Sugar addiction is really prevalent in the news right now. Sugar – we can’t live with it, we can’t imagine life without it. Could removing sugar from your diet be that one magic answer to our weight loss battle?
Let’s start at the beginning. Why do we thrive on it? The more we have, the more we want. The answer may be simpler than we once thought.
Ingesting sugar causes a dopamine release in the Nucleus Accumbens. When we consume sugar often and in large quantities, dopamine is released in excess causing a down regulation and blunting of the receptor sites. Therefore, in order to get that “feel-good” response, the body requires even MORE sugar to produce the same response.
“The reviewed evidence supports the theory that, in some circumstances, intermittent access to sugar can lead to behavior and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse. According to the evidence in rats, intermittent access to sugar and chow is capable of producing a “dependency”. This was operationally defined by tests for bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization to amphetamine and alcohol. The correspondence to some people with binge eating disorder or bulimia is striking, but whether or not it is a good idea to call this a “food addiction” in people is both a scientific and societal question that has yet to be answered. What this review demonstrates is that rats with intermittent access to food and a sugar solution can show both a constellation of behaviors and parallel brain changes that are characteristic of rats that voluntarily self-administer addictive drugs. In the aggregrate, this is evidence that sugar can be addictive.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Volume 32, Issue 1, 2008, Pages 20–39
The compelling evidence and research on sugar addiction proves the effects on the brain mimics those of cocaine and heroin abuse. But how do we get away from it when it lurks in the shadows of every ingredient we consume?
How Do I Take The First Step?
We must first accept that this change will be gradual. Don’t expect to have immediate results. Sugar is a “drug.” It will be hard before it gets easy. Taking the first step will be the hardest. We didn’t get here overnight, so don’t expect the body to revert just the same. This is a marathon, not a sprint!!
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this. Here are few things that help the process.
- LEARN INGREDIENTS. I am not talking about memorizing the chemical makeup of every ingredient you eat. Understand the common names and abbreviations. Ingredients are hidden under different names including high fructose corn syrup, dried cane syrup, invert sugar, molasses, sucrose (or any word ending in “-ose”), brown rice syrup, honey, and maple syrup. There are many lists available. The goal is to become educated. Click here for one such list.
- KEEP A FOOD JOURNAL. It’s not so important at this stage to worry about calorie counting. While consuming the correct amount of calories plays a key role, it is more important to really know WHAT types of food you are eating. Chances are, like most of us, you are eating things thinking they are healthy. The food industry has made its way into every aspect of our health. FIGHTING THE GIANTS, MEANS BEING ARMED WITH THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE.
- HYDRATE. I can’t emphasize this enough. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF WATER. It has always been our ally long before flavored drinks entered the picture. I understand water may not taste good. This is because our palate and taste buds have been conditioned to the sweetness of drinks that claim to give us instant energy. What it has also conditioned us to is the crash that comes with the sugar laden beverages. Flavored waters (8 tsp/bottle), bottled iced teas (>9 tsp/bottle), energy drinks (7 tsp/can), bottled coffee drinks (8 tsp/bottle), and store-bought smoothies (>12 tsp/small) all contain way too much sugar. Strive to consume 90 oz of pure water/day. If you are not a water drinker, you may need to start with only 8 oz and work up slowly. However you do it, WALK AROUND WITH A WATER BOTTLE.
- TIME YOUR MEALS. Sugar thrives on messing with not only dopamine, but also insulin. Its very essence is to disrupt our insulin regulation and response. Timing of meals is crucial to stabilizing the insulin surges and decrease sugar cravings, especially in the initial phases of removing sugar from your diet and your life. Increase protein and healthy fats in your diet to help maintain steady release and uptake of glucose. Most important take home message: YOUR EVENING MEAL SHOULD BE FINISHED BY 7:30PM.
- KEEP MOVING. Two parts to this: First, move your body-in whatever capacity that can circulate blood. Walk, workout, lift weight, dance, swim, clean…it doesn’t matter. Just move. Don’t worry about how much you move….just move. Second, keep moving forward. Don’t become discouraged because your body is not responding the way you THINK it should. Your body is here to protect you. It won’t always give you what you want. But it will always give you what you need. Changing life long habits is a process. Be kind to it. It was kind to you when you weren’t so nice to it. THE BODY IS ON OUR SIDE.
- MAINTAIN HEALTHY GUT. Sugar undoubtedly alters pH throughout the body. The shift in acid base balance triggers more chemical disruptions that worsen the down regulated neurotransmitter receptors. One of the largest target organs is our GI tract. I have talked in extensive detail in previous blogs about the crucial importance of maintaining a healthy GI tract. Studies have shown the desensitization process that happens with sugar consumption also occurs with other foods. In other words, our weakened immune system sets us up for chemical attacks from other food groups (even the healthiest of foods). HEAL THY GUT.
- AVOID THE FAKE STUFF. This is worse than consuming the real stuff. Anything that reads “sugar-free” is a blaring warning label. Stay away!! Dangerous chemicals are added to sugar free substitutes that lead to whole other set of problems. According to a review in the 2010 Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, when you eat something sweet, your body expects calories and nutrition, but artificial sugars don’t give your body those things. That may be why fake sugars are associated with weight gain. According to a meta-analysis in the Journal of Medicinal Food, sprinkling on cinnamon has been shown to naturally regulate blood sugar, which helps control your appetite. DON’T GO FOR THE FAKE STUFF.
- RELAX. Just take a deep breath. There is no finish line in this race. This is about a life style change. This is about taking back control of what you lost. This is about being the best version of yourself. Don’t make it about the weight. The weight is only your body’s way of telling you that it is not feeling good. Don’t let the 3 little numbers on the scale define your worth. The body is a glorious vehicle that will take you where you want to go if you nurture and love it the way it is. Make these changes gradually. Cut back slowly and enjoy the process of getting healthy. You will learn so much about what your body has been trying to tell you for years. If you want to enjoy that chocolate cake, by all means, do so. This is about finding the body, mind and soul connection. If you totally give up all of your favorites, your body will fight you with the cravings and then then mind will be consumed with the thought of wanting that cake and the soul will become restless watching these two go at it. Take the bite of the cake when you want to and listen when the body tells you to stop.
Mindful eating is truly becoming an entity of its own in the medical field. The next few years will uncover some of the greatest mysteries of the human body. My thought is that the answer has been with us all along: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT!
Let’s all become empowered and walk this journey of discovery together.
Dr. Raman’s Concierge Medical Practice is focused on holistic care and good health maintenance. For more information on healthy eating habits and achieveing and maintaining OPTIMAL health, CONTACT our office today to schedule your appointment. You can also learn more by following Dr. Raman on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.