[M]y relationship with food has always been a struggle but two years ago I made a commitment to work on it and my entire world has seen a transformation through this experience. I have gained so much perspective and understanding around food and my body but I have realized that like other relationships it is always changing and ever evolving. The process has been challenging but I would have to say that sugar has been the one area that has caused me the most trouble, as I am sure most of you can relate.
So why is it so hard for people to quit sugar? Other than the fact that it is delicious—we all know it’s bad for us. First of all, sugar is super addictive! It’s something our bodies naturally need and there are survival mechanisms built into us that cause us to crave it. Sugar increases the dopamine levels which is a chemical in the brain that is associated with our reward mechanism and naturally encourages us to repeat the behavior in order to get more reward. It also suppresses our leptin receptors which is a hormone that tells us we are full, so we not only overeat on sugar but other foods as well.
Sounds a little backwards, right!?! Why would our bodies—which are designed to protect us—reward us for doing something that is so bad for it? Well there is actually a biological reason for it. Way back when, during the days of the hunters and gathers, sugar was super valuable, it provided an instant energy spike to help hunt down their next meal. It would also get converted directly into fat stores for energy use later on when food was sparse. Since sugar was rare to come across, it was necessary for the “full feeling” to be suppressed so that sugar could be consumed in large quantities to ensure there was enough energy for later use.
Well today there is an overabundance of sugar—I mean it’s everywhere. It’s in the usual suspects, cakes, pastries and ice cream, but it is also hidden in foods, such as sauces, dressings, and refined carbohydrates that get converted into sugar. It’s also not always easy to determine what is sugar as manufactures will list sugars as ingredients that are unrecognizable to most of us; ethyl maltol, dextran, molasses, and maltodextrin to name a few. Our bodies unfortunately have not caught up to the times and still treat sugar as if it were a rare treat, as we can see in the ever expanding waist lines of the North American culture.
So, just how much sugar are we eating on a daily basis? Just to give you an idea, a chocolate bar alone, is equal to or exceeds, depending on the bar, the recommended daily allowance. According to Stats Canada, in 2004, the average Canadian was consuming 110g or 26 teaspoons of sugar a day, the recommended daily total should fall somewhere around 24g-36g or 6-9 teaspoons.
So what are we supposed to do? How do we kick this sugar habit for good? It’s not going to be an easy process to be honest, you may not feel well for a couple of week during the detox period, but once you get through this, you will feel better than you have in years and no longer be controlled by food craving, which in my opinion is worth a week of discomfort!
As I mentioned, Sugar is an addiction and therefore you will need to detox from it. If you cut it out cold turkey you may experience some pretty severe withdrawal symptoms. By taking a week or two to reduce sugar –preferably removing all refined sugar and carbs—it will be a lot easier to bare when you do remove it completely and I do recommend you cut it out completely for a couple of weeks so that you can build back in natural sugars from a base level. If your health is poor, I recommend speaking with a health care provider prior to starting. I would also highly recommend to anyone to set up a support system prior to beginning. Do it with a friend or work with a Health Coach ;), someone who can help you through the detox period and hold your hand through the cravings.
I am a big proponent for tracking your food. I was totally oblivious to what I was actually consuming on a daily basis until I saw it laid out in front of me. It was then easy for me to see where I was doing well and what areas I needed to work on. By using a tracking app like My Fitness Pal, you are easily able to track your nutrient levels and see which foods are the biggest culprits and even which meals you are consistently running into issues with.
You are less likely to crave something sugary sweet if you are getting enough nutrients. A lot of times our craving for something sweet are caused by a drop in our blood sugar which happens if you are not eating enough of the right stuff. When you are eating foods rich in healthy fats and protein, such as nuts, avocado or coconut oil, you are going to feel full for longer and be less likely to grab for that sugar fix mid-afternoon.
If you are making the food yourself you know what is going into it and are better able to control the amount of sugar you eat in a day. If you have to eat processed food make sure that you understand all the ingredients on the label and try to stick to organic and non-GMO products.
Like any addiction, you are going to need support through this period. I’m sure you have tried to give up sugar before but quickly got frustrated, overwhelmed and disappointed and given in to the cravings. With the right support system behind you, yours odds increase that you will see lasting changes in your diet. If you decide to work with a Health Coach they will be there to help you understand your cravings, and arm you with recipes and ideas to help you get the sweet fix you are looking for without compromising your progress. Just remember though that this is a process and you are not going to be perfect so approach this with loving kindness towards yourself and enjoy the discovery of new foods and a healthier life. What do you think would be your biggest challenge with giving up sugar?