Breaking the Cycle of the Sugar Binge
One of the world's most addictive substances may be sitting in your pantry right now.
Sugar seems to be included in every food item that’s not in the produce aisle or in the meat case. Its addictive power comes from its ability to spike your blood sugar and insulin levels, offering a short jolt of energy when your blood sugar drops and triggering your brain’s reward centers to keep you wanting more.
By now, you probably realize that consuming too much sugar is bad for your waistline, but you may not be aware of what’s going on behind the scenes when you eat something sugary. This is why so many who find themselves stuck in a cycle of one sugar binge after another.
Sugar has the power to rewire our brains, and once the damage is done, it can be challenging to reverse the habit.
What Happens When You Eat Sugar? A Timeline
Let's break down an average sugar binge cycle. Consider an instance where you ate a piece of sugary chocolate cake, then reached for a second. No shame, it happens! But it’s good to know what it does to your body.
As you digest the cake, sugar enters your bloodstream and your blood sugar (glucose) level rises. You may feel this as a ‘sugar rush’ or an energy boost that lasts about 10-20 minutes – depending on the amount and type of carbohydrate you ate.
The presence of sugar signals for your body to produce insulin, which sends the signal to your cells to take in the sugar in your bloodstream to use for energy.
Once your cells have taken all that they can, your body stores more glucose in your liver and muscles as glycogen. As your body pulls sugar out of your bloodstream for use and for storage, your blood sugar drops, and you feel that all-too-familiar sugar crash.
Your body signals for you to get more. This is when you get cravings and you feel tired, stressed, and your mood may change. You might feel irritable or sluggish, so you may find yourself looking for a snack to perk up.
You find a sweet snack and feel better for a moment – except, you’ve restarted the cycle.
The endless treadmill of sugar consumption continues. You feel irritable and sluggish when your blood sugar is low. You consume food or drinks to get that quick fix of sugar into your bloodstream, only to feel the letdown (physically and mentally) of giving into your desire.
This is why some experts liken sugar to an addictive drug. It can trigger the same mechanisms of addiction as any other addictive substance, like alcohol.
The Dangers of a Sugar Addiction
Sugar can negatively affect the body, causing all kinds of health problems, especially if eaten to excess. Sugar rushes spike blood sugar levels then quickly lower them. This may cause feelings of fatigue and irritability, and can affect your mental alertness. You may be walking around in a sugar-induced fog and not even realize it.
Sugar that your body doesn’t use or store in the muscles and liver are stored as fat in the body, potentially leading to obesity. A diet high in sugar can also lead to diabetes, heart disease, and other serious medical conditions.
Consuming large amounts of sugar also leads to cravings, and the psychological need for sugar leads to sugar binges – a cycle of intense sugar cravings that can repeatedly occur throughout the day.
At first, these may be one-off episodes, but they could become more frequent – even reaching a point where you are consuming sugary snacks between meals.
Knowing the dangers of sugar addiction, it is important to understand how digestion and insulin interact to discover how to break the power of sugar binges for good.
The Connection between Digestion and Insulin
When you eat a meal or drink a glass of soda, the carbohydrates are digested in the stomach and small intestine. When these sugars get into your bloodstream, they raise your blood sugar level.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. Its job is to lower your blood sugar by signaling to the cells to pull sugar from the bloodstream.
If you eat a diet high in carbohydrates (sugar, pasta, bread, crackers), your cells could become desensitized to the frequent insulin signaling. It’s like a delivery person repeatedly ringing the doorbell, but nobody is there to take the package. So, it takes even more sugar to produce the amount of insulin that your cells will respond to.
The Binge-Breaking Options
So how can you work to break down the addictive nature of sugar binges? The best method may not be how you are eating but what you choose to eat.
When you eat top-quality carbohydrates (like high-fiber vegetables), they break down into sugars much slower than eating refined sugary foods or junk food (chips, candy bars, soda).
Vegetables with fiber take longer to digest. Your blood sugar level will rise more slowly after eating them, and you won’t get the energy rush followed by the quick crash. Adding protein and healthy fats can keep your blood sugar even more stable, preventing fast rises and drops.
Break the Binge and Enjoy a Healthier Lifestyle
If you can take steps to break the power of sugar over your mental and physical health, you can begin to enjoy various benefits.
Your body will feel more stable, you may experience more consistent, restful sleep, and possibly have better overall energy levels. You may find that you don’t crave high-sugar snacks as much, and your cravings for other foods may be reduced too. This means that you can enjoy a richer and more fruitful life without the highs and lows of sugar addiction.