Sugar Cravings! Most people struggle with them at some point, others their entire lives. Have you ever found yourself at the bottom of a bag of cookies asking yourself what just happened? And then you feel like shit afterwards, emotionally and physically. I get it, I was once there. Having grown up with sweets as treats, I still often “treated” myself as an adult. Bad day at work = treat. Fight with my boyfriend = huge treat. Just because, I deserve it = treat. But all that changed when I learned about the health impacts of eating too much sugar. Today I’m much more aware and can incorporate healthy alternatives that don’t deplete my energy and leave me feeling like crap afterwards.
Trust me, I get it, our lives get stressful, and often, we turn to sugar-laden or carb-heavy snacks as a way to mask that stress or quite literally swallow our emotions. I am here to touch on the science behind your sugar cravings and what you can do naturally to curb your sugar intake. No one is asking you to give up sugar completely, ‘cause that is almost impossible. I am suggesting that you become aware of where sugar lurks, it’s impact on your health and where you can make some positive changes at your own willing pace.
The Science Behind Your Cravings
Our bodies are amazing machines, designed to consume only as much as we need. Every molecule we put in our mouths has corresponding appetite hormones. And when we’ve eaten enough of said molecule, these hormones tell our brain that we are full and we can stop eating. This is the case for every molecule except for fructose. This is because back in caveman times, sugar was both highly valuable (instant energy for chasing wild animals) and extremely rare (limited to fruits and berries). Thus we evolved without a fructose off switch. That way if we did stumble across a berry bush, we could gorge ourselves silly and thus store the excess as instant fat (which we would burn off later chasing animals). All very well back when sugar was rare and we had to work hard to get it. But as we know now it is insanely abundant and not having an off switch is a huge liability.
Sugar acts as a temporary source of energy, which is why we often turn to it as busy women for a quick pick me up. But it just isn’t sustainable, let alone nutritious. In fact it is one of the leading causes of weight gain, in addition to wreaking havoc on your gut health. If you’ve been using sugar as a means to fuel your day, your body is certainly paying the price.
Hormonal impact of Sugar
Our hormones and neurotransmitters fuel sugar and carb cravings, which leads to uncontrolled overeating. If you’re finding yourself reaching for sugary and carb-heavy foods out of habit or boredom, know that your brain is now involved in those decisions, not just your stomach!
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for controlling the reward and pleasure responses of the brain. When you eat a lot of sugar, a massive amount of dopamine is released in your brain (again going back to those caveman days). As you continue to consume sugar, the dopamine receptors become less powerful, making the response less effective. Therefore, more sugar is needed to create that same euphoric, dopamine reaction. This continues into a vicious cycle, much like a drug addict.
Studies have shown that sugar literally slows down the brain’s function, hinders new learning, and decreases memory recall. There are also strong connections with high sugar intake and the prevalence of depression and anxiety. Foods rich in sugar disrupt our brain’s neurotransmitters that work to stabilize our moods. However, if we are continually disrupting the function of these receptors, we no longer have the inherent control over our moods as we usually do.
The problem with excessive sugar consumption is that most health issues do not manifest immediately and if they do, they are not usually recognized as being caused by our diets. Mental illness and behavioral problems are often attributed to other sources beyond diet. Allergies, arthritis, and migraines are explained by our environment, stress levels, and response to medication. Immune disorders, degenerative diseases, diabetes, and cancer take time to diagnose and most people aren’t grabbing their food journals at this point to search for the connection. But there is a connection since excess sugar causes inflammation in our body and inflammation is a major cause of most diseases today.
Hidden Sugar and Alternatives
Sugar comes in many forms beyond the white powder we often associate it as. Some claim to be better than others and some have names you wouldn’t even recognize on an ingredient label. The whole subject of sugar is confusing! One of the main reasons you may not recognize all the sugar you have in your diet is because it very rarely will say “sugar” on the ingredient lists of the food you buy. A few tips in identifying sugars is looking for words ending with “ose” or “ides”, and examining the entire ingredients list, as often there are more than one type of sugar in a product.
Besides the obvious sugar laden foods, products like Ketchup, Salad dressing, Dips, Tomato Sauces, Marinades, Yogurts, Bread, Peanut Butter, Soups, Canned fruits, Cereals, Crackers, even Oatmeal has tons of hidden sugar in them. I was surprised to find sugar in the ingredients of store bought hummus one day. Hummus? Really? My point is it is everywhere.
Although ideal, it is not practical to cut sugar out entirely. However, finding healthier alternatives, practicing moderation, and being aware of the dangers are the best way to take action against sugar.
First and foremost, avoid pre-packaged foods whenever possible and read the ingredients on your food items. Here are a few suggestion to help you avoid:
- Replace sugary yogurts with plain yogurt and a small amount of honey with crushed coconut flakes, add nuts and seeds as a protein rich topping.
- Ditch the sugary drinks for water with real fruit in it, have a cup of fruit tea or add a drop of lemon essential oil to your water for a pick me up
- Ditch the sugary cereals for delicious oatmeal with fruit and a bit of honey, scrambled eggs with spinach or a healthy breakfast muffin
- Make your own healthy versions of your favorite salad dressing and marinades
- Have healthy snacks on hand such as nuts, raisins, figs and dates to satisfy your sweet tooth
- Make sure you are getting plenty of healthy fats in your diet to give you the feeling of fullness
- Experiment with replacing sugar in recipes. I often use applesauce, honey, coconut sugar, dates, maple syrup or a combination of whatever I have on hand
Changing your eating habits and taking control of your health requires a bit of effort but it is incredibly rewarding. You will experience a higher quality of life, maintain a healthy weight, have more natural energy, and prevent serious illness. There is so much value in kicking sugar to the curb and becoming the healthiest version of you!
If you feel like you need support with phasing sugar out of your diet, I am absolutely here to help! As a certified health coach, I love helping women struggling with weight gain, immune support and sugar cravings to gain control of their health. If you feel like you need help in these areas, sign up for a free Health Consultation Today!