How To Beat Your Sugar Addiction
By Chris Albert of Warrior Soul Agoge and Matt Cooper.
A few months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author GARY TAUBES FOR THE WARRIOR SOUL PODCAST.
Gary is a science writer and a New York Times bestselling author who became known for questioning the logic of the typically prescribed high carbohydrate low fat diet in his book Good Calories Bad Calories. His latest work The Case Against Sugar details the argument that sugar has ruined the health of millions of people in the US and around the world. He presents the case that sugar is not only the cause of diabetes and obesity, but also compelling evidence to suggest that it is responsible for heart disease, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancers.
According to Taubes and some scientists sugar is also highly addictive (1). Rats, for example, exhibit addiction-like symptoms similar to when they are exposed to cocaine. Nevertheless, this has not been demonstrated on humans in an experimental setting (2) and some neuro-scientists are doubtful that there is a neurological pathway for sugar addiction (3). Although this isn't a settled science, nothing truly is-evidence of this neuro response does exist and has been observed.
So where does that leave us? We might not be addicted to sugar, but many of us certainly crave it. In my experience as a nutrition coach and trainer, one of the hardest habits to break my clients from is their daily dose of sugar. Whether its sodas, candies, or baked goods, many people feel like they need some sugar to get through the day. Those who overcome the need inevitably feel better and lose fat much more effectively.
The first step to overcoming sugar cravings is in understanding that it isn’t us as individuals who are craving the sugar. Rather, its the ecosystem of bacteria that we carry around with us in our intestinal tracts, also called our gut micro-biome. It is through these bacteria, that sugar consumption does, in fact, have an impact on our brains. Numerous studies have demonstrated that gut microbiota influence their hosts to crave nutrients that they feed on or that help to suppress their competitors (4).
How does bacteria all the way down in our intestinal tracts affect our brains? This happens because your intestinal tract is directly connected to your brain via something called the vagus nerve.
This is the longest and largest nerve in your body and it runs from your brain stem all the way down to your intestinal tract and connects at various points throughout. It’s actually said that you have “two brains” one in your head and one in your gut!
So knowing this, we also know that anything that affects our intestinal health will also affect our brain and vice versa. Through the brain, and the immune system, which is largely located in the intestinal tract, anything affecting digestion will also tend to affect the rest of your body. One powerful demonstration is what scientists found when they transplanted fecal matter from lean mice into obese mice, and from obese mice into lean mice (5). The obese mice showed improvements in their metabolic syndrome, and became more active, while the lean mice put on weight and became more sluggish.
We also know that many unfriendly bacteria, like candida, actually feed off of sugar, and that these bacteria can cause brain fog, moodiness, depression, and weight gain in the host.
So what does all this science mean for you? It means that if you want to end your sugar cravings, the first thing you need to fix is your digestive system.
This, of course, is just a first step to building your resistance to sugar cravings and you’ll also want to implement strategies for maintenance once you’ve fixed your digestion. The remainder of this article is going to take you through each step to ending your sugar cravings for good.
Matt was a student athlete whom was a nutrition client of mine-we worked together on a nutrition program and helped overcome some dietary downfalls, including sugar addition.
FIX YOUR DIGESTION
As mentioned above, fixing your digestive health is the first step in alleviating yourself of sugar cravings. I have outlined a strategy for fixing gut dysbiosis HERE, a strategy for fixing leaky gut syndrome HERE, and my good friend, and expert on fermented foods, discusses strategies for populating your gut with healthy bacteria HERE.
Just to give you a quick recap as to what you will find in those articles, fixing your gut will entail:
feeding the healthy bacteria in your intestinal tract non soluble fiber from green leafy vegetables.
populating your gut with healthy bacteria from fermented foods and drinks like kimchi, kombucha, and raw sauerkraut.
healing your intestinal tract with collagen rich foods (bone broth, collagen protein) and butyrate rich foods (grass fed butter).
CLEAN OUT AND RESTOCK YOUR SNACK SUPPLY
The next thing you’re going to want to do is to get rid of any temptation around you. Clean out your pantry and throw away the easy to reach items like cookies, candies, fruit rollups, sugary cereals, last Christmas’s fruit cake, chocolate bars, sodas, and graham crackers.
Replace these with things like raw nuts, guacamole, cut up vegetables (to dip in the guacamole), Epic pemmican bars, collagen protein bars, and 85% dark chocolate. You can also opt for one of my favorite snacks FBOMB Macadamia Nut Butter Fuel Packs. These are absolutely delicious and they stave off hunger better than anything else I've tried.
To replace the sodas opt either for water, kombucha, or stevia sweetened sodas like Zevia.
If you need sweetener in your coffee, I would opt for either stevia or a non-GMO erythritol like Swerve sweetener. If you’re feeling really motivated, you can use these sweeteners to bake yourself up some sugar free desserts like the keto cupcakes we have in our free Keto Camp cookbook that you get when you sign up for our newsletter HERE!
EAT MORE FAT AND PROTEIN
A big aspect of keeping you sugar free is going to be your level of satiety. If you’re hungry, you’re going to reach for something that’s easily accessible, like those donuts or muffins that always appear in the lounge at work. Protein helps with satiety, though don't overdo it. A moderate to moderately high amount is sufficient.
Another way of making sure that you aren’t hungry is by eating fat. Adding two tablespoons of MCT oil to your coffee in the morning will give you lots of brain energy and will help to suppress your appetite. You can also try to indulge in some of your other favorite sugar free and low carb foods as you’re pulling yourself off of sugar. Cook yourself up a steak or two, or try to make low carb-sugar free versions of some of your favorite comfort foods. The internet is loaded with low carb recipes like keto mac and cheese and keto lasagna.
This will help to keep you full and happy as you transition yourself off of sugar, and meals like this will give you something to look forward to as you get through your day without your fix.
Another issue that can lead to sugar cravings is fluctuations in your blood sugar. After you eat a meal, your body releases insulin to bring your blood sugar back down to baseline. As your blood sugar lowers to it’s normal state, you get hungry again. This is why many people crave dessert right after a big dinner.
Rather than reaching for that container of ice cream, head out for a 15 or 20 minute walk after lunch and dinner. This will help to burn off some of the glucose in your blood stream and will lessen the amount of insulin you secrete.
RESET YOUR METABOLISM
Another element of craving sugar is having insulin resistance and not being able to access your body's oxidative pathways to utilize dietary and body fat for fuel. This can result in major carb cravings which can manifest as sugar cravings. By fat-adapting your metabolism, you induce metabolic flexibility, which has numerous benefits, including reducing cravings. You can do this via an in-road of some combination of reducing meal frequency, introducing at least some low carb days, and potentially intermittent fasting.
DEAL WITH STRESS (ORS)
One element of the neurology of sugar cravings is a craving for a replenishment of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. This actually crosses over into other addictions, as well. When we are stressed from typical life/work, emotional traumas, or even overtraining, our bodies spent more cellular energy currency (mitochondria) on additional activities (or potentially alertness/'defense' if we're in fight, fight or freeze phases too often). We need this currency to fuel everything we do, including having a balanced level of brain chemistry. When we lack balance here, we will naturally crave sugar, drugs, alcohol, behavior, etc. to replenish these for a 'hit' to get back to normal.
STAY THE COURSE
Pushing sugar out of your life can be difficult, but it is not impossible and you can even make it an enjoyable experience if you follow the guidelines laid out here. If you fall off the wagon, don’t be too hard on yourself. That will only push you back toward eating more sugar. Try your best each day and remember why you’re getting rid of sugar in the first place: so you can be healthier, happier, and more fit to handle the challenges in your everyday life!
If you need help beating your sugar addiction, reseting your metabolism, and netting real results as an individual or athlete, consider scheduling a nutrition consultation or picking up a copy of The Ketogenic Diet, written by myself and Matt Cooper.