In the last post I talked about how sugar addiction shares similar neurological pathways to any other addiction including drugs, behaviors, or substances. We often struggle to understand why we feel powerless when eating foods high in sugar. We accuse ourselves for having a lack of self-control or willpower and often don’t realize that sugar has as tight a grip on us as cocaine has to a cocaine addict. For many, it’s even more difficult because these seemingly innocent treats are offered, readily available and even encouraged 24/7 (just watch any “food” commercial during your kid’s favorite Saturday morning TV show).
How about sugar splurges once in a while?
It’s natural to want delicious food; however, even sporadic access to foods high in sugar can increase dependency on sugary foods. Intermittent or sporadic access to excess sugar shows itself as a constant fluctuation of bingeing and withdrawal. We see it as a roller coaster ride of sugar induced energy, mood swings and more. If that weren’t bad enough, these splurges are also scientifically proven to promote ever more of a sugar addiction.
At Princeton University, a group of researchers wanted to see if intermittent access to excess sugar causes the body’s brain to be dependent on the food. Without surprise, it was repeatedly shown that an excessive intake of sugar will cause the brain to go into withdrawal mode if its not getting sugar.
Going into withdrawal mode means that the next time we have a sugar craving, our cravings will be intensified. Even if we set ambitious health goals and made promises to stop bingeing on sweets, during these withdrawal and craving periods, our brain programs us to get the sugar we want no matter what promises we made. During a withdrawal, we will try to overcome any predisposed mindset/health goals and obstacle to get the sugar we crave. When we finally obtain our “reward,” our intake will be dramatically increased even up to a point where we can eat to the point of physical pain. This is the irony of the vicious withdrawal, craving, and reward cycle. Also, anxiety and imbalanced dopamine and acetylcholine, can cause mood swings, which are symptoms that occur during this withdrawal period as well.
So what should we do?
Is the solution to diet and avoid sugar completely? To live a healthy lifestyle with a healthy relationship with food, a change in lifestyle is necessary. Dieting is never a good idea because the word “diet” alone tells us deprivation is ahead. If we’ve ever dieted, we know that this deprivation only increases binge eating behavior and our desire for reward.
Another study showed that dieting and stress could cause even more “reward-like” responses in the brain. The study was performed on rats; scientists realized that when the rats were on caloric restricted diets and given stressful stimulations, their intake of palatable foods dramatically increased. After studying the brain patterns to explain why such a response occurs, researchers learned that the rats were driven to binge-eat for the desire of reward. They didn’t “eat to live” but rather “lived to eat.” That explains why they ate much more than their body actually needs or could handle.
How to Break Free:
Discover – As with any behavior we’re ready to change, we can’t change it unless we first become aware of how it’s showing up. Do you have a sugar addiction and is it showing itself in the way you’re eating, feeling and living?
Design a strategy – Set yourself up for success so you can break a sugar addiction without dieting or feeling deprived. That means including delicious foods that fuel and nurture your body, vs. feeling that you’re depriving yourself of anything delicious. Changing your mindset around deprivation helps too. For example, instead of looking at all the foods you “can’t have” look at the deprivation of living in a body you’re not proud of, not having the energy you need because of the way you feel, not having the confidence you want to seize an opportunity or relationship, not having the option to dress in clothes you love, etc. THAT’S deprivation and breaking a sugar addiction will bring you closer to the lifestyle you crave. Also, replacing sugar with nutrient dense, whole real food, including sweeteners (to a limited extent) like stevia, raw, unprocessed honey, low sugar fruit and other healthy substitutions can set you up for success.
Dive in – Get the support you need, fill your kitchen with healthy, nutrient dense, whole, real food, plan your meals and snacks so you have what you need available when hunger strikes and get excited about your best body, health and lifestyle that’s waiting for you to enjoy.