12 Mar How To Combat Sugar Addictions
Drugs, alcohol, sugar…. Yes, one might also categorize sugar with these other highly addictive substances. Why? Studies have shown that the effects of sugar on the brain mirror those of a heroin addict. When we consume sugar, it triggers the release of the feel good hormone dopamine and raises serotonin levels, producing that “high”. The more sugar we eat, the more our dopamine receptors weaken and the more sugar we need next time to produce the same “high”.
In today’s America, over 1/3 of the population is considered obese. 50% of adults in the US are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the body cannot absorb enough insulin or none at all to remove high levels of blood sugar levels.
When we ingest sugar, it turns to glucose in our bloodstream and our blood sugar levels increase. In response, our pancreas secrete insulin to help move the sugar into our cells, resulting in a corresponding blood sugar drop. This leaves us shaky, fatigued and cranky and looking for our next “fix”.
This condition is exaggerated in a condition known as hypoglycemia, an underreported pre-diabetic condition. After a heavy sugar load, the body’s blood sugar levels skyrocket, causing the pancreas to panic secrete too much insulin in response. But this over abundance of insulin causes blood sugar to plummet and your body to crave quick-energy sugar not just for pleasure but also for survival.
Along with the physiological addiction of sugar is the emotional addiction. So yes, while the physiological addiction is hard enough as it is, you are addicted to sugar for a reason, whether it be stress, to numb pain, cope with your emotions, etc. You will need to address these issues in order to be able to say “no” to sugar.
I often tell my clients that the first 5-7 days on my meal plans, they will most likely undergo a “detox” depending on their sugar intake prior to eating in my whole food plan. They experience cravings, headaches, irritability, and fatigue. It’s these symptoms that often keep many of us from quitting before we even start!
However, oftentimes, trying to detox from sugar cold turkey won’t work. You try to get over the addiction by controlling the cravings, but it doesn’t work. You resist as long as you can and then you end up binging and arriving precisely right where you started. This vicious cycle continues with no change in behavior.
So what do you do?
- Say NO to the voice in your head: You need to become more mentally aware and recognize that sugar is not fixing or alleviating anything. When you give in, you may feel a momentary “relief” when your blood sugar spikes and then it dips and you feel even more worn out and fatigued and what’s worse, you feel the guilt from indulging in the first place. So being able catch these mental interactions before you act on them it key.
Like any addiction, there’s that little voice in your head. Start by confronting this voice – this voice of “cravings” – say “No, I don’t want this, it will not make me feel better”, “It’s temporary”, “I don’t need you”.
Of course, not indulging in sugar in the first place will prevent those crashes from happening at all. But this isn’t realistic, so try these tips:
- Become more knowledgeable about what you put in your body: Read labels and know the code names of sugar in certain foods:
- fruit juice concentrate
- high fructose corn syrup
- maple syrup
- BETTER YET – switch to whole foods!!
- Eat a healthy breakfast – the key here is to regulate blood sugar levels. Be sure to start the day with protein to help balance blood sugar levels and mitigate sugar cravings later in the day – which can lead to bad decisions.
- Include fat and protein in each meal – these take longer to digest and thus keep your fuller longer
- Exercise daily– which can help to remove sugar from your bloodstream and release feel good sensors called endorphins.
- Eat regular meals – this will help regulate blood sugar dips and spikes and keep cravings at bay
- Get 7 hours of sleep at least – lack of sleep can increase cravings
- Sugar is sugar is sugar – regardless of the type of sugar – going organic isn’t better here, neither are artificial sweeteners. All of these options will still register as sugar in the brain and release the same peaks and valleys.
Make sure to build up this foundation before trying to detox from sugar or you are more likely to slip back into your old ways and those “quick fixes”.
If you slip up, it’s OK, FORGIVE yourself, and get right back on track. Don’t allow one bad decision to derail you and keep you from your goals. Or better yet, keep a journal and jot down what you were feeling before you caved. What were your “triggers”? Keep these in mind for further occurrences or tough cravings and be mindful of where your mind tends to pull you. This way you can be ready and mindful of situations that put you at further “risk”.
I recognize that it’s unrealistic to cut out all sugar, and as part of a balanced lifestyle, I encourage treats in moderation to prevent full on binges due to extreme restrictions.
However, being knowledgeable about the addictive qualities of sugar, recognize when we fall victim to them, and learn how to enjoy in moderation, is the key to a balanced, sustainable lifestyle.