I grew up with sugar all around me – Little Debbie snacks in the pantry, candy dishes with M&M’s, Hershey kisses, and Reeses Cups filled were placed in nearly every room. Our freezer was always filled with ice cream or some delectable treat, and I’m pretty sure that I always had some goodies packed in my lunch -and I had dessert everyday.
It’s no wonder that I have a slight sugar obsession, and it’s one thing I’ve had a problem giving up as I try to lose weight. But it’s one thing I know I must beat in order to look and feel the way I want to – so I decided to do some research on why sugar was so addicting, and how I can break that pattern, and I wanted to share it with you!
SUGAR IS ADDICTIVE. We all know we get sugar cravings, but did you know chemicals in sugar can hijack your brain?! Overstimulation of the reward centers in the brain can cause addiction. I’m talking straight up you can be an addict like an alcoholic or drug user.
When we eat foods that contain a lot of sugar, a massive amount of dopamine is released in an area of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. When we eat these foods often and in large amounts, the dopamine receptors start to down-regulate. Now there are fewer receptors for the dopamine. This means that the next time we eat these foods, their effect is blunted. We will need more junk food next time we eat in order to get the same level of reward.
You hear the same thing with dope fiends – the amount they smoked, took or shot up before isn’t enough a month down the line. .. the same thing goes for a sugar addiction. Though not illegal, it can be just as deadly.
SUGAR AFFECTS YOUR BEHAVIOR. For some people there are anatomical changes in the brain when exposed to their addiction (sugary foods for example). It can literally turn into a full-blown addiction.
SUGAR CAN LOWER YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM. Eating or drinking too much sugar (100 grams or more, equal to 2 and a half cans of pop) can reduce your bodies white blood cell count to kill germs by up to forty percent! The sugar causes a immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than 30 minutes after ingesting, and can last up to five hours. (Complex carbs, and starches have no effect on the immune system).
So now that we know what the sugar does to our bodies (and that it really is an addiction) then we can take steps to overcome that addiction.
You can train your tastebuds to enjoy things that aren’t sweet.
Chose ‘good for your sweets’ like strawberries, grapes or berries. Try them frozen, fresh, or with yogurt, low-fat milk, oatmeal or granola (the less sugar the better).
Make small changes – a little bit at a time, so it sticks. Drink one less pop, drink more water, skip dessert more than you have it, check labels and chose those with less sugar. Making these little steps and conquering them, will set you up for success.
Eat protein! Protein actually is an easy way to curb sugar cravings. High-protein foods digest more slowly, keeping you full for longer – and doesn’t make your blood level spike. Eat lean chicken, eggs, nuts, low-fat yogurt or beans.
Fill up on fiber as well – fiber gives you more energy, and since it doesn’t raise your blood sugar you don’t crash afterwards. Eat fruits, veggies, whole grains. Combine an apple with peanut butter, etc.
Exercise. Sorry – you can’t get away from it. Exercise will actually help your mind and body crave healthier foods. When you feel better, you want to do better – including eat better. I can attest to this because I didn’t feel the need to snack on as much sugar when I was regularly working out a few times a week. Start slow – 15 minutes a day, then increase. Always set goals, met them, and push forward.
DO NOT USE ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS. No fake sugar, no diet soda pops. Studies show this can actually make you crave sugar more!
Go cold turkey – or don’t. Some people can go get over the first 72 hours and be on their road to recovery..some can’t. You know your body. If you know you aren’t a cold turkey type of person, slowly reduce your sugar intake (using the tips in this post). Do what’s best for you. Remember, Rome wasn’t build in a day! Either will your hot bod!
If you must have your sugar (and I’m not saying give it up completely, that’s hard and nearly impossible in this day and age) eat something wonderful that you love, and combine it with a protein. Chocolate and fruit, or nuts is a good combo to give you what you are craving, but protein to fight it as well.
Grab some gum. Chewing on some sugar free gum can actually reduce food cravings.
Enlist help – don’t go this alone. I’m sure we all have friends or family members that want to kick the habit as well. Get a partner to help you through it; exchange recipes (maybe even make meals in bulk and split them) work out together, share your tips, and your struggles. Everything is easier when you have someone by your side!
What are your tips for beating your sugar cravings?