Sugar arouses lots of emotion! Does the idea of cutting back seem impossible, or make you really cross? In your experience, if you give it up, do you just end up binging on it? It’s hardly surprising if you have a strong reaction to looking at your sugar intake; sugar cravings are not so different from addictive-drug cravings.
Unfortunately, the amount of sugar we consume has increased dramatically in just a couple of generations, and your intake may be far higher than you realize. It’s everywhere now, in bread, in cereal, in yoghurt.
The more sugar you consume, the more weight you are likely to carry. Many people factor in ‘sweet treats’ when trying to lose weight. But it’s not just about the calories. Sugar can block your weight loss in a number of different ways.
Jessica could never understand how her best friend resisted sweet desserts. Even after a big meal, Jessica always had room for a rich, creamy chocolate pudding. Whenever they shared a chocolate gateau at their favorite café, her friend was happy with an only a spoonful or two, leaving Jessica to polish off the lot.
She couldn’t just have a taste. It wasn’t possible. If it was there, she had to eat it. Recently, Jessica started reducing her portion sizes. But as she found it hard to cut back on the cakes and biscuits, she decided to set herself a daily calorie allowance for sugary foods.
She was therefore shocked to discover that it’s not just about the calories; that sugar can block your weight loss in other ways. Jessica knew that avoiding sugar completely wouldn’t work for her. Based on past experience,
she reckoned she could do a day or two before she caved in. This can be counterproductive, as this pattern of avoiding, then overeating sugar can make cravings worse. So, she decided to slowly reduce the amount of sugar she ate, whilst also putting strategies in place to help with the cravings. This ultimately helped her to significantly reduce her sugar intake.
Naturally occurring versus added sugars
Before we look at how sugar affects your weight, we need to look at the difference between naturally occurring sugars and added sugar. Sugars occur in fruit, vegetables, dairy products and many grains. When sugars occur naturally in foods, they are accompanied by other nutrients such as fiber, water, vitamins and minerals. We are designed to like sweet foods.
Naturally sweet foods are generally safe to eat and a good source of nutrients. The problems occur when sugars are added. Sugar is not just added to obvious foods such as ice cream, chocolate, biscuits and puddings. Many processed foods, including savory (salty and spicy) ones, also contain surprising amounts added in.
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Don’t shoot the messenger!
I want to warn you—before you read the rest of this article that you may not like what you read. You may even have an extreme reaction. One of my course participants told me that she felt really angry at me when she watched the video on sugar. All I did was lay out the facts.
I am not saying that you have to give up sugar. I’m not even saying that you have to reduce it! That’s not up to me! I’m just giving you the facts, so you can make your own informed choices. What I am saying is that the more added sugars you consume, the harder it is to have vibrant health and the harder it is to lose weight.
Before you read the next sentence, these are not my words, but those of researchers in their paper ‘Added Sugars Drive Nutrient and Energy Deficit in Obesity: A New Paradigm’, published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal:
‘Although edible, added sugars cannot be considered a “food”’.
Why added sugars make it hard for you to lose weight؟
I’ve mentioned that added sugar can block your weight loss in a number of different ways. Below, I explain how. The list applies to added, not naturally occurring, sugars:
1- It is easy to eat too many calories
Added sugar is high in calories but not filling. This means that you can easily eat a lot without feeling full and therefore consume a lot of calories.
2- It can trigger you to overeat
Overconsuming added sugars affects hormones involved in appetite and fat storage. This can lead to a kind of ‘internal starvation’, which makes you feel hungry. In this way, added sugar can trigger you to overeat, particularly high-sugar and high-fat foods.
3- You may burn less fat
Added sugar may make you less sensitive to the fat-burning hormone leptin. This means that if you eat it whilst trying to lose weight, you may not be burning as much fat as you could.
4- Added sugar affects your brain chemistry, encouraging binging
It affects your neurochemistry in a similar way to addictive drugs, but more mildly, and can cause cravings, binging and withdrawal. Some studies even suggest that sugar cravings are comparable to drug cravings. Do you restrict your sugar intake, then binge on it?
This is when sugar can become addictive. You may need to consume ever-increasing amounts of high-sugar foods to get the same effect. Initially, you consume sugary foods to feel good. Over time, the motivation shifts. You become driven to eat sugar to avoid or relieve negative feelings such as anxiety, depression or irritability.
5- Added sugars cause inflammation, disrupt hormones and deplete nutrients
To review: sugar increases inflammation, which is linked to weight gain, disturbs blood sugar balance and increases the risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. It also disrupts your hormones and gut bacterial balance. Sugar takes nutrients from your body, particularly B vitamins, which your body needs to stay in balance.
As sugar lacks vitamins and minerals but requires nutrients to be digested, the more added sugars you consume, the more nutrient depleted you are likely to become. Added sugars also affect your health in a number of other ways. As research shows, these can include the following:
- Affect your cholesterol levels and be bad for your heart
- Give you wrinkles and cause you to age faster
- Increase your risk of brittle bones and osteoporosis
- Cause gallstones
- Suppress your immune system
- Cause headaches and migraines
- Be bad for your digestive system
- Increase your risk of getting inflammatory bowel disease, some cancers, major depression and cataracts However much you like processed sugar, there’s no getting away from the fact that it harms your body!
Why artificial sweeteners make it hard for you to lose weight?
Artificial sweeteners are linked to weight gain. Like added sugar, artificial sweeteners enhance your appetite, so you are likely to eat more. However, even if you do not consume more calories, artificial sweeteners may still make you gain weight.
Your body is not designed to handle a sweet taste that has no calories. There is limited data on whether artificial sweeteners are addictive and whether they increase cravings for something sweet. It seems that they have some, but not all, of the effects of sugars on our brains. Scientists are divided in their views on their safety.
Animal studies have shown they can cause health problems, including brain tumors and bladder cancer. If you drink diet soft drinks daily, you have a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes. If you have two or more artificially sweetened drinks per day, your kidneys are twice as likely to not work properly.
Quick questionnaire Are sugar or artificial sweeteners contributing to your weight?
If you answer Yes to any of the questions, then sugar or artificial sweeteners may be making it harder for you to lose weight.
- Do you crave sugar?
- Do you consume sugar every day?
- Do you eat more sugar than you used to?
- Do you avoid sugar, then overeat/binge on it?
- Would you find sugar hard to give up?
- Are you resistant to the idea of cutting out sugar?
- Do you regularly consume artificial sweeteners?
- Do you frequently eat food that you have not made yourself without checking the ingredients for added sugars/artificial sweeteners?
Key things you have learned in this article
- Sugar can trigger you to overeat and encourage binging.
- If you consume sugar, you may burn less fat.
- Sugar can impact your body in a number of ways that make it harder to lose weight from disrupting your blood sugar and female hormone balance to increasing inflammation.
- Artificial sweeteners enhance your appetite, so you eat more. But even if you don’t eat more, you may still gain weight.