Wednesday, February 20, 2013

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HEAL: Sugar Detox Failure Led to Lessons Learned

My sugar detox was going so well; a full 30 minutes of my 1.5 hour workout this morning was spent jogging while repeating the mantra "sugar is not my friend", I made myself all types of sugar-free and wholesome snacks,  and I maintained my commitment to "no added or refined sugar"...until 8 pm.  My husband unintentionally taunted me with his regular evening snack of crisp toast topped with Nutella, and I a doberman.  I ran to the freezer and grabbed a Trader Joe's mini-ice cream cone; "it's only 70 calories and 5 grams of's not that bad," I reasoned.  It unfortunately didn't stop there.  In my dopamine/serotonin induced stupor, I went on to shamelessly consume a chocolate cookie. My detox was officially over.

Onwards and upwards, a few good lessons were found in the ruins of my detox:
  • Consuming sugar makes you want more
    • What does this mean? Once I gave in to my first sweet treat, I immediately wanted more. There is a logical reason to all of this (a big thanks to Dr. Aaliya, @DrAaliya, for enlightening me on this process); as you consume sugar, your brain's pleasure center the nucleus accumbens receives a dopamine signal.  You consume more sugar because it makes you happy, but with  prolonged exposure, the signal weakens.  You have to consume more sugar to get the same effect.  Does this sound like the story of drug addiction or is it just me?  Check The Atlantic for a deep dive on this topic.
  • For serious addicts: minimize sugar consumption earlier in the day or delay it entirely until as late in the day as possible
    • Based on the process above, it seems to me that addicts should try to delay their initial sugar consumption (outside of fruit) as much as possible (in terms of time of day) so as to prevent the urge to consume more sugar after a first "exposure"
    • Following this strategy will also let you "save" your sugar intake for the goodies you absolutely must have
  • Set a daily sugar limit for yourself and don't exceed it
    • Sugar addict or not, it's almost impossible to avoid sugar entirely.  Just like most of us set a general calorie intake level for ourselves, we should also figure out a limit per day of added sugars (refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, etc).  For women, the American Heart Association recommends capping daily intake of added sugars at 6 teaspoons or 24 grams of sugar.  For men, the maximum recommended limit is 9 teaspoons or 36 grams of sugar per day. Some perspective: a can of coke contains 39 grams of sugar.   Also, set a cap on calories that come from sugary treats. 
  • Get creative with your snacks
    • Instead of reaching for honey to sweeten my afternoon yogurt, or adding a squirt of chocolate syrup to my morning yogurt-peanut butter smoothie, I came up with better snack alternatives to keep me full and sugar-free throughout the day
      • Cottage cheese topped with topped persian cucumbers and half an avocado
        • Spice with pepper, salt, and cayenne pepper
      • Yogurt, peanut butter, and banana shake
        • No sugar needed
      • Raw almonds and walnuts
        • That's it
      • Tea or coffee with plain non-fat half-and-half or your favorite plain creamer
        • You save yourself several grams of sugar from this small change alone
      • Be sure to drink plenty of water to prevent hunger that really stems from thirst
        • I have a BPA-free, clear bottle by Aladdin that I fill up at least twice a day - seeing my water consumption makes water more bearable to me than drinking it in a steel Sigg
I hope my failure provides you with valuable insights.  I know it did for me.

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