How to end your sugar addiction now (or maybe after one more cookie)

The co-author of End Your Addiction Now talks about the root of sugar addiction and how to break the evil cycle.
Written by Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Inactive

Yesterday I wrote about the similarities between breaking off a food addiction and trying to end a drug addiction: painful, perpetual and destructive. To learn more about where this sugar addiction comes from and how to break the cycle , I talked to Greg Lewis, co-author (with Dr. Charles Gant) of the new book End Your Addiction Now.

A cookie seems so benign. How do we become addicted to sugar?

To most people, sugar is an addictive substance. Virtually all creatures, from humans to birds, love sugar, and when it’s readily available, we are compelled by our biochemistry to consume it in large amounts. One of the risks of living in a culturally advanced society is that there’s a lot of food out there, and a lot of people discover the joy of carbohydrates.

Have people always been prone to sugar addiction?

It's an evolutionary trait that helps ensure survival. When our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, before the advent of farming and our ability to store grains (which are an important source of carbohydrates), sugar and carbohydrates weren’t available year-round. During summers, they needed to consume as much sugar and carbohydrates as they could and to store it in their bodies as fat so the calories could be retrieved and used during the winter, when food was in short supply. They would gorge on sugar when it was available in fruits and vegetables and literally put on 30, 40, 50 pounds for the winter.

Sounds like a bear.

Exactly like a bear. And it was absolutely necessary that sugar be addictive so that early humans could have this source of energy during lean times. It’s still true that body fat is nature’s way of enabling us to store calories. So when we don’t have enough sugar and carbohydrates in our diets, or when we have used up the readily available supplies from our last few meals, our metabolism switches to burning body fat, as well as protein, for energy. But today, we’re not hunting and gathering anymore, and it’s primarily the over-consumption of sugars and carbohydrates that causes obesity.

So how do we break the cycle?

It’s a hard addiction to break. When you begin eating sugar, you become insulin-resistant. The sugar has to be stored someplace, so it goes into fat tissues and you become pre-diabetic. Medicine’s answer is to give you more insulin, which is the wrong thing to do. You need to gradually wean yourself off sugar and change your diet to a low-carbohydrate diet. But there are risks associated with that. Sugar stimulates the production of serotonin, which gives us that nice relaxed feeling, and once the serotonin surge wears off, we want more sugar to get that feeling again. So you have to carefully monitor your carbohydrate intake. One hundred grams a day is reasonable, and you can certainly go down lower than that.

Explain some of the withdrawal symptoms, like headaches.

People can experience headaches, but it can also be a lot worse. We have known patients to commit suicide because it’s so tough. The sugars are so powerful in terms of stimulating relaxing brain chemistry that when you stop them, it’s just like stopping other addictive drugs.

How long does it take to get the bad stuff out of your system?

It depends on the person. We recommend nutritional supplements (amino acids, vitamins and minerals, outlined in the book) so your brain can produce the chemicals it needs naturally, so you’re not using sugar to artificially stimulate the brain and make you feel good. Using those and tapering off, you can avoid all of those withdrawal symptoms. Within 24 to 72 hours, people feel enormous relief—whether they’re trying to break addiction to cigarettes, stimulants or sugar.

But when you quit, won’t you miss that sugar high?

When our brains don’t have the nutrients they need to produce neurotransmitters in sufficient quantities, we start looking for something else to substitute for the shortage of neurotransmitters, and the brain starts relying on that substance. But when we do have the nutrients, and when our brain is producing neurotransmitters in normal amounts, we feel alert, we’re relaxed and we can get pleasure out of life’s experiences—naturally.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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