I am an addict. I have textbook addiction. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is characterized by the inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, cravings, a diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Yep, that’s me. I can admit that sometimes I exhibit all of those characteristics. I have uncontrollable cravings that turn into huge crying fits. When I try to stop, I usually cannot make it more than a few days, before I get very irritated and start getting headaches. I quickly feel like I don’t have enough willpower to abstain, and I slip again. The cycle continues over and over again.
My name is Dr. Kristian Henderson; I am an addict; and I’ve been addicted to sugar since I had my first Little Debbie Brownie in Kindergarten.
Yes, sugar is a drug. According to research by Dr. David Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D., high-sugar foods trigger the same part of the brain as cocaine or heroine. Much like street drugs, sugar triggers the release of chemicals that set off the brain's pleasure center, in this case opioids and dopamine. In rat studies looking at sugar addiction, when animals binge on the sweet stuff, they experience chattering teeth, tremors, shakes, and anxiety when it's taken away. So yes, sugar is an addictive ingredient that keeps you going back for seconds. But not only is sugar addictive, but it is uniquely fattening, primarily due to its high content of fructose. And sugar fructose does not trigger the same sense of fullness as other foods with similar calories, which can lead to a devastating cycle of binge-eating.
And just like drugs, sugar wreaks havoc on your body. A diet high in fructose —a component of table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup—could lead to fat building up around your liver, a precursor to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, something rarely seen before 1980. One study found that for every extra 150 calories from sugar available per person each day, diabetes prevalence rises by 1.1%. Added sugars cause excess insulin in the bloodstream, which takes its toll on your body's circulatory system. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that sugar overload could spark your liver to churn out more bad cholesterol while also inhibiting your body's ability to clear it out. Another study suggests that sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, which attack nearby proteins, damaging them, including protein fibers in collagen and elastin, the components that keep your skin firm and elastic. I could literally go on for pages and pages, citing numerous studies that prove that sugar just isn’t good for your health.
So it’s clear, the sugar has to go. But trust me, it won’t be easy. When I first started my healthy living journey, I saw my excess weight fall off the quickest when I cut out ALL added sugar from my diet. And honestly, after going 20+ days, my cravings would stop and I wouldn’t even miss sugar. But getting to the 20th day was pure hell. You expect sugar in sweets—pies, cakes, brownies, cookies, donuts, etc.—but sugar is also found in most processed foods, flavored yogurt, bread, and even frozen fruit. Even if you conscientiously read food labels, you may find it tricky to determine if sugar is in a food. Sugar has been listed under over 56 names, including: brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, and syrup. Simply trying to identify if sugar is present can be a chore.
Unfortunately, I have been slipping these last few months. I started eating sweets again, specifically chocolate chip cookies, and my bad cravings are in full effect. And apparently I picked up some weight, since a grocery store cashier asked me if I was having a boy or girl, as she pointed to my belly. Rude! But, I digress. I am determined to break this bad habit, yet again. So I am going to do a 30-day no-added-sugar cleanse, and you should join me.
For our cleanse, we will not only cut out processed sugars like traditional white sugar, but we will also cut out naturally occurring sugars like honey, agave, maple syrup, and any food item that is made with these ingredients. We will also cut out all sugar substitutes – Splenda, equal, stevia, etc. The good news is that we can still eat naturally occurring sugar from fruit and fresh-pressed juices.
Here are my tips for our 30-day no-added-sugar cleanse:
- Clean out your refrigerator and pantry. You need to get rid of anything with sugar in it. If you aren’t sure, assume it has sugar in it.
- Stay busy. The busier you are, the less likely you are going to be tempted by sweets.
- Meal prep. Have good healthy food available in abundance. Stock your refrigerator with tons of fruits and veggies. When you have a craving for something sweet, eat some grapes or pineapple. These are some of the sweetest fruits, and they should help curb your sweet tooth.
- Plan to go to bed early. I know that my sweet tooth gets the worst at night. So when it gets really bad, instead of giving in, I just go to sleep. No need to be miserable and tired.
- Drink lots of water. A lot of times when you feel hungry, you are actually thirsty. Your body needs water, so you can decrease the chances of feeling hungry by staying hydrated.
- Get a partner. Having a friend who is going through sugar withdraws with you makes it a little easier. Write your updates in comments under this blog, and I will make sure to respond!
We can do this together! Let’s get sugar clean!