Could Sugar be Sabotaging Your Health?

When I was a kid, I figured my discernment would improve as I got older. Then as I got older, I realized that my discernment isn’t fancy: I simply am able to distinguish my inner divine voice from my inner saboteur— the voice of my ego or of grasping.

For the next twenty- four hours, focus on your inner saboteur and its wily ways. Take some time to root out the mental and emotional obstacles, beliefs, and attitudes that may sabotage your success with your diet and health goals. As you become more familiar with your inner saboteur, you learn there are many ways that voice shows up in your life. What does your inner saboteur say to you? When is the voice the loudest? Or is there some other way that you can become more intuitive about this aspect of yourself regarding food?

To get you thinking, here is Doreen’s example:

“Mine has a theme song: ‘You can start/restart tomorrow.’ Now I know I needed a commitment to something bigger than myself. I don’t let my inner saboteur set the schedule and play the tomorrow game.” — Doreen

Noticing how your inner saboteur undermines you is the first step! Next, we will start the process of how to quiet the saboteur and then swap the harmful voice for faith, trust, ideologies, and convictions that are more aligned with your personal food code. What’s fascinating is that most  people don’t even realize they have this inner voice until they slow down and listen. We are so sure these stories are true. I’m here to tell you that the saboteur is smart— but you are smarter!

With a little introspection, you can start to tell your saboteur that you are sick of its stories and have chosen a truer path of intuitive health. In Emotional Freedom, Judith Orloff, M.D., talks about that intuitive state between wakefulness and sleep when negative or spooky “waking dreams” can besiege you. She says you have the right to tell them to stop. “It’s fine to ignore them or insist they desist, either inwardly or aloud,” she writes.[1] Apply that same intelligence to your saboteur!

The Problem of Sugar Addiction

For most of us, sugar is a fierce saboteur. That’s because foods high in sugar trigger the reward centers of your brain. A perfect storm may occur in  people who are vulnerable to food addiction: they eat sugar, resulting in high blood sugar and low dopamine in the brain. When they keep eating sugar, they develop problems with dopamine communication. They need more and more sugary foods to raise their dopamine and feel “normal,” and they experience withdrawal symptoms when they remove sugar. Women are twice as likely to be addicted to food as men.[2] Women tend to diet, restrict, and binge more than men, which seems to trigger the brain to overeat addictively. Interestingly, women with the greatest hormonal upheaval at perimenopause report the highest rates of food addiction.[3]

The Problem of Insulin Resistance

Insulin is one of seven crucial hormones (estrogen, leptin, cortisol, thyroid, testosterone, and growth hormone are the others) that collectively determine your metabolism, or how fast or slow you burn calories. When your cells become resistant to insulin, your body is programmed to raise your insulin levels higher and higher. This is troubling because these hormones regulate your metabolism, and “higher and higher” hormones do not lead to a faster metabolism. In fact, chronically elevated hormone levels signal that your feedback loops have gone rogue.

When your hormones are elevated, your metabolism gets slower and slower, while you get fatter and fatter. This is why you may hear your girlfriends complaining that they’ve been restricting their food intake, exercising like crazy, and surviving on lettuce leaves without losing weight. The insidious hormone- resistance and biological- feedback loop is the root cause of most women’s continued weight gain, belly fat, wrinkles, exhaustion, autoimmune disorders, inflammation, sugar cravings, and even chronic illness.

You may wonder why you’re programmed to become insulin resistant when you overeat certain foods. Like many challenges, the tendency to raise insulin levels excessively and slow down metabolism comes from our ancestors’ feast- or- famine livelihoods, when they had to be able to store excess energy at the time of feasting in order to survive a time of famine. Not only is the survival strategy of preparing for a famine no longer necessary, it backfires. As an achievement-oriented woman with significant drive, I can power my way through a situation and turn on a famine of my own creation. Put another way, I can produce insulin resistance in my own body simply by feeling overly stressed.

The only way to reverse this resistance and reprogram your hormonal levels is to repair and grow new hormone receptors.

This is an exciting idea that hasn’t been fully explored in mainstream medicine for several reasons. Some of the data on hormone resistance are new. Some of the data on how food can reverse insulin resistance are ignored, in my opinion, because they rely on nutrition as the solution, and most medical schools teach very little nutrition. Personally, I had a total of about thirty minutes in my medical training. In other words, it’s not intentionally omitted by your doctor; it’s simply a lack of education and resulting prioritization. Finally, reversing insulin resistance with the way you eat, move, think, and supplement doesn’t support the financial goals of Big Food and Big Pharma. Big Food wants you eating packaged foods, more carbohydrates than you need, and “hyperpalatable” foods (foods that have been engineered, with added fats, flavors, and additives, to become addictive). Big Pharma then wants your doctor to prescribe many fancy drugs for the problems that develop from eating a Big Food diet.

When Insulin Becomes the Overwhelmed Bodyguard

Food increases blood sugar. Insulin lowers it by escorting glucose, like a bodyguard, into three different places in your body. Insulin is a regulatory hormone, made in the pancreas, that causes cells to absorb glucose from the blood and take it to the liver, muscles, and fat tissue. When insulin is in good working form—not too high and not too low—it sends a small amount of glucose to your liver, a large amount to your muscles to use as fuel, and little to none to your fat storage. When you’re a perfect hormonal specimen, your pancreas produces exactly the right amount of insulin to have your blood sugar softly rise and fall within a narrow range (fasting levels of 70  to 85 mg/dL).

But when you eat too much sugar, your pancreas slows down, and eventually, insulin becomes the overwhelmed bodyguard. Here’s what wears out the bodyguard: eating too much sugar causes wild fluctuations, both too high and too low, in your blood sugar, and insulin can’t keep up. As a result, your pancreas keeps making more and more insulin. Insulin levels rise chronically high, which is called insulin resistance. Blood sugar then stays high because very little glucose is escorted to the liver and muscles, and most is deposited as fat. In fact, your fat tissue can expand up to four times its size to accommodate the storage of glucose.

There are several ways you can reset insulin’s bodyguard role without using drugs, as explained in detail in my book, The Hormone Reset Diet.

  • Eat foods that stabilize blood glucose, i.e., clean proteins, slowburning carbs, and healthy fats. This will lower your insulin levels into the target zone and is the most effective way to activate insulin
  • Exercise so that your liver and skeletal muscles can store more glucose as glycogen and use it as fuel
  • Take supplements that help to sensitize your cells to insulin again, and rehab the bodyguard

The Science Behind Sugar Free

Let’s follow the path of a bite of cupcake in order to understand the science of insulin and how it can get out of whack. Normally, you absorb the cupcake into your bloodstream as a sugar, such as glucose. An increase in your blood sugar level triggers your pancreas to make more insulin, which attaches to your cells and removes sugar from your blood so it can be used as energy. Initially, your insulin targets mainly muscle and liver cells.

When you have insulin resistance, your cells have a decreased capacity to respond to insulin. To compensate for the decreased sensitivity to insulin, your pancreas secretes more insulin to try to grab the attention of the worn- out cell receptors. Higher levels of insulin then create inflammation, make your blood sugar swing from high to low, and cause you to feel hungry soon after eating. When insulin remains high, you are no longer a lean, mean, fat- burning machine. Because your cells cannot absorb the glucose normally, your liver converts the glucose into fat.

Fortunately, insulin resistance is reversible. Even if you feel totally out of control with your sugar cravings, I can help you. That’s because when you cut out sugar, your cravings will heal and your insulin will normalize. This is an important and powerful change to make for yourself.

Pick up a copy of my book, The Hormone Reset Diet, for the nitty-gritty on going sugar-free and and resetting your insulin.  

 

[1] Judith Orloff, Emotional Freedom (New York: Random House, 2010).

[2] P. Pedram et al., “Food Addiction: Its Prevalence and Significant Association with Obesity in the General Population,” PLoS ONE 8, no. 9 (2013): e74832, doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0074832.

[3] A. J. Flint et al., “Food- Addiction Scale Measurement in 2 Cohorts of Middle- Aged and Older Women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99, no. 3 (2014): 578–86, doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.068965.

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Sara Gottfried MD About Sara Gottfried MD

Sara Gottfried, MD is the New York Times bestselling author of the new book, Younger: A Breakthrough Program to Reset Your Genes, Reverse Aging, and Turn Back the Clock 10 Years. Her previous New York Times bestsellers are The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. After graduating from Harvard Medical School and MIT, Dr. Gottfried completed her residency at the University of California at San Francisco. She is a board-certified gynecologist who teaches natural hormone balancing in her novel online programs so that women can lose weight, detoxify, and slow down aging. Dr. Gottfried lives in Berkeley, CA with her husband and two daughters.