Why it be so hard to give up sugar? Hmmm, could it be something to do with how pervasive and immediately-available sugar-laden foods are in our society?! Certainly this is a BIG obstacle, but did you know that biological sugar addiction is also a real phenomenon? No more feeling guilty about our ‘dwindling’ willpower!
Here’s some of what we know:
- Harvard professor, Daniel Lieberman, has written about how humans likely evolved to prefer sweet tastes as a mechanism for finding safe food (clearly not anticipating how easy “safe” – I use this term loosely – food would become to find!).
- Sugar has an opiod and dopamine-stimulating effect in our brains, similar to other addictive substances. In fact, intense sweetness has a higher ‘reward’ effect than cocaine.
- High sugar intake followed by abstinence induces withdrawal symptoms including depressive-like behavior.
- Our ‘gut bugs’ (intestinal microbiome) affect food cravings by producing substances that alter our mood, taste receptors, and gut-brain nerve transmissions. Dr. Fitzgerald has written about this.
- Consumption of high glycemic foods (such as sugars or refined carbohydrates) is often followed by a blood sugar “crash” a little while later. While blood sugar is low, cravings for foods (especially sweet foods and carbohydrates) can be intense. This tends to lead to poor food choices at the next meal and perpetuates the cycle.
- Emotions and life stress are heavily connected to unhealthy food choices
- Our societal and cultural environments, especially peer ‘norms’ and traditions have an underestimated effect on our food intake.
Take a Personalized Approach to Banish Cravings
Don’t despair! Here’s a summary of the different strategies you might consider to address those pesky sugar cravings.
|Cravings “reset”||· Understand the addictive nature of sugar (stop thinking it’s your fault!)· Go cold turkey! Removing all sugar stimuli will reset the opiod/dopamine response. Be aware that subsequent attempts to reintroduce sugar too soon can retrigger cravings.· Focus on WHAT you eat rather than HOW MUCH (it’s hard to binge eat on broccoli)· Consider short term citicholine or lecithin (talk to your practitioner before use), and/or support phosphatidylcholine status through dietary sources (eggs, liver), and folate (dark leafy greens, legumes, liver)|
|Minimize mood withdrawal symptoms||· Check and support neurotransmitter status with amino acids and cofactors; sources of balanced amino acids are eggs, lean meats, protein supplements· Check and support cofactor status for neurotransmitter synthesis (work with your functional medicine/nutrition practitioner)|
|Boost satiety and stabilize blood sugar||· Low glycemic, high fiber foods; healthy fats (avocado, coconut, olive); clean, lean proteins; abundant vegetables|
|Restore healthy gut flora||· Probiotics· Prebiotic foods such as onion, leek, Jerusalem artichoke, asparagus· Work with a practitioner if you have significant dysbiosis or SIBO|
|Sugar detachment||· Mindfulness meditation· Forehead tracking technique|
|Emotional craving control||· Emotional awareness (try an Emotion Log)· Laddering technique (uncovering hidden emotional connections)· Therapeutic humor|
|Stress management||· Find what works for you: exercise, yoga, walking, relationships, art, breathing exercises, meditation, etc.|
|Address sugar cues||· Create a log of food cues, such as watching TV. Work to readjust the cues or your response· Examine whether your food traditions or social norms are undermining your attempts to avoid sugar|
A Note on Artificial Sweeteners
Before reaching for sugar alternatives as the ideal solution to the sugar dilemma, consider that the sweetness on our tastebuds triggers the same addictive brain response. Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, which can further distort our taste buds and reward response. They are known to disrupt out friendly gut bugs. And they may also cause a release of insulin that triggers low blood sugar (since no sugar arrives in the bloodstream) with subsequent increased cravings. In fact, consumption of artificial sweeteners ironically leads to increased food consumption, weight gain and metabolic dysfunction. More research here.
Now we want to hear from you! Do you struggle with a sugar addiction? Have you kicked your addiction? Comment below!