Are you aware of the effect sugar has on the way you feel everyday? Is the short-lived euphoria you experience when eating a sweet treat followed by feelings of depression, crankiness or even mental fog? Do you find yourself reaching for another snack or sweet to counteract those feelings or just to feel better? If you answered yes, then you are probably a true sugar addict. How can you know for sure?
People with a “sweet tooth” report many of the same common symptoms that all addicts have: increased consumption of the substance over a short period of time, withdrawal symptoms when it is denied, and regular intense cravings for it. Apparently, sugary treats stimulate the brain’s reward center in the same way that alcohol and drugs do, by sparking the release of the pleasure chemical dopamine. While sugar does give you a temporary lift, over the long haul it can cause major damage through repeated stress on the body and its systems, which is accelerated in addicts. If you’re not a sugar addict, your body can easily handle isolated doses of sugar and the temporary insulin spikes and other reactions they can trigger. We’ve all had this experience in some form or another. The afternoon rolls around and you’re feeling a little sluggish or even hungry, so you reach for a candy bar or other sugar-laden snack to give you a little boost. Shortly after, you start to feel tired again and even a little cranky or depressed. If you had a cup of coffee with that snack, then the effects can become even more magnified and you start to feel like you’re having a mild anxiety attack –-heart palpitations, nervousness, or an upset stomach. Ironically, most people never grasp the connection between these feelings and the sugar they consumed that triggered them.
Each spike in our sugar consumption generates a correlated spike in insulin and a subsequent nosedive in our blood sugar. Every time this happens our adrenal glands respond by releasing anti-stress hormones, which in turn release the sugar that is stored in our liver for emergencies to restore balance. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Unfortunately, most sugar addicts unwittingly repeat this pattern over and over until the roller coaster ride eventually wears out all their organs (including the pancreas) –leaving them in a weakened state where they are unable to fight disease or other stresses.
If you’re on the sugar treadmill, it should come as no surprise when you feel run down in spite of getting a good night’s sleep, or if you’ve become more susceptible to colds and flu, or when you become prone to general malaise. With all your anti-stress hormones being usurped to balance out your blood sugar spikes, there isn’t much left to help you stay on an even keel. In that state, a lack of food can put you into a tailspin.
So how can you take control of your cravings and get off the sugar treadmill? Here are some tips that may help:
Identify Your Triggers. Know what situations or circumstances typically lead you to consume unnecessary or excess sugar and develop strategies to avoid them or consciously work around them. For example, if you feel pressured to have dessert at a dinner party or restaurant gathering, tell people that you’re “pre-diabetic” and have to carefully watch your sugar intake or you’ll develop full-blown diabetes. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will argue with that!
Plan Ahead & Stock Healthy Foods. Plan your meals in advance and make a point of stocking your pantry and your fridge so there are enough healthy foods on hand for meals and snacks including healthy versions of salad dressings and condiments (where added sugar is often hiding) and whole grain cereals, oatmeal, or plain low-fat yogurt for breakfasts. Don’t keep cookies, cakes or other sugary snacks in your house!
Commit to Your List. Take a list with you when food shopping and commit to buying only the items on your list. Not only will you save money by doing this, you will avoid the temptation of buying or snacking on foods you don’t need or are loaded with sugar.
Hydrate with Unsweetened Beverages. About 46% of Americans’ added sugar intake comes from beverages. Replace sugar bombs like soda (and even diet sodas), alcohol, bottled iced teas, flavored waters, and fruit drinks, with purified water and herbal teas. You can flavor your own water by adding a drop or two of essential oil (peppermint, cinnamon, or lemon) to a quart or squeeze fresh lemons or limes directly into it.
Don’t Skip Meals. Skipping meals results in low blood-sugar levels which leads to impulsive eating –often of sweets. Try to eat something every 3-4 hours and substitute sweets or refined carb treats with protein, healthy fats (nuts and seeds), and plenty of veggies. Be sure to eat a protein-rich breakfast to maintain blood sugar balance throughout the day.
Spice Up Your Life. Get in the habit of using herbs to add flavor to your food instead of dressings and sauces that often contain hidden sugar. Cinnamon has been shown to help regulate blood sugar. Use it in place of sweeteners in your desserts, breakfast foods, smoothies, and even in your coffee. Its thermogenic (fat-burning) properties can help you lose weight too!