It’s almost as bad as alcohol.
“In 2012 about 56 million people died throughout the world; 620,000 of them died due to human violence (war killed 120,000 people, and crime killed another 500,000). In contrast, 800,000 committed suicide, and 1.5 million died of diabetes. Sugar is now more dangerous than gunpowder.”
― Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow
EDITORIAL DISCLAIMER: Any advice or recommendation given in my writing is what works for ME and may not be the best regimen for you based on your psychological or physiological makeup and stability. Please consult a doctor when making decisions about your health.
When I stopped drinking, I had so much more energy and focus than before that I felt there nothing that I couldn’t do.
I was committed to working out twice a day and to eating the right type of food most of the time to ensure that I was hitting my weight loss goals.
For this reason, I expected the pounds to drop off immediately and see a chiseled six-pack in the mirror after about four weeks.
Without alcohol to hold me back, surely I would be dropping pounds like crazy since I eliminated all the empty alcohol calories, as well as those late-night tiki masala runs.
However, this was not quite the case.
What I wasn’t prepared for and what kind of snuck up on me out of nowhere was an intense desire to eat more sweets than I ever had before. This became a huge impediment to my ability to lose weight at the clip that I thought I should.
In fact, it made it rather challenging for me to lose weight at all, and I had to finally wean myself off of sweets to be able to see the results that I desired.
After doing some research and testing through experimentation, I was able to understand how sugar affected me and why it can make it extremely challenging for one to hit their weight loss goals.
Sugar turns into fat and stays in your body longer
We’ve probably all heard that sugar is not good for us and seems to make it more difficult to lose weight, and we’ve probably also experienced that feeling of feeling extra bloated and like a few pounds were packed on after a heavy sweet binge.
This is not only in our head, however, as there is scientific proof that explains that sugar does, in fact, turn into fat in your body, which makes it much more difficult to lose weight.
Here’s how it works.
Sugar is made of two different molecules — glucose and fructose. When your body takes in sugar, both of these molecules have to be processed in some way.
Your body uses glucose for energy, so this is good for your body. When your body receives it, it is excited and delivers about 20% of it to your liver for processing. The rest goes to various parts of the body to utilize for energy.
However, fructose is not used for energy by your body and therefore has to be processed out since it can’t be used. So while 20% of the glucose from sugar goes to the liver, 100% of the fructose goes there.
When this happens, the extra fructose will either get released into the bloodstream, which will raise triglycerides (fat from the food that we eat that are carried through the bloodstream) or it will turn into fat by a process called de novo lipogenesis.
If it does turn into fat, these fat cells, or adipocytes, can then accumulate inside the liver and give people what is called fatty liver disease.
Your body then becomes overwhelmed with trying to process the sugar faster than it’s being ingested, and as it loses the battle, the accumulation of fat throughout the body can cause major health problems with one of them being excess weight.
It’s too hard to stop eating when you’re full
This is one of the extremely scary things about the effects of sugar because it makes it extremely challenging for us to keep ourselves in check to not overdo it.
First of all, let’s establish the fact that it is VERY easy to consume excess sugar, as it is added to so many of our foods to improve the taste and make us want more of it.
The recommended daily amount is no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) for men. Americans crush this number by a lot, as the average intake is around 76.7 grams per day (19 teaspoons).
Outside of the fact that it is added to so many foods for increase consumption, the other reason that this number is so high is that sugar makes it hard for you to know when enough is enough.
Similar to how easy it is to sometimes sit down and eat an entire bag of Lays potato chips without thinking about it (you can’t have only one), sugar can produce this same effect by actually turning off your brain’s ability to tell you that you’ve had enough.
As shared above, if the excess fructose is not stored in your liver, it is released into your bloodstream. When there is too much sugar in your bloodstream, your pancreas recognizes that you have high blood sugar levels.
This, in turn, causes your pancreas to release extra insulin into the body to make those blood sugar levels come back down in an attempt to get you back to homeostasis.
When this extra insulin is released into your bloodstream, it has the ability to actually block the effects of leptin in your body.
Why is this so damaging?
Leptin is the hormone in our body that actually tells us that we are full and can stop eating because our body has enough energy to live and expend for major metabolic processes.
It is important for a number of things, such as going through puberty, getting pregnant, or making strong bones.
When we have excess insulin in our body that counters the effects of this, we are not able to recognize that we are actually full and will continue to consume more sugar, which in turn will create more insulin, and the vicious cycle continues.
It’s almost as addictive as alcohol
And the last reason that sugar is extremely damaging to your long-term fitness goals is very similar to the article I wrote about alcohol previously.
Its addictive nature makes it extremely challenging for you to resist it and will make it hard for you to say no to it even though you know you should.
It has been theorized that sugar might be as addictive as cocaine because of how much it rewards the brain once we consume it.
As shared in another article about the effects of alcohol on the brain and how it creates the need for itself, the release of dopamine that we receive when consume sweets will cause an unnatural pleasurable spike that will create a cycle that will make our body desire to have it more and more.
Just like with any other addictive substance, the more you consume it, the less of an effect the same amount has to create the same level of high. What this means is that you will have to consume more and more of it to get the same feeling.
Just like alcohol or any other addictive drug, sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brand and this leads to compulsive behavior, despite being aware of the circumstances.
In fact, sugar could be argued to be even more dangerous since it is much easier to come by than cocaine (it’s not considered illegal to buy) and much more socially acceptable in which to overindulge (there aren’t any sugar anonymous groups to my knowledge).
The fact that you can get it whenever you want it easily and eat how much you want without doing anything crazy makes it much more likely to be abused.
Couple this with the fact that heart disease still remains the leading cause of death in the United States, something that can be exacerbated or caused by excess sugar consumption, and the argument is pretty well-founded.
What can you do?
If sugar consumption is something that is going to be difficult to completely cut out for you, the first thing you can do is start consuming foods that are low in sugar. Many companies are creating these types of products because of the recent popularity of the keto diet.
While this may not be as good as consuming any sugar, it should hopefully lessen your sweet tooth a bit and begin the process of helping you wean yourself off of sweets.
The second thing you can do is eat foods that contain more fiber.
Fiber has the ability to increase the viscosity and thickness of the intestinal contents after the meal. This can be found in legumes, vegetables, fruits, and some whole grains.
This leads to slower carbohydrate and glucose digestion, which will slow the body from digesting sugar quite as fast and decrease insulin creation…which leads to all the problems shared above.
While this isn’t better than stopping eating sugar altogether, these are two immediate steps you can take to prevent this from holding you back anymore and making hitting those long-term fitness goals a bit easier.