Sugar. Like the ex who annoyingly hangs around after your breakup, it brings so much (temporary) comfort yet only leads to bad news in the long run. We'd love to banish it from our lives forever, but why does it have to feel so good at the time?! Anyone who's experienced a sugar craving can attest that when it hits, it's hard to focus on anything else until chocolate/doughnuts/ice cream is procured. But the second after you take the last bite, the guilt, bloating, and crash sets in. Ugh.
Assuming we weren’t the only ones struggling with this complicated relationship, we spoke with celeb trainer and fitness expert, Patrick Murphy (he got J.Law in shape for The Hunger Games—enough said) and asked him to share the secret to ending this toxic relationship for good (with sugar, that is—your ex situation you’ll have to figure out on your own).
Keep reading to find out why we crave sugar, what it does to our bodies, and a simple way to kick your bad habit to the curb!
Here's the scary truth about sugar addiction: It's a real thing. Numerous studies have shown that sugar and sweetness can induce the same feelings of reward and craving that come from addictive drugs like cocaine and morphine. Ready for another disturbing fact? According to Murphy, the average American consumes more sugar in one year than our ancestors did in their entire lifetimes. Yikes. A quick trip down the grocery aisle is proof—our new, beautifully packaged, over processed snacks are often loaded with secret sugars (and not-so-secret sugars—curse you, Oreos).
Why Do We Crave It?
Now that we've established the facts, we must do what all curious children do when presented with unsettling news they don't understand: ask why. "We aren't born with sugar cravings," Murphy says. "We develop them over time with our food and beverage choices." Think of it this way: We have thousands of taste buds, which send messages to our brain. If we keep sending the same signal—sugary sweet signals, in this case—then our brain will learn to crave it when it doesn't receive it.
Sugar and Our Bodies
You might know that sugar isn’t the best for you, but do you know how exactly it affects your body? Allow us to break it down for you. First, let's establish that we are discussing fructose—not glucose, which is a simple sugar that your cells transform into energy. Fructose, on the other hand, can only be metabolized by your liver and negatively changes the way your brain recognizes how much you consume. As a result, you usually end up eating way, way more than you need because your brain thinks you're still hungry.
"[Excess] sugar wreaks havoc on many of the body's organs," Murphy says. "It creates a plethora of pro-inflammatory responses and is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer." He says that every time we give into our sugar cravings, we turn on the pro-inflammatory response to disease and rapid aging. Not good.
How to Quit
So, the million-dollar question: How do we quit? Murphy says to do the same thing we did when we developed the addiction: Train our brains. "Now it's the time to change your choices and give your taste buds the chance to develop a craving (or liking for) the opposite of sweet," he says.
If quitting cold turkey sounds intimidating, Murphy has a couple tips. "Start incorporating foods and beverages that are bitter—like 85% dark chocolate, green tea, endive, kale, apple cider vinegar—and tart or sour—like plain yogurt, fermented food, lemons, Granny Smith apples." He says that adding these foods to your daily consumptions will help reset your taste buds.
We had to ask him—is it okay to cheat, even a little? A future without Swedish Fish, however healthy it may be, does sound a bit drab. "Everyone has a different relationship and history with food and beverages," Murphy says. "I try to get most of my clients to follow the 10-90 rule—go for the cheat only 10% of the time, which is not often." But then he follows with this little tidbit: "After you reset your taste buds, you won't feel like you're missing out on anything. You'll actually crave superfoods like berries or dark chocolate for dessert." Sounds like a plan.
One Last Thing
One last thing—lest you think you're somehow beating the system by swapping sugar for artificial sweeteners, allow us to banish that notion for you immediately (sorry). "Beware of artificial sweeteners!" Murphy warns. “Since they are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, they will heighten sugar cravings even beyond what regular sugar will set you up for." He says to avoid all products that have added sugars and instead look for words like "unsweetened" or "no added sugar" on ingredient labels. You can read more about the artificial sweeteners you should avoid and more natural alternatives on Murphy's health and fitness blog here.
On days we're really craving something sweet and nothing will appease us, we turn to Crosby's Cookies. You can satiate your sweet craving with things like thin mint squares and cinnamon rolls—all made without sugar. Instead, he uses natural sweeteners like this one, which he sells on his website. (You can also DIY a delectably sweet smoothie by watching our Facebook Live with Crosby right here.)
So—are you ready to leave your addiction behind in the dust? We are! If you're a constant snacker, we've got some tips for you on how to snack smarter.
This story was originally published on August 8, 2014, and has since been updated.