How to break your addiction to sugar

Do you have a sweet tooth? Most of us will overindulge at times. The average person eats about 20 teaspoons of sugar per day! Sugar is addictive and it is difficult to get off sugar, and to stay off it. Naturopath Erin O’Hara explains why we are addicted to sweet foods and how to break your sugar addiction.

Why do we get addicted to sugar?

Sugar gives you an initial high, then you crash, then you crave more, so you consume more sugar. Sugar is a substance that has been shown to release dopamine and opioids in the brain, both of which have addictive potential.

Our brains become addicted to the natural opioids that are triggered by sugar consumption. Eating a high sugar diet can generate excessive reward signals in the brain which can override one’s self-control and lead to addiction.

Addiction, bingeing and withdrawal

Sugar is a highly addictive substance.The cravings for sugar leads to addiction through cycles of bingeing and withdrawal. Our body becomes conditioned to needing something sweet to feel satisfied. We then start to self-medicate with sugar to boost our mood and energy to feel good.

How does sugar have a negative affect on our health?

Sugar makes your white blood cells less productive which lowers your immune system function. When eating sugar, it will stimulate insulin secretion in the pancreas, which in turn stimulates the liver’s triglyceride production.

High sugar consumption is known to be associated with many health conditions like – insulin resistance, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, ADHD, IBS, autoimmune conditions, and even cancer!

How to break a sugar addiction?

  • Eat regular meals. Eat three meals and two snacks or five small meals a day. When you go too long between meals your blood sugar levels drop, you feel hungry (or hangry), and are more likely to crave sweet foods.

  • Eat whole foods. Whole foods are high in fibre and less processed which helps to regular blood sugar levels. Eat a variety every day of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, and lean meats.

  • Keep sugary snacks out of your house and your office. It’s difficult to snack on things that aren’t there! Don’t substitute artificial sweeteners as these can be even worse for your health!

  • Incorporate protein and essential fats with each meal. Protein and fat help to regulate blood sugar levels to prevent sugar cravings.

  • Have breakfast to start your day off right. A breakfast that contains protein, fat and phytonutrients (fruit or vegetables) is essential to prevent sugar cravings.

  • Exercise – Moving your body will boost your energy, release endorphins, regulate your appetite, and decrease your need for a sugar boost.

  • Get enough sleep. When we are tired we often use sugar for energy to counteract the exhaustion. Aim for 6-8 hours of sleep every night. If you are feeling exhausted in the afternoon, instead of having a sugary snack, take a nap for 10-20 minutes instead.

  • Get support. Be open to explore the emotional issues around your sugar addiction. It is common to use sugar to feel better when an emotional need is not being met or you are feeling stressed.

  • Sugar in disguise. Learn to read labels to educate yourself on what you are putting in your body. Check the grams of sugar in processed foods and choose products lower in sugar.

Erin O’hara

How to deal with sugar cravings?

  • Distract yourself. Go for a walk, read a book, meditate. Cravings usually last for 10-20 minutes. If you can distract yourself with something else then the craving often passes. The first week cutting back on sugar is challenging but the more you do this, the easier it gets and you will get less sugar cravings.

  • Stay Hydrated. Drinking water can help with the sugar cravings. Sometimes what we perceive as sugar cravings is really thirst. Have a big glass of water then see if the sugar craving reduces in 10-20 minutes.

  • Meditation or breathing. Sugar cravings are common when we are feeling stressed, emotional, or tired. Sit for a few minutes, close your eyes, and focus on your breath. After a few minutes of deep breathing the craving should pass.

  • Have sugar-free “sweet” alternatives. Instead of giving into your sugar cravings, have a healthy alternative to satisfy the need for something sweet – Have a piece of fruit, dark chocolate, bliss balls, cacao drink, or a smoothie.

Do a Sugar Detox

A sugar detox can help to reset your appetite and decrease sugar cravings. To do a sugar detox, you would abstain from eating sugar, specifically added sugar, for at least a week and up to a month in order to reduce sugar intake and curb sugar cravings.

Your focus should be on cutting out added sugars from your diet: avoiding sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, desserts, alcohol, processed foods, and some condiments. Eat a diet rich in whole foods – vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, meat.

When doing a sugar detox the initial sugar cravings can be overwhelming the first week, then our bodies adjust and you won’t even want the sugar anymore.

Sample Day:

  • Breakfast – Green Smoothie (1 cup spinach, 1 cup berries, 1-2 scoops protein powder, ½ avocado and water).
  • Lunch – Chicken (beans, lentils, tofu, fish, or meat), avocado / nuts, and a big green salad
  • Snacks – fruit, raw nuts, seeds, vegetable sticks and humus, vegetable juices.
  • Dinner – Meat / fish / tofu, and a big salad / stir fried vegetables.

Breaking sugar cravings and addictions can be challenging! Try to follow the tips but if you do slip up, then just get right back onto the plan at the next meal.

If you know that you do not have good self-control with sugar then it is best to stay away from it completely and go “cold turkey” until your body readjusts and sugar cravings reduce.

Erin O’Hara combines her knowledge of Naturopathy and Science to provide an intergrative and evidence-based approach to wellbeing. She has been involved in the Health and Wellbeing Industry for about 20 years through extensive study, scientific research, and an intrinsic passion for health. Her functional medicine approach addresses the underlying causes of disease through extensive testing and looking at the interactions among genetic, environment, and lifestyle factors that can influence your health and cause disease.

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