I’m the lifelong daydreamer and book hoarder turned nutritionist and wellness expert behind this blog and business.
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Read those words and the fiery-redhead spirit in me inflamed…
I get pretty defensive when it comes to protecting women from harmful media myths and nutrition hyperboles designed only to sensationalize & sell…
Needless to say, I think phrases like this one do a disservice and only serve to scare women.
But me? I’m all about better health being something that’s inspired and joyful!
That’s why today, I’m tackling 6 sweet little lies you might be believing about sugar, including:
-why the sugar v. cocaine argument is flawed
-should do a sugar detox?
-are artificial sweeteners like Splenda & stevia the answer?
-what you should be worried about when it comes to sugar
-the mindset reframe when it comes to finding balance with the sweet stuff!
Let’s get going, girlfriend!
I remember I was invited to dinner at a family friend’s house a few months ago. Over the blistered cherry-tomato chilean sea-bass and roasted squash, the discussion turned towards my education in nutrition. (Everybody looooves to pick my brain at the dinner table & I don’t blame them… our health is important and fascinating!)
The conversation pivoted off me to the general state of American’s diets…
She said, “You know… sugar is more addictive than cocaine.”
Having studied the science for the past 7 years, I nodded my head ever so slightly in a way that certainly didn’t suggest “yes” and wasn’t far from a “no”, politely being discreet about my disagreement and took an unrecognizable deep breath to let my frustration pass…
Because the truth?
The media, Google, social influencers, & even doctors misconstrue the actual science… twisting the research and bending it to make their side of the argument seem like the logical, fact-based reality.
But this comment? That sugar is more addictive than cocaine?
Most citations of it are referring to a study where rats were given the choice between pressing a level for a shot of cocaine or sugar straight into their tiny little veins…
But the part everyone leaves out? The big, lurking detail that changes it?
There was another variable here oft-undiscussed: the rats were restricted from having the sugar for all but 2 hours of the day. Because it wasn’t available all the time, the rats overconsumed & “got it when it was good.”
And other research shows that this spar-off between sugar and addictive drugs like cocaine doesn’t really hold up when that minor (ok, MAJOR) detail isn’t thrown in the mix.
The bottom line? Sugar does light up the same dopamine brain regions as addictions do, BUT the science doesn’t stand up to the claim it’s more addictive than drugs like cocaine & heroin.
We’re going to keep this one short & (sugary) sweet:
The Holocaust was evil. Robbing banks is evil. Mass school shootings are evil. Hate is evil. Eating sugar is not evil. Click To Tweet
In fact, the more guilt + shame you lay on yourself for “cheating” or eating sugar, the more likely you are to eat foods that make you feel better (which are usually… full of more sugar!)…
Aka: you fall into a vicious cycle of eating sugar to feel better, berating yourself for not keeping your health goals, and then eating more sugar because you feel bad about eating sugar!
Sorry, but those sugar-free candies and Starbucks syrups that make you feel like you’re walking away with a halo around your head aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Here’s the deal… “sugar-free” usually means one of two things:
#1: The glucose-type “sugar” in cookies, candies, or other treats has been subbed with another type of sugar called “fructose.” It’s still sugar, jsut not the same tyep.
These are things you see like sugar-free pink wafers in the cookie aisles or sugar-free gummies in the candy aisle. They were originally designed to be eaten by diabetics because high glucose (but not fructose!) levels can be quickly deadly for diabetics…. But, we now know they aren’t really that healthy for anyone: too much fructose can damage your liver, which one of your most important organs!
#2: “Sugar-free” can also mean sweetened with artificial sweeteners like Splenda, aspartame (remember those pink packets? My grandpa used to put 4… FOUR!!! in every cup of coffee he had), and even “natural” sweeteners like stevia.
But… there’s also a dark-side to these guys, too: artificial sweeteners mess with your microbiome (link here), moods, & even metabolism. In fact, many times, women avoiding sugar to lose weight or get their metabolism back on track find they actually GAIN weight by trying to sub sugar with these artificial sweeteners…
Spoiler alert: a sugar-free diet actually IS possible, but you’re going to hate it (and probably feel like you’re dying on it…)
Nothing gets my nutrition-educated goat like seeing an Instagram influencer, with 100K next to her name, storying about her “sugar-free” recipes.
And I’m not trying to pick on anyone, but I think it’s a disservice to all the women out there trying to sort through all of the confusing, conflicting information about diet + health…
The truth is, the way your body works, anything you eat with carbs turns into sugar when you eat it. AND, because most of your organs run on glucose as fuel, when you don’t eat enough sugar to power all your cells, your liver goes to work MAKING SUGAR all by ITSELF in a fancy-dancy named process called “gluconeogenesis.”
That’s right… your liver (the amazing, wonderful thing it is) can convert your fat and muscle into sugar if need be.
So… those “sugar-free” recipes and cookbooks that include sweet potatoes, avocados, dates, and more aren’t REALLY sugar-free at all. They just have more complex carbs in them (like sugar “trains”) that get broken up into sugar once you eat them.
The only way you can completely do a sugar free diet is if you go on a pretty extreme (pretty terrible tasting, IMO) diet that excludes all carbs & only includes:
-seasonings like salt + pepper
Which doesn’t sound very appetizing or fun to me at all!
This is one of those well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions that backfires, big time.
In the many women, I’ve worked with, “detoxing” sugar doesn’t work . Here’s why:
no. 1: It’s not realistic long-term. What you really want with sugar is to eat less of it and actually ENJOY what you do eat more… trying to cut it out entirely for a period in order to “start fresh” does absolutely nothing to help you develop a healthy mindset & habits around it when you end the detox.
no. 2: Restricting a food, psychologically, makes you want it more (remember the cute little rats “getting it while it’s good”?!). It perpetuates black & white thinking and truly causes even greater cravings for sugar, contributing to negative cycles and a terrible, unhappy relationship to food, that can progress into bingeing & weight gain.
no. 3: Your brain’s favorite type of fuel is glucose… your brain needs some glucose to run & the only other thing it can “eat,” unlike other organs, is a molecule called ketones. And you can only get ketones if you’re body is in starvation or you’re following a very, very, very low carbohydrate diet (ketone diet) that I don’t advise women to do long-term for thyroid and hormonal health.
“What?! You just spent most of this blog post yammering at us about how sugar isn’t evil?!
Now you’re saying we’ve got to worry about it?!”
Let me explain… the truth is that too much sugar at one time isn’t good for your body or brain. There are many, many reasons for this, but one of the most important:
Sugar is sort of “sticky” in your blood… which means that when you have too much of it floating around, it can stick to important things and coat them, creating inflammation and damage called “advanced glycation end products” (AGE’s).
You know when you let good honey sit too long and it gets kinda crystalized? It’s kindaaa like that. The sugar clumps and when you get lots of AGE’s building up, we know it can cause all sorts of bad things like Alzheimer’s, anxiety, inflammation, diabetes, fatigue, cancer… the whole shebang of side effects.
Here’s my take: I like to think of sugar like watering plants… realistically, a normal human should walk around with about a teaspoon of sugar floating in their blood (about 4 g at a time).
But the more you eat all at once, the harder your body has to work to take care of it all…
Kind of like drowning a plant by watering it with a bucket all at once… but, it’s not that the water itself is bad, it’s the quantity at which your pouring it on!
So, sugar is sticky subject. Literally.
But here’s the reframe I want you to keep in mind: sugar in and of itself isn’t the devil incarnate and a nice, even, relatively-low blood sugar is what you need for good moods and a vibrant, humming-with-energy body.
Don’t believe the media myths. And remember that drastic, deprivative steps like detoxes with sugar CAN backfire.
Instead of taking such drastic measures… I want you to think of eating sugar like watering a plant: Is this the amount my body really wants & needs? Am I going to feel good after eating this?
Or, am I about to eat a little too much and drowning myself like an overwatered plant with something that is harmful when eaten in BIG doses?
If after asking yourself this, you still feel like you’re addicted to sugar or can’t seem to stop, there might be other psychological factors & habits getting in the way: You might want to brush up this post ALL about cravings…
And, if you want to build a healthier relationship to food, including sugar, as well as get more energy, joy, and health along the way, I just announced my fall Nourishment Mastermind starting the end of September! It’s an exciting 3-month opportunity including BOTH an intimate supportive community and group coaching, but also private 1:1 sessions all along the way. Sound like something you could use? We’d love to have you join us! You can check out all the details HERE.
With an unexpected combo of creativity, positive psychology education, and neuronutrition on-lock I'm here as your nutritionist + wellness guide to help you nourish your mind and body, so you have the energy, focus, and confidence to go for your biggest dreams.
My mission is to equip creative women like you with the nutrition knowledge and wellness strategies to make sure you get to seize every opportunity for success + joy.
Hey, doll! I'm Erin.
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