For anyone who's ever tried to eliminate or even reduce sugar from their diets, plenty can tell you just how difficult doing this really is! Our bodies naturally crave sugar as an energy source, but most foods in the typical American diet contain far more sugar than our bodies could ever use, which leads to storing the unused sugar as – you guessed it – fat. So how can we reduce or eliminate extra sugars from our diets without going insane with cravings? Here are some valuable tips and tricks on how to kill your sugar addiction.
Addiction, by definition, means dependency fueled by cravings. When we ingest sugar, especially refined, white sugar, it triggers a chemical reaction within our brains. Scientific research has shown that the normal human body is guaranteed to crave more sugar the four hours after they ingested it. There is something about sugar that makes our bodies crave more of it and that is, plain and simple, a sugar addiction. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has proven in several studies that sugar is actually more addictive to the human brain than cocaine. Yes, cocaine.
As with any addiction, when you reduce or take away the addictive substance, your brain goes through withdrawals. It is used to getting the substance and now suddenly it isn’t, and the brain reacts (panics). The most common cause of withdrawal symptoms in sugar addiction is dopamine depletion. Dopamine is a brain chemical that makes us feel good, and when we eat sugar for instance, dopamine is released and the pleasure center of our brain is activated. Cutting sugar out completely and suddenly can make these withdrawal symptoms many times more difficult and much more uncomfortable. Stress and depression levels rise, blood pressure rises, moods worsen and irritability flares. These symptoms are all results of the dopamine being absent when sugar (or any other addictive substance) is denied.
Solution: Find Alternative Resources for Dopamine
Exercise is a great way to boost dopamine levels in the brain. Exercise also releases endorphins, another reward neurotransmitter. Once you get into the habit of daily exercise, you'll find yourself craving the exercise because of the “feel good” chemicals that are released naturally when you do it.
Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is vitally important, and most Americans don't get enough good, quality sleep. Getting enough sleep takes effort, as it is a habit that needs to be formed in order to be positively effective. Limit caffeine intake to mornings only. Get enough daily exercise. Invest in a good quality mattress and bed linens, and keep your computer in the other room so as not to be tempted to work while you should be sleeping. Your brain will naturally produce more dopamine when it has had a good amount of sleep, about 6 to 8 hours nightly minimum for most adults.
Find a relaxing hobby. Making time for yourself to do something you enjoy also increases levels of dopamine in the brain. Remember, you don’t have to be Rembrandt to enjoy painting – even if you’re not good at it, if you enjoy it, do it!
Volunteering is another great way to positively influence the pleasure sensors in your brain. The act of helping others is a great way to make a difference in your community while at the same time making you feel good. People who volunteer on a regular basis report that their moods improve, their stress levels are reduced and their sense of well-being in general improves because of the positive results of the activities they're doing when they volunteer. Try spending an afternoon at a food bank, a women’s shelter or a soup kitchen, or volunteer to read to children for an hour at your local library. You’ll be amazed at how great you feel afterward.
Yoga is a form of exercise, but there's much more to yoga than simply the physical benefits of doing it. Studies have shown that people who practice yoga daily have a healthier balance of brain chemicals than people who don’t practice it. Yoga poses challenge the body physically, but being mindful of what you are doing while actively keeping your mind clear of “mental clutter” challenges and exercises your brain in a very healthy way. People who practice yoga are not only healthier, they live longer and are less dependent on prescription medications than any other focus group studied.
Sugar addiction is very real and has been proven time and again to be one of the most difficult habits to break, including nicotine, caffeine and even cocaine. The key to beating sugar addiction is to do it gradually and mindfully. Read labels. Measure your portions. Choose healthier sugar-free options when ordering or preparing your food. Add the suggestions mentioned above to keep your dopamine levels from crashing while you are reducing and eventually eliminating sugar from your diet. You will feel better, weigh less, your focus will improve and your energy levels will rise. When it comes to sugar addiction, with determination and as an educated consumer, you can fight sugar and win!