Ah, sugar, my arch-nemesis. Don’t give me a piece of chocolate cake or some M&M chocolate covered peanuts. It’s just too hard to stop.
Isn’t it interesting that most of us know what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat and yet we still have a problem losing weight? We’re intelligent, we’re educated, and yet somehow we still have these cravings that we give in to.
And then there’s the guilt, the feeling bad about ourselves. “Why did I eat that? I know better. “Now I’m going to have to exercise twice as much to burn off those calories”.
Now this doesn’t happen to everybody, nor do we all have the same trigger foods. In fact some of us can just have a small bite of something and walk away. Does that make the rest of us weak, powerless, and without self-control?
It’s Not Your Fault
Guess what? It’s not your fault. Let me repeat that- IT’S…NOT…YOUR…FAULT!
Why It’s Not Your Fault
There’s been a whole lot of research on cravings and while not completely understood, here’s some of what’s been discovered:
Cravings come from addicted pathways in the brain, just like morphine and heroin. We have chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters communicate information to our cells throughout our body. They tell our heart to beat, our lungs to breathe, and our stomach to digest.
Two of these neurotransmitters are endorphins and dopamine. You’ve probably heard about endorphins in connection with a “runner’s high,” the euphoric feeling runners get that makes their runs feel easy and exhilarating. Research has shown that endorphins are involved in numbing pain signals.
Dopamine tends to be involved with our brain’s system of motivation and reward, and plays a role in addiction. Just like cocaine and heroin can stimulate our brain to release dopamine, so can certain foods, like sugar and flour, for people who are susceptible.
Now, what happens is this: our body is always trying to balance things out, keep us on an even keel. So when our brain is flooded with endorphins and dopamine, it attempts to “down-regulate” (that’s the scientific term) or modify our dopamine and endorphin receptors by thinning them out and bringing us back to a balanced state.
The end result is that our cells become resistant to these neurotransmitters, and our body thinks we’re low in endorphins and dopamine. We lose the “pleasure” feeling, and so, just like a drug addict, we need to eat more and more of that food to get that feeling of pleasure back. However, just like alcohol or cocaine, some of us are more susceptible than others.
Studies have actually shown that sugar can have the same opiate-like effect on our brains as morphine and heroin. It triggers our reward center.
Food Manufacturers Know All Of This
Now that you have some background, here’s the absolutely insidious thing about it- food manufacturers know all of this and they use it to sell more products.
Back in 1977, the government started touting the idea that Americans need to eat less fat. In the 80’s, food manufacturers began to jump on the bandwagon, and began offering low fat foods. But to replace the lost flavor of the fat, they added more sugar to their products, which we now know is addictive. The end result- a rise in obesity and diabetes. In fact, the current generation of children is the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents.
I watched a documentary hosted by Katie Couric, called “Fed Up” (two words) which I highly recommend. You can stream it or rent it from Netflix and Amazon. It’s a truly incredible story and a major eye-opener. Here’s the official trailer:
Solutions To Sugar Cravings
Okay, now that I’ve given you the background, let’s talk about solutions to sugar cravings. There are zillions of opinions and suggestions about how to reduce your sugar cravings. I’m just going to give a few that are very easy.
1. The #1 way to eliminate your sugar addiction is to eat real food. I mean food that’s as close to its natural state as possible. Stay away from processed foods which contain added sugar.
2. Go through your kitchen and throw out the sugary snacks and the processed foods with the added sugars. Get rid of the temptations and be good to yourself.
3. Read the labels on your food. Google the different names for sugar and educate yourself – corn syrup, corn sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, anything ending in “ose”, fruit juice concentrates, cane juice, honey, molasses, turbinado sugar, and brown sugar are all forms of sugar. These represent only a small portion of the different types of sugar found in our food.
4. Don’t use artificial sweeteners as a substitute just because they might not have any calories. That’s not the problem. They have the same effect on your brain’s reward center as real sugar and some studies have shown that they can be up to 100 times sweeter than natural sugar.
5. Drink lots of water and cut out soda, including diet soda, which is loaded with artificial sweeteners. How do you think they’re able to make it with zero calories?
6. Try to rewire your brain. Here’s what I mean: What happens when we continue to eat more and more sweets? Eventually we get full and if we keep eating, we feel sick. Focus on that “sick” feeling.
It may take a few tries, you may falter from time to time, but in the long run, you can do it. I know you can. You can do anything you put your mind to.
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