Almost everyone understands that Sugar isn’t particularly good for you and may feel guilty whenever having sweets or candy. This wasn’t always the case, sugar used to be advertised as just a source of quick energy, and even as a means for losing weight. “Mmm, another thing – the cold crisp taste of Coke is so satisfying it keeps me from eating something else that might really add those pounds.” Nowadays you can find all kinds of articles, books, documentaries and plenty of videos that describe how unhealthy sugar is for you. With recent research data on the health effects as well as the Sugar Industry’s antics coming to light, the topic has gotten even more attention. The more you learn, the more you’ll want to stop eating it. As a recovering sugar addict, I’ve read and watched all kinds of great content on the subject, but the focus is rarely how to quit sugar. Since I’ve already put out two videos on the problems with sugar, I figure a solution is in order.
The key point of this video is to explain why people become inclined to eat sugary foods, and how to undo this inclination. The other thing we’ll look at is the mindset to have when approaching this, as well as how to react when you have a craving. Several of the techniques in here can be applied to eating less unhealthy foods in general as well as quitting bad habits.
There are five areas that are working against you that we need to address. Once those are out of the way, quitting sugar becomes really easy. We’ll start with your brain.
Sugar keeps you consuming it regardless of the amount of food you have eaten for 2 reasons. The first is that it is actually biologically addicting – sugar acts on your reward center in the brain to give you a sense of pleasure when you eat it. When you frequently consume sugar, you become tolerant to it and require more to get the same amount of pleasure. Then, you can suffer withdrawal symptoms like headaches, tremors, mood swings and irritability when you go without eating it.
Another way sugar keeps you eating more food in general is by keeping you hungry. Eating sugar causes an excess release of insulin, and when there is too much insulin present in the body, your hypothalamus cannot pick up on its leptin signal. Leptin is a hormone released from fat cells that is registered by your brain as a “satiety” signal. So when your brain can’t pick up on that signal, it thinks you’re starving. Ever had a soda or two before lunch and thought “Man that really filled me up, I think I’ll have a light lunch.” …Me neither. Your brain also interprets hunger as your environment not having much food available so it says “We need to use less energy by reducing activity and we have to store whatever energy comes in”. Anything that raises your energy expenditure makes you feel good – things like coffee, exercise or ephedra. Anything like hunger that lowers your energy expenditure makes you feel crappy. The sugar keeps you hungry and feeling lethargic and crappy. Quitting cold turkey quickly breaks this cycle after a week or two.
So here are the 10 most obese states in the nation. Ten most obese states. Here are the 10 laziest states in the nation, here are the 10 most unhappy states in the nation. Here’s the adult diabetes rate, here’s the adult heart disease rate and finally here’s soda per capita consumption. Pretty significant overlap, wouldn’t you say? Yea?
One thing I found really kept me going in spite of massive sugar cravings was knowing that the longer I went without sugar the better I would feel. This brings us to a key point which is: “Reducing sugar doesn’t mean reducing happiness”
The main premise of Allen Carr’s book “Easy way to stop smoking,” is that you need to get it through your head that you’re not depriving yourself of anything by quitting cigarettes. Cigarettes don’t improve people’s lives in any way and the only reason smokers feel deprived while quitting is because of the dependency the cigarettes created. While sugar at least tastes good, the feeling of deprivation occurs for the same reason -extended use of sugar changes your brain so that you crave it.
A lot of people when faced with the idea of quitting sugar will equate it to depriving themselves of pleasure. What they’re not realizing is that sugar isn’t raising overall happiness, it is simply creating a temporary contrast in happiness. If you’re constantly consuming sugar, you can be making yourself unhappy, lethargic and fat without realizing it. So what is happening is your baseline happiness gets lowered, and you have a spike in pleasure when you eat sugar. However, when you’re not dependent on sugar for that boost in pleasure, then your baseline happiness is much higher and you’re more content all the time, not just when you get sugar.
The other thing people will do when approached with the idea of quitting is that they will start to predict the agony they can expect and visualize it as a graph like this with time on the X axis and agony on the Y axis with agony extending out into eternity. The reality is that your body adapts to the absence of sugar, so you will feel much more comfortable without it and worry about sugar less and less so that graph will look more like this:
Depending on what your diet looks like and factors like whether or not you drink alcohol, you can expect to start feeling much better in as little as a week to two weeks.
This brings us to the next thing that is working against you: Advertising & …Almost any store selling food
Food companies have found that virtually every food product they sell, they can add at least a little bit of sugar to a product to make it tastier. The “Bliss Point” is a term used for the point at which the product is the sweetest and therefore tastiest it can be, before adding any more sugar would make it too sweet. This is why sugar is in 80% of foods on the market, and it’s mostly in foods you wouldn’t expect to have any sweetness to them.
So you have to put in some effort to ensure what you’re buying doesn’t have added sugar and avoid all the tempting advertisements and colorful packages. We’re bombarded with advertisements for crappy and especially sweet food everywhere we go. You can try to ignore them, but having to see these food pictures all the time is a bit confusing for your brain. Your brain will release dopamine in response to expecting to get that food.
A car speeding towards you can immediately jack your heart rate up even if it stops 10 feet in front of you. Mothers will start to lactate when they hear their baby crying even if it’s in another room. Your brain has a lot of ways to prepare you for what it expects to happen, and this is the same with food. When we think about, see or smell foods our brains trigger what is called the Cephalic Phase Insulin Release to prepare you for digesting that food. The sweeter the brain thinks the food will be, the more insulin it stimulates the pancreas to release. This extra insulin can make you feel even hungrier as it will block your leptin signal, like we discussed before. So, just the sight of sweet food can make you hungry even though the contents of your stomach have not changed at all.
The good news is that you can deconstruct this programmed response the brain has created. If your normal programming is: see picture of food, buy food, take food out of the package, eat food then advertisements or food labels in the store can have a real strong effect on you. However if you change your programming to: see real food, check if food is fresh or ripe, cook food, and then eat food, your brain will stop associating colorful packages with eating and it will become much easier to resist well marketed foods.
The next thing you have working against you is your habits.
In the “Power of Habit,” Charles Duhigg talks about the Basal Ganglia, a primitive part of the brain that takes long series of actions and packages them into a single “chunk”. So a task like unlocking your door, sitting down, putting your seatbelt on, adjusting your mirror, putting the key in the ignition and so on becomes just “backing out of the driveway.” Duhigg says that habits “…emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort.” Try and remember your commute to work in the morning yesterday. What do you remember about it? Not much or maybe even none of it at all- this is because your Basal Ganglia takes over and you run on “autopilot”. The thing is is you can autopilot your meals too, this is something McDonald’s is of course familiar with: “Every McDonald’s, for instance, looks the same—the company deliberately tries to standardize stores’ architecture and what employees say to customers, so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines.”
As you repeat an action, a fatty tissue called myelin covers the axons of your neurons. Myelin speeds up and strengthens nerve impulses, allowing actions associated with certain neurons to be performed with much less mental energy. This is where “practice makes perfect” comes from, but this also explains why people can get stuck into certain routines. You can get “good” at anything you do. “…but I’m pretty good at drinkin’ beer🎶 ” You can get “good” at deciding you’re better off going for the packaged food since you’re too tired to cook. You can also get “good” at resisting cravings for junk food, buying some proper food, taking it home and cooking it.
The other side to this is familiarity and Nostalgia. Alan Hirsch describes Nostalgia as not relating to “a specific memory, but rather to an emotional state.
In Robert Lustig’s book “Fat Chance,” he says that food is one of the true enjoyments of life. “Yet familiarity breeds greater cravings. Ask Philadelphians about their cheese-steaks, New Orlean denizens about their Po-Boys and beignets or Memphians about their barbecue. Surprise! Those are among the three most obese cities in the country.”
All this information I’ve been throwing at you about how your brain reacts to food and develops habits et cetera is designed to be ammo for when you have a craving. Understanding what causes the craving makes it much easier to control.
In his TED talk, Judson Brewer describes a technique that several smokers have used to kick their smoking habit. They just needed to analyze their smoking cravings and be mindful about what the craving felt like when it came up. They’d crave a cigarette and then notice their body was a little tense, heart rate maybe sped up a little bit, and some noticed they were fidgeting in their chair. By simply being mindful about these aspects, subjects were able to step out of the craving and realize what exactly it was and let it pass. Next time you feel the urge to buy some processed food or sugary snacks, think about why you’re doing this. Are you just reacting to some advertisement you saw? Maybe you have a headache from the withdrawal period? Maybe you have a habit of turning to sweets when you are stressed. By analyzing and understanding what it is that’s creating the craving makes it really easy to get in control, and let it pass.
The fourth thing that has been set up to work against you is your gut.
Sugar contributes to the breakdown of the intestinal barrier, resulting in a “leaky gut,” which increases your body’s exposure to inflammation and creates several problems like worsening insulin resistance. Were you to insert a gastroscope into someone’s stomach so that you could see their stomach lining, you could actually see the mucous membrane turn red with irritation upon drinking coffee sweetened with sugar. John Yudkin said in his 1972 book “Pure White and Deadly” that sugar may alter “the numbers and proportions of huge numbers of different microbes that inhabit the intestine. … The sorts of food that have been eaten will … affect the proportion and numbers of the intestinal microbes.”
Recent evidence is showing that an unhealthy Gut Microbiome could be to blame for ADHD and Autism in Children as well as Alzheimer’s and general “Brain Fog” in people of all ages. One way in which sugar affects your Gut Microbiome specifically is by facilitating the growth of the problematic candida. Candida is a type of fungi, a single celled member of the yeast family. An overgrowth of Candida can lead to problems like Fatigue, Weight gain, Bloating and Gas, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and Constipation. Like other types of yeast, the preferred food for Candida is sugar.
As the numbers of Candida increase, it is suspected that they can directly cause sugar cravings as this is their preferred source of energy. This doesn’t sound so far fetched when you consider the fact that we have a network of 100 million neurons lining our guts. This network is so extensive that it’s nicknamed the “second brain” This second brain is thought to have a significant impact on your mood and overall health.
One thing you can do to speed up the restoration of a healthy gut, as well as quitting sugar of course, is to eat fermented foods and take prebiotics and probiotics.
The last problem, which for some people may be the easiest or hardest to address, is your family and friends. Pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig noticed that “A sugar addicted parent, similar to one who is drug addicted, will act as an “enabler,” “codependent,” or “apologist” for her child.” By the same token, your friends and family who frequently consume sugar will most likely prefer that you continue to eat what they eat. They might accuse you of having become a health nut or tease you and claim that sugar isn’t “that big of a deal.” Ever tried to hang out with your friends at the bar when you were cutting back on alcohol? You immediately have to offer up a good reason for not drinking, otherwise be constantly badgered about getting a drink. I’m guilty of doing this to friends in the past myself.
This doesn’t need much advice as most friends are kind enough to leave you be after you’ve politely refused sweets long enough. Where this can get tricky is when your friends or family bring up certain points about sugar to justify why it’s OK. The most common argument I’ve heard is “Sugar can’t be that bad because it’s in fruit.”
This is where one of the most effective actions comes in: simply read as much as you can about the topic of sugar. This not only allows you to respond to any questions and concerns you’re presented with, but will further strengthen your resolve towards quitting. Whatever reasons you had for quitting sugar initially, you’ll have much more reasons to quit the more you read about what it does in your body.
(Oh and By the way it’s the Fiber that makes fruit OK.)
A properly done atkins diet works and a properly done plant based vegan diet works, but one is high carb low fat and another is high fat low carb. The traditional Japanese diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Ornish diet and the Paleo diet all work, but the first three are high carb and the Paleo diet is low carb. What all of these have in common is that they restrict processed foods and refined sugars. All the data points to restricting processed foods and especially restricting refined sugars being conducive to good health and proper weight management. This is the fight that is worth fighting and high carb versus low carb can take a backseat for now.
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