Many of us have experienced it: the not-so-quiet voice in our heads that drives us to finish the leftover holiday cookies that we know we have had way too many of or to buy a candy bar on January 2nd. Sugar cravings are intense and can make us feel “addicted” or out of control when it comes to limiting the intake of this non-nutrient sweetener. Are we really addicted?
There have been references to sugar addiction for years in literature. Recent studies have shown that the quick energy high derived from sugar gives you a jolt and a pleasurable feeling that is associated with other drugs. Sugar can make you feel good by making the brain produce a natural chemical called opioids, which give the body a feeling of pleasure and the cravings for more. The problem starts just like drug addiction. You increase the intake of sugar (such as what happens during the holidays), experience withdrawal when you try to cut back, and then face incredible cravings that are difficult to control so you have more sugar. Humans have been shown to have even more difficulty when deprived of adequate healthy food, such in trying to stringently diet right after the holidays.
So how do you stop the sugar cravings? Is there anything one can do to recover from sugar addiction? The following tips can help you recover from overindulging during the holidays or any other time that you are caught in this undesirable state.
First and foremost, have no sugar for one full week. This means no dessert or added sugar to your food. It may be painful for the first three to four days but the less stimulation, the fewer cravings.
Keep in mind that you should not be concerned about eating too many apples or oranges. Fruit is allowed since the intensity of taste is so much less than refined sugar. By eating two to four pieces per day, you add fiber, much-needed vitamins, and antioxidants that make you feel better.
Have three meals per day, plus one to two snacks; do not go longer than five hours without food. Hunger is the enemy!
Make sure to have protein at each meal and snack. Fish, poultry, nuts, non-fat yogurt, low-fat cheeses, and eggs all help ward off hunger and keep glucose levels stable longer (eliminating that crash and burn feeling after a sugar high).
Only consume high-fiber carbohydrate foods such as whole-grain breads, oatmeal, high-fiber cereals, barley, brown rice, or baked yams. High-fiber carbohydrate foods cause less insulin production to keep you full longer.
Manage your temptations. Keep sugar out of the house and office; it’s just too tempting to have it on hand.
After sugar-free week, limit your intake to only one to two times per week, in small amounts. Preferably, you will only have sugar socially, outside of the house with some controls in place. (We tend to “binge” on sugar when we are by ourselves.)
Remember, your cravings will decrease with time. The longer sugar is out of your diet, the easier it gets.