Following on from last week’s topic on Sugar craving, this week we’re going to delve a little deeper and look at what causes those cravings, why sugar is so hard to turn down, and give a couple of lifestyle tips to implement to start suppressing those cravings…

It is all good and well for us to tell you to stop eating so much sugar, but in what may seem like an extreme comparison, doing so is about as effective as telling a drug addict to just stop doing drugs or an alcoholic to just stop drinking alcohol.  That comparison, however, is incredibly relevant, because sugar has been found to be quite an addictive substance.

Sugar becomes addictive by the way in which it affects our neurotransmitters.  So let’s break down the role of these within not only the brain but the body as well.

So, we’re all aware that we all have a brain.  There are some people you may think don’t, but I think it’s fairly safe to say that surprisingly – everybody does.  The brain is an organ that regulates body functions, behaviors, and emotions.   The cells that fulfill these functions are called neurons.

Sugar craving starts in your head

Neurons control these functions by passing signals from one neuron to the next. Information is sent through a neuron in the form of an electrical impulse.  When the electrical pulse reaches the end of the neuron, it is unable to travel over to the receiving neuron so it triggers chemical changes that can cross from the sending neuron to the receiving neuron. These triggered chemicals are known as neurotransmitters.  Neurotransmitters are, therefore, in short, a chemical released by one neuron to transmit a message to another neuron.

There are thought to be over 100 different types of neurotransmitters, all with their own role to play.  For instance, when the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, it creates a sensation of pleasure and enjoyment.  Studies have shown that when sugar is consumed, it stimulates dopamine to be released therefore results in a feeling of – you guessed it, pleasure and enjoyment.  This is why eating sweet foods is so enjoyable!  This is also part of what leads the pathway to those sugar cravings we so often feel.

There is also another neurotransmitter responsible for that feeling of satisfaction you get whenever you consume sugar and that’s Serotonin.   Serotonin helps regulate pain levels and sleep cycles, and is also responsible for our mood – it is mood-elevating and is often referred to as an anti-depressant.

We spoke in last week’s blog about how sugar is processed in the body and how it is taken from the bloodstream and stored in muscles to be used as energy.   You’ll remember that the hormone insulin plays a significant role in opening up the cells to let the sugar (glucose) in.  Insulin also plays a similar role with amino acids by selectively helping amino acids into the liver and muscles, removing them from the bloodstream.

The amino acid tryptophan is however not one of the amino acids that insulin selects to help, and for a very good reason.  Tryptophan (which is a relatively smaller sized amino acid in comparison to others) is a precursor for serotonin.  What this means is that tryptophan is needed to form serotonin, so insulin clears tryptophan’s path by removing some of the larger amino acids and clearing the way for tryptophan to leave the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier to be absorbed by the brain to make serotonin.   Cue an influx in serotonin production upon sugar consumption.

Now here lays the issue we are having with sugar; because we have so much sugar in our diets we are overstimulating the dopamine and serotonin receptors.  Overstimulation of these leads to desensitization.   Desensitization leads to overconsumption of sugar to get the same effect a lessor amount once gave.  In summary, you start craving more and more sugar to get the feeling of elevated pleasure, enjoyment, and mood.

So how do we break this sugar craving cycle?

1. Eat a balanced diet.  We recommend low GI foods, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, quality complete proteins and LOTS of vegetables.  This will help keep your blood glucose levels more stable and will avoid spikes in insulin production, therefore resulting in fewer spikes in serotonin.  It’s all about balance!  Eating a well-balanced diet will also give your body all the nutrients it needs for all the biochemical processes needed to keep everything running like clockwork.

2. Exercise!  Believe it or not, exercising has the same effect that consuming sugar does, but with more benefits.  It doesn’t cause desensitization and it doesn’t come with a long list of health implications.

Overcome your sugar cravings with natural foods

Next time you satisfy your sugar cravings with sugar, just remember that you’re feeding the beast.  Set up a meal plan where you’re eating whole nutritious foods frequently throughout the day to suppress the body’s desire for sugar craving by keeping it in a well-fed state.  Exercise to elevate your mood naturally.

There is no better feeling than being able to say no to something that once held so much power over you, so work on breaking the cycle now.  The best time to stop binging on sugar was 10 years ago.  The second best option is today.

Contact OBF Gyms for a complimentary assessment to get started with one of our trainers today!