Everyone knows that sugar isn’t exactly good for us, but not everyone realises just how bad it is for our bodies and even our brains!
Sugar addiction is a very real and very worrying dependency – it’s actually been suggested that sugar is more addictive than cocaine – and finding ways around sweet cravings isn’t always easy… but that’s where we come in!
Currently our food supply contains more sugar than our bodies were ever equipped to deal with. In fact, the insane levels of sugar hidden in every day food items becomes even less understandable when you consider that there is actually no dietary requirement for sugar.
Interestingly, many observers point out the worrying parallels between the current obesity epidemic and the timeline of when refined sugar began to be commercially produced and added into food stuffs in greater amounts.
The prevalence of sugar in unexpected food is particularly worrisome in the case of refined sugars (which tend to be what is included in things like bread, ‘juice’ boxes, some yogurts, breakfast cereals, etc.), because our body will quickly break down and process them. When you eat refined sugar, your insulin levels will spike as your liver turns that sugar into fat, and these high insulin levels will cause glucose levels to plummet; leading to your body suddenly lacking in energy and generating cravings for even more sugar to offset the energy drop! So, in other words, when you eat sugar it almost immediately creates a craving for more sugar, which is where addiction comes into play.
Consuming sugar creates a reaction in our brains, specifically an area called the nucleus accumbens, which is better known as the ‘reward centre’ of the brain. When this area is stimulated it will release dopamine, which gives us all those warm fuzzy feelings of satisfaction and happiness. The more sugar you consume, the more dopamine is released, and the better you suddenly feel.
This become addictive in two senses; firstly there is an emotional addiction; if it makes us feel good we want more of it (especially if we currently aren’t feeling great).
Secondly, just like any drug, over time the brain requires more sugar to create the same dopamine reaction; or, we need more sugar to get the same ‘high’. Another way to put this is that we’ve adapted to the levels of sugar we regularly consume in everyday food items and so need more the induce a reaction – but don’t worry! Sugar addiction is curable with just a little time, a bit of will power, and a lot of reading of ingredient lists.
The first thing to remember is that a little bit of sugar isn’t the end of the world. In fact, a little bit of sugar can be a good thing (there’s a reason it makes us feel good, after all), the important thing to make sure of is that you’re only eating sugar when you mean to be!
Step one is an exercise in careful reading. Go through your cupboards and examine what’s actually on the shelves or, more specifically, what’s hidden in the things that are on the shelves! Once you’ve gathered all the offending items (and you’ll be surprised by how many of them there are), get rid of them! We’re not a big fan of waste, so we strongly recommend donating what you can.
The next step is fighting those cravings. The easiest way to do this is by trying to replace what your body wants with what it needs; a balanced breakfast that includes carbohydrates, protein and good fats is the best way to get your day off to a good start.
Another good tip is to prepare snacks in bulk. We won’t lie to you, if you cut out sugar in a big way like this you ARE going to experience cravings; but having an easily accessible option of a healthy and tasty snack everywhere you go is a great way to prevent back-sliding.
The final and most important step is to take care of yourself. Sugar cravings usually come into play because we’re tired, stressed, or sad, and need an easy pick me up. This kind of emotional dependency on a chemical lift is completely understandable (it’s something we’re all guilty of), but it’s also something that is surprisingly preventable. Exercise, consciously de-stressing, and ensuring a good night’s sleep, all go a long way to breaking our emotional sugar cravings.
Daily exercise gives our body a way to process excess blood sugar in a healthy way. This doesn’t have to mean a full work out; an evening walk or even taking the time to stretch for a couple of minutes at your desk are enough to start this process.
Consciously de-stressing isn’t just good for our sugar cravings, limiting stress where we can actually has a hugely positive impact on our mental and hormonal health. Finding a way to de-stress could mean marking out a 5 minute period in your calendar every day to either try a relaxation technique, let yourself day-dream without consequence, or dance around the room in the craziest way you know how. How you de-stress isn’t nearly as important as making sure that you do!
Like exercise and de-stressing, ensuring good sleep is a generally healthy practice, however in the case of sugar addiction, good sleeping habits help to prevent midday energy drops and a dependency on a sugar buzz. Your cortisol levels will naturally drop towards the end of the day according to your body’s circadian rhythm, but with an established routine of good sleep, this drop is more of a gradual decline, and not a sudden plummet. With your energy levels remaining steady, you will be less tempted by a sugar pick-me-up when that familiar 3pm drowsiness hits.
Breaking sugar addictions is particularly important for people who suffer from thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism. When a person is in a hypothyroid state, their metabolism is slowed, which can induce insulin to linger for a longer period of time in our system, which in turn creates a much greater chance of hypoglycemia (low glucose levels).
Signs of this include:
– sudden sweating
– hunger cravings
– irritability or moodiness
– anxiety or nervousness
– a sudden headache
These aren’t just symptoms of a sugar craving, but of a serious hormonal imbalance regularly throwing your internal systems into a spin. When left untreated, conditions like hypothyroidism can lead to more serious and persistent issues such as metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and even diabetes.
The health consequences of a sugar addiction are dangerous for anyone to face, but this danger is greatly increased for people who are also experiencing a hormonal issue such as with hypothyroidism. Clinic research shows that around 80% of Australian women and a lesser percentage of men (around 1 in 7 thyroid sufferers are men) have an undiagnosed thyroid problem; if any of the above symptoms seem uncomfortably familiar then don’t wait to find out if you’re one of them.