How to Beat Sugar Addiction
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Some of you might be surprised that I, someone who has published several dessert recipes, now want to talk about overcoming sugar addiction. I enjoy baking sweet treats; that is so true, but I'm also a firm believer in moderation. I wouldn't say sugar is extremely dangerous and we must eliminate it from our diet completely. For me to say such a thing would be like Paula Deen denouncing southern food. In a way, I think refined sugar is like alcohol. It's not that great for our health, but if we don't consume it too much and too often, our bodies should be able to handle it well enough. So what we should be concerned about is perhaps not the sugar itself but our own urge to overconsume it. While moderate consumption of sugar usually doesn't harm the body, excessive consumption of it can lead to several health risks, including obesity, cardiovascular problems, diabetes, hyperactivity, anxiety, poor immune system and even cancer. Sugar addiction is definitely something you should take control of, otherwise your health would keep going downhills.
Is Sugar Addictive?
Yes, it can certainly be. "Sugar is as addictve as cocaine," said Dr. Robert Lustig, a UCSF's neuroendocrinologist, on the CBS News program, 60 Minutes. According to brain scans, sugar increases the level of dopamine (the "feel-good" chemical) in the brain and consequently puts us in a euphoric state. That's why for many people, excessive sugar consumption is basically a quick fix for stress and sadness. Skeptics might consider this to be an overreaction or even some sort of a hoax, but in fact, Dr. Lustig is not alone in this theory. There are several other studies that support his claim. For example, Professor Bart Hoebel of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute also has studied signs of sugar addiction in rats for years, and according to his research, rats that were regularly fed large amounts of sugar underwent neurochemical changes in the brain that resembled those produced by highly addictive substances, such as cocaine, morphine and nicotine. In addition, they also demonstrated a behavioral pattern of needs for increased intake as well as signs of withdrawal when they were denied sugar for a prolonged period. So if you think your habit of sugar gorging is simply caused by your great love for sweetness, think again! It might actually be an addiction.
What Causes Sugar Cravings?
Sugar addiction usually begins with regular sugar cravings that have been left untamed. Those who always indulge their sweet cravings instead of trying to curb them tend to end up becoming sugar addicts. Currently, there are no magic pills that can help stop sugar addiction. If you want to kick the habit, it is important to understand what causes a sweet tooth in the first place.
- Stress - Sweet cravings are oftentimes the body's reaction to emotional stress. Once you consume sugar, the brain releases a surge of dopamine that temporarily enlivens your mood. As a result, many people associate sweetness with comfort and use it as a heartache medicine.
- Adrenal Fatigue - There are many things that lead to adrenal fatigue - sleep deprivation, stress, hormonal imbalance, chronic allergies, poor diet, just to name a few. Since sugar gives the body energy, it's quite natural for people who suffer from adrenal fatigue to experience sweet cravings. When they consume sugar, it grants them a big boost of energy, followed by a major sugar crash, which leads them back to more sugar. And then the destructive cycle keeps going on and on.
- Dehydration - How could we mix up thirstiness with sweet cravings? It might sound improbable, but the body does experience all kinds of misleading cravings when it is dehydrated. Plus, dehydration is often accompanied by weariness, which can make us feel that our body needs sugar or caffeine while it's actually just deprived of water.
- Insulin Resistance - When your body is resistant to insulin, it cannot absorb sugar properly, so glucose is unable to enter your cells and ends up staying in your blood. As a result, your cells are starved of glucose and yearning the fuel that they need for energy. Yep, diabetics' sweet cravings aren't just a myth after all.
- High-Sodium Diet - Eating very salty food can sometimes lead to sugar cravings afterwards. How so? Registered Dietician Lauren O'Connor wrote on the Nutri-Savvy Blog that "Sodium acts as a buffer, raising PH as it draws water into the body, sugary foods have an acidic-affect (PH-lowering) on the body." So when sweet cravings occur after we consume high-sodium food, it could be the body's natural way of trying to regain the PH balalnce.
Beat sugar addiction with relaxing exercise
Overcoming Sugar Addiction
- Find other types of "sweetness" in your life. Sugar is not the one and only dopamine booster. The causes of your stress may be very complex and not something that can be easily fixed, but still, there are many better ways to handle your stress than frequenting a bakery. Try yoga. Listen to music more often. Adopt a new exercise routine. Take up a fun little hobby. Make new friends. Hang out with old friends. Meditate. Run. Sing. Dance. Grow flowers in your backyard. Pamper yourself at a spa. If cooking and eating make you feel good, then do so but only after you spend some time looking for healthy recipes. Just really think about what else can bring simple joy to your life besides apple pies and glazed donuts.
- Check-up time! Your body is like a car. Every once in a while, it needs a proper check up. Some physical problems, like hormonal imbalance and insulin resistance, can be the causes of your ferocious sweet cravings. Make sure you consult your doctor about this.
- Zzzzzzzzzz....Get enough sleep every night and wake up with a burst of energy. It's much better than the "fake energy" you get from gulping down cans of soda.
- Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day. Think of your body as a plant; it needs a good amount of water to stay healthy, but not too much or too little.
- Go easy on salt. When you buy food products, try to read the labels and check their sodium content. Also, avoid ordering dishes prepared with processed meat, such as ham and sausages, when you dine at a restaurant. These products tend to be high in sodium.
Keeping a food diary is another good strategy
- Start cutting down sugar slowly. For example, if you have been regularly consuming 3 cans of soda and snacking on sweets several times a day, don't just eliminate these sugary foods from your diet all at once. Instead, maybe you can cut down one or two cans of soda a day in the first month while continuing to have sweets for snacks. Then in the second month, you can begin to substitute healthier snacks for your usual sugary treats. A drastic cut in your sugar intake can result in sugar withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, extreme fatigue, drowsiness, poor mental clarity and mild depression. Gradually lowering your sugar consumption is a much better strategy.
- Eat smaller portions of food but eat more often. Many sugar addicts find that eating 4 - 5 small meals instead of 3 regular meals a day really helps them curb their cravings and hunger.
- Write down your progress. It is wise to keep a food diary, especially if you're an impulse eater. It helps you keep track of what you eat and also inspires you to soldier on by reminding you how much you have achieved already. Plus, if you have a smart phone, there are many diet apps you can download. They really make keeping a food diary very convenient and stress-free.
- Avoid over-exercising. Yes, exercise can increase your energy and dopamine level. However, if you overdo it, extreme fatigue can set in. And what may come with extreme fatigue? Uh-huh, sugar cravings!
- Allow yourself to enjoy low-sugar treats from time to time. Just because you're trying to beat your sugar addiction doesn't mean you have to think of all sweet desserts as poisons. If your cravings become too overwhelming, try to pacify your sweet tooth with some fruits or a small amount of low-sugar dessert.
- Find or form a support group. There might not be a sugar addiction support group in your town. After all, it's not a common thing like AA or cigarette-addiction support groups. Many people even refuse to consider this a "real addiction." However, you can find sugar-addiction support groups online. Or if you know a few other people who have been suffering from this problem, why not form a support group and try to help one another?
- Don't give up. For lots of people, overcoming sugar addiction isn't easy. You may not be successful the very first time you try. There might be relapses. But like other things in life, if you don't even try, you will never succeed.
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