I did not get to be 300 pounds by eating only sugary foods. They played a major role in my weight issues, however. So much so that during the 10 years I was morbidly obese, my favorite breakfast was brownies.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, I am 100 percent certain I ate even more sugar than the average American does. That's pretty bad, considering that most Americans consume an astonishing 28 teaspoons every day, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
I would have argued that sugar was not making me fat or hungry. (Not that I knew what I was talking about at that point.) Instead of blaming my endless hunger and uncontrollable weight gain on poor food choices, I blamed it on:
-A slow metabolism, which I did not even have
-A thyroid problem, which I did not have either
-Genetics: My genetics were fine
-Bad luck: Luck has nothing to do with weight
-Anything but sugar
Like so many things in my life that I thought were true, this one was not. The truth was that refined sugar was not my friend.
Refined sugars were in my favorite foods, and I'm not just talking about sweets. The cereal I ate, the ketchup I squirted on hamburgers, the dressings I saturated my salad greens with, and even the yogurt I consumed had substantial amounts of added sugars. I never gave them a second thought.
However, as I began my final diet that would help me lose half my body weight, I drastically reduced the amount of added sugars I consumed.
The funny thing is that I did not do it on purpose, but it happened naturally because I stopped eating junk and started eating whole foods.
Over the years, I have read a lot of research on sugar and weight. Like so many things in science, there are conflicting findings. Some studies say all sugars are bad, and others--like one in a January 2013 issue of the "Journal of the American Medical Association"--says that fructose seems to be worse than glucose in terms of increasing hunger.
Dr. Richard Johnson, physician at the University of Colorado and author of "The Fat Switch," postulates that fructose (found in many processed foods) decreases sensitivity to the appetite-controlling hormone leptin. This decrease in sensitivity makes us hungrier after eating sugar and contributes to weight gain and eventual obesity.
Sugar excites the brain in much the same way that drugs do, according to a study published in "Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews." This would indicate that sugar does indeed have addictive qualities that make you crave it. And because you may feel hungrier after consuming sugar, you are probably going to reach for more high-sugar foods.
I know that happened to me. The more sugar I ate, the hungrier I felt, and the foods I wanted were almost always high-sugar foods. Truthfully, I never craved carrots, but I sure did crave--and eat--carrot cake.
The sugar-hunger cycle is similar to a carousel that keeps going round and round. The only way to get off the sugar cycle and beat the hunger that comes after consuming added sugars is to throw the brakes on the carousel and stop.
I follow simple guidelines to keep my sugar intake down and avoid the cycle of eating sugar and craving more food.
1. I read the entire label of unfamiliar foods to find out if there are any forms of sugar. I look for glucose, dextrose, fructose, and other common forms of sugar.
2. I know the recommended limits. The American Heart Association recommends keeping your added sugar intake to 100 calories a day if you are a woman and 150 calories a day if you are a man. That's not much.
3. I do not limit fruits and vegetables. Although fruits and some vegetables have naturally occurring sugars, the overall nutritional profile of each makes the sugars in the food balance out.
4. I don't justify adding sugar to foods. Honey and other natural sweeteners have some marginal nutritional values, but they are still sugar. I am careful about adding these to foods or drinks.
Give yourself at least 10 days to acclimate to eating less sugar. Be prepared for cravings to creep up when you are tired or around sugary foods. Say "no" to those cravings, and over time you will conquer your sugar craving and stop the cycle of eating a bunch of sugar, feeling hungry, and eating more sugary food.