With the release of the latest Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report last week, comes renewed calls for limiting added sugars. In fact, less than 10% of your total calories per day should come from added sugars. Today’s post highlights why and how you can cut back on the sweet stuff.
Why are some so vulnerable, are you one of them?
Research has shown that the neurological response to sugar is similar to drugs and other addictive behaviors. For some people the first bite is like flipping a switch: They now see all things sweet. They’re drawn to every opportunity for a sweet treat.
After a few days, they’re essentially on the hunt for the crystal white…plotting and planning for their next opportunity to experience its joy.
Are you insulin-sensitive or resistant?
How we metabolize sugar is pivotal to explain the different reactions people have to eating sweets. People who are “insulin sensitive” (ie, have a normal response) secrete less insulin in response to sugar or other carbohydrate. They can effortlessly eat one cookie or take a bite or two of cake and easily leave the rest.
Others are relatively more “insulin resistant,” so they secrete a larger dose of insulin in response to refined sugars and starches. The most insulin resistant take a bite and crave more. I like to say, “They’re in the sugar.”
Any number of factors can interfere with a signal of satiety, that sense of being satisfied after eating. Research hasn’t looked closely enough at the link between biochemistry and how we experience the biochemistry. Feeling “hungry” just an hour or two after eating—even a large meal– is utterly frustrating especially for someone trying to lose weight.
Thin sugar addicts are not home free. They may be “metabolically obese” even if the scale doesn’t say so. There is danger using body weight, body size or BMI to justify a sweet tooth.
Cutting out sugar cold turkey can work. After three days of no sugar, people notice a significant shift in their desire for sweets. Even by the end of day 2, many sense relief. But some don’t.
People with extreme insulin resistance, a history of disordered eating and those struggling with other addictive behaviors are in the wrestling match of a lifetime. It can take months, if not years, for the exaggerated desire for sweet to quiet down.
What Helps Insulin Resistance
Moderate physical activity helps improve insulin sensitivity but exercising too long or too hard can actually make it worse.
Diet makes a difference. Enough protein can help someone feel more satisfied and when people eat enough protein, sugar cravings tend to subside.
Complementing the protein with adequate whole foods is the tricky part. Some people only handle the carbohydrate in vegetables or dairy. Some people handle beans and legumes, fruit and whole grains. Most get triggered by excessively refined starches–with and without the sugar. And yet sometimes, a small hit of sugar is the only thing that will quiet the beast.
Stress management skills are critical. Escalating expectations and demands stimulate cortisol secretion. Cortisol drives sugar cravings. Going to sugar in times of stress may be all someone knows.
Most of us have to learn how to self soothe without sugar. Some will need to cultivate a completely different skill set.
Surviving Sugar “Withdrawal”
Acute sugar withdrawal can be intense and overwhelming. Sometimes it helps to learn how to eat sugar. A favorite strategy is to enjoy a small and especially delicious sweet right after a strong protein meal. Eating less starch at the meal quiets the overall carbohydrate load.
My clients often find significant relief when they avoid having sweet two days in a row. I encourage starting where you can, then slowly wean.
Sugar, Sugar Everywhere….
Sugar is abundant, accessible, relatively cheap and completely legal. No wonder it easily becomes a favorite or only means to celebrate, indulge, and self soothe.
Yet people struggle when they are “in the sugar.” It’s easy to lose one’s balance sliding down sugar’s slippery slope. The challenge is to celebrate, indulge and self soothe effectively, especially when choosing to eat something sweet.[sws_divider_line]
This post is from Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD, who has a private practice specializing in weight management, metabolism, and sports nutrition located in Santa Monica, CA.
For additional information about sugar intake and its potential impact on your health and other steps to lick your sugar cravings, we’ve got much more.