Sugar: A Biography
Sugar is perhaps the single biggest enemy of weight-loss and long term health. It is, ironically also one of the most necessary elements used to keep our bodies running and functioning properly. How is this possible?
We’ve talked before about the necessary functions of sugar in our body (which we refer to as carbs, glucose, or glycogen). Those are what I’ll refer to as “positive” or “good” sugars. They are consumed in the form of slow digesting and fibrous foods such as vegetables and fruit, and at the proper time when our body can use them as fuel. However simple sugars, like “raw sugar” that is extracted, processed, and re-added to our foods (like soda, candy, cereal, etc.) is where the major problems lie. These are our “bad” sugars.
Although sugar is not inherently bad, it is very difficult for our bodies to make good use of added sugars. This is usually because once processed, it is VERY easy to over-consume and therefore overload our liver with one giant sugar dump. Over time, this rapid over-consumption can cause hormone imbalances, diabetes, heart problems, inflammation, and autoimmune conditions.
Why We Crave It and How To Fix It
Necessary Fuel: In the simplest terms, we crave sugar because we need it. All too often, when people try to start “eating clean” they immediately eliminate every trace of sugar from their diet, including fruit, potatoes, rice, and corn. I admit, I’m a reformed Keto dieter. Trust me, the sugar cravings never end. Your body will search for the energy it needs. (The idea behind Keto is that your system begins to feed on fat instead of sugar, however I have found as an athlete this led to detrimental effects in performance…and joy.)
Solution: Use sugar to your advantage. Choose “good” sugars and eat them in the form they were created. Eat fruit (instead of fruit juice with added sugar), vegetables, and healthy whole grains that are as unprocessed as possible. Eat these foods before, during, and immediately after your workouts so that they can serve their intended purpose. Have SOME of these foods with every meal so that your body can rely on a consistent energy source.
Magnesium Deficiency: Most people, and especially most women these days are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium is a co-factor for most of the enzymes in your body and helps regulate hormones, muscle repair, menstrual cycles, and mood. Guess what else it controls? Sugar cravings! If you struggle with intense sugar cravings, especially you ladies around that time of the month, magnesium may be a miracle supplement for you.
Solution: Supplement magnesium on a daily basis. Speak with your coach about recommended brands and dosages.
Calorie Deficiency: Are you a midnight milkshake craver? Afternoon candy junkie? These are signs that your body desperately needs more fuel and is searching for it in the quickest way it knows how. Simple sugar.
Solution: Don’t let your body get desperate. Be kind to your system and eat some fat, protein, and healthy carbs throughout the day so that you don’t end up on candy bender. Consuming enough calories throughout the day will help keep your blood-sugar stable and your sugar cravings minimal.
Bacterial Imbalance: The research on this one is still new, but the bacteria in gut seems to be a tyrannical dictator when it comes to sugar consumption. A compromised gut will show symptoms like irregular bowel movements, leaky gut, IBS, adult acne, insomnia, extreme fatigue, and autoimmune conditions. If this sounds like you, your belly’s bacterial biome may need a little restructuring.
Solution: The best first step, as always, is to consume real whole foods. Secondly, consider taking a probiotic supplement and incorporating probiotic rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha into your diet on a regular basis. If this is a persistent problem for you, talk with your coach about a more detailed protocol to reset your system and banish those pesky sugar cravings.