Have you ever tried taking a break from sugar and found that all of a sudden it felt like you were upset or angry all of the time? That waves of headaches or nausea would wash over you and life had become generally unbearable? Well it wasn’t all in your head, what you were experiencing was actual withdrawal symptoms, just like a drug addict would experience were they to be cut off from the substance they abuse.
If you attempt to quit eating sugar all in one go, you’ll probably experience withdrawal symptoms that might show as severe and intense cravings for sugary foods, or more serious conditions such as mood swings, headaches or nausea. Those symptoms probably led you to binge on whatever simple carbs you could get your hands on, and that my dear, is akin to a drug addiction. The criteria for substance dependance or “addiction” is the cycle of binging then withdrawal then cravings and sensitization. In one study, results actually showed that intense sweetness provided greater neurological reward than even cocaine! A different study found that withdrawal from sugar had similar findings indicating that getting off sugar may cause the same neurological symptoms as withdrawing from nicotine, morphine and alcohol.
Can you say “Whoa Nelly?” Though many people know that diets high in sugar are linked to an increased risk for big illnesses like type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, many people don’t know that sugar intake has also been linked to depression, migraines, poor eyesight, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, gout and even osteoporosis. While the occasional sweet treat won’t make or break your weight loss or your health goals, many people have trouble stopping after a sensible portion or saying no to sugar when it’s around them. Think about a time a co-worker brought cupcakes or donuts to the office, it was probably a struggle for many people at the office to not get up and take a treat, even though they were probably full.
Why do you get a rush when you eat candy midday? The sugar in it, called a simple carbohydrate, is quickly turned into glucose in your bloodstream and your blood sugar levels spike. Simple carbs are also found in fruits, veggies, and dairy products, but those foods have fiber and protein that help slow down the process. Juice, soda, candy, chocolate bars and table sugars don’t have any of those fibers, and so when you eat them, your pancreas rapidly makes the hormone insulin, which moves glucose out of the bloodstream and into your cells for energy. You may have a short sugar rush, but then your bloodstream is quickly left depleted and you experience a sudden drop in blood sugar levels, otherwise known as a mid day crash. You may feel shaky and probably wiped out so you start searching for even more sweets to regain that sugar “high.”
Now you may think you don’t have a sweet tooth, but do you have cravings for chips, bread or french fries? These starchy foods are complex carbs that the body breaks down into simple sugars as well, and when eaten without protein and fiber rich foods, these starches can make blood sugar react the same way as regular white sugar. White flour, and potatoes do this too, as do other highly refined starches like white bread, cookies, pretzels and crackers.
Quitting Cold Turkey is Not the Answer
Is all of this information making you want to distance yourself from sugars? Well I hope you start nice and slow, because some sugar detox plans urge you to cut all sweets, which means all fruit, dairy, and refined grains are out too. Unfortunately changes like that are too drastic to keep up in the long run, and you’ll find yourself binging and falling back into the cycle of addiction all over again.
You don’t need sugar as much as you think you do and in fact you can train your taste-buds to dislike sweetness. For example, start putting less sugar in your coffee or cereal. Over time, you will notice that you will lose your need for that sugary taste. Also, you don’t have to give up sweetness, but instead get it from other sources. Instead of sugar, try fresh or dried fruit on your oatmeal or in your yogurt. If you make small, simple changes to your diet, it’s easy to keep them up in the long run. Cut out a little bit of sugar each week and after a few weeks, you’ll be surprised at how little you actually miss it.
How to Kick Sugar to the Curb… In 5 Simple Steps
Step 1: Start slowly and wean yourself off of sugary foods over a period of 4-6 weeks
Start substituting your sweet foods with protein or fiber rich foods instead. Check food labels, and pick foods that don’t contain a lot of sugar. This includes “sugar-free” items laden with Aspartame and other sugar substitutes. Instead substitute non-sweetened dried fruit to your oatmeal, yogurt or cereal. There are even many recipes for baking that use apple sauce or pumpkin puree for a natural touch of sweetness. Do your research, shop on a full stomach and force yourself to pick the right foods based on their nutritional labels. Look at the Carbohydrate (sugar), Fat and Protein contents.
Eating protein is an easy way to curb sugar cravings. High-protein foods digest more slowly which help keep you feeling full for longer. Protein doesn’t make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbs and sugars do, so pick proteins like chicken, low-fat yogurt, eggs, nuts, or beans.
Fiber helps fight a sugar craving in many ways. It helps keeps you full and it also give you more energy without the hungry crash afterwards. Choose fruits, vegetables, and whole grain or spread some peanut butter on an apple or celery sticks for a protein/fiber combo.
Step 2: Respond to cravings with physical activity
Exercise can help with sugar cravings and even change the way you eat. Once you start feeling better from working out, you will naturally want healthier foods to fuel your body. Pick a sport you like, but even walking, riding your bike, or swimming can be great ways to simply start. Try to incorporate some weight training into your workout regimen at least 3 times a week.
If you’re experiencing headaches or nausea due to sugar withdrawal, an exercise routine can help deliver oxygen to the body, helping to boost your energy and get rid of your symptoms.
Step 3: Drink more water
Sometimes people experience food cravings when their bodies are actually in need of water. If you think you need sugar, simply try drinking a glass of water. People who are addicted to high levels of sugar may have difficulty identifying between a sugar craving and thirst, so whenever you experience an intense bout of sugar cravings, try drinking a glass of water to curb that urge.
Step 4: Keep a journal
One way to start recognizing your sugar withdrawal symptoms, is to keep a journal about your daily diet. Jot down your energy levels in the morning, afternoon and evening. Make note of the level of hunger and sugar cravings you have throughout the day. Even keeping track of your sleep habits can provide you with motivation and clarity regarding the effects that sugar has on your life and overall health. Be sure to keep details of what feels good about being sugar-free, since seeing the positive effects is more likely to get you to adhere to your new lifestyle.
Step 5: Get rid of all junk once you have successfully eliminated sugar from your diet completely
If sugary and sweet foods are easily accessible, you will be more likely to give into temptation. The more distance you place between yourself and sugary snacks, the less likely you will be to fall back into old habits. Be sure to replace the sugary foods with healthy alternatives though, and remember to keep those protein and fiber rich foods close by. It will help keep you from binging and falling back into that cycle of addiction.
I hope these few simple steps help you lose the dependency on sugar. Remember, you don’t need sugar, you’re sweet enough already! Be sure to stay tuned for part 2, where I explain the 5 steps to adhering to your new healthy lifestyle free of the sugar temptation.
To Being Positively Strong,