I’m quitting sugar.
Yep, I know everybody has this phase at some point but I’m extremely serious about cutting sweets out of my life. I’m not quitting sugar in entirety (that’s really tough), but I am quitting all sweets. No candy, no ice cream, no desserts, no protein bars, no sodas (not even diet), nothing that can satiate my monster sugar cravings.
Why am I doing this? Well, to be honest, my sugar addiction has recently gotten completely out of control. I’ve always had a sweet tooth – I remember raiding the candy cupboard at my house before my parents got home and consistently eating so much that I felt sick to my stomach. But, every day I would get that sugar craving and would have no control as I climbed up onto the counter and scanned our candy selection day after day.
This exact powerless feeling is what I’ve been feeling recently. I feel like that impulsive 11 year old with either no memory or no regard for the consequences of eating enormous amounts of sugar. Once I eat one sweet, even something as small as a couple bites of chocolate, that all-consuming need for more sugar is turned on. I will consume every sweet I can find. I will steal from my roommate’s stash, I will go to the corner store and get as much sugary nonsense as I can carry, I will eat extravagant amounts of mildly sugar things (granola, cereal, etc) just to get as much sugar as I can.
Is my addiction always this bad? No. It comes and goes. But for whatever reason it has gotten almost completely out of control lately. In a typical day, my baseline is 4 protein bars (the candy bar kind with over 20g of sugar), half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and 4-5 cookies. Then on top of that, if any sugar is presented to me, if my roommate is making brownies sundaes or there is cake at a meeting, I will partake without a second thought. That’s A LOT of sugar. I’m sick of it.
The worst part of sugar addiction? How short the pleasure is compared to the pain. You eat a candy bar and you’ll feel good all the way until…the last bite. That’s like, 2 minutes tops. Then it hits your stomach and you are already feeling that sugar overload, the bloating, and the woozy feeling that can come up. So little pleasure for so much pain!
Maybe you can relate, maybe you also feel powerless over sugar. Or maybe you just want to cut out sugar for your overall health. Regardless, I’m hoping this post can educate and motivate you to that end. I’m going to start by diving into the scientific reasons for quitting sugar and then I’m going to journal as I work toward 30 days without sweets. Enjoy!
Why Quit Sugar Anyway?
There are two areas that are important to look at when thinking about quitting sugar: mental and physical. If you feel like you have some level of addiction to sugar, you’re going to definitely want to read both parts (especially the mental part). If you are not really addicted but still worried about the negative effects of sugar on the body, than you’ll want to check out the physical part.
The Mental Aspect of Sugar Addiction
There is no doubt that a small dessert after a big meal is basically a little slice of heaven. After all, sugar is pleasurable. And shouldn’t we be allowed to have some pleasure in this life? Well, the fact that sugar is so pleasurable is actually why addiction to it is so prevalent in our world. Pleasure indicates that there is dopamine (basically a feel good neurochemical) flowing through our reward system.
Our reward system is activated when we do things like: eat, exercise, have sex, socialize, or basically do anything that is crucial to our survival and well-being. But it’s also activated when we drink, gamble, smoke weed (or meth), or when we eat sugar. Are these things necessary to our survival? Hell no, they are detrimental to it! I like to look at these things as cheap pleasure. If you eat a good meal, get in a great workout, have sex with a loving partner, or go an adventure with friends, you have put in work for your pleasure. You’ve cooked the meal, you’ve put in the work at the gym, you’ve nurtured relationships. But if you drink or do drugs or eat sugar, you haven’t actually done anything to earn that pleasure. It’s nothing but a cheap, dirty high. In my opinion, you can really feel the difference between earned pleasure and cheap pleasure (I made these terms up by the way). Earned pleasure is less of a rush but it feels nice and lasts longer. Cheap pleasure comes with a quick hit of feeling good followed very quickly by feeling down and wanting more. Cheap pleasure comes with a whole host of negative effects while earned pleasure comes with generally positive effects (unless you overdo them).
Anyway, the problem with these sorts of pleasure responses in our brains is that when we get that dopamine rush and we notice the pleasant sensation, we want to do more. It’s just how our brain is wired. It feels good? Do more. It’s supposed to look something like: “Oh, you hunted and killed some meat and then ate it? That feels good, keep doing it.” And so you do and you survive because of it. But in our modern world where survival is less in question, we have false rewards in the shape of these cheap pleasures. The fact that they are easy to obtain just compounds the problem. Our brain is hardwired to tell us to keep doing them AND they’re easy to do. That’s a dangerous situation.
So, for me, that’s sort of what happens with sugar. I’ll wake up in the morning and have some resolve to not eat as much sugar. But soon enough my brain starts reminding me of the nice feeling I get when I’m in the middle of eating something sweet. Then I eat some and my brain REALLY remembers how nice that dopamine release feels and so it increases the strength and frequency of those reminders. These are cravings. They are incredibly powerful and hard to ignore, especially if there are sweets readily accessible.
The solution to this malady? Quit sugar entirely. Cold turkey is truly the only way. If we simply stop eating sweets, the brain’s reward system will slowly be reprogrammed. It will definitely be hard at first. The cravings will increase because our brain has gotten used to a regular stream of sugar-based activity in the reward system. Take it away and we crave it more. But slowly your brain will forget that sugar used to bring pleasure, especially combined with all the positive effects you’ll be feeling from not eating any, and slowly the cravings will die down until not eating sugar becomes the norm.
The Physical Aspect of Sugar Addiction
The dangers of sugar are well-documented so I’m going to pull from this article by Atkins (yes, they are an interest group but this article is actually really well-done).
These are some of the biggest health dangers that come from eating sugar (ordered by what I consider most important):
- Sugar has been proven over and over again to cause diabetes, obesity and heart disease. These three conditions are ALL on my list of “Top 5 Health Conditions I Don’t Want to Have”. Enough said.
- Blood glucose levels are constantly in flux. This leads to “mood swings, fatigue, headaches, and more cravings for sugar.”
- Tooth decay and gum disease. I’ve already had 2 root canals and over 15 cavities. There may have been other factors besides sugar, but dental issues in general just suck.
- Sugar accelerates skin aging through a process called “glycation”. The more sugar is in your blood, the more glycation occurs.
- Sugar increases stress. Our body considers a sugar crash to be a serious stressor, so once we crash it sends out stress hormones which lead us to feel “anxious, irritable, and shaky”.
So to sum up: sugar is a massive detriment to our overall health and should be avoided as much as possible. You probably already knew this but hopefully this really hammers it home (I know it did for me).
With each 30 day challenge, I’m going to keep a running journal of “Benefits and Tips” where I will document all of the benefits that I’ve noticed and tips that have helped me. Once the 30 day challenge is over, I will do a summary post to go over everything that happened. Check them out below!