We have all been there. It’s 9 o’clock at night, you have eaten your dinner of grilled chicken breast and steamed vegetables, only had one coffee all day and calorie counted everything that went into your mouth throughout the day. ‘Great job today!’ you think as you look back on your successful, healthy eating day and now all you have to d… Oh no. That late night sugar craving has hit and is threatening to undo an entire day’s worth of celery sticks and green tea.
We all know that feeling all too well. However, have you ever stopped to think that maybe your body could have an addiction to sugar? Have you ever thought about how sugar makes you feel and why? As with any addiction, you need to understand what sugar is and what can make your body crave it before you can identify and solve the issue.
What is sugar🍬?
Aside from being ridiculously tasty, sugar is a carbohydrate. There are different types of sugar, starting with simple sugars (called monosaccharides) like glucose, fructose, and galactose. Then there are also more complex forms (called disaccharides) like sucrose, maltose, and lactose. Sugar can be found in loads of different types of foods, but knowing the names (or that if it ends in ‘-ose’, it is a sugar), can really help you to take note of any hidden sugar in your food.
What is a sugar addiction?
A sugar addiction is the overwhelming cravings that make you crave that entire block of chocolate or 6 pack of doughnuts. Moreover, it makes sense that you would crave sugar, as scientists have actually proven that you can get hooked on the sweet stuff.
Much like alcohol and drugs, sugar triggers the production of natural opioids in your brain. When you consume any substance that triggers these opioids, the brain’s pleasure centre (nucleus accumbens) receives a dopamine signal. Dopamine is what makes us feel good and gives our body feelings of pleasure.
Well, what could go wrong with a bit of dopamine-producing feelings of pleasure? As surprising as this natural body function is, as you consume more and more sugar and have prolonged exposure, the signal for dopamine gets weaker. So to get the same effect as the first dopamine signal, you need to consume more because your body has built a tolerance.
On top of this, if you decide to pull back on the substance, your body goes into withdrawal. This is when you start to get cravings for more sugar, and in some cases experience anger, restlessness and intolerability until you have more sugar.
Tolerance and withdrawal constitute an addiction and obviously with addiction comes the negative side effects of not having the substance in your body, and therefore can start to wreak havoc on your body and mental health.
What does sugar do to my body?
Any addiction is not good for your health, be it alcohol, cigarettes or sugar. However, sugar specifically has been proven to have a whole host of detrimental effects on your health and wellbeing. Step by step this is exactly what happens to your body just one hour after consumption, and the results are less than sweet!
Feelings of Pleasure
Here is that dopamine release of feel-good pleasure that your body. You have given into your cravings, and this first step is rewarding you for that by releasing the opioids to stimulate your body.
Insulin Spikes in your Blood
As soon as you eat sugar (glucose), your body will release insulin, which is a hormone from your pancreas. The insulin’s job is to then absorb excess glucose in your blood and stabilise sugar levels.
Insulin is a very important hormone in your body, but having too much glucose in your bloodstream can be toxic. If there is an excess amount of glucose consistently in your diet, your body can become resistant to it, this is known as insulin resistance and is believed to be the leading driver of many diseases including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
As soon as the insulin has done it’s job, your blood sugar drops again, and this means you have literally just experienced a sugar rush followed by a sugar crash. This leaves your body feeling tired and lethargic. So to make up for this crash, your body ….
Craves More Sugar
That’s right. It is a vicious cycle with no end in sight. After every sugar crash, your body begins to crave more in an attempt to feel that high spike again and give you more energy. The problem is that often your body will always be striving for the same high, making you consume more and more to try and reach the same level it first felt.
What does sugar provide nutritionally to my body?
Zip, zilch, zero. The majority of sugar has been so over-processed that they have lost all nutritional content and therefore turn into empty, meaningless calories.
‘But what about fruit?’ I hear you say.
Fruit contains fructose, which is a naturally occurring sugar. When you eat fruit in its raw form, it does contain sugar, but usually FAR less than your average chocolate bar. Keep in mind that fruit also contains nutrients, (such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants) which our bodies need to function every day. On top of this, they contain fibre, which helps make us feel fuller for longer.
Why is excessive sugar bad for my health?
The daily recommended limit of consumption of sugar is about 1 teaspoon or 4 grams in total. However, on average we are consuming FAR more than this, clocking in at anywhere between 15 - 35 teaspoons of sugar per day. Even if sugar wasn’t as bad as it sounds, overeating anything over the recommended amount is bound to have adverse effects on your health.
How can this be? How do people not know they are consuming this much excessive sugar?
Because food companies and manufacturers are hiding sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This is a highly processed form of sugar and is also cheaper than regular table sugar. It makes the food that is being produced taste better and also gets people hooked on the product. HFCS is found in almost all types of processed foods and drinks today.
What does sugar do to my body in the long term?
You will feel tired
Eating sugar all the time makes you feel tired all the time. If you feel sluggish or are always hungry or thirsty, this can be a sign that you have been binging a little too much on sugar. “Your body’s physiologic response is to send out enough insulin to deal with all the sugar, and that will have a sluggish effect on your body”.
You may start to notice weight gain.
Excess sugar means excess calories which means excess weight in the form of fat. When our liver has to process the sugar in our bloodstream, it can either use it as energy or store it as fat. In most cases, it is stored as fat.
As well as the excess empty calories, sugar also tricks your brain into thinking it has not had enough. Which is why instead of eating one cookie on the plate you suddenly cannot stop yourself from eating them all.
You can develop serious health problems.
Weight gain aside, consuming regularly large amounts of sugar can and will lead to the possibility of becoming obese, diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular diseases, emphysema, food allergies, chronic degenerative diseases, atherosclerosis, nearsightedness, arthritis, asthma and multiple sclerosis.
On top of this sugar has been proven to destroy your teeth and gums, cause hyperactivity, depression, and anxiety, just to name a few.
HOW CAN I BREAK MY SUGAR ADDICTION?
There are two ways to go about breaking a sugar addiction.
- Going Cold Turkey
- Slowly removing sugar from your diet
We would recommend that you do the latter unless you are a strong-willed person there is a high chance of relapse.
So we have identified what happens to our body when we eat sugar and why sugar addictions are caused, our first step is to…
Be Aware of your Cravings
When you acknowledge you are having cravings for sugar, don’t just run immediately to sugar and crack. Take a moment to analyse why: is it because you are depressed and unhappy? Bored? Hungry? Sugar triggers that happy feeling in your brain so you could be craving sugar for a number of reasons.
REMOVE ALL THE JUNK FOOD FROM YOUR HOUSE
Don’t hold on to it ‘as a treat’, you and I both know that self-control when it comes to Lindt chocolates are zero to none. Throw EVERYTHING that is a junk food, and by junk food I mean, heavily processed foods and high sugar foods such as chocolates, ice cream, chips, lollies, anything packaged. (We don’t need to tell you what you already know, you know damn well those Allens Snakes lollies are bad news).
DON’T REPLACE SUGAR WITH ARTIFICIAL SUGAR
You are just creating a whole new set of issues. You want to de-program your body. You want to detoxify your body and make it crave less sugar. By replacing sugar with artificial sugar, you are just band-aiding a problem, and your body will still crave sugar. Making it harder to try and abstain from that Ben and Jerry’s ‘Double, Triple Choc, Marshmallow with a Freddo in the middle’ tub of ice cream.
Funnily enough, when we exercise our brain produces the same dopamine effect to make your body feel good. Although there is more work involved with exercising than there is to binge eating a block of chocolate, in the longer term, you will look and feel SO much better for it.
SAY NO TO FAT-FREE FOODS
Fat-free foods are LOADED with extra sugar. Food companies have spent years making fat the enemy, and when they take away fat (something that actually tastes amazing and is good for you in the right quantities) they usually replace it with sugar.
If you don’t believe us, check out the fat-free food packages in your local grocery store and note that nowhere does it say sugar-free. Bonus points to anyone who flips it over and is shocked to read that there are more servings of sugar in one serving of a Lean Cuisine than there is in a small Milky Bar.
Another reason that food manufacturers do this is because they know about how addictive sugar is. Therefore if there is a mass amount of sugar inside their product, consumers could become addicted and buy more and more.
KNOW HOW TO LOOK FOR SUGAR IN FOODS
As society is learning how toxic sugar is for our health, companies that manufacture food are getting sneakier and disguises the names of the sugar so that consumers don’t notice and continue to buy their addictive, sugar-laden products. When you are purchasing a product make sure to keep your eyes out for these:
Agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, sugar, syrup.
Overwhelming right? This is how companies trick people into unknowingly consuming more sugar than they think they have.
Along with these steps, knowing that you are in control of your body and understanding what you really want will get you down from that sugar high, and as time goes on, your body will crave sugar less thus ending your addiction and slavery to cupcakes!
As with everything, moderation is the key here. Abstinence (especially from something this tasty) is a very hard route to stay on. The occasional chocolate ice cream here and there won’t kill you or make you addicted to the sweet stuff, but understanding how an addiction can form and why could save you lots of horrible health issues in the future!