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Tackling the Sugar Addiction question

First let me start off by saying I don’t make light of addiction.  I have been free of chemicals for 26 years, it destroyed my life as a teenager and I had to leave my family to get treatment for that illness.  So while things kind of worked out for me in the end I still deal with repercussions of that illness to this day.  Let me give you the timeline for this addiction.

- At 18 I was admitted to a treatment facility for 3 months where I underwent extreme psychotherapy

- I then was admitted to a halfway house in Minnesota (where I currently live), I stayed in that facility for 6 months as did most of the residents there.

- I am originally from New Orleans, La. one of the coolest places on the planet.  Most of my family still resides there or near there.

- After leaving the facility in Minnesota I decided to acclimate for a bit before heading back home.  New Orleans held a lot of temptation then and now so I really wanted to make sure I had it right.

- 26 years later I am still here, I met my wife about 6 months after leaving the halfway house.  I often get asked “what makes a person come from a warm weather place that seems as cool as hell to a miserable wasteland (their words not mine, it’s really not so bad and Prince is from here)” my simple retort is often “had to be a woman, right?”

- My children have a great life and our family is well supported by people that care for us but it’s incomplete.  It’s a little tough looking your father in the eye as he tears up because he is being robbed of seeing his “grand babies” grow up.  That is one small casualty of addiction.

So yeah, I take addiction real serious.  As a drug treatment counselor I heard many stories of people who stole their grandmothers microwave to buy crack or compromised their humanity to get a fix.  So while sugar is a powerful chemical can we at least set the bar as a SEVERE consequence that possibly compromises who you are as a result.  Before anyone suggests obesity, let’s not confuse not knowing WHY with uncontrollable behavior.  So let’s start there.

The insulin hypothesis

The insulin hypothesis goes like this, if you can keep insulin suppressed it solves body fat storage because insulin is said to be a “storage hormone”.  Let’s be clear about this, body fat can store without the presence of insulin through multiple channels.  Insulin is more accurately described as a building hormone.  Eat correctly and it builds muscle, eat incorrectly and it BUILDS/stores fat.

It has been proposed that if you can control insulin you can control your health, that is the basis for all low carbohydrate diets.  As many of you know that frequent this page/blog I recommend eating carbohydrates with strategies related to the time you workout or even eating in a smaller window in the evening.  No matter which macronutrient we are talking about I believe you should have a strategy as it relates to that macronutrient.  I also believe that you should have some general idea of your overall intake needs daily and adjust those needs related to your activity level.  Let me give you an example of what that might look like, for protein I try to get around 160g a day, each gram of protein equals 4 calories, so I need 640 calories from protein a day (you don’t really need to count calories daily to have a good idea of your protein intake but it might be helpful for a week or so just to check, knowledge is powerful).  Through massive trial and error I have found a good balance of about 200g of carbohydrate, up to 300g if my activity is higher, once again, I do this intuitively but as most of you know I am pretty good at this whole nutrition thing.  Carbs also equal 4 calories per gram so I need 800 to 1200 calories of carbohydrate to support my daily activity.  While yes I realize carbohydrates are a non-essential macronutrient they are very favorable as it relates to metabolism.  I know this because I basically cured my hypothyroidism related to chronic dieting once I went down this road of discovery related to my intake needs.  Which brings me to fats, through various ways including dexascan and bodpod testing as well as trial and error I know that I need about 3000 calories a day to support my activity levels.  Once again I don’t actually count this stuff but I am also not naive as it relates to the caloric values of the foods that I eat and also know what those foods represent in my body.  Which is another article for another day and not germain to the discussion of sugar addiction.  So fat calories basically equal the rest, if I get 640 calories from protein roughly and 800 calories from carbohydrates that leaves me with 1560 calories coming from fat, fat calories (as most of you know) equal 9 calories per gram, so my fat intake represents more than half of my calories, which is right about 170g a day of fat alone.

For the ladies in the crowd I will use my wife as an example without all of the dirty details. Protein 120g, carbohydrates 150g, total calories for her (she is a crossfitter so quite active) are 2400 a day (she doesn’t count either but eats in an intuitive manner similar to the way that I do).  So her fat calories represent also over 50% of her calories at 1320 or roughly 146g from fat.  From what I have seen my wife is pretty average but I would like to put out there that everyone’s life journey should be a bit more self discovery.  In a lot of ways that is why I made this blog and my accompanying Facebook page, it is my life’s mission to help people navigate these personal struggles.

If you think you don’t need to eat that much to support your activity level you are almost certainly wrong.  Even if you are right it is only minor degrees.  I am not saying this as someone using two people as an example, I have many case studies that prove this.

So let’s start there as it relates to your sugar intervention.  Until you actually KNOW these types of numbers and have worked towards this level of self discovery and you haven’t had to miss carpool to prostitute yourself for a twix bar (you are going to have to imagine this in Jeff Foxworthy voice switching our redneck for sugar addict) “you might not be a sugar addict”.  Just so people know I am not stereotyping I pick up carpool for my children and I can say to you “god willing” I haven’t had to miss carpool for a twix.

So why so much fat?

I like fat as a primary fuel because it’s very stable, I have heard it said that over reliance on glucose (carbs) for energy is like burning a fire with kindling and fat is like putting a log on the fire.  At rest, for most people, fats are a great source of daily energy levels.  Fats also keep insulin blunted and while it seems odd fats can be a good STRATEGY as it relates to your body fat levels.  I highlight the word strategy because my way and my wife’s way might not represent the best way for you.  That will be part of your self discovery but stick with me and I will give you some clues on how to get there.  Don’t be fooled though, the insulin hypothesis goes like this,  keep carbs out of your diet and you will be in fat burning mode all of the time.  Not only is this wrong it’s borderline irresponsible and has left many people broken with eating disorder type behaviors as a result.

The effects of Carbohydrate on a Ketogenic approach to eating

In an attempt to figure out if they are in ketosis many people pee on their hands each morning to check their ketone levels.  I don’t mean to make light of people working towards a better style of eating but there is a crucial aspect they are missing.  Carbs are said to be a non-essential macronutrient because your body can exist without them, the body requires glucose (a fuel source readily available through actual food) so much that it actually can turn fats and mainly protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis (I misspell this word non-stop).  It’s an inefficient process and can often leave the user with headaches as a result.  The brain functions mostly on glucose but I don’t want to get ahead of myself, it can however function on Ketones which is the by-product of fat metabolism.  So while yes if you can suffer through the bad workouts and the headaches it is indeed possible to use fats as a primary fuel source but the net result as it relates to body fat mobilization becomes dependent on the amount of fats you eat as a result.  The process is relatively inefficient for athletic populations and virtually impossible as a strategy for Crossfitters that want to excel.

It has been well known for a long time that when you eat in a ketogenic way and then cycle your carbs that stimulates metabolism whether it by intraday, bi-daily, weekly or whatever floats your boat.  When you eat low carbohydrate and then you have a carbohydrate re-feed (you eat a good amount of carbs) you not only mobilize fat but the net result tends to be more favorable than the “eat less do less” model of eating.  This is because a low carbohydrate way of eating suppresses the hormone leptin which is the primary mover as it relates to body fat mobilization.  Suppressed leptin levels can lead to hypothyroid like symptoms and is often the result of extreme dieting.

So low carbohydrate dates get to a point of diminishing returns as it relates to body composition.  I will say there are always outliers where it can work but those are not the majority of folks that go down the low carb path.

I am going to stop here because this is going long

I am not going to make any promises related to WHEN I will write the second part of this article but you already should have some thoughts flowing through your head related to “sugar addiction”.  The next article is going to focus more on strategies related to eating that will allow to better understand your bodies signals.  Let me end on this note though, most people who think they are sugar addicted are underfed, plane and simple.  Since low carb dieting is not favorable as it relates to metabolism down the line people often need to reduce their fat intake to try and chase their body composition goals which is like driving towards a point that is continuouslyy moving.  Those that aren’t underfed are simply relying more on glucose (carbs or sugars) as their primary fuels and this can be handled easily by adjusting their diet patterns.  Here is the deal, you miss the sugar because the brain really really likes sugar, if you gave the brain sugar all of the time it would just ask you for more because, well, brains are gonna brain.  That’s what they want.  If you provide your brain adequate nutrition with strategies related to how the rest of your body manages your fat the equation for optimal health starts to appear.

I am thinking the next article should probably be called “The case for responsible energy management” but let’s be honest, no ones gonna click that.  So I’ll probably call it something like “The Sugar Addiction Cure debunked”.  I’m tricky like that.  Oh yeah, Doctor Oz can suck it.  I can’t believe people still think his information is even remotely responsible.

Carbohydrates Part 1 – A Sugar Tutorial

Carbohydrates or Carbs is the new boogie man of nutrition, even more so than fats though there are groups on both sides that disdain both of them with equal fervor.  Most of the time though there is some type of qualifier and in the case of carbs that would be simple versus complex.  Simple carbs are things like sugar, you know the real bad stuff in a super refined state.  On the other side complex carbs are things like Spinach.  That is a pretty wide spectrum to paint with a very broad brush.  That is where diets lose me and ultimately lose most people.  This is also where I very noticeably depart from people that think my approach is similar to the Paleo Diet, well that and the fact that the word diet implies restriction but I digress.  While the Paleo Diet proponents might suggest they are not against carbs and have a heavy vegetable component to their diet there is one vegetable that is clearly Paleo that they lose their mind over, that vegetable is the potato.  That is because the potato is very high in carbs.  Certainly if Paleolithic man had come across a potato he would not have hesitated to eat it.  Which is where all this Paleolithic Man and Caveman talk falls apart.  So let’s be clear, the Paleo Diet, especially for people without a lot of activity is a decidedly low carb approach.  Which is fine but it’s really just a version of Atkins with a few more vegetables.  Fair? I think the Paleo Diet is a fine diet if you want to be on a diet and you want to restrict your intake by eating certain foods (it needs a few tweaks for active people), I do not personally think that is necessary but if you are in pain as it relates to weight issues and you would rather not count calories many people have had great success restricting what they eat using those rules.  That group includes me at one point.

Or, you can eat lean meats (or meats high in Omega 3′s), vegetables and some fruit.  Even the dreaded potato can be eaten on occasion given those parameters without a great deal of consequence, I can assure you that is very difficult to become obese eating like that.  That said if you start your day eating hash browns, eat some potato chips with lunch and mashed potatoes for dinner the issue is not the potato it is that you are a moron.  You are eating a nutrient deficient diet and unless your head has been underwater for the last thirty years you are likely well aware of that fact.

So now that we have cleared that up let’s move on.

While there are no bad foods, excessive intake of sugar is close

Sugar has no nutrients and depletes your body of vital nutrients because it requires your body to hold excessive fluid without the value of added vitamins (micronutrients).

Feel free to hit me with any questions in the comments on this point but I think this is fairly clear and should allow us to move on relatively easily.

Anything that ends in ‘Ose is a sugar, it is the delivery method that matters

Sucrose is what is commonly thought of as “table sugar”, Lactose is the sugar in milk, Fructose is the sugar in fruit and Dextrose is sugar that is exclusively glucose.  All sugars are inflammation foods because they generate a lot of insulin and to process them your body retains fluids, this is just a natural process within the body, it only becomes problematic when it happens too often.  On a side note when you have sugar cravings it is typically a symptom of protein deficiency, I would personally make the argument that it is nutrient deficiency in general that is causing the cravings but it is pretty clear that when you eat protein in most instances where you have sugar cravings they go away.  You are welcome, now you know one of the biggest ways to control your weight.  With that said if you are a highly active individual exercising with intensity and your carbohydrate intake is excessively low it can cause you hormonal problems that will result in using your muscle for energy and retention of fat.

Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose.  It offers you nothing from a nutrient perspective but it does enhance the flavor of things that do provide your body good nutrients, the brain also REALLY likes sucrose and it can be a quick energy source if you are lethargic.  That comes with some additional costs but temporarily it can provide you with some joy.  Denying the fact that sugar makes things taste better is one of the problems with diets because none of them really embrace sugar.  I personally do not eat a lot of sugar but I do eat it, it is literally in everything from salad dressings to mayonnaise and of course the obvious sweets we all enjoy so much.

Lactose is the sugar in milk, Lactose is a disaccharide derived from the condensation of galactose and glucose.  You could really argue that it is a worse sugar than Sucrose because it has more issues.  Many people are intolerant towards Lactose and do not know it, I personally am not lactose intolerant but if I consume a decent amount of milk I definitely feel run down.  I have recently been diagnosed with an allergy towards milk protein, while the symptosms aren’t extreme and don’t require me to abstain from dairy completely I suspect there are many people walking around without this knowledge.  Milk is commonly thought to be good for you because, well, they have pretty good marketers that tell you this over and over.  Add Vitamin D supplementation and the dairy industry looks like a knight in shining armor.  Another often overlooked issue with lactose as it relates to sugar is how easy it is to consume, while people have been distracted by the low fat versus 2% vs whole debate the sugar element is completely overlooked.  Think of how silly that is, people are focused on drinking low fat milk with no regard at all for the sugar in milk.  I will talk more about insulin sensitivity in a later chapter but as a short primer insulin is a building hormone, when your insulin levels are raised your body is more likely to build, sometimes this means fat storage but can also mean muscle building.  This is one of the reasons chocolate milk is often recommended as a good post workout option.

Fructose is the sugar that you get from fruit.  The debate on whether or it is better or worse for you is almost irrelevant because it is the delivery method of the sugar that takes precedence here.  In the case of sucrose you have sugar totally refined, lactose is not dissimilar in the way it gets you the sugar.  Fruit is different because your body in an effort to get you the sugar first needs to break down the food part with all of those extra vitamins and nutrients, do not misunderstand me, the sugar is still not great for you but the other parts of the food provide you benefits that make fruit worth eating (I feel like I need to say on occasion here but I will talk more about this in the next section on carbohydrates).

High Fructose Corn Syrup is a very powerful form of sugar derived from corn, many people mistakenly believe that corn is good for you because they think it is a vegetable.  In fact, corn is a grain and the syrup derived from this grain is an insulin nightmare.

You should notice that all sugars have some combination of glucose (or in the case of Dextrose exclusively glucose), this is an important sugar as it relates to muscle energy and I will talk further about it in the chapters on activity.  It alternatively is called Dextrose or any of it’s derivatives.  As a teaser I will say that for athletes all sugars do not act equally, as an example fructose refills liver glycogen as a priority while glucose (or dextrose, one of the sugars in gatorade) has a more direct relationship with muscle glycogen.

I tried to stay unbiased as it relates to sugar but if you can become pretty conscious of your sugar intake that will go a long way to controlling your waistline, energy and overall health.  Sugar of course is not the problem for most people because they are well aware that too much sugar intake could have bad results.  So in that way people naturally regulate their sugar intake in a lot of ways, some of those ways unfortunately end up with other consequences.

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