Sugar addiction is real my friends.
Even studies show that rats addicted to both sugar and cocaine, when given the option, choose sugar over cocaine 94 percent of the time.
While many experts agree that a little sugar isn’t harmful, most everyone can agree that the amount we consume today is very harmful. You don’t have to look too far to understand what sugar addiction is doing to our nation. Skyrocketing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes are proof that sugar addiction is slowly killing all who over indulge in the sweet stuff.
Like I said, the problem isn’t when we eat a little sugar here in there. The problem is that we eat sugar all the time. It’s in everything convenient, fast and cheap. It’s found in orange juice, “healthy” yogurts and in sports-drinks like Gatorade that are marketed as “healthy.” Sugar also is found in probiotic drinks like GoodBelly, which were created to promote healthy gut flora yet are loaded with sugar that feeds the unhealthy bacteria brewing in our bellies. (Read 19 So-Called “Health Foods” that Aren’t Even Healthy.)
Sugar also is found in processed foods and in white-refined grains like white rice and white flours. Even sandwich bread (yep, the whole grain kind too) is often pulverized so much that the carbohydrates in the bread quickly convert to sugar in your body. (I broke up with bread because it was nutritionally devoid.)
Sugar is a highly inflammatory food that overloads your pancreas and spikes your insulin levels. Eating it in excess inches you closer to metabolic diseases such as increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol – all major risk signs of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
On top of it all, every time you eat sugar, your body has to work hard to figure out how to digest it. Unlike fruit which comes with sugar AND plenty of fiber and nutrients, sugar along requires your body to call upon its reserves of essential nutrients in order to digest it. This means sugar pulls vital nutrients away from your body, leaving you feeling sluggish, weak and even sick!
While it’s easy to see that consuming sugar in excess is bad for your health, we all know that sugar isn’t so easy to give up. We crave sugar. We are ultra-addicted to the sweet stuff.
Natural MD Radio with Dr. Aviva Romm, one of my favorite natural health podcasts, featured an interview with Alexandra Jamieson. The two talked about the importance of getting to the root cause of your cravings. If you can figure out why you’re craving sugar, or XYZ food, then you can better equip yourself to overcome those cravings.
Alexandria says she has pinpointed four root causes for cravings.
Possible Root Causes of Cravings
1. Bacteria Imbalance
The first root cause of a craving is bacterial imbalance in the gut. Bad bacteria in your gut feeds – and therefore craves – more sugar.
Your impulse to reach for sweet foods is simply your gut telling your brain what it needs. The bad bacteria need sugar in order to survive. You’re just doing what your gut – or second brain – is telling you to do.
To better illustrate how this works, think about the bread-making process. The first three ingredients in bread are yeast, water and sugar. The water will begin to activate the yeast. However, the sugar, well it’s there to give the yeast something to munch on. Yep, yeast gets really excited when there’s sugar present, so it’s wise to add it to your bread to make the yeast happy and so you get a good rise.
Your sugar craving might mean you have a bacteria imbalance in your gut that you need to address. You can address it by starving the bacteria by not feeding it sugar for at least three weeks. When the yeast has nothing to munch on, it will die. At the same time, you can begin to repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria by taking a high quality probiotic capsule, eating anti-inflammatory foods, and enjoying a fermented food with every meal (kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir or fermented pickles).
Once you achieve bacteria balance in your gut, you can enjoy an occasional sugary treat again.
(If you suspect you have candida or bacteria overgrowth in your gut, talk to your doctor.)
2. Nutritional Deficiency
It’s been long said that Americans are overfed but undernourished. In a desperate attempt to compensate for poor nutrition, we often get strong cravings to eat more things like sugar, packaged food, fast food, etc. These products give us a quick burst of energy and make us feel better for the short-term. However, long-term, the cravings won’t go away if you’re missing vital nutrients from your diet.
To understand if you’re missing vital nutrients, ask your doctor for a blood test. Oftentimes people find their lack of energy is due to a Vitamin D deficiency. Your attempt to compensate for lack of Vitamin D in your diet might have you reaching in the cookie jar in order to get a quick spike of short-term energy. Another way to combat nutritional deficiencies is to ensure you’re eating plenty of vegetables. Eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible. You might find your cravings for sugar dissipate after sipping on green juice each day.
For many people – er, most of us – it’s hard to separate our emotions from food. We eat to comfort ourselves in times of sadness, or as an excuse to indulge in times of celebration. We even eat – a lot – after a hearty workout because we think we deserve it. The truth is, our emotions can sabotage our efforts to eat healthy. Become aware of the roller coaster of emotions you’re experiencing on a day to day basis. Being aware of how our emotions impact our food choices can be a powerful step in curbing a sugar addiction.
So many of us are deprived of physical contact – the kind of nourishment that comes from touch, hugs and cuddling. Humans are hardwired for physical contact, sex and play. If our physical needs are not being met, we often find ourselves craving that comfort from highly addictive, sugary foods. Touch more, eat less.
10 Tips for Breaking Sugar Addiction
Once you have identified the root cause(s) of your cravings, you can then move forward in a way that allows you to control your cravings… no longer will your cravings control you. Perhaps you need more physical touch or emotional support in your life, or there’s something physiologically wrong that needs to be addressed. Whatever the case, you are well on your way to overcoming your sugar addiction just by understanding and acknowledging the root cause of your cravings.
Once you have acknowledged and addressed the root cause of your cravings, you can then appreciate my 10 tips to eating less sugar and kicking the sugar addiction for good:
1. Avoid Packaged Foods. Most packaged foods are loaded with white refined flours and added sugars. Instead, eat foods that are whole and fresh, like avocados, berries and sliced veggies.
2. Avoid Sugary Sodas and Energy Drinks. These “beverages” are just sugar delivery systems. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 34 grams of sugar. A can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar… these two drinks are equally bad for you – don’t be fooled by marketing hype.
3. Avoid Artificial Sweeteners. It’s been well-documented that diet drinks and artificial sweeteners cause you to gain weight, mainly because they make you crave more sugar. Artificially sweetened beverages are, simply put, counterproductive to your healing. I’ve never seen a study that showed someone overcoming a sugar addiction – nor losing weight – because they switched from sugar to artificial sweeteners. If such a study existed, you bet Big Food would have made sure you knew about it.
4. Enjoy a Savory Breakfast. Most people start off their day with sugar topped with sugar and then a side of sugar too. Cereals, bagels, waffles and toast are all made with refined grains that convert to sugar in your body. When we start off our day with sugar, we crave more sugar as the day progresses. Instead, start your day off with a savory breakfast – perhaps some scrambled eggs topped with salsa and a sliced avocado.
5. Eat Sweet Vegetables. If you crave something sweet, try eating more sweet vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, corn, onions, and squash. Roast these sweet veggies with a little olive oil and sea salt. Try my Healing Carrot Walnut Soup or roasted beets.
6. Enjoy Fruit Minimally. While fruit contains natural sugars, it also comes with essential nutrients and the fiber your body needs to process the sugar. I suggest limiting fruit consumption until you restore gut balance (most important if your bacteria is wonky) and enjoy low sugar fruits instead, like berries (especially blueberries) and kiwi. Once your body is restored to good health, fruit can be an excellent source of nutrients and fiber for you – so don’t give it up. Just enjoy within reason. This is an excellent article from NPR that answers the gnawing question if sugar from fruit is the same as sugar from candy. So many people demonize all sugar, but not all sugar is created equal by your body. Read more.
7. Read Labels. Condiments, salad dressings, coffee creamers and yogurts contain sugar. Flavored Yoplait Yogurt contains 27 grams of sugar and, of the 170 calories, 108 of come from sugar. Eater beware.
8. Eat Whole Grains. Quinoa, brown rice, millet and buckwheat (all gluten-free grains) slowly digest in your body vs. rapidly convert to sugar like the white grains. Avoid all white refined starches like white rice, white breads, potatoes and cereals and enjoy a small serving of whole grains each day to help you feel full longer.
9. Drink Up. When you’re hungry or craving sugar, drink a glass of water with a lemon squeeze or muddled cucumber. We often mistake thirst for hunger or cravings. I find that a cold glass of water helps me feel full and deters me from reaching for the bag of M&Ms.
10. Learn to Cook at Home. Get back to the basics and learn to cook at home (and love cooking at home too!). Avoid eating an excessive amount of your meals out of the house. Take an hour every day to cook things you and your family will love. Don’t rush dinner. Plan your meals ahead of time. Your health is too important to leave in the hands of short order cooks at fast food restaurants. Health is wealth – keep your priorities straight.
Remember, overcoming a sugar addiction isn’t easy. It’s an addiction, after all. It takes time, self-love and patience. The first step is understanding that you have a sugar addiction, then understanding the root cause of it, and then taking steps to remediate it immediately.
You can do this. I have faith in you.
P.S. Gluten is highly addictive too. Here are the steps I took to overcome gluten addiction.