failed to plan […]

  25. […] great blog posts explaining the myth of sugar are here, here and here. Also, this post here looks at the rising obesity rates despite the vast reduction in […]