Are you addicted to sugar?
Instead of giving you a vague list of general sugar withdrawal symptoms to look over, I want to give you a one-question test. When there’s a list of 10 things and 7 of them apply, it’s easy to say, “Well, 7 of them apply but three don’t so it can’t be that bad.”
With a one-question test, if the answer is yes, you have to take note. You have to understand that a single significant question deserves a significant response.
Are you ready? Okay, then answer this: Are you ever not hungry, but you still want to eat?
If you find yourself wanting to eat certain foods — particularly sweet foods — even when you’re not hungry, that’s called a craving. A sugar craving. And the only non-hungry bodies that get cravings are addicted bodies.
Why do you get cravings?
1. Because of your body.
Cravings happen because your blood sugar levels are wonking out.
Whether you’ve tried to “sneak” in a sugary snack, fuel your day with refined carbs, or sucked down soda or juice (even if it’s a “naturally sweetened” juice), your body has the same response: Sugary stuff goes in, so the body tries to quickly balance it out.
It secretes insulin to help your body process and equalize the sugar in your blood. Insulin is amazingly good at its job. So good, it wants to stick around and make sure everyone’s still safe, even after the party has been busted.
Your body starts panicking because now there’s too much insulin. So, it needs some sugar to even things out. Your body gets that heavy, thick, sluggish feeling.
You may feel oddly unsettled and mildly nauseous for a moment so your body and brain start sending hunger messages and you find yourself standing in front of the vending machine, feeding it quarters for a shiny sack of Skittles — even though you just ate lunch. It’s a vicious cycle.
2. Because of your brain.
The book Ending the Food Fight shares findings from a Harvard study in which sugar, white flour, and refined carbs were proven to activate the “nucleus accumbens.”
The Nucleus Accumbens is the pleasure center of your brain. It’s the “ground zero” location for conventional addiction, the part of the brain that lights up when gambling addicts or drug addicts get cravings.
Gambling addicts. Drug addicts. And you. I don’t want this to sound too harsh, but sugar addiction can be as real as any other addiction. It can be as strong as any other addiction.
So, how can you stop the cycle and beat your sugar addiction?
Every addiction has a cycle. Breaking that cycle generally kicks off a cycle of withdrawal. Withdrawal is hard because you’re not just stopping habits. You’re not just letting go of your favorite things. You’re fighting the pleasure center of your brain.
That can be a tough fight. We humans are pleasure-seekers and your brain (and body) has come to equate pleasure with sugar. Still, it’s possible to start paring back your sugar intake, coming carefully off of it in a way that alleviates withdrawal symptoms.
Here are my 7 favorite ways to nix sugar withdrawal and to keep sugar cravings from coming back.
1. Start the day green.
Do you eat a syrupy waffle, soft bagel, or carton of yogurt in the morning? If so, you’re kicking off the sugar craving cycle every day!
Keep your blood sugar levels balanced, get natural energy, and give your body the micronutrients it needs for long-term health by starting your morning with a green smoothie. Raw, real foods blended or juiced at home can help you detox from sugar and other unwanted chemicals.
My free 14-Day Smoothie Challenge is designed to help you detox safely, with real foods that keep your blood sugar balanced so you can’t kick the sugar craving cycle all day long.
2. Pick one healthy snack.
Your brain will always equate eating with pleasure. It’s an evolutionary thing. If food brings pleasure, you’ll seek it out and survive.
Rather than fighting against your basic biology, use it for your good. Find a single healthy snack you enjoy and swap it in for your classic go-to sweets. Then, allow yourself to enjoy it when cravings hit.
Focus on full-flavored food that you truly enjoy. A slice of ripe mango, very dark chocolate, frozen banana ice cream, sparkling mineral water, raw almonds, or macadamia nuts also offer satisfying snackage without added sugar.
3. Spoon coconut oil.
Coconut oil is primarily made of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which don’t need special enzymes to be used effectively by the body. Plus, MCFAs go straight to your liver for energy, which means that there’s no insulin spike. No insulin spike, no sugar crash.
Try stirring it into coffee for an afternoon pick-me-up. Bonus: Coconut oil is good for your complexion.
4. Cook at home.
Because sugar is so prevalent in processed and fast foods, start making standard recipes yourself.
A quick batch of ketchup on the stove costs next to nothing (especially when fresh tomatoes are in season) and you can control the sugar in it. The same thing goes for barbecue sauce, bread, spaghetti sauce, soups, and granola. You don’t even need to learn how to can it!
Sauces can be frozen and thawed quickly. Once you can eliminate hidden sugars in your diet, you’ll be able to control sugar cravings on your own terms without withdrawal.
5. Anticipate your cravings.
You know yourself better than anyone. When do you reach for the candy bowl? Be prepared for that 2 PM “snack attack,” with a satisfying option.
Better yet: Start to train your body into healthier habits by responding to that craving by adding other pleasurable activities to your day. Drink a big glass of water, go for a quick walk, pet your dog, call a friend.
It won’t be long before you’ve established a new routine. Your brain will start to build new neural pathways that look more like tired > walk > pleasure, instead of your current tired > sugar > pleasure.
6. Read your labels.
Avoid terms like anhydrous dextrose, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and malt syrup. Those are sneaky terms for different types of sugar.
What’s the point in weaning yourself off of a chocolate addiction when you’re getting the same amount of sugar in something you don’t even want to be sweet?
The general rule of thumb is: If you can’t identify everything on the label, put it back on the shelf.
7. Eat happy foods.
Vitamin C is a great antioxidant and it’s also critical for the production of serotonin.
Low serotonin can increase sugar cravings. So nibble on bell peppers, citrus fruits, strawberries, and kiwi to keep the urge for a candy bar at bay.