Why do most diets fail? Because many of the foods that we eat today are biologically addictive. That means that our food is so chemically engineered that it tricks our brains into thinking that our stomach needs more. This brings me to our current view on diets and of those who are overweight and obese. Do Americans simply have a complete lack of willpower or is food addiction a real thing? Today, I'm going to talk about the biology of food addiction and how to break free from the obsessive carb and sugar cycle that we all seem to be chained to.
Obesity is not driven by calories but by our dietary composition. What does that mean? It means that what you eat is so much more important than how much you eat. When sugar and flour hit our bodies, our systems react completely differently from when we eat vegetables, fats or protein. Sugar and flour cause our insulin levels to increase - and too much will make it skyrocket. When our insulin levels are up, it tells our body that sugar (and flour which converts to sugar) is our energy source and thus causes us to hold onto fat. So, even if you have lowered your overall caloric intake, but continue to eat sugars and flour, your body isn't in fat burning mode. It's actually in weight-gain mode.
Sugar and flour not only cause our bodies to hold onto weight but they are both also highly addictive. First, lets talk about sugar. When your brain senses sugar in the body it reacts in the same way that it would if you'd just had cocaine or heroin. Yes, you read that right. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, sugar is actually 8 x more addictive than cocaine! Sugar affects dopamine in your brain (A.K.A. your pleasure transmitter). That's why we fall over ourselves with happiness when we eat it - and why a lot of us are addicted. Unfortunately, the downer follows an hour or two later: our brains are looking for the dopamine that was there an hour ago and can't find it. This makes us angry, cranky and experience withdrawals. It's also what leads people to believe they have a "sweet-tooth". Hyman states, "Being addicted to sugar is a biological disorder, driven by hormones and neurotransmitters that fuel sugar and carb cravings — leading to uncontrolled overeating." Great, so our sugar cravings essentially control us.
Flour/gluten is also a highly inflammatory food and the culprit behind our addiction to certain carb laden foods. Inflammation in the body causes a rise in insulin, just like sugar (Not to mention, gluten can also be extremely toxic to the brain). According to an interview with Wheat Belly author, William Davis, "The effects of gliadin [protein of wheat] - derived opiate-like peptides can vary from individual to individual, with effects that include mind “fog,” triggering impulsive behavior, and anxiety, but most people experience appetite stimulation, causing an increase in calorie intake." Gluten, just like sugar, makes us want to eat more and can also be extremely addictive and toxic.
This causes me to question why and how Americans have become so hooked on sugar. For years, major food companies like Nabisco and Phillip Morris have been using scientists to create their food products so that people become more addicted to them. Michael Pollan frames it beautifully in his book, In Defense of Food: "Most of what we are consuming now is no longer from nature but of food science." This "food science" refers to the process of adding chemicals and sugars to foods which in turn trick our brains. As a result, sugar consumption in America has gone from 10lbs a year to over 150lbs per year. This has also lead to massive failures in many peoples' attempts to lose weight. Certain calories, like the sugar and flour in processed foods, make your fat cells hungry. So, overeating isn't the only issue here. The issue is that your hunger is being driven by the kinds of food that you eat, which then drives you to overeat.
As Americans, we are confronted by manufactured, processed foods everywhere that we go. "If you're an alcoholic, it's like sitting in a bar and trying not to drink" says Dr. Mark Hyman. How are you supposed to stay strong? Everywhere we look marketers are telling us to eat their latest low fat yogurt or sugar laden "protein" bar. It's nearly inescapable!!
As I mentioned above, sugar and flour/gluten are addictive and the more we eat it, the more we crave it. So, how do you break the addiction? Start with these four steps to help you break free from your sugar and carb addiction. Yes, there will be some tough moments, but think about it like you're breaking an addiction from a drug, because in essence, you are. Luckily, when you give your body what it really needs to succeed, you'll feel wonderful and vibrant.
1. Eat Real Food
It really is that simple. If it comes in a box or makes some kind of "health" claim, it's probably bad for you. Eat food that comes from the ground, our mother earth. i.e. lots of veggies, lean organic proteins and healthy fats. If a machine had to make it or do any kind of processing to it, don't put it in your mouth; it's just going to trick your brain back into addiction mode. This is one reason I trust Ora’s organic protein more than any other. Every single ingredient in their protein powder comes directly from the earth so I know exactly what I’m getting. No sugar here!
2. Focus on Healthy Fats
Fat is not what makes you fat, sugar does! Replace your sugar with high qualify, healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, nuts and grass-fed butter. These foods speed up your metabolism, balance your insulin levels and keep you feeling full longer.
3. Drink Enough Water
Water is key for detox and that is exactly what you are doing when you first break free from sugar. Drink water with a little bit of lemon to help clean out your body and move out toxins. If you're urinating a lot throughout the day then you're on the right track!
4. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is so important for recovery and to help curb cravings. When you don't get enough sleep, your body starts to crave sugar and carbs. Shoot for 8 hours of sleep every night.
Sources: IIN lecture with Dr. Mark Hyman "The Biology of Food Addiction", In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, Wheat Belly by William Davis and other IIN lectures.
Having trouble kicking your sugar habit? The author of this post, Darby Jackson, is the health coach for you! You can find out more about Darby on her blog here.