There is a big influx in the trend to give up sugar. And with good reason: sugar is at the root of many health problems, including diabetes, obesity, poor concentration and lowered brain function, fatigue, headaches and chronic pain, poor immune function and high blood pressure.
For most of us, whether we are suffering from these issues or not, reducing sugar will have positive impacts on our health, including increased energy, improved digestion, better gut health and improved sleep.
If the intention is there, but you just can’t seem to reach success with curbing your sugar intake, there may be something more at play, than you just thinking you have a lack of willpower.
Here’s a series of other reasons to consider for why you can’t quit sugar:
- You are depriving yourself of adequate calories – Sugar - or carbohydrates - are the most readily accessible form of energy for the body, and are the only source of fuel for the brain. In other words, when consumed, they require the lowest amount of work to extract and give energy the fastest to the body - it’s why athletes rely on simple carbohydrates during competition, or why you fuel with carbohydrates when you need energy quickly. But in the same way, if you are calorically deficient, and your body is running drastically low on energy, it will crave these sugars and simple carbohydrates the most because it knows it can get energy from them the fastest. When you are deprived of adequate calories, basic survival instincts kick in and your body wants the fastest form of fuel to help keep you alive. Running on a calorically low diet, or depriving yourself of adequate calories will only lead you to crave sugar more to fuel your body. Instead, eat regularly and consume enough calories that your body knows it is fuelled and not in need of quick energy.
- It’s always close by, tempting you – You aren’t doing yourself any favors if you are simply surrounded by sugary treats. They’re in your cupboard, they’re in your fridge, they’re sitting out in a bowl on the counter when you get home, and they are there as soon as you open your drawer at work. Do yourself a favour and purge your cupboards, fridge and pantry of all of these things. When it’s not there, you won’t eat it, and getting rid of it will make your quest way easier and your willpower seem much stronger. Once you get used to this, you will be more easily able to stay away from the sugar when you are tempted by it, but set yourself up for success first!
- You have triggered reward pathways – The tricky thing with sugar is that even when we don’t want to consume it, or know we shouldn’t consume it, the brain tricks us into thinking otherwise because we initially get a sense of happiness from it. It’s only after we come down from that high that we feel guilty or know that we shouldn’t have done it. This is the natural process of the brain reward pathway and the more we practice the pathway, the more we want it and the more our brain seeks to fulfill it. The hardest part of giving up sugar is breaking the pathway and resisting the reward.
- You are nutrient deficient – Certain nutrient deficiencies will lead you to crave sugar. This goes back to number 1, where your body is simply reverting to survival: if it craves something and forces you to eat it, maybe it will contain the nutrients you are missing and help boost them. It also happens because when we consume sugar, it causes the leaching of certain nutrients from their storage in order to help metabolize the sugar. Eating more sugar means more nutrients are lost, and thereby, more deficiencies result.
- Loss of eating cues – Eating sugar regularly, and triggering the reward pathway, as detailed above, eventually leads to a lack of conscious awareness when we are exposed to sugar. In other words, we eat it almost on impulse. This is especially true when you are surrounded by lots of people eating sugar, have pressure from others to “have just one” or are always placed in tempting atmospheres. As you fight your battle with sugar, become aware of your eating cues when you go to consume it: are you actually hungry or needing what you are going to eat, or are simply doing it on reflex, or because someone else is. Work to eat based on your cues, not on your friends!