If there’s ever been a food that has given us more mixed signals in life than any other, it’s sugar. From the time we were children we’ve been told – don’t eat sugar! It’s bad for your health. It will give you cavities. It will make you fat. You’ll become diabetic by the time you’re 12.
Yet at the same time, we’re told – awww, you’re sad, let’s go get some ice cream. Please don’t cry, here’s some candy. It’s your birthday? Let’s celebrate (with cake)! I love you… here are some chocolates.
So which is it? Sugar and sweets are supposed to be bad for us but make feel good? The mixed messages are pretty confusing.
Sugar can be like a drug. It literally affects our brain, giving us immediate relief, calm or happiness. The problem is that these feelings do not last and we often find ourselves feeling depressed, upset or irritable later on. Plus, no amount of willpower works when our brains are working against us.
Have you ever had one of those days that started off with the best of intentions and then it turned into, well… hell? You know, you get up, have a healthy, fulfilling breakfast loaded with protein and complex carbs. Then you go to work and you find yourself too busy to eat lunch or maybe you just grab something like a grilled cheese sandwich. About 3 hours later, you NEED something – and not just anything. You need something sweet, something to get you going. So you run out and get a candy bar and a soda, and then you feel great. But when you get home that night, you’re like a human garbage disposal. Nothing satisfies you. You rummage through the cabinets and the fridge, frantically searching for something that will satisfy the hunger and the cravings. But nothing works. You’re in SUGAR HELL.
Sugar Hell is basically a vicious cycle of craving and munching and dissatisfaction that tends to elevate irritability and anxiety. When we eat sugar, our blood sugar temporarily rises and we feel good, leading later to a drop in blood sugar levels and an intense craving for MORE. Sugar may also temporarily increase our serotonin levels (our “feel good” brain chemicals), but again, these feelings don’t last and ultimately, the sugar makes us feel worse and that we need more to feel better.
Doesn’t quite seem fair, does it? It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t eat sugar ever again. We need to balance our emotional response with the physical effect of sugar on our body and our brain. We need to become aware of the effects of sugar on our bodies and arm ourselves against intense and continual cycles of irritability, fatigue and cravings.
Here are a few tips that may help either prevent “sugar hell,”, or help pull you out of it if you happen to find yourself there:
- Figure out what works for you and what keeps your blood sugar levels and brain chemistry stable. Take note of the foods that trigger cravings, difficult behavior, fatigue or irritability, and minimize them.
- Notice the emotional state you’re in when you get a sugar craving. Are you lonely? Stressed? Bored? Tired? Try to address your emotions with non-food solutions and get help if you need to.
- Most people benefit from some combination of protein, fats and high-quality carbohydrates at each meal and a healthy snack to stabilize blood sugar levels.
- If you are going to eat sugar or processed carbohydrates, arm yourself by eating protein and/or fat beforehand.
- Do NOT skip meals – ever.
- Avoid fake sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharine, Splenda, etc. You know, the ones that are in your diet beverages? They just make you want more sweets.
- If you find yourself in the middle of a sugar binge, stop and ask yourself: “What can I do to get out of this cycle?” Then DO IT.
- Don’t beat yourself up – for anything. Especially for not having “enough willpower.” Remember, your cravings are not about willpower, but about your body’s way of trying to tell you that you are out of balance somehow.
Stop treating sweets like a reward. Find non-food treats for yourself and your children.