How can anyone resist sugar? It’s all around us! But here are some compelling reasons to quit..
There is something about sugar that appeals to more than just our taste buds. It hijacks our emotions, our brain chemistry and our hormones as well. It gives us an instant rush of energy and emotional satiety, leaving us craving for more. The more we have, the more we crave for it. This is because our body develops tolerance to sugar, and gradually we need more of it to feel the same rush. This leads to craving even when we are not hungry. Cravings lead to overeating, even after we know we are full and shouldn’t eat more. Tolerance and craving are the hallmarks of addiction.
So why is sugar so addictive?
Studies have shown that sugar lights up the pleasure centre of our brain, called the nucleus accumbens. Its releases the pleasure hormone called Dopamine, which is responsible for the rush of energy and happiness. These are the same pleasure centres which are stimulated by other addictive drugs or activities like alcohol, cocaine, tobacco or gambling. Another hormone which has been linked to sugar addiction is Leptin. Some people may lack this hormone and that makes them genetically prone to food and sugar cravings. So this is’nt just about being greedy, gluttony, lazy, fat or poorly motivated. Anybody who has tried to give up sugar knows how hard it can be.
Why is sugar bad for us?
Sugar can have a detrimental effect on almost every system of the human body. It is especially bad for growing children. Not only does excess sugar rot the teeth and lead to obesity, it can lead to multiple nutritional deficiencies. It interferes with the gut’s absorption of Calcium, Chromium and Magnesium. It can lead to behavioural changes like increased crankiness, poor concentration, a short burst of hyperactivity followed by a longer period of sluggishness and inertia. It can cause headaches, anxiety, palpitations and dizziness, in young and old alike.
Excess sugar in your diet can directly or indirectly increase systolic blood sugar, cause kidney and gall stones, hormonal imbalance, faster cell death and cell ageing, and trigger various cancers. It increases the risk of Diabetes, Heart disease, Gout, Fatty Liver, Cataracts and Parkinson’s disease.
I have cut out sugar and candies from my life but I’m still not able to get over my cravings..
This is because sugar is all around us. We just fail to recognize it sometimes. Starch equals sugar. White rice, maize and potatoes are rich sources of starch. Almost all processed food contains added or hidden sugars to mask the taste of refined flour, chemicals and preservatives. Breads, pastas, sodas, wafers, sauces, syrups, salad dressing and chips contain sugar as well. Granola bars and energy drinks contain huge amounts of sugar as well. Check food labels for ingredients. ‘Sugar’ maybe hidden behind names like Glucose, Dextrose, Sucrose, Lactose, Molasses, Corn syrup, and such.
How can I tell if I’m addicted to sugar?
There are some clues – (1) You eat certain sugary or starchy food even when you’re not hungry, because you are craving for it. On some days, you crave for dessert even when you’re full and can’t really eat any more! You make excuses to eat more sugar (2) Dieting makes you apprehensive and cranky. You worry about cutting out certain foods from your diet. In fact, you can eat sugary food till it makes you sick. (3) You feel ill and exhausted from overeating. (4) You have developed medical ailments like Diabetes, as a direct consequence of your overeating. Your bad dietary habits have also lead to social isolation due to obesity. But you still can’t stop. You choose sugar over good health and relationships. (5) You eat when you’re happy, you eat when you’re sad and you eat when you’re mad. You realize that you need more and more sugar to experience the same pleasure or numb the negative emotions. (6) You find yourself craving sugar at odd hours. You will order that 2 am pizza or drive out to that late-night café just to order some pastry. (7) You have a secret sugar stash at home, and you find yourself rushing to binge on sugar when you find yourself alone. (8) You have a habit of “rewarding” yourself with sugar for even minor achievements, or to keep yourself motivated.
How much sugar can I have in a day?
According to the American Heart Association, one should not have more than 6 teaspoons a day for women (approx. 100 calories) and 9 teaspoons a day for men (approx. 150 calories). This includes sugars from fruits and starch.
How can I ditch my sugar addiction?
This requires commitment and honest effort and it’s not as hard as it might seem. Cutting out all sugar and starch might be too drastic and lead to severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Take small but determined steps. Start by giving up all sweets, candies, pastries and cocoa. Get rid of your sugar stash to avoid temptation. Simply stop buying sugary foods. Let your friends know that you’re trying to detox, and that you would prefer flowers over chocolates for next Valentine’s Day! Go an entire month without sweet treats, and then add colas and processed food to your list of ‘banned foods’.
You don’t have to give up rice, wheat and potatoes altogether. Aim for portion control.
Artificial sweeteners do not help. Use honey. Or have some milk, fruits, nuts, dates, berries, frozen yoghurt or oats when you feel the pang for sugar. Increase your fibre intake. It decreases sugar absorption in the body and controls hunger pangs. Fight the urge to have a drink or a smoke, which could be more acute when you’re detoxing from sugar. Drink plenty of water instead, and remain well-hydrated.
Good sleep and adequate exercise are also helpful when you’re trying to wean yourself off sugar. Cultivate a hobby, to keep your mind occupied. Have multivitamins containing iron, magnesium and chromium to stave off hunger. Have small amounts of health fats like eggs, fish, flaxseeds, peanuts, olives and tofu. They improve your overall sense of satisfaction from your meal, and reduce the urge to reach out for sugar. Some find it helpful to chew on sugar-free gum. Chewing fills your mouth with saliva which fools your brain into believing you’re not hungry anymore. Eat regularly and have several small meals a day. Do not give long gaps between meals. That is when the cravings raise their ugly head again!
As you wean yourself off sugar, the cravings begin to go away and it becomes easier to stick to your new diet. Allow yourself the occasional cheat day, but do not binge, or else your cravings might return. Several studies have shown that sugar is actually MORE addictive than cocaine. Worse, it is legal, inexpensive, widely and freely available, and the ill-effects are not as immediate or pronounced. This is why sugar addiction is often under-estimated and this has lead to an obesity epidemic. Educate yourself and start taking remedial steps to break the sugar habit.