Reader Request: Curbing A Sugar Addiction

sugar cravings

Crave a sweet attitude, not sweet foods

I will raise my hand and be the first to say that I fight sugar cravings every day. It’s hard and it’s real. Let’s try to understand why so many people are aboard the Sugar Addiction Struggle Bus and how we can get off at the next stop.

Sugar Associations

The association between sugar and life events start at a very young age. Just a few weeks ago I brought my recently turned 4-year-old to the medical center for his 4-year-old shots. Other than the complete sobbing meltdown he had in the waiting room (not correlated to the shots, but because he was completely overwhelmed by moving to DC and he wanted to move back to Ohio to his Nonie and Poppi’s house), he was not even phased by the whole shot process. I was worried that his total mental breakdown in the lobby was just an appetizer to what the main course of 4 immunizations was going to be like…. but hey, at least we would be in a room with a closed door instead of in front of all of these people in the waiting room of the medical center.

Sidebar: Kids are resilient, but they definitely still feel a lot of what we as parents feel. I was prepared for a struggle and a few questions with this move, but I was blown away with how much my 4-year-old understood what was going on and it’s heartbreaking as a parent to witness it. He is doing MUCH better today than he was 3 weeks ago and I have a new respect for him – he is flourishing and I love watching him grow up before my eyes.

ANYWAYS

I was more than impressed by how well he did with the shots. He flinched but didn’t cry. What he did next kind of took me by surprise. Immediately after his shots, he looked at the nurse and said: “Do I get my sucker now?”

He didn’t cry because he knew he was going to immediately get a sucker (at Wright Patt AFB, they let him hold the sucker while he was getting the shots). So at age 4, and probably even younger, this connection between life events and sugar consumption has already started.

These kinds of events, or from a memory, place, time of day, etc. trigger sugar cravings. Whenever you associate something with food, it becomes engrained in your mind. If everytime you go to the mall, you get a Cinnabon, then your body is going to start craving it before you walk in the door. Same goes for cotton candy at a baseball game, candy during a road trip and yes even those churros at Costco

Sugar is the New Drug

Sugar cravings used to be thought of as “if you are craving sugar, your body is low in _____” (iron, vitamin B, etc). Research has now proven otherwise. Sugar cravings start in your brain, not in your body. That means sugar, just like some drugs, releases neurotransmitters to make you feel better. It triggers part of your brain to release dopamine – so the more dopamine released, the better you feel. So why wouldn’t your brain want to release this all of the time? That’s where the addiction stems from. Read more here about a study done at Connecticut College about sugar addiction (2013).

It’s so easy to talk about drug use in a way that makes it sound like the people who do drugs are idiots (I am in NO WAY SHAPE OR FORM condoning drug use). Think about it: drug/cigarette users are taking substances, in an addictive manner to make them feel better – to get a high or a buzz. Isn’t that the same thing people do with simple sugars? Why on earth are people continuously eating simple sugars, even though the effects on the body have been proven over and over again to be negative? We still do it.

We want our sugars to be complicated (complex), not simple

High-fat foods have similar effects on your brain, but research shows us that sugary foods are more addictive than fatty foods because of their immediate effects – like a raise in blood sugar which can be confused as a “burst of energy”. Sugar is also known to make the body release serotonin – the Happy Hormone, giving instant satisfaction, not to be confused with satiety. Read more about how to get serotonin released in other ways, down below.

Usually, sugary foods are exactly that – simple sugars – and not nutritionally balanced foods. Ever heard of the term “empty calories”? Of course, your body will continue to crave sugar over and over again when it’s still hungry. When eating simple sugars, you are giving your body calories, but it’s quantity over quality.

Stress and Sugar

Stress, of course, has a lot to do with sugar cravings. This is a hard one for me. When I feel stressed, I head to the pantry. We tend to “reward” ourselves with food. “I had a bad day at work, I deserve half a pan of brownies” or “My boss is an @**, I’m going to eat my feelings”. It’s easy to do. But instead of rewarding ourselves, we are only hurting ourselves.

It is well known that stress causes other comorbidities – heart failure and obesity to name a few. When stress comes along, so does the hormone cortisol – and guess what will then lower it? You got it. Serotonin – the Happy Hormone we talked about earlier. It is your body’s way of getting the Chill Pill. Getting those hormone levels up in a healthier way (see below) is the key to a happier self.

So what can you do about it?

  1. Balanced meals – Try to avoid the simple sugars in the morning. Start your body off right with a protein packed smoothie or a fibrous egg scramble. Eating things like donuts, sugary cereals, and pastries will only have you craving more before lunch. Adding fiber to any meal will increase the bulk and in turn will leave you feeling fuller, longer.
  2. Avoid processed foods  – this one is a biggie. Processed foods are usually full of sugar and sugar substitutes. Read my previous post about heart health shopping on tips to keep your grocery trips on the perimeter of the store to avoid processed foods. Think: FRESH.
  3. Release that serotonin naturally! A balanced diet, exercise, and sleep will give you all the boost you need. Have you tried getting 8 hours of sleep continuously for 7 days straight? I always aim for that but since my fatty baby can’t make it through the night without a meal at 2 am, it rarely happens 🙂 And I’m kidding – my fat baby is totally healthy 🙂
  4. COMPLEXITY is key. Complex sugars are where the high-quality carbohydrates will be. Whole wheat breads, grains, crackers, tortillas, etc will all have great sources of fiber that will keep you feeling full. Easing the glucose (broken down carbohydrates) into the blood stream at a slower rate will help fluctuations in blood sugar levels, among other things. Natural sugars from fruits are the way to go and may just hit that sweet spot. Grab a kiwi or apple instead of the leftover cake.
  5. Do you just NEED to have a little sugar? Stevia is the way to go. It’s 100% natural and actually has 300 times the amount of sweetness that sugar does and it will not raise your blood sugar. It’s your best option for a no calorie sweetness for your coffee/tea
  6. Try a new form of stress relief. If you tend to head towards the pantry when you feel stress coming on, walk the other way – literally. Go outside and take a hike, wrestle with the kids, walk the dog, meditate, call someone. Do literally anything other than reach for food.
  7. Stay hydrated! Are you getting enough water? You may be confusing your sugar craving for a water hydration craving. Try guzzling down some h2o instead.

Whatever you do, remember to give it time. Sugar cravings, unfortunately, will not go away overnight. It is something that you should be conscious of daily. Don’t ever give up and don’t even stop fighting the good fight!

Lindsey