If everyone knows to some degree that sugar is bad for you, why does the average American consume three times the recommended amount?
The answer lies in our biology. The human body actually gets a physiological reward from eating sweets. Sugar stimulates the nucleus accumbens (a region of your brain that plays an important role in motivation, reward, and addiction) to produce dopamine. Eventually this dopamine wears off and your brain starts looking for its next “fix”…and where better to get it than another round of sugar?
Sugar doesn’t just affect dopamine levels. Once we start eating more than our fair share of the stuff, we get trapped in something called the “sugar cycle,” a process that makes quitting sugar all the more difficult. According to this article by Prevention
, here’s what the sugar cycle looks like in action:
- Excess sugar drives the pancreas to produce extra insulin, a hormone involved in blood sugar regulation.
- The insulin signals fat cells to store excessive amounts of glucose, fatty acids, and other substances rich in calories.
- With too few calories remaining in the bloodstream, the brain, which has very high energy needs, believes it's now low on fuel.
As a result, your hunger level rises quickly. Sugar is alluring when you're hungry because it provides quick energy.
In short, it’s hard to quit sugar because we get such powerful cravings for it.
So how do you break out of this cycle and stop sugar cravings naturally?
A huge step in stopping sugar cravings naturally is to cut out processed foods. Usually this is where added sugar lurks, and the more sugar you take in, the more your body will demand. Cutting off the sugar cycle at its source will make the whole process easier. Donuts, candy, and soda are some of the more obvious culprits, but also watch out for secret sources of added sugar such as pasta sauce, granola bars, yogurt, frozen meals, white wine, and certain salad dressings.
Take a look at your coffee drinks. These can be a huge culprit when it comes to added sugars. This blog post on The Spruce
lists out the sugar content of every drink at Starbucks, and the numbers are pretty scary. Those cute little Frappuccinos pack over sixty grams of sugar—that’s the same as eating four or five Twinkies. Whether your drink of choice is a Frappuccino, a latte, or a macchiato, you’re probably drinking a lot more sugar than you think.
Try to eat often. This will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. When your blood sugar takes a dive, that’s when your brain demands a quick fix and directs you over to the candy aisle. Include protein in these frequent, smaller meals and whole grains instead of processed starches and you’ll naturally start to crave sugar less often.
It’s also a good idea to drink lots of water as you cut out sugar, since cravings can be the result of thirst. Often when we think we want a sugary snack or drink, what our bodies are really telling us is that we need a glass of water. Try to get seven or eight cups every day. And when you hear those cravings calling, try downing some water and waiting fifteen minutes. Chances are, that sugar craving will go away.
It’s always a good idea to curb your stress, but right now it’s especially important. Stress creates the hormone cortisol in your body, which bumps up your blood sugar by tapping into protein stories in your liver. This is your body’s attempt to provide you with instant energy so you can flee or fight your stressor. Unfortunately, this has a similar effect on your body as consuming added sugar. Try taking some time each day to meditate, exercise, or just rest.
This is also a great time to cut out caffeine. When you have your cup of coffee, your stress hormones (including the one we just talked about, cortisol) are raised even if you aren’t under significant stress.