10 tips on how to get off the sugar rollercoaster
Australians consume, on average, 14 tsp of sugar a day, and this contributes to the nation’s growing obesity epidemic. Have you ever tried to stop eating sugar? It has become such a normalised part of life, that until we try to stop, we don’t realise how addictive it is.
Yes it is a real addiction, along the same brain pathways as cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine. The neurotransmitter dopamine is released by neurons in response to sugar and other rewarding substances. The brain’s pleasure centre, called the nucleus accumbens, has evolved to encourage us to carry out certain behaviours repeatedly....such as eating tasty and high energy foods, having sex, and socialising...in order to keep the species going. But sugar was not easy to access before the last 100 years or so in any quantity.
We can develop a tolerance to sugar, which is when the brain adapts to the continual dopamine stimulation, and down-regulates its receptors. Then we need more and more to get the same buzz, the same feeling. That’s why a little is generally never enough.
Sugar is associated with obesity, dental caries, acne, sleep issues, high cholesterol, nutrient depletion, learning difficulties and cognitive issues, fatigue, depression, suppression of the immune system, accelerated ageing, inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and more. There’s quite a cost to that daily indulgence.
The benefits of giving up sugar include: increased and sustained energy levels, healthy weight balance, natural happiness hormones, hormonal balancing, overall improvement in health and slowing down of the aging process, and a sense of freedom from the chains of sugar addiction.
One thing I want you to understand is that overcoming any addiction is not about willpower, it is about healing the brain and taking responsiblity, but self compassion is also needed. Science has shown we have a certain amount of willpower, and when we are stressed, busy, overwhelmed, or at the end of the day...our quota of willpower dries up. We simply have no willpower left to resist our addictions. So, we can’t rely on our existing willpower, but we can build our willpower muscles by creating healthy habits.
So, what’s the answer? Here are 10 tips to get yourself off the sugar rollercoaster.
1. Eat a substantial, preferably savoury breakfast with protein and fat. Studies have shown that people who start the day with a savoury breakfast, or a high protein and/or fat breakfast, are far less likely to crave sugar, later in the day. For some this may mean wholemeal toast with nut butter, or avocado and smoked salmon. For others it is bacon and eggs, or baked beans, or leftovers from the night before. This habit alone can significantly increase your resilience. Skipping breakfast is the worst thing you can do for a sugar addiction.
2. Eat enough protein and fat at each meal, as they help stabilise your blood sugar. Also, if you skip meals or don’t eat enough, you won’t get through to the next meal without needing to snack, and if the vending machine is the closest access to snacks you have, your brain will simply take you there.
3. Eat wholegrain rather than white flour. Preferably, avoid flour altogether and stick with whole grains. That means, avoiding pasta and bread may help because flour tends to breakdown to sugar quickly in the digestion, causing a blood sugar spike. We want even, stable blood sugar.
4. Be prepared! That means, know ahead of time when and where your next meal is coming from, and if needed, have snacks in your pocket or bag. These can be fruit, raw nuts, crackers or carrot sticks and hummous. By thinking ahead, you can minimise the times you are left hungry and your willpower weakened.
5. Fruit, yes fruit, is allowed, in fact encouraged. You cannot deny the need for sweet altogether, it is built into us and makes us happy...and fruit is more than sweet enough once your taste buds recalibrate. Fruit has fibre and so many other life giving nutrients...it is a whole food, which releases its sugar slowly. Enjoy your fruit, but avoid dried fruit and fruit juices which are too concentrated.
6. Avoid processed foods as much as possible, as most have added sugar. Eat none which have sugar in the first 3 ingredients, as it can trigger your cravings. You may need to completely clean out your pantry.
7. Activate your bitter taste receptors with small amounts of bitter herbs or foods to block sugar signalling in the brain, to alleviate sugar cravings. At first, it can be a shock- bitter is the opposite to sweet. But after a while, the bitter taste becomes something you crave, your taste buds come alive, and your digestion heals. I make aromatic bitter tonics to help with quitting sugar.
8. Include plenty of cinnamon in your diet. Studies show that cinnamon significantly decreases blood glucose and balances your cholesterol. Other supplements which may help are omega 3's, the herb rhodiola, and the mineral chromium.
9. Get enough sleep. When you are tired, you are more likely to crave sugar.
10. Avoid all types of sugar for several months while you kick the habit- you may be able to have a little now and then once you have kicked the addiction, but not until its no big deal. Cold turkey is really the only way, but you will be feeling so much better in a short time.