Sugar is hard to give up, not because you don’t have the willpower, but because of the biology surrounding sugar. You can’t overcome your biology with willpower. You will fail every time.
So you need to approach it scientifically.
Science Over Willpower
The science of sugar is fascinating: It not only drives mechanisms that make you gain weight because it produces more insulin and so stores belly fat, but it makes you hungry, it slows your metabolism, and it locks the fat in the fat cell so it can’t get out – it’s like a one-way turnstile.
I think we can agree these are not desirable effects.
When you look at the biology on the brain, it gets even scarier.
Well-controlled studies have been conducted to demonstrate the effect of sugar on the brain and through blood tests. One such study ran with two controlled intakes of calories via a special shake – like a milkshake. One test blended protein, fat, carbohydrates and fibre but replaced the carbs (sugar is a form of carbohydrate) with a more slowly digestible starch. The other used regular sugar for the carbs.
When they did that they found that the brain imaging showed that the addiction centre, which is stimulated by heroin or cocaine etc, gets lit up like crazy by the sugar and the subject’s insulin goes up, their blood sugar goes up, and their adrenaline goes up. So sugar causes your adrenaline to go up and your cortisol – which is the stress hormone. So it literally creates biological stress in the body.
Another side-effect of these biological changes is that sugar suppresses the immune system. So, if you’re worried about getting sick, especially with Coronavirus at large, one of the most important things you can do is cut out junk food and sugar because it suppresses your immune system.
So how can you curb your dependency on sugar?
Beating Sugar with Science
The experiment outlined above holds the key.
The body needs protein, fats, fibre and carbohydrates to operate efficiently, but it doesn’t need (processed) sugar or other (processed) carbohydrates. Our modern food delivery ecosystem has saturated our lives with nutritionally deficient products as well as downright dangerous ones – I’m looking at your sugar.
No matter how ‘delicious’ they may taste or how desirably packaged they are with marketing messages, the best way to beat the dependency on sugar is to go natural. Look for replacement options for sugar and carbs in nature – eat fruits instead of sweets for example. Instead of lots of wheat, look for natural carbohydrates in different foods like sweet potatoes. Check the labels of things you buy. Sugar hides under pseudonyms chosen by manufacturers to hide its presence.
“…In our globalized, industrialized, and subsidized food system, we end up paying for our food four times. Once at the grocery store, again with our ever-increasing diet-related health care costs, again with the harm done to the environment. Then again with our taxes to subsidize the whole system which includes agricultural subsidies, transportation subsidies, health care subsidies, and subsidies for other social services.”
— Michael Sligh, Just Food Program Director, RAFI-USA
Here are a few names that sugar masquerades as: barley malt, beet sugar, buttered syrup, cane juice, cane sugar, caramel, corn syrup, carob syrup, dextran, dextrose, diastatic malt, diatase, ethylmaltol, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, glucose solids, golden syrup, grape sugar, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltodextrin, maltose, molasses, muscovado, sorbitol, sorghum, sucrose and treacle.
You don’t have to go ‘cold turkey’ if you eat sugar regularly. In fact, if you eat a lot of sugar then you should probably consult your doctor or nutritionist first. Sugar is a drug and you might need help getting off the stuff.
However, if you have a sweet tooth – like I had – you can decide to eat less of the stuff. I stopped buying chocolates (which I ate every day) and became conscious of my food choices. When I worked out with a personal trainer I ate more of the good proteins, fats, fibre and carbs and found I didn’t need or want sugar. The cravings went away as my body was getting the fuel it needed. I don’t profess to be a saint as I still eat chocolates or cakes occasionally, but I choose when I want to eat them and it’s not very often.
Here’s an overview of my go-to choices which I evolved over time.
- Breakfast: Oranges, Banana, Natural Yoghurt, Muesli plus Fruit Juice
- Lunch: Varies between Soup, Salad, Tinned Fish (e.g. sardine or mackerel) sandwiches, or prepared vegetarian blends I can heat quickly. The bread I buy is from my local baker who uses a dark flour and seven seeds in the bread. It’s nothing like the white (or even brown) stuff you buy in the supermarkets.
- Dinner: A cooked meal, often fish or vegan (I’m not a fan of cheese or dairy outside of my yoghurt). Sometimes I will have chicken or a good-quality meat or vegan pie. Always with a good side of vegetables (e.g. carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, sweet potatoes, butternut squash).
- Snacks: I sometimes have a sandwich with pate, or peanut butter and marmite. Don’t judge me 🙂 Or I make a smoothie using vegan protein powder blended with fruits.
I don’t crave sugary foods any longer and people say I look more healthy than I used to. This may not all be attributable to food choices but it’s definitely part of the equation.
Read Further: Sugar: A Bittersweet Love Affair