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Episode 124: Is Sugar REALLY That Bad?? (Halloween Edition)

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It was the first week of November, 2003. I was 11 years old and had my stash of Halloween candy stuffed into the corner of my closet.

I was old enough that my mom didn't throw part of it away or moderate my intake, so I did what a lot of kids would do at one of their first chances at unlimited candy... I ate it. All of it. 

Each night after dinner when everyone had gone to bed, I would pull out the giant bag, put it on my bed, and eat while watching Nick at Night. 

This was the first time I ever abused food. I ate it in secret, felt unable to say no to the draw of the sweet treats lurking in my closet, and felt ashamed at my lack of willpower. 

At the time I of course was utterly unaware of the myriad of ways that food affects our body. So I didn't make the connection when my forehead became covered in tiny bumps after a week of eating handfuls of candy each night. 

Looking back now, I know that was the beginning. The beginning of my sugar and carb addiction, the beginning of my toxic relationship with food, the beginning of my candida overgrowth, my leaky gut, my hypothyroidism, my hashimotos, all of it. 

So when a podcast listener reached out asking if sugar really is as bad as everyone makes it out to be, my knee jerk reaction is a resounding yes. 

But I try not to let my emotions or my own baggage overtake the advice I give or the opinions I share. So today we're talking about how sugar actually affects our body and brain, and how to maintain a healthy relationship with it through challenging holidays like Halloween. 

Sugar's Affect on Our Body

 "We know [sugar] impacts your vanity: weight gain, belly fat, breakouts, skin irritation, wrinkles, aging skin, tooth decay, and hair loss.... Eating sugar has been linked to: inflammation, migraine headaches, anxiety, brain fog, trouble sleeping, weakened eyesight, gum disease, heart disease, increased cholesterol, asthma, suppressed immunity, kidney damage, nonalcoholic fatty liver, overworked pancreas, arthritis, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and leptin resistance... sugar increases the risk of developing certain cancers... and of course, glucose intolerance and diabetes." -Breaking Up with Sugar

Sugar's Affect on Our Psyche

  •  Sugar represents survival to our brain. The sweetness of fruit indicated its safety when we were hunter-gatherers. It gave us fast fuel when we needed to run away from predators or travel long distances by foot. And it helped us to store fat during times of famine. 
  • Even as babies, when we cry and our mother feeds us milk, we start forging the connection in our brain that sugar equals comfort, joy, and connection.
  • If sugar has been around forever, you may ask yourself why it's only in recent years that obesity, food addiction, and lifestyle diseases associated with high sugar intake have spiked like they have. You can thank the food industry that has found ways to basically super charge our sugar (for example, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than table sugar), put sugar in everything, and combine it with processed foods that are devoid of protein and fiber (which would help lower our blood sugar spike). This lights up the reward pathways in our brain like sugar has never been able to when it was coming from natural sources. 
  • In our culture of hustle-harder, I'll sleep when I'm dead, phone addiction, negative news, comparison-syndrome, connected but disconnected, and crazy stress levels...our brains and bodies are on constant overdrive and are driven even more towards sugar for a boost in our mood and energy.
  • "Rats respond to excessive sugar intake with bingeing, tolerance, and withdrawal, signs such as chattering teeth, tremors, head shakes, a drop in body temperature, increased anxiety, and depression. All in the name of sugar! What's more, when the rats withdrawing from sugar were placed in water, they were less likely to swim or climb out, and more likely to passively float. They had lost their will to survive!" -Breaking Up with Sugar
  • Because sugar gives such a high, artificial dopamine spike, your brain will start to shut down dopamine receptors in response to long term consumption. Which is why you end up needing more and more to experience the same level of joy, comfort, and satisfaction.

Is it Better to Eliminate or Moderate?

Truth be told, this is a decision you have to come to on your own or with the 1:1 support of a coach like me. 

Some people need to treat sugar like the addiction it is and cut it out the same way an alcoholic would cut alcohol out. Cold turkey, no cheating, no moderation.

For others, that approach only sets them up to have a worse relationship with sugar and leads them to cycles of restriction and bingeing. In which case you may do better allowing yourself a square of dark chocolate or a spoonful of ice cream each night.

How Much is Too Much?

"Sugar intake per capita in the UK has more than doubled since 1950 and with that, the obesity rate has quadrupled." -Breaking Up with Sugar

So with sugar being added to everything and with these processed foods being engineered to override your hunger/fullness cues, you may be interested in having a specific measurement to keep your sugar intake in check.

The general recommendation is no more than 100 calories (6 tsp or 24 grams) of added sugar per day (so no, you don't have to count the sugar found in fruits, veggies, or whole grains). 

How to Moderate During Holidays Like Halloween?

Moderation is a multifaceted skill when it comes to food and it starts with your mindset. I've worked with many clients who approach moderation like this: I'll eat super clean all week, and then on the weekends I can eat whatever I want. 

That is not moderation, that still falls under the category of restriction and bingeing. 

Instead, remove the limitations around what days you're allowed to have sugar, and simply come to the agreement with yourself that if you want sugar you can have it, but it has to be the proper portion size (i.e. around 100 calories). 

In the context of Halloween, don't set Halloween as a day to go full-fuck-it after which you'll "be good" again. Halloween is just another day, where maybe instead of eating a cookie out of your pantry, you'll have a small handful of candy corn or a kids bag of skittles.

And if you do go a little overboard, practice BAMO: Breathe, Accept that you went overboard, and Move On immediately (as opposed to beating yourself up and further spiraling).

Remember, one day of debauchery won't kill you or destroy your results, but if you spiral because of the debauchery and say fuck it for the rest of the holiday season, that's a different story.

Finally remember that moderation isn't only about mindset, it's about physically setting yourself up to be able to moderate: never let yourself get starving, eat a diet of 90% whole foods, and intentionally develop coping skills that have nothing to do with food (getting better sleep, meditation, breathing, calling a friend, exercising, reading, singing, and removing negativity from your life as much as possible). 

Need help navigating your relationship with sugar through the holiday season? Click here to get on the Follow Your Gut wait list, through November and December I'll be here to help you stay accountable, and enjoy your holidays without the dreaded holiday weight gain. 

Remember, only those on the waitlist will get a special early bird discount code sent to them! ;)


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