8 Natural Steps to Breaking Up With Sugar
"Research continues to show that sugar can be as addictive as alcohol or drugs."
Today’s live show is the first of Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD’s, very special series on overcoming addictions. In this first episode Dr. Nancy is talking about sugar addictions. Sugar addiction is seldom mentioned when we talk addictions, but it does work like any other addiction in the brain, and if not addressed can lead to much more than just weight-gain — it contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and chronic inflammation and is slowly killing millions of people every single year. Find out the best way to break a sugar addiction in today’s live show with Dr. Nancy.
- 02:32: The Epidemic of Addiction
- 07:14: What is Addiction?
- 10:08: Top 10 Most Addictive Substances
- 13:53: 8 Most Addictive Things that are Not Drugs
- 18:10: How to Know if You Are Addicted to Something
- 23:06: Can You Really be Addicted to Sugar?
- 33:04: Why is Sugar so Addictive?
- 37:33: Top 8 All Natural Ways to Break-up With Sugar
- 58:43: Wrap-Up
Addiction is a massive problem in today’s society, and while it’s not always the easiest topic to talk about, we feel it’s important to tackle even the most difficult and uncomfortable health topics — so that is what we are going to do!
Over the next week or so, we’ll be dedicating a number of shows to helping people break specific addictions and we thought we’d start with an addiction that isn’t always in the forefront of the conversation when we talk addictive substances, but it certainly has shown to be very addictive and dangerous when misused, more on this in just a minute.
So, the goal of this series is to define addiction, explain how addiction works, discuss some of the really important signs and symptoms of addiction to specific substances, and most importantly, share our best tips and recommendations for recognizing, addressing, and ultimately breaking the cycle of addiction. And today, we are going to start by talking about addiction to sugar…yes, sugar. It’s actually a huge problem — we could even qualify it as an epidemic today.
The tips and recommendations that we’re going to share over the course of this addiction series are those that Dr. Nancy has found helpful while working with clients. While it’s helpful for you to pay attention to them and apply them to your own life as needed to be the best version of your own self, you also need to take a deep look in your own heart, do some soul-searching, and recognize if you have an addiction issue that requires the help and support of a medical professional. If you do, don’t wait — do it now, get the help and support you need and deserve! You are worth it!
What is Addiction?
Addiction means you can’t function without something, right? Well, not exactly — you can’t live without sleep, but you’re not addicted to it. The same goes for food; you need it and you love it, but you’re probably not addicted to it. So let’s define addiction.
Addiction is a complex condition; it’s actually a brain disease that is characterized by excessive and compulsive use of something — even though there are harmful consequences from its use. People who struggle with addiction have an intense focus on using something, for some it’s alcohol or tobacco, others drugs, for some it’s sugar, or iPhones, or maybe gambling… the list goes on and on. Whatever it is, this compulsive use and focus on the substance progresses to the point that it takes over the person’s life. How many of you know a friend or loved one that struggles with some form of addiction? It affects most of us, either directly or indirectly.
Top 10 Most Addictive Substances
- Amphetamines (prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin)
- Peanut Butter
- Methadone (prescription medications used to help addicts transition to being sober)
- Crack Cocaine
8 Most Addictive Things that are Not Drugs
- Stealing (Kleptomania)
- Body modification
- Internet/Social Media
- Video games/gambling
- Fast food
How to Know if You Are Addicted to Something
Have you ever stopped and tried to determine whether you might be addicted to something? If you haven’t been through addiction, you might have a hard time answering that question. It’s pretty easy to answer that question about someone else, but it can be a difficult conversation to have with the person looking back at you from the mirror.
The American Psychological Association has created a really helpful list of questions to consider when trying to answer this question. Now, you are the only person who can answer these questions, so spend some time thinking about them. And if you find the answer to these is “Yes”, it might be time to do that soul-searching we talked about.
- Have you tried quitting the substance altogether in the past without success?
- Do you find yourself craving or having a strong desire to use the substance?
- Have you consistently been unable to meet your responsibilities at work or home due to the substance use?
- Have you continued using the substance despite relationship problems that it has caused?
- Do you find yourself engaging in risky behavior as a result of your substance use?
- Have you avoided social interactions or activities that you previously enjoyed due to your substance use?
- Do you spend a lot of time thinking about, obtaining or using the substance?
- Do you experience withdrawal when you don’t have the substance?
Can You Really be Addicted to Sugar?
Let’s consider some facts about sugar so we can understand how sugar interacts with our bodies.
Sugar fuels every cell in the brain
Glucose is a form of sugar that every cell, including those in your brain, uses for energy. Your brain also recognizes sugar as a reward, which makes you keep wanting more of it. If you often eat a lot of sugar, you're reinforcing that reward, which can make it tough to break the habit.
You can train your brain and your taste buds to crave less sugar
This is a tricky one, but it’s true. In fact, you can train your taste buds to enjoy things that aren't as sweet and over time, you will lose the craving for the constant taste of sugar.
Eating protein is an easy way to curb sugar cravings
Eating protein is an easy way to curb sugar cravings High-protein foods digest more slowly, keeping you feeling full for longer. Protein also doesn't make your blood sugar spike the way refined carbs and sugars do, making it easier to curb your cravings.
Artificial sweeteners are NOT a great alternative to sugar
One of the biggest sugar myths out there is that artificial sweeteners are a good substitute for sugar. In fact, artificial sweeteners may leave you craving more sugar and artificial sweeteners don't help you break the sugar addiction — they actually make it worse! Pay attention to your body and you’ll quickly notice that these artificial sweeteners cause you to crave even more sugar, which only causes huge problems.
So, is sugar addictive? Some people say yes, others will disagree. As a nutritionist, Dr. nancy is on the front lines when it comes to seeing how sugar affects the lives of her clients. So she says that yes, sugar is addictive — highly addictive for many people. Science and research also provides evidence to support the idea that sugar is super addictive.
Consider the following:
The average American consumes more than 77 pounds of sugar a year! Let’s put that in perspective. That equals 95 grams of sugar, or 24 teaspoons of sugar every single day. The recommended amount is no more than 9 teaspoons per day for men, 6 teaspoons for women, and 3 teaspoons day for kids. So, on average each person, each year is eating 40, 50, even 60 pound more than what is recommended. And we are seeing a direct relationship to this and the skyrocketing rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and chronic inflammation. These numbers support the fact that sugar is addictive. Can you think of another food item that we overeat at this rate?
So, Is sugar addictive? The answer is yes — and the research shows that it can actually be as addictive as drugs or alcohol.
In case you haven’t noticed, sugar is added to nearly every processed food you can eat or drink — in fact over 80% of processed and packaged foods contain added sugars. Even foods you wouldn’t think, such as salad dressings, low-fat yogurt, juice, granola, protein bars, and even spaghetti sauce, contain sugar, making it really hard to get away from! It should also make you stop and wonder why these companies add sugar to their products. It’s because there is big money to be made in fueling addiction... just look at the tobacco industry.
Why is Sugar so Addictive?
Consuming sugar, or even thinking about eating or drinking sugar, actually triggers the release of dopamine and serotonin — the neurotransmitters in your brain responsible for pleasure — into your system.
Adding to the evidence that demonstrates sugar is addictive, there are clear withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting sugar, which typically show up within 24 hours and include:
It’s common to experience each of these withdrawal symptoms because your body has become dependent on sugar, and going without is creates a major imbalance that your body responds to by craving more sugar. Your body has been trained to believe you need this excess sugar to function normally.
The good news is that this withdrawal doesn’t last forever, and your body starts to see benefits of quitting sugar just a few hours after going without it. In fact, your body quickly starts to decrease stored insulin levels and starts to burn stored sugar and fats for energy; blood sugar and triglyceride levels drop in just days, and the longer you go without sugar, the more your taste buds adapt (actually starting to crave sugar less). The effects of quitting sugar are all great things for your health, but sugar addiction is super hard to overcome, especially with strong withdrawal symptoms challenging you every step of the way.
And beyond overcoming a physical addiction, there is mental and emotional side to breaking an addiction, especially with something like sugar that is such a prevalent part of your lifestyle.
Top 8 All Natural Ways to Break-up With Sugar
Here my to top 8 all-natural ways to help break your sugar addiction and improve your overall health along the way!
Don’t Quit Sugar Cold Turkey
Like most health issues, addressing an addiction requires intentional planning and dedication to following the path you or your doctor has developed. Let’s face it, we are an impatient society and we want immediate results — and for a lot of us, that’s why we struggle to stick to an exercise plan, to lose weight, or to break an addiction. These all take time and effort, which sometimes we haven’t mentally prepared or committed ourselves to.
Breaking an addiction to sugar is no different; it’s almost impossible to wake up one day and just 100% quit eating sugar. You need to plan for how to address withdrawal symptoms, we need to understand the power of cravings, and we need to make sure you have the right foods on hand to help transition away from a life that’s focused around sugar.
It’s also important to remember that our bodies need some sugar to function efficiently — certainly not the 24 teaspoons we are averaging the day — but we need some. Fortunately, most fruits and some vegetables in Dr. Nancy’s anti-inflammatory diet contain natural sugars... exactly what you need in fact. So you don’t need any of the white refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or other added processed sugars.
Most people find the best, and most effective way to detox from sugar is gradually cutting back. This way, withdrawal symptoms are far less noticeable and you are more likely to keep that positive momentum of doing something that is good for your health. This makes it less likely that you will give up the detox completely.
When it comes to methods of cutting back, there are a few ways to do this. One way is to go without refined sugars for one day a week, and gradually increase that by a day or half a day every week until you work up to 7 days in a row.
Regardless of how you detox from sugar, you will suffer some type of withdrawal, so just prepare yourself. There will be headaches, pains, mood swings, maybe even some setbacks. But know that these are temporary and in the end, you will feel the benefits of a better diet.
Support from family, friends and your doctor will all be important to get your through the withdrawal and onto a better life without all that sugar, so make sure you build your support team and lean on them when things get tough!
Incorporate More Proteins And Healthy Fats Into Your Diet
Replacing sugary foods with protein is one of the best ways to stabilize your blood sugar levels and reduce energy crashes that cause you to crave more sugar. In fact, a protein-rich meal can actually slow down the absorption of sugar and prevent glucose spikes, which, in turn, can reduce your sugar cravings.
Dr. Nancy recommends at least 30 grams of protein with each meal, so commit to eating your protein. And beyond your meals, especially when you’re in the process of giving up sugar, we also recommend you include protein with in-between meal snacks too; almond butter, egg whites, nuts, and seeds are all great ways to incorporate some protein in between meals.
The same goes for healthy fats from sources like avocados, olive oil, nuts and nut butters, salmon, and coconut oil — they all slow absorption of sugar, stabilize blood sugar levels, and prevent the energy spiking and crashing that contributes to the cycle of sugar addiction.
Eliminate Processed Foods
Some people recommend reducing the amount of processed food you eat, and while that’s a great plan to start with, we recommend that you work up to totally eliminating all processed and packaged foods — they are loaded with added sugars, not to mention sodium, preservatives, saturated fats, and usually provide little nutritional value anyway. As you transition away from packaged foods, become a label reader, make sure to always know how much sugar something has before you eat it. In the case of soda and sweetened drinks, if you drink them now then check out the labels; you’ll be amazed at how much sugar each serving contains!
Nix the Artificial Sweeteners
Repeat after us: I (state your name), will not eat or drink artificial sweeteners ever again! Artificial sweeteners are marketed as a “healthy” alternative to sugar, but they are absolutely not! Besides being processed and manufactured, artificial sweeteners have the same effect on the body as sugar, creating the same cycle of wanting more and more sugar.
Instead, if you need some sweetness in your life, you can just tune in to Dr. Nancy’s show! You can also look to sources of natural sweetness, like fresh fruits, and even some vegetables! Carrots, sweet potatoes, fresh peas, and beets all have natural sugars and are delicious – give those a try if your looking for a natural sugar alternative. Or try some of these healthy ways to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Swap out added sugar for great, healthy spices too — season your food, coffee, or tea with sweet or warming spices. Ginger, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and cardamom are loaded with antioxidants and will naturally sweeten and flavor foods without the need for added sugar, working wonders to reduce cravings. Turmeric is another powerful spice that’s great for fighting sugar cravings. It’s active ingredient, curcumin, is known to help lower blood sugar and fight against insulin resistance and inflammation.
Seek Serotonin and Dopamine from Other Sources
We talked earlier about how sugar stimulates the brain to release serotonin and dopamine, the “feel good” chemicals, which provides a natural euphoric feeling. The endorphins released after eating sugar calm and relax us, they lift our mood, and leaving us wanting more. As you wean off of sugar, you will notice this endorphin craving as a real challenge! Try green tea, avocados, walnuts, and seeds, or increasing your exercise routine to boost your serotonin and dopamine levels.
Speaking of exercise, make sure you get moving! It’s essential to breaking your sugar addiction. But it’s equally important to make sure you rest and recover right after you workout; overtraining or exhausting yourself during a workout can create a craving for a quick energy source (aka sugar). So remember, everything in moderation, workouts included. And make sure you have a source of high protein and healthy fats to fuel you after you finish, maybe almond butter with celery, carrots and hummus, or a handful of almonds or walnuts.
Have a Craving Plan!
Remember, cravings are going to hit, and they are going to hit hard! The good news is that cravings usually will go away in about 20 minutes… the bad news is, that can feel like a long 20 minutes! So, have a plan: what are you going to do when the sugar craving knocks on your brain’s front door? What’s your plan? Drink a huge glass of water, chew some gum, take a walk, get some fresh air, make a cup of tea, call a supportive friend, do some deep breathing, jumping jacks, pushups, or yoga. Whatever it is, have a plan in place and be prepared to spring into action when you get the urge for sugar! Distracting yourself until the craving passes will be hard at first; but the more you resist, the more quickly your cravings will disappear!
Get Your Minerals
The last thing you need to do is take a look at your mineral intake — Mineral deficiencies might be another reason for your sugar addiction.
We used to think that if your body was craving a particular food or taste, then you must be deficient in it. While that’s not entirely wrong — for example sometimes in the case of salty foods and a sodium deficiency — the craving for sweet, sugary foods can also be partly explained by specific mineral imbalances in the body.
Your body uses magnesium in the regulation of glucose, insulin, and the neurotransmitter dopamine, so a magnesium deficiency can manifest in the form of intense sugar cravings, especially for chocolate. Zinc is also needed for proper insulin and glucose utilization; a deficiency can also lead to sugar cravings. Calcium, zinc, and magnesium imbalances can manifest themselves as sugar cravings too. These essential minerals also help with hydration of cells, which is great because dehydration can lead to sugar cravings.
Without sufficient consumption, absorption, and storage of these minerals, you might be experiencing abnormal sugar cravings. So, to make sure your getting appropriate amounts of quality bioavailable minerals, make sure you supplement with the Smarter Multivitamin when cutting out sugar. There is a difference among multivitamins out there — a huge difference in fact. And it’s partly due to the way smarter delivers their minerals.
- Not in a hard tablet that you don’t absorb well, but in a fine, loosely packed powder
- Unlike multi tablets which use a lot of synthetic sources for their minerals, Smarter’s minerals are from highly absorbable organic plant food sources. For example, our magnesium is from fresh okra, spearmint, sesame, dill, and sunflower seeds. The zinc is sourced from pumpkin seeds, wheat germ, watermelon, banana and cocoa.
It’s exactly what you need!
So, we covered a lot of info today — let’s quickly recap. This was the first in Dr. Nancy’s series on addiction, and we spent some time defining addiction as a really complex condition; think of it as a brain disease that is characterized by excessive and compulsive use of something, even though there are harmful consequences from its use.
We also shared a series of important questions to ask yourself when trying to determine if you are addicted to something.
We spent the rest of the show talking about an often overlooked addiction — sugar addiction. Research continues to show that sugar can be as addictive as alcohol or drugs, and abusing it can lead to weight gain, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and even heart disease.
We also shared some of Dr. Nancy’s best tips and recommendations for breaking the cycle of sugar addiction, including:
- Not trying to quit sugar cold turkey
- Incorporating more protein and healthy fats into your diet
- Eliminating processed foods and artificial sweeteners from your diet
- Exercising and not overtraining
- Making sure you are getting the proper amount of magnesium, calcium, and zinc.
Dealing with any addiction, including addiction to sugar, is no easy task, but you will find out that the effort is totally worth it. You will lose weight, feel better, have more energy, reduce your inflammation levels, and decrease your risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
We hope you found part one of my addiction series informative and helpful. Stay tuned as we tackle some other substances and how to break addictive cycles.