post by Amy Tulip, NASM CPT
You may already know sugar does some bad, bad things to our bodies. We can blame our sugar cravings for:
- Insulin resistance (indicted in the development of many diseases, including Type II Diabetes)
- Tooth decay
- Visceral fat storage (the dangerous fat surrounding our internal organs)
- The national obesity epidemic
As you also know, it’s not just enough to know the facts. Facts don’t fight addictions. And sugar is definitely addictive! In a moment, I’ll share how you can overcome the addiction. First, let’s look at two ways sugar can control you.
Sugar Cravings and The Monster in Your Gut
You have loads of bacteria that call your body home. Some of the bacteria (most, in fact) are beneficial to your health. Some aren’t. Sugar acts as a superfood for bad bacteria in your gut called Candida. If you consistently eat foods with sugar, Candida will have a feast in your bowels. Since your gut acts as your body’s second brain, prepare for some serious hijacking of your neurotransmitters.
So what happens as you reduce your sugar intake? Candida bacteria get hungry! They scavenge for any sugar they can find, leaving little for the rest of your body. Those neurotransmitters accustomed to hits of sugar have no more fuel. And dopamine (an organic chemical that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior) surges come to an end. This may explain the withdrawals and sugar cravings. However, it’s only part of the problem.
Sugar Acts Like a Drug
As if the toxic effect on the gut wasn’t bad enough, sugar affects the reward center of the brain in a way similar to narcotics. Sugary foods cause a dopamine release in the brain, which feels really good. But the more often you eat it, the less effect it has. That means the next time you eat sugar, you need a little more to get the same level of reward. Uh oh…
How to Beat Your Addiction
So, with a sugar-loving monster growing in your gut and your brain demanding more sugar than yesterday to get the same fix, what do you do? You start reversing the tide.
Here are some practical ways to crush the sugar cravings and regain control of your body:
- Choose naturally sweet whole foods – like fresh fruit.
When I lived in Australia, I experienced a cultural oddity – fruit for dessert. Yeah, mind-blowing. When my host mother said she was going to the kitchen for dessert, I imagined fancy pastries or some other sugar-coated treats. Instead, she came back with a bowl of blood oranges. Oranges? For dessert? You’re kidding. That’s how my brain responded. That was my sugar addiction talking. Since then, I have retrained my brain to see fruit as a wonderful option when I think I need a sweet fix.
- Read Labels
Look at the nutrition labels on your favorite foods. What you see you might suprise you. American manufacturers find a way to put sugar is in almost EVERYTHING! Start slowly cutting foods with high sugar content, and look for some good alternatives without added sugar.
- Plan Your Food
Plan your meals ahead of time and stick to the plan. You have control over everything you put in your mouth. Just because you’ve always eaten dessert, doesn’t mean you have to. Ensure you have a mindful activity (work, hobby, etc.) after every meal to avoid creating space for temptation.
- Do a Fast
Want to go hardcore? A two or three day fast can effectively snap your brain out of a daily need for sugar. Prepare for the challenge though. You may experience symptoms, like headaches, dizziness, and low energy. However, the research shows just how powerful a fast can work to reset your system and give your digestive system a much needed break. And your brain will realize it won’t die without satisfying those sugar cravings or going without food for a while. (As always, consult your physician prior to doing an extended fast.)
Most importantly, examine what you are eating, why you are eating, and when you are eating. Consider how a food may or may not supply your body with needed nutrients vital to your goal. Practice mindfulness by asking, “Will this food move me closer to my goal?” If not, choose something that will. Or, intentionally reward yourself. Whatever you do, do it with great intention.
When a seemingly insurmountable sugar craving hits, try one of my favorite sugar-free recipes – a gift from one “sweet tooth” to another!
No Bake Protein Cookie Dough (single serving)
- 1 ½ tablespoons no calorie sweetener (like Stevia – no artificial sweeteners)
- 2 tablespoons water (more if needed)
- 1 ⅛ teaspoon nut butter
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 scoop of your favorite sugar-free protein powder
- 2 teaspoons coconut flour
- 1 teaspoon almond flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon add-ins, like sugar-free dark chocolate (I get mine from the chocolate bar section at Trader Joe’s for a few bucks – 70% dark chocolate)
- In a medium bowl, combine sweetener, water, nut butter, and vanilla extract.
- Add protein powder, coconut flour, almond flour and salt. Combine until a thick dough is formed. (Add more water if dough is too crumbly.)
- Fold in any extras (chocolate chips, almond slivers, unsweetened coconut flakes, etc.)
- Enjoy! This will also keep in the refrigerator. You may need to add water to soften a bit when removed.