There are several things conspiring against you in your quest to break free from sugar, all of which make it perfectly understandable WHY you’ve become dependent. They also hold the keys to quitting sugar. In the upcoming 3 posts, each of these areas will be explored in brief:
- Brain chemicals
- Blood sugar
- The default of easy
- We didn’t know
- naivete vs. suppressed information
This first post in the series is on biology.
Survival. Your entire bodily mechanism is wired for survival. To survive, the body needs food, water, sleep and movement (and touch/community). From a human evolution standpoint, the scarcity/unpredictability of food made our bodies highly attuned to getting what we need to survive. Since the body and brain’s primary source of energy is glucose (a form of sugar), there’s an innate pull towards sweets. The only problem is that sugar as we know it does not exist in nature. The most highly concentrated form of sugar in nature is honey, and that is only available in small amounts. It would be a very rare treat for an early population to access honey. The ubiquitous availability of highly refined sugar in our society, often consumed in large doses several times per day, takes advantage of this survival instinct.
Hacking suggestion: To hack your survival instincts, avoid refined sugar, eating whole fresh fruits when you need a pick-me-up.
Brain chemicals. Have you ever had a cookie, or a bit of ice cream, and then just couldn’t stop eating, like your stomach is a bottomless pit? ..until way past full? …until you could barely taste it? Not everyone is a binger (that’s my tendency) but the brain’s mechanisms are working the same way as when you have just one bite. Thanks to our survival biology, dopamine is the brain chemical that that is released when you anticipate and reward yourself with a sweet treat. We are wired to pursue pleasure and reward, so on a simple level, eating sweet treats is an easy way to give ourselves both. But because we give ourselves treats with concentrated sugar in unnatural amounts, it overloads our response systems (insulin), and blocks the hormone grehlin that tells us when we’re satiated. A similar process occurs with other refined foods like pretzels, pasta and pizza because refined flours act in the body the same way that simple sugars do because they are so quickly digested.
Hacking suggestion: To hack your brain chemicals, consciously choose to find other ways to reward yourself. Could be a foot-rub, a nice cup of tea, a new pen, a walk in a park, a conversation with a good friend…whatever brings you delight. Any way you can plan to and give yourself a reward will light up the dopamine reward center, and will be self-nurturing instead of self-harming.
Blood sugar. Blood sugar imbalance are what lead us to eat sweets…and that leads us to more imbalances. It can be super challenging to remove ourselves from the high/low blood sugar roller coaster. Here’s a simplified explanation. When you eat a concentrated sugar, the hormone insulin is released, to shuttle the sugar into the bloodstream. If you’ve had more sugar than the muscles need for energy, then the excess sugar gets shuttled to the liver, where it is processed and stored as fat in the body. Since the body is shocked by the high concentration of sugar (it actually creates a stress response with the hormone cortisol) it sends out more insulin than necessary to assimilate the sugar, creating a blood sugar low. This low blood sugar point, which can take the form of sluggishness, head aches, or being “hangry,” is often when people turn to another dose of sugar or refined carbohydrates in order to pick themselves back up…thus the blood sugar roller coaster. Recent research is suggesting that big fluctuations in blood sugar over the long term can be a factor in brain disorders such as dementia.
Hacking suggestion: To minimize your blood sugar fluctuations, start your day with a breakfast that is rich in both protein and fat, and very low or without carbohydrates. This will prolong the time before insulin is produced, keeping you off the roller coaster.
In next week’s blog post, we’ll dive in to Culture.