Sugar is everywhere these days. It’s even in some pet foods in the form of high fructose corn syrup! Sugar, in moderation, isn’t generally harmful. But when it’s in nearly every processed food available including sodas, some bottled waters and juices, it’s hard to avoid. Sugar can become a highly emotional topic because we often associate sweet foods with love and acceptance. Sugar also helps increase "feel good” neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Sugar’s Addictive Qualities
Any time the body is running low on a neurotransmitter, the brain tries to catch up by opening up more receptors for the neurotransmitter to increase the odds of a connection. Think of it in terms of supply and demand. When there's less of something available, the demand for it goes up. With so many open receptors, a sugar-sensitive person who delays ingesting a sugary substance (candy, alcohol, etc.) will experience an even greater release of serotonin when she does finally give in. This, in turn, intensifies the resulting sugar “high.” This over-the-top response can lead to more cravings.
Eliminating sugar from your diet can create new problems such as withdrawal symptoms. For example, chocolate addicts can suffer from headaches, shakiness, nausea, fatigue and even depression. It’s simple: the brain becomes accustomed to frequent beta-endorphin bursts. When we take those bursts away by reducing or eliminating sugar, it naturally wants more. And it will go to great lengths to get it. In fact, the cravings, pain and depression will almost magically ease once the demand for sugar is met.
Reasons for Sugar Cravings
Because eating is so intimately connected with our biochemistry and our emotions, we “digest” sugar on many levels. If you pay attention, you may find there’s a pattern to when you crave sugar, such as after a stressful day at work, monthly just before your period or seasonally when the amount of light in our days grows short. For others, sugar binges may be connected to the kinds of foods they’ve already eaten that day, or with a daily ritual such as finishing a project or sitting down to watch a favorite TV show.
Common Causes for Sugar Cravings
Stress. Any stressful situation can lead to poor eating habits. Stress increases cortisol levels, which initially dampen hunger. But once the stress has eased hunger hormones quickly ramp up inciting us to refuel our bodies. This can lead many women with stressful jobs and lifestyles to recurring patterns of nighttime cravings, over-eating and unwanted weight gain. Chronic stress can lead to adrenal fatigue, which can turn into systemic exhaustion. Chronic stress requires you to use increasing amounts of sugar and caffeine for quick energy boosts to continue functioning during the day. It becomes a vicious cycle.
Hormonal Changes. When estrogen is low and progesterone is also decreasing, usually just before menstruation, beta-endorphin levels are also at their lowest. These cyclical hormonal and neurotransmitter fluctuations may explain why many women who experience PMS also have cravings and seek the accompanying serotonin-endorphin bursts that high sugar foods can provide.
Acid-forming foods. For some women, eating a lot of red meat increases their cravings for sugar. Red meat is high in a pro-inflammatory molecule called arachidonic acid. Eating red meat increases an inflammatory response (cascade) in our bodies. If left unchecked, this inflammatory condition can become chronic and cause abnormal glucose metabolism, ultimately leading to insulin resistance. Choosing anti-inflammatory foods high in omega-3-fatty acids, as well as those that are alkalizing and antioxidant-rich, such as fruits and vegetables, can offset the metabolic damage and the cravings associated with this type of diet.
A lack of joy or sweetness in life. Many things in life can affect women’s serotonin and beta-endorphin levels. The joy we find in our lives speaks to our biochemistry. So when we’re lacking positive energy and happiness, it’s not surprising that we seek to fill that void with sugar. It’s important for you to have some fun and enjoy yourself, and take some time to nurture YOU. Take a break from the responsibilities of raising a family, working a job and managing a household, and do this on a regular basis. The difference it could make may astonish you.