Ever find yourself staring down the bottom half of a bag of gummy bears, thinking “I can stop at any time”? You’re not alone, and there’s a good reason why you might apply the same logic to sugar consumption as someone addicted to a more sinister substance might use: eating the sweet stuff releases dopamine, which makes you feel good (in the moment). The eventual crash then sends you tearing open the bag to get the rush once again.
Sound like a cycle you might want to break? Contributor Tina Gravalos, a nutritionist who focuses on holistic wellness and intuitive eating, is running a Ditch the Sugar Detox this month, clues us into the science behind the addiction and how we can kick the cravings.
Refined Carbs vs Nutrient Dense Carbs
Sugar is sugar, no matter what form it’s in. It all breaks down into glucose in the body. But, there are many carbohydrates that are better for your health. Because carbohydrates are your body’s main source of fuel (energy), you need to consume nutrient dense carbs in order to help your body turn those calories into energy for your body to use. Some examples of nutrient dense carbohydrates are sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and basically all veggies and fruits (in moderation).
So, imagine this: when you are constantly consuming refined carbohydrates like breads, pastas, donuts, etc., your body is exhausted because it’s not getting the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Take white sugar vs Brussels sprouts, for example. When you consume white sugar, you get nothing from it. Absolutely no nutrients, just empty calories. When you consume Brussels sprouts, you get the calories that will turn into energy plus vitamin K, vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, manganese, etc.
Is Sugar Really as Addictive as Cocaine?
Did you know that sugar has the same effect on the brain as cocaine does? Crazy to think, right? The reason behind this is a neurotransmitter, dopamine. It is responsible for delivering signals to and from the brain. One of dopamine’s jobs is controlling reward and pleasure feelings; you can think of it as the “feel good” neurotransmitter.
The connection between sugar and cocaine is due to the fact that dopamine gets released when you consume things like sugar, caffeine, and narcotics, hence addiction to these substances. When you eat a donut, you feel good in the moment because the “feel good” dopamine that is released travels throughout your body making you want more and more.
So, what’s a person to do? Break the vicious cycle! A fair warning though, detoxing from sugar is quite intense. Your body is essentially coming off of a drug so you might experience headaches, cold- and flu-like symptoms, mood swings, and mental fogginess. These symptoms subside, however, when you nourish your body with quality foods. Here are some tips to set you up for success.
How to Succeed in a Sugar Detox
Grab a friend, co-worker, family member or a whole group of your favourite people. You’re more likely to comply when you have a support system of people going through the same thing as you. Accountability is everything. You can keep each other in check.
The key is to look at your week ahead and see what you can prepare in advance.
Snacks: Cut up a bunch of veggies and store them in containers in the fridge. You can also make some hummus and guac, too. One of my favourite snacks to prep is trail mix. You can get creative here and use ingredients like coconut chips, nuts, seeds, dried berries. Having protein and healthy fats on hand will help curb cravings.
Smoothies: Freeze your fruit and greens combo and in the morning, add to your blender with the rest of your smoothie ingredients. You can also make your smoothie the night before and give it a good shake in the morning before you drink it.
Protein: Cook your protein in advance too. Ground turkey (beef or chicken too), chicken breasts, lentils, and quinoa are all good options. If you’ll be using the meat in a couple of days, put it in the fridge. If not, freeze.
When you have the right kinds of food on hand and you’ve put in the time to prep, you’ll be all set for the week.
It’s so easy to mistake hunger for thirst. Most people are dehydrated and don’t even know it. If you think you’re hungry, drink a glass of water and see how you feel.
Want to spice things up? Add some lemon, orange, lime slices. You can also just add some cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon is great for regulating your blood sugar.
Sometimes the best thing we can do is get moving! This can be a great distraction if you’re craving something on the sweet side. Take a stroll around the office. Go to the gym. Call a friend. Do what you have to do. Get that brain focused on something else.
You want to make sure that healthy carbs, fats, and proteins are in each of your meals. Each of these macronutrients has a job to do and when they are all represented properly, they are going to help reduce sugar consumption as well as keep you pleasantly full until your next meal. If you’re hungry 20-30 minutes after a meal, you did something wrong at your previous meal and need to re-evaluate.
Did you know that sleep deprivation can increase your cravings? There are two hormones that are responsible for hunger cues on the body: leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin is responsible for telling your body when it’s full. When you sleep, leptin increases. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin is lower. This signals to your body that you aren’t getting enough calories (energy) and tells you to eat more in order to sustain yourself.
Ghrelin is the opposite. It tells your body when it needs to eat. When you sleep, ghrelin decreases. When you don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin is higher. Your body then thinks it’s hungry and needs more calories (energy). Ghrelin also gets released when we are stressed. When people say they eat when they are stressed, ghrelin is a part of that equation.
Do you see the connection? They are two different hormones but their end game is the same when you don’t get enough sleep: your body receives signals that it needs more calories (energy).
Take a Deep Breath
We live in a society that is always on the go and we are constantly stressing over something. This constant state of being stressed can be extremely taxing on your body.
Your adrenals produce a hormone called cortisol, which is supposed to be high when we wake up and naturally taper off throughout the day and into the evening. Cortisol is responsible for your body’s flight or fight response. It stores energy in case of an emergency. When you’re always stressed, your cortisol levels are going to stay raised and your body is going to hold on to calories and store them as fat. This is the fat that gets stored around your waist and around your organs.
The constant cortisol struggle can lead to that afternoon crash where all you want to do is grab a muffin, coffee, a pop or something savoury, just to get a boost.
Want to learn more about how to ditch sugar? Tina is running her Ditch the Sugar Detox this month and it’s free to sign up. The week-long detox program features a program guide that will help set you up for success and help you to detect hidden sugars in the products you buy, a 7-day meal plan with recipes and a grocery list, a Facebook group for online support, and prizes.
All photos courtesy of Tina Gravalos unless otherwise credited