Conquering Your Sugar Foe

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Andrea Fabry

Andrea Fabry › Andrea is a former journalist, a radio host, and the mother of nine children. She is ...

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Craving sugar? Here’s a new year battle plan.

If you’ve resolved to cut back on sugar in 2013, you may find yourself struggling. Perhaps you’re missing a daily soda at work, a chocolate pick-me-up, or a vanilla spice latte. Maybe the stress at work or the winter blues have you back to your old ways and you’re wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”

The truth is nothing is wrong with you, any more than is wrong with the rest of the population. Sugar hits a part of the reward center in the brain, making us all vulnerable to its addictive power. According to a 2007 study, the passive overconsumption of sugar-sweetened diets is similar to a drug addiction.

Our findings clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and addicted individuals. We speculate that the addictive potential of intense sweetness results from an inborn hypersensitivity to sweet tastants.

If you find yourself struggling to reduce your sugar intake, you’re not alone.

What can you do? One idea is to emulate the military and develop a battle plan. Armies that succeed prepare for their battles. You can do the same for your war on sugar.

Consider these 3 strategies for conquering those cravings.

1) Know your enemy. It’s critical to understand why cutting back on sugar is important. Intuitively, you know it’s not good for you, but learning the science behind this truth can help next time you find yourself saying, “It’s not that bad,” or, “It’s no big deal.” In her book Deep Nutrition, Dr. Catherine Shanahan points to the resulting insulin resistance that develops with high consumption of sugar.

Once you are insulin resistant, blood sugar levels rise higher still, leading to diabetes and all its related disorders, including weight gain, circulatory and sexual dysfunction. For the same reasons sugar jams hormone signals, it also clogs nutrient channels, weakening bone and muscle and slowing neural communication, which can impact mood and memory and lead to dementia. While all this is going on, sugar stiffens the collagen in your tendons, joints, and skin, causing arthritis and premature wrinkling, while interfering with the production of new collagen throughout your entire body. And because sugar changes the surface makers your white blood cells need to distinguish between indigenous cells from invaders, it opens the door to cancer and infection.

While this is sobering and potentially overwhelming, it’s also good news. Your battle is worth fighting. You’re investing in a worthy cause: your long-term health.

2) Plan for an attack. Once you understand the addictive nature of sugar and the implications of consumption, it makes sense to plan for that next craving. Do you reach for something sweet in times of stress? If so, decide ahead of time how you’ll find comfort. Take an apple to work. Have some raw carrots on hand. Or, take food entirely out of the reward scenario. Have soothing music ready, take a hot bath, or invest in a journal to record your journey.

3) Work with Your Allies. Military alliances come in handy. Both parties agree to help defeat the enemy. While sugar may be your foe, thankfully there are foods that are your friends.

Healthy Fat. With the advent of industrialized food, manufacturers turned to chemicals, food additives, and trans fats to create appetizing products. Since healthy, natural fats were villainized and not suitable for profit, food processors needed something to make the factory food taste good. The solution? Refined sugar and lots of it. The result? Rising rates of obesity and heart disease, as well as a host of other diseases, according to Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon, authors of the book Eat Fat, Lose Fat.

…the very oils promoted as healthy in place of saturated fats were, in fact, accessories (along with refined grains and sweets) to this nation’s mounting weight gain and key contributors to heart disease. Recent research reveals that is the polyunsaturated vegetable oils, not the saturated fats in coconut oil and animal foods, that induce changes leading to heart disease.

What’s more, healthy fats like those found in high quality butter, cream, nuts, meats, and eggs produce a hormone in the digestive tract that lets your body know that you’ve had enough. What better way to help the cravings? Coconut oil combined with raw cacao powder makes a wonderful “candy.” Blend 3 tbsp. raw cacao powder with 3 tbsp. unrefined coconut oil. Add flavoring such as cinnamon, coffee, or vanilla. Pour into candy mold and freeze. Pop one out when that craving hits. See Tropical Traditions’ Free Coconut Recipes site for more ideas.

Cultured food. Lacto-fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and kombucha are the result of beneficial microorganisms feeding on sugar during the fermentation process. When prepared correctly, these foods do the same in our digestive tracts. And a little goes a long way. A condiment-size serving of fresh sauerkraut can help avert a desire for sugar by triggering the production of the appetite-suppressing hormone CCK (cholecystokinin). If you do give in to temptation, have a fermented beverage on hand to help lessen the impact on your body

Two years ago our family took sugar out of our diet in a quest to turn around our health. We even took out fruit for a period of time. We implemented a diet of vegetables, meat stock, and fermented foods. Everyone went through a withdrawal. Our son with type 1 diabetes had a major response, including fits of rage. After two weeks the cravings began to subside and his behavior changed. His disposition evened for the first time in many years. For each one of us, food began to taste different. Real foods became more satisfying. Our bodies began to sense what they needed rather than what our brains told us we wanted.

Forsaking sugar is not easy in our fast food society, but with a New Year comes new possibilities. 2013 may be the year you turn the tide on your health. Ready? Forward march!

Have you kicked your sugar habit? What was the most helpful thing you did?

Photo Credit: Andrea Fabry