I love sweets. That confession is where I began to take control of my love for sugar. The daily medical recommended amount of added sugar intake for women is 25g, or 6 teaspoons per day. I was far exceeding that by going through several packs of gum per day especially when I had to get through something stressful. I was known as the gum queen at work. On any given court deadline day my eyeballs would be glued to the computer screen and my desk would be littered with all types of gum wrappers. Not to mention when I had to get in or out of downtown Miami traffic! Chewing gum and its added sugars was my comfort. Well, as I started getting into better shape I realized that my sugar love was sabotaging my progress so I had to become the boss of my weakness.
First, I tried to better understand why sugar was so bad for my health then I worked on how to better control my sugar intake. Controlling sugar intake requires a little knowledge about different types of sugars and how they affect your body metabolically and psychologically. It also requires learning where sugars are hidden and knowing how to handle occasional sugar cravings. I firmly believe that if you genuinely understand these things then it becomes much easier for you to take control of your sugar love.
So what happens when sugar enters your body?
The added sugar in your typical candy bar is a simple carbohydrate and when it enters your bloodstream it turns into glucose. Your body needs to move that glucose into your cells for energy. Your pancreas creates the hormone insulin to make this happen and then your blood sugar level drops. Your mood drops as well and you become cranky and crave more sugar to return to that sugar “high”. This is the recipe for a cycle of bad nutrition and health problems.
Added sugar should be treated like any other drug of addiction because it creates the same habits of dependency. It stimulates your taste buds and the production of “feel-good” hormones like dopamine and hijacks your brain putting you into a state of wicked highs and lows and mood swings.
Understanding this process has helped me to control my sugar cravings and intake because by knowing what is happening to me metabolically and psychologically when I ingest sugar, I have better control over responding to my sugar urges.
The solution is not as simple as just cutting out candy bars. Complex carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, white rice, crackers etc.) have the same effect on your blood sugar levels. Like the simple carbohydrates in candy bars complex carbohydrates also spike your blood sugar levels to a high and then brings you crashing down, especially when eaten alone. These highs and lows make it very difficult to stick to a healthy nutrition plan.
Here are some other names for sugar that you should look out for on food labels:
- Corn syrup
Last I checked there were over 50 different names for sugars on nutrition labels- a lot to keep up with. However, the more you avoid processed foods and eat more raw natural foods, the less you should have to worry about what food manufacturers are calling added sugars these days.
Remember added sugar is not just in foods. Look out for added sugars in chewing gum, juices, sodas, sauces, coffee drinks etc.
I know that taking control of sugar habits is tough. All the added sugar in most of the easily available foods makes it that much harder to take control. However, understanding these metabolic and psychological effects are major keys if you are trying to control your diet, lose weight and become healthier overall.
It is helpful to approach the process like a lifestyle change, as you should. Instead of thinking like you are being deprived of something, adopt the perspective that you are actually gaining a better physical existence. Perspective is everything! Get excited and curious about finding new healthier foods and enjoy the challenge of resisting the urge to indulge in high sugar foods that are only going to gain you mood swings and increase your body fat. Importantly, always have a plan. I don’t believe in a drastic cold-turkey plan, so below I have a few suggestions on how to wean away from added sugars.
Sugar Love Plan
I always advocate for sticking to low sugar fruits like berries, but remember the focus is on avoiding “added” sugars so naturally occurring sugars in fruits in generally ok. Think about it as changing sugar sources, instead of just completely giving up sugar.
2. Plant Sweeteners
My favorite plant sweetener is Stevia. Based on my latest research Stevia does not spike blood sugar levels in the way that typical table sugars do.
3. Scale back
Scale back on 1 high sugar habit per week. My first sugar habit scale back was sweetening my morning coffee. I started having it black one day per week at a time and now I just don’t care to sweeten my coffee at all.
When you exercise you become more conscious about your food intake and are less likely to want to jeopardize your progress by consuming unnecessary added sugars.
Every single day I am making conscious decisions not to eat foods with high amounts of added sugar that I would love to have so that I can avoid dealing with cravings for unhealthy foods. Some days I give in, but most days I do not and this is where I think everyone should strive to be. I hope you were able to take away some knowledge to live a more sugar-free life.