When you think of addiction, you might think about gambling, substances and alcohol, but there are many other addictions as well. One of them is sugar, which can actually be something you struggle with and not even realize it. Here are some things to know about sugar addiction.
Why Sugar Addiction is a Bad Thing
When you eat sugar, your body produces and releases insulin, this is normal. When you eat a large amount of sugar, your body produces and releases extra insulin. The extra insulin can lead to a sugar rush followed by a sugar crash (low blood sugar level) which can trigger migraines. Consuming extra sugar can initially cause an energy burst, but when you are consuming excess sugar on the daily, it can cause you to build a sugar tolerance (amount of sugar your body can handle without noticeable side effects). When your tolerance to sugar builds up, you no longer feel (or taste) the full effects of the sugar and what it is doing to your system. It also means that more and more sugar is needed overtime to get you the energy you need or the reaction you once had to the original amounts of sugar. When you do not have the amounts of sugar your body has now become used to, you can end up with a migraine headache. So, what happens? You feel a headache coming on, your body begins to crave sugar, you consume more sugary food/drink and the cycle persists.
If you eat too much sugar, you can reduce the production of nitric oxide in your blood vessels. Having lower nitric oxide means a narrowing of blood vessels can occur. This can lead to Hypertension due to an increased amount of high blood pressure in the system. High blood pressure can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and circulation issues throughout the body. By reducing your sugar intake, for example omitting sugary drinks and added sugars, you can avoid the dangers of Hypertension.
It has long been known that sugar is one of the culprits linked to obesity. According to Chiadi E. Ndumele, M.D., M.H.S., Cardiologist at Johns Hopkins, “There is enough evidence to say that elevated sugar consumption is an important contributor to weight gain.” On average, Americans are consuming 20 teaspoons of sugar every day! This is in stark contrast to the American Heart Association’s recommended 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Obesity makes it more likely for one to suffer from heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. Cutting sugar is a good place to start with improving one’s weight and overall health outcomes!
What Happens When You’re Addicted
Brain vs Food
The first thing to know about sugar addiction is how the brain works on sugar. It truly becomes a battle of your brain versus food. Sugar can cause your brain to have a large release of dopamine. Dopamine works with the regulators in your brain, and when large amounts are released, these regulators are dulled. This means that it takes more and more sugar to get the same effect. So, a small cupcake may have been enough for you, but consumed regularly, overtime it will take two or more to get the same feeling. This is why I subscribe to the 90/10 rule if trying to lose weight and 80/20 if maintaining. You want to let sugar be a “treat” not the “norm” in your daily dietary intake.
Poor Energy Source
Sugar gives your body an energy rush – a small boost lasting between 30-60 minutes. When this boost is gone, you have what is known as a sugar crash. This crash can leave you feeling tired, possibly leading to a migraine or light headedness. This crash is hard to get over and, in some cases, can leave you craving more sugar to regain your energy rush. This cycle is not a healthy way to gain sustained energy, thus making sugar alone a poor energy source.
What You Can Do About It
Quitting sugar is not always easy. As with any addiction, it takes planning, tools, and support. How do you know if you have a sugar addiction? Here are the signs...
And here's what to do about it...
Remove Known Sugars
The first step to quitting sugar is to remove all the known sugars in your diet. This means removing sugary drinks, even diet drinks that contain lower sugars and/or chemicals. You also want to remove sugars that are artificial because both cause dangerous health risks. Be sure to remove processed foods that contain high or added sugar, too. Eat the fruit rather than drink the fruit juice. You reduce the insulin spike by eating the whole fruit, which includes beneficial fibers. You also consume less calories! Watch out for sugar aliases by reading labels and looking for
- Added sugars
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup, corn syrup solids, high fructose corn syrup
- Malt syrup
- Cane sugar
Reset Your Body
The Mayo Clinic recommends taking a two-week break from sugar to reset your body. One of the ways to do this is a clean eating cleanse that gives you healthy, plant-based whole foods full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. You may experience a sugar detox when initially cutting back on sugar: anxiety, changes in sleep, depressed mood, brain fog, fatigue, intensified sugar cravings, cravings for carbohydrates like chips or pasta. Try resetting your taste buds by replacing sweets with spices! This is a great way to kick the cravings and add in spices with great health benefits!
- Cinnamon: sweet tasting, lowers blood sugar, heart-healthy benefits
Tip: add to Greek yogurt, warmed brown rice, whole grain toast, squash
- Turmeric: earthy, pleasantly bitter, lowers inflammation
Tip: add to vegetables, meats, curry, make a turmeric tea latte
- Ginger: slightly peppery but sweet, reduces nausea, calms upset stomach
Tip: drink in a tea, add to your smoothie, use in baked goods
- Garlic: heart protective – keeps blood vessels flexible, may reduce cholesterol and triglycerides
Tip: add to sauteed vegetables, soups, salads
- Cayenne Pepper: contains capsaicin which reduces pain, increases blood flow, reduces stomach ulcers
Tip: add to soups, meats, guacamole, hummus
Tips For Getting Through Sugar Cravings
Sugar cravings are the hardest part of starting a healthy lifestyle. This is especially true if you are dealing with sugar addiction related to hidden sugar in foods or high levels of sugar in your daily diet. In fact, sugar cravings can lead to you going off your diet plan and to completely derail from your health goals. If you need to remove sugar from your diet and cut down on the sugar cravings, here are some tips to help you:
Have an Alternative
Plan ahead for snacks and meals so you don’t find yourself hungry and stressed (hangry) and more vulnerable to poor choices. Replace your sugary options with healthy alternatives like fresh fruit, more protein, complex carbs, and remember to hydrate! Craving sugar is one of the most common side effects of dehydration. Having insufficient water intake makes it more difficult for your liver to release the components of your natural energy stores and thus triggers food cravings, specifically sugar to boost energy. Replace those sugary beverages with water. If you desire some flavor, add some fresh fruit to your water and enjoy nature's sweet snack when you finish! If you are a big soda fan, try switching your soda to sparkling water, avoiding those with artificial flavorings, colorings, or sugar substitutes).
Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep causes us to be tired, we all get that. However, did you know that lack of sleep can increase your cravings for sugar? It's true! When your body is fighting fatigue, it can actually crave sugar to help gain energy. But, as we learned above, this is fleeting and not sustainable. Do your best to improve your sleep hygiene and get the 7-8 hours of sleep your body needs to rest and repair, thus lowering your risk of sugar cravings during the day.
Enlist a Health Coach
If you are struggling to break up with sugar, or to make healthy food choices part of your lifestyle, think about enlisting the help of a highly qualified health coach. A National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach can provide support between medical visits, help you to formulate a plan for success and hold you accountable to reaching your goals in a private, safe space that allows for you to explore what works for you. As part of a collaborative care team (you, your physician, nurse practitioner, registered dietician, mental health counselor, etc.) a health coach can bridge the gap between your health and wellness and guide you to greater health outcomes. Book a complimentary Discovery Call today to see what coaching can do for you!