I have a confession to make. I’ve had a problem with sugar addiction. Actually, it’s still something I struggle with. And I know I’m not alone.
In fact, I don’t know very many people who haven’t had a problem with sugar at some point.
Why is that? Why do people crave sugar?
If you remember good ‘ol health class, when you get a hit of dopamine – a chemical neurotransmitter – it stimulates the pleasure center of your brain. When you consume sugar, it releases dopamine. Since it feels good, you want more… and more… That’s how you develop an addiction.
Here’s the answer to the question in the title: Heroin and morphine stimulate those same receptors in your brain.
And even though you may try very hard to curb your addiction, willpower usually isn’t quite enough to help you lay off the sweets.
If you’re feeling tired, the thought of a quick energy boost may cause you to reach for that candy bar. The problem is, soon after you get the energy boost, then your blood sugar levels drop quickly, causing you to want… more sugar.
So instead of pure sugar, add in some protein or fat, like some peanut butter, almonds, or yogurt. That will help alleviate your sugar cravings.
On other days, you may manage to be “good” all day long, just eating lean proteins, vegetables and a few fruits. The problem is, without enough complex carbohydrates, you’ll feel low in energy, and want to reach for that cupcake by the end of a long day.
Instead, add complex carbs like a half cup of whole grain rice or oatmeal, or a third of a sweet potato or winter squash to your meals. This will help stabilize your blood sugar levels, just as your willpower begins to wane.
Sometimes you may turn to sweets as comfort food when you’re feeling lonely or frustrated or even bored. You crave that dopamine to make you feel better… but it wears off quickly. This type of eating can easily become a habit whenever you feel a little down.
Instead of sweets, try chewing gum. Or sucking on one mint. Or go take a hot bath. Or better yet, go for a walk or a bike ride, or some other type of exercise.
It turns out that the more you sit on your butt, the more you want to eat! It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. So get up and move to curb your appetite. Strength training is also great exercise, and it builds stronger muscles, which burn more glucose (sugar).
Don’t have any free weights? Just do resistance training with your own body weight, or get some relatively inexpensive workout bands.
Another way to reduce your sugar cravings is to eat more natural sugars, like whole and dried fruit. Slip them in wherever you can: add orange slices to your salad, or cranberry jam on your turkey sandwich. Or put some lemon or mango on your chicken. Or eat a dried prune for a snack.
You can also experiment with different flavors of spices in your meals. Liven up your taste buds so they aren’t always looking for the sweetest things on the shelf!
Cut your sugar intake by mixing it with other things. For instance, progressively dilute your juice and soda with seltzer, and eventually you’ll just reach for the plain seltzer.
Head off your sugar cravings early in the day by having a lot of lean protein for breakfast. Greek yogurt, eggs, or peanut butter will all help you feel full longer in the day.
Keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day by eating three meals and two snacks, all filled with protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Fill up on beans, lean meats, nuts, whole grains, eggs, and vegetables.
A lot of your efforts to curb the sweets involve some mental preparation. Figure out when you are most likely to cave in, then don’t put yourself in those situations (eg, take a different route to the restroom, instead of past the vending machine). Also, instead of using cakes and cookies for celebrations, find other ways to bring yourself pleasure. Maybe with scented candles, or a favorite flavor of tea.
Look, I know it’s not easy saying no to sweets. And you don’t have to say no all the time. The trick is to find a way to eat sweets in moderation, so you can manage your weight, as well as your long-term health.
I’d love to have a chance to speak with you about this, or any other health issue that’s a challenge for you. Please reach out and I’ll get right back to you! I look forward to it!