Kicking Sugar’s Butt

I suspect you’re tired of hearing about how bad sugar is.  We all know that. We’re tired of hearing it because it’s addictive, delicious and ubiquitous. We love it.  Our kids love it.  We do our best but there seems to be no escape.

But I’ll go ahead and say it again to strengthen your resolve… the research has been pretty clear on sugar. I’ve written elsewhere on the blog and in my course material about how it depletes nutrients, raises blood pressure and triglycerides, causes weight gain, can damage the liver, wreaks havoc on your mood and hormones, triggers an inflammatory cascade… it’s bad stuff.  For more about the effects of sugar on the body you can refer to this post and this post  that I wrote a while ago.  There’s also this post about grain free diets (no, going that far with reducing sugar is NOT for everybody… but grain free diets are great for some people).

Understanding how to affect blood sugar is one of the core strategies I teach parents because it’s at the headwaters of so many health issues and behaviours.  It’s like an on-ramp to the health highway… something tangible we can do that influences how we think, feel, act and function because it has such a profound influence on our body chemistry.  You can learn more about this an the other core strategies for raising resilience by opting into my weekly mailings here.

“But what about natural sugar?  Like sugar from fruit and raisins?  And what about whole sugar, like sucanat or palm sugar? And how about complex carbohydrates?  Isn’t all that a different story than refined sugar?”

Well yes and no.  What it boils down to is that sugar is sugar is sugar and we typically eat too much of it.  Excessive dietary sugar… in all its forms… has been cited as a contributor to high cholesterol, non alcohol fatty liver disease, alzheimer’s, diabetes (of course), obesity, depression, ADHD, and more….not so much because of the sugar itself (like, a sugar cube causing a kid to be hyperactive, for example) but because of how it influences body chemistry over time.

Sugar influences your hormones, raises your inflammation, and depletes your nutrients.  All sugar does that… luckily, our bodies also have compensatory mechanisms for helping our hormones rebalance, reducing inflammation and we keep eating our nutrient dense diets… all of this compensates for our sugar intake, if we keep that intake moderate.

Yes, there are subtle differences in types of sugar,  but really, don’t get caught up in the details.  Just because it’s better doesn’t make it health promoting. Whether it’s from fruit, chocolate, pastries, grains, whole sugar or refined sugar, we could all use some sugar reduction.  Not elimination.  Reduction.

So I’m not going to tell you all that and leave you hanging with no strategies…. let’s get to the small, do-able strategies when it comes to cutting down on sugar…

As with any addiction, you have to figure out what drives the sugar craving to quit it Click To Tweet

Here are some of the reasons we crave sugar (there are more… these are some…)

 ==> Sugar stimulates the brain in a way that is similar to cocaine and alcohol, causing the release of the feel good chemicals dopamine and serotonin
==> Sugar is the fastest way to raise your blood sugar so your body craves it when levels are dropping
==> Candida yeast love sugar… they will ask for it
==> GABA is an amino acid that acts as a calming neurotransmitter. If you have low GABA levels you might crave sugar.  Sugar is a double whammy here because, while low levels might stimulate sugar cravings, sugar intake also decreases the production of GABA.  Vicious cycle.  Take a look at last week’s blog post to see if maybe you are struggling with low GABA levels.  You can take GABA as a supplement…. or glutamine (see below). If it’s going to work for your sugar cravings, you’ll know within a week of taking it.

Some tips for breaking the sugar addiction….

1. Get your blood sugar levels steady.  The more that fluctuates, the more you will crave sugar for quick energy.  Eat a high protein breakfast within a half hour of waking and then smaller, nutrient dense meals throughout the day; Eat calmly, while sitting down;  Eat your simple carbohydrates with a fat and protein; Eat something with protein and fibre before that morning cup of coffee and then also with it; Make sure to get at least 20g of fibre throughout your day (as you adapt to this kind of blood-sugar-stability-style of eating you’ll quickly be amazed at how few options there are for eating on the run!)

2. Make a list: Why do you want to quit sugar? Make a thorough list of why it is important to you and then refer back to it when a craving hits.  Trying to lose weight?  Family history of alzheimer’s or diabetes?  High cholesterol?  Mood stability?  Better sleep? What is it for you?

3. Get a good night’s sleep…. consistently. Your cravings for sugar might be a cycle of needing the instant pick-me-up that sugar can give. The cycle is set in motion by not getting enough quality sleep, requiring an artificial energy boost by mid-morning and then again mid afternoon.

Tips for when you feel the craving…

1. Drink some water. Often when you are thirsty, your body interprets it as hunger. Try drinking a large glass of water, then wait 10 minutes and see how you feel.

2. Assess your hunger. Are you really hungry? The sugar craving is usually your first thought when you are hungry as it will provide energy the fastest. Take time to prepare some food to address the hunger.

3. Go for a walk. Take your mind off the craving by changing the scenery for 15 minutes; the craving should take care of itself by the time you get back. If you walk briskly you will increase the release of endorphins, which will squash your craving.

4. Try L-glutamine.  This is a supplement that is most well known for its effect on digestion.  Glutamine is made from glutamate, a dietary amino acid that is very nourishing to the enterocytes of the gut.  But it also is a precursor for the neurotransmitter, GABA (see above).   For some, taking the supplement L-glutamine curbs carb cravings, likely by boosting GABA levels.

When sugar addiction is out of control it might be your body’s cry for attention. Long term health consequences aside, your drive, motivation, and energy are going to suffer if this goes on.  It’s time to kick sugar to the curb.  Enjoy it every now and then, but don’t let it drive the bus.

Do you suffer from sugar cravings?  What strategies have you tried?  Tell us about them in the comments below…


  • Nicki

    Reply Reply May 5, 2016

    Oh my gosh yes I have sugar cravings – I notice it even while I am eating dinner – wondering what sweet treats I can have right after dinner – and notices I said treats – plural – chocolate and some sweet cookie or snack is really what part mom me (my addicted brain I guess) really wants. And then after I have it I crash about an hour later – exhausted and tired and just want to rest. It is a vicious cycle because my brain tells me to go get more sugar – which sometimes I do and then I crash again later.

    I have tried drinking water and having a protein instead but part of it really is that taste of sugar and the pleasure it brings!

    • Jess Sherman

      Reply Reply May 5, 2016

      super addictive, yes. That’s why I feel that “just stopping” rarely works. Like drugs or smoking. Yes we have to set goals and remember why we are going to all this trouble, and there is a certain amount of “will power”, if you want to call it that – like with any addiction. But we also have to figure out what is driving the craving and address that.

      • Jess Sherman

        Reply Reply May 5, 2016

        Also, yes, sugar does bring pleasure. On a very chemical level. And that’s ok… we need pleasure in our lives. But we don’t need addiction. It’s when the need for sugar is getting in the way of our good health that we need to kick sugar’s butt.

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