03 Sep Sugarholics Anonymous
Lunch was only 10 minutes ago and all of a sudden, you feel the itch. Saliva starts forming in the depths of your mouth and your eyes dart from side to side. Like clockwork, your senses kick into gear. Your tastebuds send signals to your brain, your eyes (although tired) are wide and your nose picks up on the smell like a police dog tracking a target. You yank your office drawer open and plunge your hand into the bag. As you raise the precious contents towards your mouth, a little voice whispers nastily how pathetic you are, while another voice screams at you to to give yourself the hit, NOW! You float out of your body and watch from above as you inhale the sweet contents of the bag. And so today’s cycle begins…
In plain view, all over the world, there are people battling a major addiction. While it may not look scary, sugar addiction is a global epidemic. While you may think I am being dramatic, our body responds to sugar, like it responds to drugs. When we taste the sweetness, the area of our brain ‘nucleus accumbens’ which is referred to as the “reward centre” is stimulated. It starts to release dopamine and we start to feel very good, very quickly. The higher in sugar the food is, the higher we get. Studies have shown that sugar is more addictive than cocaine or heroin. Our brains light up like Christmas trees as soon as the sweet poison touches our lips. Just just like a drug and alcohol addict, we build up conditioning and tolerance. The more sugar we eat, the more sugar your brain tells you to eat in order to generate the same high. Your dopamine receptors become less sensitive to the presence of sugar and your addiction grows stronger.
Sugar withdrawal and addiction is not just an emotional reliance or lack of motivation and willpower! In a study done on rats, the intense pleasure that came with the sweetness in such treats, surpased cocaine use. To assess the power of sugar, cocaine addicted rats were tempted with sugar. What the study showed was that rats preferred sugar over cocaine! This is terrifying! They were 8 times more likely to work for sugar than cocaine. What this tells us is that sugar is a force that can often outrun our willpower. If you are battling a strong sugar addiction, you are not a failure, you are not alone – you are battling a real problem that can, at times, feel inconceivable to escape. Just like a cocaine addict experiences tremendous withdrawal symptoms, removing sugar from your diet can also seem and feel impossible.
We are set up to fail at choosing our health over our sugar addiction. Unlike a drug or alcohol addiction, where we are almost able to do it in private or hide it – a sugar addiction is widely accepted and fuelled by others. You go into your work lunch room – hello bowl of lollies, sugar laden cake or box of chocolates. You swing by the shops on your way home from work and are greeted by the bright coloured packaging as you pay for your goods. We gift people with sugar, chocolate and other sweet treats. We hand out lolly bags as rewards for kids for heaven’s sake! Why is it that with other addictive substances, we can be so supportive of others in their endeavours to quit? If someone we know was battling alcohol addiction, we would do our best not to drink around them. We wouldn’t even dream of letting them be even close to tempted. Yet, with sugar, it’s little wonder why it is so difficult to drop the nasty habit as we are faced with temptation at almost every corner. We tell people to “live a little,” “enjoy their food” and “life is short, eat the chocolate!” I am sorry to come across as harsh, but I call bullshit on each of these reasons. I think it is important that people start taking a stand. The excessive consumption of sugar is killing us. Countries across the world are unhealthier, fatter and unhappier than ever – and it’s because we have normalised the consumption of a product that was originally used to fatten us up so we survived the winter.
In addition to this sick sense of comfortability we have with eating sugar, it all comes down to being brainwashed by the food industry. Those big executives (the ones with dollar signs for eyes) want our sugar addictions to remain strong – their sales depend on it. They sneak sugar into foods where it doesn’t belong so that you are drawn to it, find it tasty and delicious, become addicted and then continue to buy it. There are teams of people assembled in big companies who are appointed to brainstorm all the ways that they can make you addicted to their products. From celebrity endorsement, to colours, ingredients, taglines and even the funding of (flawed) studies that convince you of the health benefits of their products or why you should steer clear of others. You can read more about this problem here.
There are a number of reasons for why we crave sugar, and it doesn’t all come down the the temptation we face at every corner. In addition to surrounding ourselves with sugar laden products, we are:
Working high stress jobs – leading to exhaustion and heightened cortisol (stress hormone) levels. When our stress hormone spikes, so does our desire to eat sugar. Ghrelin (our hunger hormone) is triggered by surges in cortisol and that is why we feel the urge to eat sugar when we are stressed. Our body goes into survival mode (which is very primitive) and we think that we need to ingest all the energy possible to get ourselves out of danger. While once danger was when we were chased by an animal or were required to survive a long feed free winter, danger is now considered a late night email and looming deadline for the next day.
Low energy and lack of sleep – it is little wonder why we reach for sugar when we are not adequately fuelled with sleep to tackle our day. Poor sleep also leads to spikes in our cortisol, which sends mixed messages to our hunger hormones.
Hormone changes – ladies, you may notice every month you go through a period of wanting more sugar. When both our oestrogen and progesterone take a nosedive as we gear up for our periods, our serotonin (feel good hormone) and dopamine (reward centre) also plunge. We seek pleasure during this time and we do it in the form of chocolate!
Leptin and insulin resistance – Leptin is the hormone that tells us we are full. When we consume excessive amounts of sugar, we negatively impact leptin and it stops being able to do its job. Our body uses the hormone insulin to drop our blood sugar level following a sugar binge and often, if we overuse this function, it builds up a tolerance. If you always feel hungry, it could be your leptin and/or insulin levels that are out of whack. Sugar blocks leptin levels, and your body starts to store fat in response.
If you think you are the only one who eats too much sugar, you are not alone. Each day, Australians consume an average of more than 20 teaspoons of sugar. 100 years ago, the average person ate around 50 kg of sugar a year, now they eat 500! The first step in our Sugarholics Anonymous Program is to admit we have a problem.
Here are some signs that you may be addicted to sugar:
If you are sitting here shaking your head, resisting everything I have outlined…big indicator!
If you feel baseline crappy most days, are exhausted and feel flat and sugar has a place in your life – another big sign.
If you have no off switch for sugar or food in general, this is a huge sign that your appetite hormones are in need of repair
If you need sugar, biscuits and/or chocolate after a meal or all meals – alert alert!
If you worry about or get anxious about cutting out certain foods or what kinds of foods may be at an event
Perhaps you feel sluggish or fatigued from overeating regularly
Are you experiencing health or social problems (affecting school or work) because of food issues and yet keep eating the way you do?
Is a large chunk of your time is spent dealing with negative feelings from overeating food?
Do you experience withdrawal symptoms such as agitation and anxiety when you cut down on sugar?
Your consumption of sugar decrease your availability to function effectively and live a happy life
Do you need more and more of the foods to experience any pleasure or to reduce negative emotions?
You aren’t happy in your body and want to make a change
Just like in any 12 step program, you can overcome addiction. Realising that you are a sugar addict is the first step in your recovery. Sugar addiction is a real thing, it isn’t something we can just switch off overnight. We must take steps to battle and overcome it. Just like many drug and alcohol addicts who check themselves into rehab sometimes fall off the bandwagon, you may too. The key takeaway here, is that addicts are always welcomed back to support groups with open arms, celebration and warmth. Throughout this series of posts, we are going to follow a similar program to help you overcome your addictive ways. In my next post, I will go into the many health implications that are associated with excessive sugar consumption. Over the next few weeks, I want you to start noticing if, when and how sugar has taken control of your life and how this addiction is impacting you. Know that there is support for you and there are so many adjustments that you can make to improve your health and wellness. Start setting an intention to overcome your addiction and make this your long term goal.
Employing a health coach is an excellent way to manage your nutrition and lifestyle to kick your sugar habit. As you will learn in upcoming weeks, there is more involved in the process that simply going cold turkey. You must support yourself in a number of key areas and a health coach is that accountability partner to guide you along the way. To avoid going full steam ahead at the beginning and falling into a bowl of skittles in a few weeks, you may consider working alongside someone like me to help you achieve your goals long term and ensure balance.
If you would like to have a FREE initial consultation, where I can assess you health and wellness goals and outline how I could support you, please book in at the following link. You are not obligated to sign up to a program, but will be given to opportunity to get a feel for how working with a health coach may benefit you.
How to beat sugar addictions – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/07/20/how-to-beat-sugar-cravings_a_23038502/
Women, periods and hormones – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/11/23/this-is-why-women-feel-more-hungry-around-their-period_a_21613086/
How sugar makes us fat – https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/04/20/so-this-is-exactly-how-sugar-makes-us-fat_a_22046969/
IIN Health Coach Course Resources – Module 11.
Sarah Wilson – I quit Sugar information videos. Sugar 101. IIN course material.
Food Addictions. Mark Hyman Lecture. IIN Course Materials
Food Cravings Engineered by the Food Industry – https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/food-cravings-engineered-by-industry-1.1395225