Senior Health and Sugar Addiction

sugar addiction

Ah, sugar. It’s one of those treats we learn to love from a very early age. From powdered donuts to sugary sodas to birthday cake, sugar is a cornerstone of our day-to-day lives. Many meals end with dessert, a sweet bite of something that satisfies.

For some of us, sugar is a “take it or leave it” kind of thing. But for most of us, sugar feels like a staple that we absolutely must have. There’s a reason for that.

Sugar addiction is “a measurable, physiological phenomenon that many people suffer from.” That’s what Dr. Ken Berry told the popular cooking website Taste of Home. “Sugar addiction makes it very difficult for many people to make the dietary improvements needed to improve their health.”

This can make it tough to “quit” sugar or even to cut back and have it only in moderation. But cutting back can be very important to senior health, as numerous studies have shown a clear link between adverse health issues and sugar consumption. For instance, sugar is known to lead to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease[1]. Harvard Health reports that diets high in sugar can increase blood pressure, put strain on the liver, and lead to inflammation and weight gain. A study in the International Journal of Cancer points out that some cancers are more likely to occur if you have a high sugar intake. And in addition to the obvious dental health issues that can arise, too much sugar has actually been associated with depression and mood disorders[2].

To make matters worse, when we start consuming sugar, our brain really wants to keep it coming. This happens as the brain rewires itself to actually crave sugar, thus making you feel all sorts of awful withdrawal symptoms when you try to reduce your consumption of it[3].

That might make it sound like you’re fighting a losing battle. But there are ways to overcome your cravings for sugar. The first step is determining if you are addicted to sugar or not.

How Do You Know if You’re Addicted to Sugar?

There are several ways that you can tell if you’re addicted to sugar. Here are some points to ponder if you’re wondering if you are addicted to the sweet stuff.

·         You eat more sugar than you let others know about. If you choose to sneak a second piece of cake or wait until the house is quiet before sneaking downstairs to raid that last slice of pie, you’re enjoying a sugar rush while hiding it.

·         You make deals with yourself. If you tell yourself “I’ll start on my diet tomorrow” so you can have that cheesecake right now, or if you sprinkle sugar on your cereal and tell yourself you’ll make up for it by skipping dessert, chances are you’re trying to justify the sugar you consume.

·         You need more. As your tolerance for sugar builds up, you might find that one scoop of ice cream isn’t enough. Now you need two, or three. It’s similar to drinking caffeine, in that over time, your body becomes desensitized to it, and it takes three cups of coffee instead of just one to get you going in the morning.

·         You constantly crave something sweet. As you binge on sugar, your blood sugar levels go up. But when your body’s insulin kicks in, it lowers those blood sugar levels. That can lead to low blood sugar, which your body sees as you needing more sugar, which leads to the craving.

·         You eat it even if you’re not hungry. If you aren’t physically hungry, you aren’t likely to reach for carrots or celery. But you might immediately agree to have a piece of cake, even if you’re already quite full.

·         You get emotional relief from it. If you find yourself reaching for a pint of Ben & Jerry’s when you are feeling low, you might be using sugar as a way to mask your emotions. If you are dealing with depression, anxiety, serious life stressors or you are simply bored, sugar might be your first thought for easing that problem and your feelings.

·         You’re deficient in other nutrients. How do you know this? You start craving salty foods. What’s happening there? Your body isn’t getting enough healthy proteins because your caloric intake is all about sugars. So it’s telling you that you need something savory – something that will counteract the deficiency of protein and other nutrients.

·         You can’t go too long without it. If you do, you suffer withdrawal symptoms. It often takes a day or so for those to kick in, but once they do, they can make you miserable. That’s why experts recommend slowly cutting back on sugar instead of going cold-turkey[4]. It’s important to note that even if you follow the detox rules we’ve listed below, you might still suffer from some withdrawal symptoms. Before you begin your detox from sugar, consider an emergency response solution, such as the affordable options from Alert1, to help maintain your good health, safety, and peace of mind.

·         You feel bad about wanting sugar. If you are feeling guilty about how much sugar you eat, then there might be a problem that needs addressing. Talk to your doctor or therapist about what is going on in your life and how sugar makes you feel. You’re quite likely to find some help for what could very well be a sugar addiction.

Okay, I’m Addicted. So What?

Addiction to sugar becomes a problem because it sparks the reward center in your brain. Your brain sees sugar as something pleasant and wants more of it. The more you have, the more those reward centers light up. According to WebMD, that sugar “rush” quickly becomes a habit.

Physically, simple sugars, such as those found in candy bars or sodas, are broken down by your body into glucose. This happens very quickly. That means you get the “rush” that peps you up in the afternoon, for example. That sends your blood sugar levels up.

But what goes up must come down. That’s why you feel that awful “crash” an hour or so later, when the glucose has made its way through your system and your blood sugar levels fall. That change in blood sugar can make you feel shaky, weak, lightheaded, or even irritable. When you feel that way, you tend to reach for something sweet to bring your blood sugar levels back up. This begins the vicious cycle that keeps you reaching for more and more sugar throughout the day.

When you start to feel shaky and weak, it’s good to have the peace of mind that you can reach out for help if you need it. That’s one more reason why a medical alert system with fall detection is a good idea for seniors.

How to Safely Detox From Sugar

Remember that sugar affects the brain’s reward system[5]. To put it simply, sugar makes you feel good – at first. But just like being addicted to other substances, you soon need even more to maintain that rush of pleasure. And when you start using less of it, you can face symptoms of withdrawal. You can expect to experience some or all of the following[6]:

·         Depression and anxiety

·         Insomnia or other sleep issues

·         Difficulty concentrating or other cognitive problems

·         Cravings for sugar or carbohydrates

·         Headaches

·         Feeling light-headed or dizzy

·         Fatigue

·         Nausea

Cutting back on sugar “cold turkey” tends to have an adverse effect, as the symptoms of withdrawal can hit quickly and hard. They can be tough to get through. That’s why it’s better to slowly taper off the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis. Here are some tips on how to do that safely.

·         Cut back on one thing each day. If your daily routine starts with yogurt, try replacing the sugar-laden food with protein, such as a veggie omelet. If you drink three sodas each day, start by replacing one of those sodas with water. If you eat ice cream after dinner, switch to fruit instead.

·         Stock up on unsweetened snacks. Fill your pantry with a variety of nuts and seeds. Hard-boiled eggs, bite-size veggies with hummus, whole fruits such as bananas or apples, make excellent choices if you need a snack.

·         Check your habits. When you reach for something sweet, stop for a moment. Are you doing this because you’re really hungry, or because it’s a habit? If you’re hungry, reach for something healthier. If you’re not hungry, find something to distract you.

·         Load up on protein and fiber. Oxford University Press tells us that protein can make you feel fuller longer, and that can keep you from reaching for something sweet. It can also help give you an energy boost. Look to high-fiber foods to feel full longer.

·         Stay hydrated. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you don’t like plain drinking water, add a little natural flavor, such as a squeeze of lemon or lime.

·         Avoid artificial sweeteners. It might seem to make sense to turn to zero-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar itself, but that can actually defeat your efforts. Some of these sweeteners lead to metabolic changes that can make your cravings even worse[7].

·         Manage your stress. Many of us use sugar to combat feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or depression. Focusing on stress-relieving techniques can be much better for you than candy or soda.

·         Stay realistic. There will be times when you “fall off the wagon” and reach for the ice cream. That’s okay. The idea is to gradually cut back. Be kind to yourself!

Stay Safe During Your Sugar Detox

When you’re backing away from sugar, remember that you might experience all sorts of withdrawal symptoms, including dizziness, trouble concentrating, or feeling faint. That’s why it’s a good idea to have a medical alert pendant around your neck at all times. Some of the withdrawal symptoms, though they might be brief, can increase your fall risk. Fall prevention is vital to good health as you get older, so it’s important to have peace of mind right there at your fingertips. An Alert1 Medical Alert is the ideal companion for seniors concerned with health and well-being. Look into our affordable options today to figure out which one is best for you.