We already knew that sugar is more powerfully addictive than cocaine, and now we know why. The fact that your brain releases dopamine after eating sugar (the same neurotransmitter released during cocaine use), explains why it’s so easy to become addicted to sweets. The dopamine release gives you a big “high” and then a big crash—leading you to want more, and greater amounts. The sugar “coma” we all get after eating foods which quickly convert to sugar, causes moodiness, irritability, brain fog, and depression. It is advised that adults get no more than 5-10% of their calories from sugar, and the sooner you can get yourself or your kids into that pattern, the sooner you will break away from this cycle. It’s what I call the dreaded “Sugar Roller Coaster”, and it’s not so easy to get off! So what do you do?
1. Keep a Food Journal—words don’t lie. People often don’t realize that a mixed cocktail, a slice of Italian bread with olive oil, or french fries are just as much “a sugar” as a Krispy Kreme donut.
2. Don’t try to give up sugar cold turkey. I recommend people set weekly or monthly goals for themselves—so they can feel good about their progress as they are making small, healthy changes to their diet. Maybe you only have dessert on Saturday night, or have 1 glass of wine instead of 2 when you go to dinner. Small changes add up to big returns, and people are more inclined to stick with a plan that seems manageable.
3. Eat a balanced diet. If you are eating enough protein, complex carbs, and fats, you will not be hungry throughout the day, or constantly craving sweets between meals. And you need protein in the morning, a breakfast of eggs with a few slices of avocado and berries will keep you full hours longer than a buttered plain bagel. This kind of balanced meal prevents the mid-morning cravings for a sugary scone or latte.
4. High fiber foods are more filling. Foods high in fiber enter and exit your bloodstream slowly, so your hunger comes on gradually, and you don’t crash shortly after a meal. Oatmeal made with unsweetened almond milk and topped with blueberries and pumpkin seeds helps stabilize blood sugar, and most importantly helps your digestive tract run smoothly. Fiber is essential to your intestinal health.
5. Distract yourself from cravings. Do you always crave something sweet right after dinner? Take the dog for a walk around the block or call your sister. Remove yourself from the situation before you give in to temptation. Just like you have been told to count to 10 before losing your cool, take 10 deep breaths and have a glass of water before giving in to a craving. If you are in a place where it is an option, meditate for 5 minutes to give yourself inner strength. Remind yourself that sugar does not have a hold on you, and you are in control of your actions.
Most importantly, remember you have not “failed” if you make a cup of peppermint tea and have a square or two of dark chocolate before bed. I encourage people to keep dark chocolate in the house—sometimes individually wrapped pieces is better to ensure that portions don’t get out of control. The health benefits of dark chocolate are numerous—and it’s loaded with antioxidants. Our favorite “chocolate milk shake” for dessert is coconut or almond milk, a tablespoon of cacao and a tablespoon of natural chunky peanut butter. Put it in the blender with ice, and its the perfect treat. The point is to allow yourself a healthy, unprocessed treat—your body needs some sugar, just like it needs some salt! It’s all about a balance…