Are you addicted to sugar?
It’s an interesting question because we don’t often think of sugar as being addictive in the same way as drugs or alcohol, but the pleasure we get from eating sugar triggers the same reward signals in our brain. This can make it difficult to exert self-control and can manifest as addictive behavior.
Addiction has four components: Binging, withdrawal, craving, and cross-sensitization. A study of rats revealed that under certain circumstances rats can become sugar dependent. The study suggests that humans can become sugar dependent as well.
We also have emotional associations with food. Particularly sugar. Maybe sweets were our reward as children or Oreo cookies and milk are how we spent time with our dad. Taking a good look at the emotional components, as well as understanding the brain component mentioned above gives us some insight into the why of our sugar cravings.
But what about the how?
Sugar is a carbohydrate. There are complex and simple carbohydrates. Sugar is a simple carb. This means it passes directly into our bloodstream and quickly raises our blood sugar. Just as quickly as our blood sugar increases, it decreases.
The way to prevent this see-saw effect is two-fold. What we eat and how we eat.
What we eat:
1. Eat complex carbs.
When we eat balanced meals with complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, we stay full longer, our blood sugar stays balanced, and our bodies get nourished. Complex carbohydrates can be found in foods such as beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Complex carbs provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber
2. Eat breakfast.
Eating breakfast is often viewed as unimportant, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your body has likely been fasting for 8 to 10 hours and your metabolism is at a standstill. If you start the day running on empty, by the time you realize you’re hungry you’re ready to eat anything easy and within reach, which are often unhealthy choices. A breakfast with protein and healthy fats, such as Omega-3s or flax oil, will go a long way to regulating your appetite and cravings during the day.
3. Stick to natural sugars.
Eating fresh and dried fruit is the better alternative to processed sweets. Like anything, it’s easier to add than to take away. Start reaching for fruit when you have a craving. It’s naturally sweet and also has fiber and nutrients.
4. Choose snacks with protein, healthy fats, and little or no sugar.
Nuts, homemade trail mixes, smoothies with low sugar or bars such as thinkThin are good to have on hand throughout the day.
How We Eat:
1. Eat regularly
Eating regularly helps to maintain blood sugar levels. Long intervals without eating can cause blood sugar to drop. Your body then starts to crave simple carbs, like sugar.
2. Plan your meals.
Having a plan is vital. If your goal is to eat less sugar, you have to have a way to get there. You know you’re going to want it, so don’t have it around. Don’t just get rid of chips and sodas. Stock up on healthy cereals, fruits, and whole foods.
3. Have a back-up plan.
Have a plan for when cravings kick in also. My plan goes like this: If I want something sweet, I eat something healthy first. If I still want it after I’ve eaten my meal or my healthy snack, then I can have it. Often I don’t want it anymore. If I do, it’s never to the degree I wanted it before.
4. Don’t beat yourself up.
Everything in moderation applies especially to food. While it’s possible to quit anything cold turkey, decide if that’s the right approach for you. Don’t beat yourself up if you give in to a craving, just stay conscious of what’s happening in your body and mind before, during, and after your craving.
5. Consider your relationship with food.
Redefining your relationship to food is a valuable practice. Many of us relate to food on a very superficial level. We rush through our meals, eat until we’re stuffed, and mindlessly fill our body with foods without thinking twice about it. Start to explore your relationship to food and to eating. Start tasting your food as you eat it. Is it your stomach that feels empty or are you filling some emotional void? Start learning your relationship with food like you would any other relationship in your life.
Here are some ways to preempt cravings before they surface:
- Get up and move. Exercise may increase your appetite, but when you get hungry go back to your plan. Eat real food first, then reevaluate.
- Drink apple cider vinegar. One of the many benefits of apple cider vinegar is that it helps to balance your pH and helps with digestion. It’s also been reported to curb appetite. Add a teaspoon or two to a glass of water daily.
- Get enough sleep. Many people report feeling more hungry when they’re operating on little sleep.
- Drink water before and during your meals and plenty of water throughout the day.
My experience with sugar cravings is that they diminish significantly the more your body gets used to eating nourishing food. Over time it becomes less a matter of self-control because you don’t even want to eat things you did before. The more healthy choices you make daily, the more second nature it becomes.
Have any other tips for curbing cravings? Let us know in the comments below.
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