We often don’t give much thought to our daily habits. With many challenges to deal with on a daily basis, sometimes we don’t realize our routines are unhealthy. When we are not making conscious decisions about our choices, we may be consistently acting against our own best interest.
There are many reasons why we might continue unhealthy habits and make excuses: convenience, low energy, social rewards, etc. Sugar can be very hard to avoid. It’s a part of most of our daily treats and comfort foods. It is hidden in most processed foods including bologna, pretzels, Worcestershire sauce, and even infant formula. Based on USDA estimates, the average American consumes 12 teaspoons of sugar a day, which adds up to 2 TONS of sugar in a lifetime. But it’s just sugar, what’s the big deal?
Sugar and caffeine are commonly abused stimulants that work on a very similar principle in the human body. They provide a quick energy boost, and make us feel more alert and many people find it easier to focus.
Sugar gives us a very rapid boost in blood sugar followed by a very rapid crash. It is not a “sustainable” source of energy for our body and burns off very quickly. Often, within two hours of a sugary snack or meal, we feel hungrier, crankier, and more tired than before. At this point, we may reach for another sugary food in desperation, continuing the vicious cycle. Sugar also gives us fleeting pleasure by triggering a few of the pleasure centers in our brain, essentially mimicking the process that occurs with addiction. Excessive sugar consumption leads to weight gain, inflammation, premature aging, lethargy, lowered immunity, and eventually can lead to diabetes.
Caffeine is similarly addictive and can be harmful in excess. It stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, putting us in a fight-or-flight state physiologically. The adrenals are stimulated, and they release hormones like adrenaline to signal that the body is in danger and should go into survival mode. Tapping into our reserves, we get a quick blood sugar spike and feeling of happiness, followed by a steady decline. For people who come to rely on coffee to feel awake, the feeling fades more and more quickly, leading to more and more cups of coffee. Many people drink pots of coffee just to get through the day. This can cause continual exhaustion and even long-term damage as the body struggles with constantly running on reserve energy. Too much coffee can exacerbate ulcers and cause other stomach problems as well.
There is a difference between excessive caffeine and sugar consumption and acceptable amounts. For example, having one cup of coffee in the morning on a full stomach and two small pieces of dark chocolate after dinner is not the same as relying on the stuff to make it through the day. It’s a good idea to periodically take short breaks from any stimulants to make sure you’re not developing a dependence. Many people who consider themselves to be consuming these things in moderation may need to reconsider. Having three or more cups of coffee per day or eating an entire chocolate bar in one sitting is cause for concern.
When it comes to products that combine the effects of sugar and caffeine, like energy drinks, you’re probably better off leaving them behind.
Breaking out of sugar or caffeine cycles is difficult, at first. There is an initial resistance to quitting due to our bodies’ coming to expect their presence. When we finally gather the will, there is a withdrawal period that is difficult and can last several weeks or even a month, depending on the severity. For heavy addiction, it is often recommended to cut the dose in half every week before going cold turkey to avoid withdrawal sympoms or sickness.
The good news is, once you’ve kicked the habits, your body adjusts back to normal. The taste buds adjust and fruits taste super sweet and satisfying, while sugary foods just taste sickeningly sweet. The body will adjust to low levels of caffeine as well, getting a buzz from just one cup and not needing a continued drip feed.
It makes a positive impact on our lives when we start to be mindful about our habits. Even though the truth may be hard to face, it is important that we make sure our daily actions are supporting our health and happiness and we are not sabotaging ourselves unknowingly.
- Mercola, Joseph, MD. “Sugar Consumption: The Most Unhappy of Pleasures.” Mercola.com. N.p., 10 Mar. 2012. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.
- Voss, Gretchen. “The 5 Phases of How to Quit Sugar for Good.”Womenshealthmag.com. Women’s Health Magazine, 12 June 2014. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.
- Wilson, Lawrence, MD. “SUGAR ADDICTION.” SUGAR ADDICTION. Wilson Consultants, Sept. 2014. Web. 17 Aug. 2015.