This page expands on the Hidden Sugars Checklist. Here you will find out:
- What the sugar rollercoaster is, and why it is affecting your mental, physical and emotional health so adversely
- Why your main sweetener should always be fruit
- Why you should avoid artificial sweeteners
- More about the alternatives I recommend using in moderation - what is so different about them, and what does 'moderation' actually mean?
The Sugar Rollercoaster
The sugar rollercoaster explains why you are so affected (physically, mentally and possibly emotionally) by sugar. It is my hope that what you are about to read will release you from a good deal of guilt and shame you may feel about how out of control it can leave you feeling.
Think of the effect of sugar as a rollercoaster ride for your mind and body:
A = The Trigger
You start at A, which is feeling tired, low, bored, angry - or any unwelcome emotion, and you happen to see a sugary snack (which probably contains fat as well). Alternatively you might start thinking about that snack.
B = Dopamine AKA What Gets You To The Top Of The Rollercoaster
The sight or thought of sugar triggers the release of dopamine. This is a neurochemical. Neurochemicals are messengers that tell the brain and nervous system to behave in certain ways for certain reasons.
Dopamine motivates you to take actions that your brain perceives will produce the other neurochemicals. A stock market trader is often fuelled by dopamine, with the intention to produce serotonin when s/he makes a killing later that day. The D in dopamine can also stand for drive.
The point of dopamine flooding your system is to take an action that will produce another neurochemical, serotonin. This takes us to…
C = Serotonin AKA The Top Of The Rollercoaster
Life looks good at the top of the sugar rollercoaster.
Why does the sugar give us such a hit of pleasure?
Because the brain sees the sugary snack as offering security in the form of calories. Our brain is in many ways still wired to help us survive a world where food is scarce. We may have landed on the moon and cured polio, but for many of us, our cavebrain is still in charge. And its priority is not improved health, but survival. It doesn’t know that those calories its sees as the prize are actually a threat.
Sharie Spironhi, in her very readable book Why We Are Wired to Worry - And How Neuroscience Will Help You Fix It explains:
Behind every comfort food craving is dopamine pushing you toward the sugar, salt or chocolate...After you eat the meal, serotonin kicks in, making you feel calm and relaxed, telling you, "Good job. You will live another day!"
You've eaten, so according to cavedweller logic, you are that bit more secure. A good healthy meal will also trigger serotonin release, so let's not conclude that we shouldn't get pleasure from eating. The difference is that the junk food creates pleasure that is addictively intense and always carries an emotional price tag. I call this fake pleasure.
Comfort food cravings usually focus on the desire for that potent mix of fat and sugar, which to our cavedwelling ancestors was highly valuable and we are still wired to love the taste.
Let’s look a bit more closely at the intense effect processed sugar has on the human body.
And it is a much more intensive hit than the body is designed to cope with. This is what happens:
The bloodstream is flooded with glucose, which is basically pure energy. This is the sugar high - all that fatigue, boredom and sadness evaporate in less than the time that it takes you to finish the junk. Bliss (I remember it well).
Now this glucose flood is no problem for your body if you are Michael Phelps or Serena Williams - all that extra energy goes straight to help you exercise.
If you are not this active, the body sees this as an emergency, because it doesn't actually need the vast influx of energy you have just given it. It is not good to have so much glucose running round the system.
So it calls upon its first responder - insulin. The insulin quickly drains the glucose away into fat cells. This is an emergency situation for your system.
Eat lots of processed sugar regularly and you could develop insulin resistance, which is when the body needs to produce more and more insulin to drain away the same amount of glucose.
Insulin resistance creates another kind of resistance: leptin resistance. Leptin is what people feel when they say: "That is delicious, but I am full. I just can't finish it". Without leptin you just keep wanting more. Ever binged until you felt sick? That was leptin taking a holiday.
This is the royal road to type 2 diabetes and obesity (diabesity as Dr Mark Hyman puts it. It would be funny if it wasn't so bloody tragic).
However, gaining extra fat is not the only problem with riding the sugar rollercoaster.
Table sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. We have just seen the damage that too much glucose can wreak. Fructose also contributes to obesity and type 2 diabetes, but it has some extra harmful effects:
Why Fructose Is Just So Bad For You
(1) It has no effect on grehlin (the hunger signal). This means that you can eat and eat fructose and you will still feel hungry.
(2) Fructose can only be metabolised by the liver. Too much sugar can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (no, I had never heard of it either).
As Dr Robert Lustig says in Fat Chance:
Fructose can fry your liver and cause all the same diseases as does alcohol... It's the visceral fat - the fat that surrounds your organs and often remains invisible to the naked eye - that's going to kill you. Both alcohol and sugar significantly increase your visceral fat and your likelihood of developing associated diseases.
(3) Fructose damages and ages body cells 7 times faster than glucose. There is also some evidence that it may contribute to leaky gut and dementia.
D = The Sugar Crash
This is the steep and very fast drop to the bottom of the rollercoaster. We have just seen how it affects the body - insulin drains all the glucose away to the fat cells.
But let's look at how the sugar crash affects your thinking and emotions.
Many people regulate their emotions via food. If their lives are difficult, if they are in disempowering situations they feel are inescapable, if they are ruled by a feeling of worthlessness, of I am not enough, the serotonin hit of the sugary junk may be one of the only - or THE only - source of pleasure for them.
This was the case for me, and it is the case for many clients when they start working with me.
And the serotonin hit is just that - a quick hit. Nature designed these neurochemicals to not last very long, to encourage us to keep doing the action that our brain mistakenly thunks is good for our survival.
So just as all the energy of the glucose is drained away, the serotonin levels also drop off dramatically.
This is the crash. It can manifest itself in different ways for different people. Which symptoms do you experience during a sugar crash?
E = Loop The Loop AKA Regular Sugar Highs and Crashes
If you have a sugar blow out once in a while, you can stop reading. However, the addictive nature of sugar (which is debated by experts - make your own mind up) means that it is all too easy to repeat steps A to D.
This is the loop the loop - the endless cycle of highs and crashes regular sugar consumption creates in our system.
Too much grehlin; not enough leptin. Too much stress; not enough pleasure and relaxation. All this can all lead to a biologically and emotionally-driven urge for more. And more. When I was addicted, I used to loop the sugar loop every few hours.
An additional side effect for women: PMT or PMS as you might refer to it. It was a two week PMT-fuelled trip to hell that pushed me to try out a few weeks without sugar.
F = Your Life On The Rollercoaster
F is the net result of continually riding the sugar rollercoaster everyday. Not just the emotional, cognitive and hormonal disturbances as described above, but the long term health risks that insulin resistance and fructose drip feed into your system chocolate bar by chocolate bar, dessert by dessert. Type 2 diabetes. Obesity and all its associated ills. Dental problems.
I would add to this a general feeling of hopelesness. You think your addiction is down to lazyness or an inner defect; you believe that you are just neurotic and anxious naturally. Can you take that hairshirt off now? Now you know you have been reacting to the hijacking of your neurochemicals without your awareness all these years.
How To Get Off The Sugar Rollercoaster
Instead of a rollercoaster, I want you to imagine a children's caterpillar ride - one that gently undulates up and down. You never get very high, and there are no sharp drops either.
You can achieve this gentle rise and gentle sloping downward of your blood sugar.
By making your main sweetener fruit.
Because fruit has fibre.
And fibre acts as a kind of flood defence mechanism for the glucose - it slows down how much can get into your bloodstream.
And if there is no intense rise in glucose levels, there is no energy and serotonin high to come down from. Much less insulin is needed to drain the glucose away. Your body can actually cope with this state of affairs. No loop the loop.
Without insulin constantly coming to the rescue, your risk of having insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes goes down.
For many of you, you will also be liberated from all the mental and emotional crap that sugar brings in its wake (listed above).
Don't Tell Me To Eat Another Apple...
Can't face the idea of replacing your chocolate with a boring old piece of fruit?
Don't worry. You don't have to.
There are ways to simulate the sweet taste of processed sugar in a healthy way without your taste buds dieing of boredom. A taste that satisfies your need for sugar without forcing you to go on the rollercoaster ride from hell.
Watch out for more about this in your inbox...
Alternatives To Use In Moderation
There are two alternatives that I recommend with caution:
#1 SUGAR ALCOHOLS: isomalt, maltitol, xylitol, sorbitol
Sugar alcohols have less calories than refined sugar and less of an effect on blood sugar (therefore avoiding sugar rollercoaster of highs and crashes).
There are some potential side effects: abdominal pain, diarrhea and gas, but major health concerns.
While their status as natural sweeteners is clearly debatable, sugar alcohols when you really fancy a sweet treat that will not put you on the sugar rollercoaster are OK. I like to reserve these for times of strong cravings.
If you are finding you are eating any of these every day and are developing compulsive behaviour around it ( I can find this happening to me), you need to cut back. A good general rule of thumb is a moderate amount (say a small bar of chocolate's worth) no more than twice a week.
Stevia is a sweetener and sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana.
One study (described here) has shown that it can reduce blood sugar levels. It does appear to have some health benefits - without putting you on that rollercoaster.
Two things to be aware of with stevia: (1) processed stevia (such as truvia) is a long way from natural stevia (which is a green powder and smells like it looks!) and (2) it has a pretty bitter aftertaste. The only way I like stevia is as a sweetener in very dark chocolate, with the cocoa playing good cop to stevia's bad one. I can get all the sweetness without the aftertaste from maltitol for example.
Why You Should Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
There is evidence from various studies that raise question marks that are too big to ignore when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Apart from the cancer risk (which, like the whole debate on artificial sweeteners, is hotly debated), chew on the following...
‘Artificial sweeteners can actually change how animals perceive the sweetness of their food, with a discrepancy between sweetness and energy levels prompting an increase in caloric consumption' said Professor Herbert Herzog from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.
In other words, experiments found when the artificial sweetener didn't provide the expected energy boost, the body to told the brain more food was needed.
It is like artificial sweeteners are selling tickets to get your serotonin high, without actually delivering.
Other experts believe that the sweetness of the artificial sweeteners causes an insulin surge even though there is no rise in blood sugar levels.
So although none of this is conclusive, don't you think it is better to wean yourself off sugar and change your tastebuds using the incredible tools that you have at your disposal.
I'm talking about your subconscious mind, your curiosity, your inner rebel and the years of suffering you have been going through around sugar. That suffering has a hidden gift - the ability to make that leap, to overshoot your potential and reclaim your life from food.
I will be sending you more information on exactly how this works soon.