045: How sugar affects your brain and how to deal with cravings

In today’s episode, I’m chatting all about sugar cravings and how I deal with them, especially during the holiday season.

EPISODE 032 Seed Cycling with Ali Damron Lac 1

Short transcript:

During the holidays, it’s pretty much an avalanche of sugary treats. I think it’s important to note that the holidays can’t derail your fitness and nutrition progress. Focus on the healthy habits that make you feel good, enjoy the holidays, and give yourself grace. I thought for today I’d talk about sugar cravings, especially since Halloween is tomorrow and from now until New Year’s, there’s a chance that some type of dessert will be staring at you in the face for the next three months. Let’s chat about sugar cravings, why sometimes they’re more prevalent and intense than others, and what I do when I’m constantly craving sweet treats. 

Here’s what happens to your brain when you consume sugar:

Sugar affects your dopamine response, which is your brain’s reward system. Frequent consumption of sugar affects the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors in the brain. Over time, it takes more and more sugar to attain the same level of sugar high in the brain, which causes you to crave more. Rodents in studies exhibited the same response to sugar that they did to addictive drugs, like heroin and cocaine. They also exhibited intense withdrawal symptoms when their access to sugar was removed, like teeth chattering, head shaking, and paw tremors. (Source.)

When you’re constantly exposed to sugar, you will crave it more and more often. It’s also added to everything, whether it’s being used as a preservative or to improve taste (like in pasta sauce!). 

Here’s what I do if I feel like I’m craving sugar more often than usual:

I try to assess if I’m overtired, hungry, or dehydrated. These three things usually cause me to turn into a bit of a sugar monster because I’m seeking cheap energy. When I have a ton of sugar, I feel energized for about a half hour and then crash hard. If I’m sleep deprived, I go to bed a little earlier that night. If I haven’t had a real meal in a bit, I make myself something nutritious to eat before diving into the chocolate chip bag. 

I also assess my stress levels. The dopamine response from sugar can provide relief when you’re feeling anxious or stressed. If I know I’m more stressed out than usual, I’ll take a little CBD, meditate for 5 minutes, or spend some time outside with the girls. 

– I focus on more balance in my meals. Sugar cravings are usually a good clue that your diet isn’t macro-balanced. Each meal and snack should contain a mix of protein, fats, and carbs. This combination is going to stabilize blood sugar and help prevent sugar cravings. I think it’s important to have some type of carb with most meals, even if it’s a vegetable or fruit based carb for satiety. 

– Once or twice a year, I cut out processed sugary foods cold turkey for about a month. This helps to reset my cravings. I know it’s usually time for a reset when fruit doesn’t taste sweet to me. If biting into an apple tastes like water, I know it’s time for a little reset. I’m not super strict about it – like I still have dates, honey and maple syrup – but I do avoid processed sugary treats like cakes, cookies, and brownies. 

– I eat it and enjoy it! If I eat a dessert, I want it to be worth my while! I focus on things that look indulgent and exciting. Store-bought stuff doesn’t usually do the trick for me. If I find myself truly craving something, like a pizookie from Oregano’s, nothing but a true pizookie is going to quell the beast. I’m a huge believer that deprivation leads to binging. If you want something, eat it and enjoy every bite! Then move on with your life. 

– My thoughts on healthified sweet treats: I think they’re awesome for more frequent treats. If you’re the type of person who wants a brownie every single day, I think having a sweet potato brownie on a regular basis is a healthier choice than a Duncan Hinds brownie or one from the local bakery because you’re getting bonus nutrients, like healthy fats and fiber. I’m a huge believer in balance, and absolutely think that sweet treats can and should be a part of your life. If there are healthy treats you like to have on hand, especially if you’re the type of person who likes a sweet bite after meals, there are so many amazing options out there, made with whole ingredients and less refined flours and sugars. 

Some of my favorite healthier dessert options: 

Pumpkin cheesecake

Crumble in a jar

Raw brownies

Microwave chocolate mug cake

Double chocolate protein muffin 

Chocolate avocado chia pudding

Click here to get 21 days of Les Mills on Demand for FREE. This is the perfect way to try new workouts during the busy holiday season, especially if you’re traveling or your schedule changes. The instructors are amazing and there’s so much variety to choose from. 

Thank you so much for listening and for all of your support with the podcast! Please leave a rating or review if you enjoyed this episode. If you leave a rating, head to this page and you’ll get a little “thank you” gift from me to you. 

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  1. Aysha on October 31, 2019 at 5:30 am

    Amazing post. I myself deal through something very similar while consuming sugar.

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