Why You’re Addicted to Sugar (And How to Stop It)
It was after Thanksgiving last year that I found myself in a dark room with a slice of pecan pie, hiding from the world and enjoying every last bit of the sugary, delectable confectionary.
I was halfway through my second slice when I realized that I had a major problem.
I was addicted to sugar.
You know that whole thing about drinking alone is one of the signs of being an alcoholic? Welcome to the life of a sugarholic - it’s been less than twenty four hours since the last relapse.
Hey, there’s no shame in admitting it if you are addicted to sugar. You’re in good company.
Look around us. Everything has sugar in it. Even our ketchup, salad dressings, taco seasoning and mayonnaise has sugar in it.
The companies serve the customer - and if the customer demands it, they will provide it. If sugar wasn’t what the market demanded, them the companies would be out of business.
Our sweet tooth demands that we pay tribute - by the truckload.
But more than just the sugar addiction, we are addicted to carbs. Whether in the form of starchy breads, cereal, pasta, chips, crackers, fries, pastries, cookies and confectionaries or even in the form of juices and ice cream and drinks, we love our carbs.
The real question is why? Why do we crave all these carbs?
There is the fact that carbs are so easily available, easily stored, and so economical. There’s also the fact that carbohydrates and sugar in particular may trigger the part of our brains that also lights up with heroin and opiates.
But more importantly, our bodies are built to crave carbohydrates.
As I mentioned previously, there are two fuels that the body can use - carbohydrates or fat. Carbohydrates are the form of fuel that most of us use - there are very few people who utilize fat as the main form of fuel aside from the people of the Paleo/Primal/Keto communities.
Our bodies are used to running on carbohydrates for energy.
You know that feeling you get when you’re absolutely starving and you have to have something to eat? That’s your body wanting fuel. Specifically in the form of something starchy or sweet - which, as you know, is in the form of carbohydrates.
Low blood sugar and hanger is a modern day epidemic, and is caused by our body’s need to have a steady supply of carbohydrates almost all day long. Every three to four hours, the body demands that we refuel it with a fresh load of carbs or sugar - otherwise we get cranky, irritable, even shaky or nauseated or faint.
How did we even function before there were grocery stores, fast food chains and 24/7 Korean barbeque? We didn’t always have the easy access to food like we do today - how did people survive?
The answer is that they did quite well. If we go back to a time when we were hunter-gatherers, we sometimes would have to go hungry - for days or even weeks or months at a time. Food wasn’t always readily available, and so our bodies had to make do with what they could find, which wasn’t always an energy bar or a pumpkin spice latte or a cheeseburger.
This meant that the body had to rely on other foods for energy, because carbohydrates were pretty rare. Aside from the occasional haul of nuts, fruit, grains or tubers that were only available seasonally, the majority of food more than likely was a variety of animals and a lot of other low-carb plant matter - stems, shoots, leaves, buds and bark. Not really a cronut or bed of steamed jasmine rice.
The funny thing is, when the body was mostly running on fat, protein and fiber (with a very limited amount of carbohydrates) it ran very well. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors never got hangry. Can you imagine trying to hunt if being without food for more than four hours made you too weak to move?
Carbs in their natural form were a rarity - a windfall for the hunter-gatherer human. If you came upon a large amount of fruit, you were likely never going to see that amount of fruit for a very long time - so you would want to take advantage of it. You would eat all the fruit that you could, your body would store the carbohydrates from the fruit as fat, and you would be able to survive that much longer because of getting lucky in stumbling upon a large supply of fruit.
Fast forward to today - and we can have all the fruit that we ever wanted. Our bodies don’t realize that we’re not still running from lions and that we can literally walk a minute in any direction to find all the food and carbohydrates that we want.
Our bodies are very pampered in the modern day. We are feeding it exactly what it wants - carbohydrates, specifically in the form of simple sugars - and it is happier than it has ever been because it thinks it has fallen on a massive stash of fruit. It is THE luckiest body right now, and it is going to take advantage of the situation by gorging on these sweet treats.
Your body is simple - it’s functioning with the lizard brain. It only operates at a very simple level, and at that level all it wants is more of that sugary goodness that you’ve been feeding it your entire life. It thinks that it’s winning at the game of life, and wants you to continue to ensure its’ success - which is why it won’t let you step away from that metaphorical pile of fruit that it wants to keep gorging itself on.
Have you ever seen a dog that got into a bag of food by accident? Some dogs might behave well (like our Great Dane) but others (like our Boston Terrier) would gorge themselves to death. I remember one time he accidentally got into the bag of food, and he was so bloated I could feel the pieces of food inside of him.
A dog is going to be just like us and take advantage of the situation to eat as much as they can. Even though they know when breakfast and dinner is, and they know that there is an expectation that they’re going to be fed, they are still going to eat as if there’s not going to be any food tomorrow.
HOW TO BREAK YOUR SUGAR ADDICTION
So how do we break this addiction? How do we get our body to cooperate with us?
It’s not as easy as saying to the body “Stop craving that sugar! We know better!”
If it were simply the case of mind over matter, all of us would be in perfect health with eight percent body fat and have it all.
No, instead our bodies will fight us at every opportunity. Like a screaming toddler throwing a tantrum, our body will beg, threaten, trick and coerce us into continuing with the sugar diet. I wish it weren’t the case, but I know the human body and mind too well to think that we can just let the body be at ease.
We’re going to have to have a come-to-Jesus talk with our body. Be gentle, but firm, and lay down the rule that we’re no longer going to be eating sugar.
Yes, your body may throw a tantrum for a few days - just like that devil’s child that will scream and holler when they don’t get their way - but eventually your body will quiet down and listen to you. And believe it or not, your sugar addiction will eventually stop.
How do you get your body to do this? As I mentioned earlier, you’re going to want to shift your body from being a sugar burner to a fat burner. Instead of relying on carbs for energy, you’re going to start relying on fat for energy - and it is going to be the game changer for you.
When your body starts running on fat, you don’t get sugar cravings. And the more you can teach your body that you want it to run on fat and not rely on carbs, the better off you will be.
I remember that the first two weeks of being on the keto diet was intense - I still was having some sugar cravings as my body converted over to being a fat burner. But eventually those cravings disappeared.
It got to the point where I felt that broccoli and Romaine lettuce was sweet - isn’t that insane? Like, my taste buds actually felt like eating a piece of broccoli was like candy. It sounds dumb, and I promise you that when I heard people talking about how sweet vegetables were on the keto diet I gave a humongous eyeroll, but it is totally true and will happen to you.
You don’t have to be a slave to sugar. You’re not a hummingbird that has to consume its weight in sugar every day, nor are you stuck in a hopeless cycle of binge eating and punishing yourself for doing so.
You can break the cycle- it just requires a bit of know-how of how sugar effects the body and how to wean your body off the sugar addiction.
If you’re interested in kicking your sugar habit with the keto diet, I’ve written a bit more on how to get started in telling sugar to pack its bags and hit the road.