Did you know that one simple nutrient, one simple food you are almost surely consuming every day is hindering your well-being? And did you also know that you have all the chances in the world to be addicted to that substance without even realizing it? Yes, you are a junkie. A sugar junkie.
Let me get something straight here: I am a drug addict too. I sometimes have cravings that I feel like I cannot control. I rush to the fridge and binge on some milk chocolate, or sweets. I like eating sugar when I am sad or alone. If you think you are not like me, that you are stronger, try to cut sugar from your diet for a few days, even just in its refined form – which would mean that your sugar intake could only come from fruits, honey or maple syrup. Let me know if you do not experience a single withdrawal symptoms.
You might have experienced the harmful effects of sugar on your body already. When you eat a lot of it, your spirits are high, you feel very excited and energetic. You might have already used the idiom ‘being high on sugar’. After a while though, your body crashes down and you can feel debilitated for some time. When you quit refined sugar, those crashing moments happen more often. You need to sleep more, sometimes even in the afternoon, just to make it through the day. This is caused by the fact that sugar is numbing you to the tiredness, it powers you through beyond what your body is capable of actually doing.
The sugar addiction we are all experiencing can be explained scientifically. Once it is consumed, sugar sends messages of pleasure to the brain, which triggers a form of excitement. This leads the body to function at a higher rate than usual, to accelerate from its natural rhythm to a faster one. Of course, the body has to work harder to maintain this new rhythm and needs more energy. So, once the effects of the sugar you have previously taken wear off, you will feel tired and exhausted and will look for another hit of energy. Guess what could give you instant satisfaction? Sugar, that goes without saying. Here, you can clearly see that the mechanism is very similar to a drug addiction. In addition, research has shown that when provided with a mouthful of a sugary drink, people’s brain activity had the exact same reaction than when it was exposed to a hit of cocaine or heroin. When you are getting off sweets, the same neurological symptoms as withdrawing from nicotine, alcohol or morphine can be experienced.
Beyond physical effects, sugar addiction can also be experienced through the mind. When your blood is filled with sugar, you will usually feel good, feel high and energetic. However, when you are crashing down, your mood will instantly degenerate and you will more likely feel emotional and down than your usual natural average. Sugar will also lead you to behave in ways that are not suited for you, that are too hard on your body. Such behaviors include over-exercising, going to bed too late, over-eating, working longer hours without realizing you are exhausted, among other things. Just add a good splash of caffeine to the mix, and you are well set for a disaster.
On a worldwide scale, numerous medical studies have shown the negative impact of sugar on the population. In early childhood especially, sugar has been linked to the development of depression, anxiety and behavioral troubles. High blood glucose levels have also been linked to the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia in people that were not affected by diabetes. Sugar can also impact the health of our heart and other vital organs which are put on a strain as they are being asked to work faster than their natural pace.
It is hard to be aware of all the effects of sugar on your body while you are still on it. It is only once you have quit and made it past the withdrawal syndrome that you will start feeling better, more connected to your body and your mind. Nowadays, more and more people are trying to set themselves free from the addiction, and succeed. Even if it takes a strong commitment to make it, it is possible to stop being a refined sugar slave.
But where to start when facing such a vast challenge? First of all, if you decide to stop eating refined sugars, do not replace them with artificial sugars. Indeed, those can lead you to eating more calories during the day and gain weight, by creating a confusion between the gut and the brain. If the sweetness does not come with the right amount of calories, the system gets confused. Also, if you are addicted to real sugar, still getting that sense of sweetness will not help you getting off it at all. You are still satisfying your craving. Then, it may be a good idea to start exercising regularly. When you do that, your body will release higher levels of serotonin, making you feel happier, just like when you eat a cookie. Another way to enhance serotonin levels is to add whey protein to your diet, for example by drinking more milk. Improving your sleep habits will also be beneficial. Indeed, if you have not slept enough at night, you are more likely to give in to a sugary treat during the day. And if you go to bed earlier, you will say goodbye to that late night cookie you used to not be able to resist. Now, are you ready or should I get you one more glass of soda?