so too good. Give me chocolate mint chip ice cream, a serving of warm, apple crisp topped with a dollop of whipped cream or pecan pralines. This is the stuff of nirvana-land!
Sugar laden foods are also the stuff of entertainment, celebration, and comfort.
Sugar is the bomb.
Or is it a time-bomb!
The bittersweet truth is that sugar is a dangerous substance.
Although unfairly maligned by deceptive, cherry-picked research data, fat was the undisputed villain of the late 20th century.
But ever since the early 21st century, sugar has replaced fat as the devil incarnate.
Everywhere you look, sugar is vilified.
Is this decades long attack on sugar also based on deceptive, cherry-picked research results?
Sorry to report back from the trenches that sugar is definitely not your friend.
It’s proven to be addictive and damaging to our health, in both the short and long term.
Why is sugar addictive?
Some studies have suggested sugar is as addictive as cocaine. How is this possible?
Cocaine is a white powdery substance that produces energy and euphoria.
Sugar is a white powdery substance that produces energy and euphoria.
When we want an energy boost, it’s easy, and legal, to reach for sugary foods.
Sugar’s ability to provide instant energy, combined with the flavor factor, make it irresistibly enticing.
Sugar is ready and willing to provide a “quick fix” during a stressful day.
Emotionally stressful events and situations seem to demand relief in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, chocolate bars, donuts and other sweet treats.
Those of us who turn to sugar to deal with our emotional states are more likely to become addicted.
Weight gain and difficulty focusing on daily responsibilities are unwanted side effects.
These unintended consequences can damage self-esteem and cause feelings of helplessness. Lower self-esteem often leads to more sugar consumption and a more severe addiction in the long run.
Just like cocaine, sugar releases endorphins.
These endorphins combine with other chemicals in the body resulting in an energy surge and improved mood.
Our brains really like the effect of that “feel good” hormone dopamine too.
Once our brains connect sugar with improving our energy and mood, dependency deepens.
In time, we begin to crave sugar to balance irritability, emotional lows, and other emotional states that cause discomfort.
The more sugar we consume, the harder it is to manage our cravings for sweet foods.
The need for our sugar “fix” begins to dominate our thinking, shopping, planning and food choices.
Craving and consuming sugary foods or beverages to buffer against discomfort is a clear sign of addiction.
We eat sugar-laden foods to combat boredom.
Or to suppress negative emotions, including worry, fear, anxiety, frustration, resentment and anger.
Although we may even be quite aware that we crave sugar after stressful or irritating life experiences, that doesn’t stop us from eating certain foods to alter our emotional state.
I get it. It’s so hard to allow uncomfortable or negative emotions. But fighting to resist them is usually a losing battle.
Check out my three-part series on managing urges and cravings.
Learn how the health of your microbiome affects cravings. Learn how you can shift your thoughts and allow emotions to take the urgency out of urges and craving.
Read Part One about your microbiome here. Part Two about managing your thoughts here . Part Three about allowing your emotions here.
Sugar addiction’s relationship to binge eating.
A particularly challenging aspect of sugar addiction is binge eating.
I define binge eating as eating too much food very quickly. Voraciously. Ravenously.
Afterwards, you can count on your harsh inner critic reprimanding you fiercely. Next come the waves of guilt, shame, and disgust.
Whether binges include sweets or non-sugary foods, the need for emotional regulation and self-medication is often the driving force.
While food can become a dependable short-term fix for emotional discomforts, the negative consequences are even more painful than the emotions you were trying to avoid.
Anxiety and sugar cravings have a direct relationship.
Anxiety causes your body to release the stress hormone cortisol. For some of us, that means a loss of appetite. That ‘s me. I can not eat when stressed out. My appetite is as depressed as my mood.
For others, the stress may encourage people who already like sugar to readily indulge their cravings.
Despite sugar intake initially boosting serotonin levels in the brain, sugar can worsen anxiety. Sugar lows create feelings of fatigue and depression.
How does sugar damage your health?
Due to the addictive nature of sugar, long-term health effects like obesity and diabetes are a risk of sugar overindulgence.
Similar to other compulsions or behavioral addictions, sugar addiction is a special risk for people with low moods, anxiety and stress.
Here’s a partial but extensive list of some of the dangers sugar consumption poses to your health.
- Weight Gain
- Heart Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Accelerated Skin Aging
- Cellular Aging
- Energy Depletion
- Fatty Liver Disease
- Worsen Cognitive Decline
- Increased Gout Risk
- Kidney Disease
Where is added sugar hiding?
Added sugar is everywhere in our food supply. It’s so ubiquitous that you’d probably find most packaged and processed foods unappetizing without it.
Evolution has hard-wired our palates to prefer sweet-tasting foods to obtain quick energy and to avoid bitter-tasting poisons.
Understanding that humans have a natural preference for sweet tastes, the food manufacturers know just how to “engineer” foods for maximum appeal.
We’ve been exposed, since early childhood, to a diet replete with out-sized doses of sugar. So much greater than our ancestors every had access to, that the standard American diet reinforces and strengthens that preference.
To increase the palatability of foods, food chemists add sugar to countless food products, including breads, condiments, dairy-based foods, nut butters, salad dressings, and sauces.
Sugar is also used to extend the shelf life and adjust attributes like the texture, body, color, and browning capability of foods.
Check the labels to see for yourself how much added sugar is contained in foods that come in bottles, cans, boxes, bags, jars and wrappers.
Shop the perimeter of grocery stores and super markets. Buy whole foods. That’s food that doesn’t need a label explaining its content. If it’s created in a factory, just pass it by.
Robert Lustig, MD is one of my favorite go-to sources about sugar.
Robert H. Lustig, M.D., M.S.L. is Professor emeritus of Pediatrics, Division of Endocrinology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). He specializes in the field of neuroendocrinology, with an emphasis on the regulation of energy balance by the central nervous system.
Here are two videos featuring Dr Lustig worth your watching time. If you’re ready to take a deeper dive to understand the effect of sugar on your body, start here:
Sugar: The Bitter Truth, and Sugar,Metabolic Syndrome and Cancer.
This is what a presentation about the effects of sugar sounds like when not financed by the food industry or the Sugar Association.
Here are the most important takeaways.
Not all sugar is evil.
Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy.
Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is generally not a problem. Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants. Dairy foods contain protein and calcium.
Since your body digests these foods slowly, the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to your cells. No out-sized jolts.
A high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
Avoid products made with sugar and those with added sugar. Read your food labels. Added sugar is broken out under carbohydrates.
If sugar addiction seems to have a hold on you, let’s break it’s grip.
My It’s Never Too Late Weight Loss Coaching program is structured to address this HUGE weight loss challenge.
Isn’t it time that you made use of the free Strategy Call I offer? Get started today learning how to loosen the grip of sugar addiction and nagging cravings.
Let me know you’re ready to get started making progress toward your weight loss goal right here.
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