KICK THAT SUGAR ADDICTION
YOU CAN’T OUTRUN A SUGAR ADDICTION. KICK IT TO THE KERB WITH THESE TIPS.
SUGAR IS EVERYWHERE, and not just in celebratory foods like birthday cake and Easter eggs. It’s in practically every food we eat, from sweetened yoghurts to the breakfast cereal we wash down with a flavour-of-themonth Frappuccino. Though we know it’s not good for us in excess, it’s also so hard to resist. That’s because eating sugar lights up our brains’ dopamine receptors (the same ones that trigger drug addiction), making us feel fantastic – and eager for another hit. As runners, our sugar problem is even stickier, as we rely on gels and energy drinks (and sometimes just plain sweets) to fuel and recover from workouts. Sadly, running doesn’t make you immune to the detrimental health effects of eating too much refined sugar. Figures vary, but the approximately 36kg of sugar each South African consumes a year increases our risks of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and sleep disorders. That’s true whether you exercise or not. Refined sweeteners “go right from your lips into your bloodstream,” says nutritionist Kristen Gradney, a spokesperson for the US Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That forces your body to process carnival levels of sugar really fast. “We get less efficient at this over time, which is why we become more susceptible to problems such as diabetes as we age,” Gradney says.
That means even healthy people – such as runners – should trim their daily intake of added sugar to less than 25 grams per day, as recommended by the World Health Organisation. (No need to avoid naturally sweet, whole foods, which have water, fibre, and/or protein that slow sugar’s path into your system.) In theory, food labels list how much sugar is in a product, but it’s not always easy to tell. Until it is, runners can quell the sugar flood and help break a not-so-sweet habit with these strategies.
Swop foods with lots of added sugar (such as sweets or muffins) for ones that are high in natural sugar (such as apples and dates), which offer a hit of sweetness that’s lower in kilojoules and higher in nutrients. “Sweet fruits and vegetables might not seem as appealing as a cupcake, but they’ll satisfy your physiological need for sugar and make those intense cravings fade away,” Gradney says.
Make a Sweet Deal
‘Earning’ a treat can also curb cravings, suggests Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, PhD, author of Slim by Design. “You impose a trade-off; you’re not saying no to something, but you do make it harder to get,” he says. Want ice cream after lunch? Earn it. Complete a chore you’ve been dreading, or take the stairs instead of the lift. Such negotiations cut down on impulse eating by delaying gratification. And they replace craving with self-satisfaction – you’re so psyched you finally cleaned out the garage, you no longer need four Rolos.
Mix sugary stuff with something that’s better for you. Combine cranberry juice with soda water, mix hot chocolate with unsweetened coffee, swirl a quarter-cup of ice cream into an equal quantity of berries, and cut your Coco Pops breakfast cereal with Shredded Wheat (which contains under half a gram of sugar per serving). “You lower the overall sugar content, but don’t end up feeling deprived,” says Gradney.
Portion It Out
Single-serving packages of ice cream and biscuits can enforce a healthy portion size and keep you from devouring that entire package of Oreos. One 2012 study published in Health Psychology found that people who snacked on portioned potato chips ate 50 per cent less (translating to 1 000 fewer kilojoules). Just be sure to read the labels, because some packaging contains more than one serving. And keep your cache of treats out of view, says Gradney, so you aren’t tempted to reach for seconds – or thirds.
Time Your Treats
Runners do get two short windows of sugar-immunity: during and immediately after a workout, when the body metabolises sugar for fuel, and replenishes muscle glycogen for recovery. As for all other times: “The sugar that you eat when you’re sedentary is more likely to go to stored fat, once glycogen stores are full,” says Kelly Pritchett, PhD, a sports nutritionist at Central Washington University. And yes, you’ll get more nutritional value from eating pineapple or chocolate milk, but if doughnuts are your guilty pleasure, it may be better to have that type of occasional indulgence take place while running, or within 30 minutes of finishing.
Studies have found that the first bite of any food yields the most pleasure – and that people who eat large servings of indulgent foods actually feel less satisfied than those consuming smaller portions. When you crave something sweet, try having just a taste. “We’ve found that total deprivation just isn’t sustainable, because many people inevitably fall off the wagon,” says Wansink. By granting yourself the licence to enjoy one or two bites of a favourite treat, you get maximum enjoyment for minimal damage. That’s especially true when it’s a high-quality food: one square of exquisite Belgian chocolate can deliver far more satisfaction than an entire Snickers bar.
EATING SUGAR LIGHTS UP OUR BRAINS’ DOPAMINE RECEPTORS, MAKING US FEEL FANTASTIC – AND EAGER FOR ANOTHER HIT.