Sunday, September 26, 2010

When not being able to "just say no" to the craving isn't your fault...

As I continue my research and reading in the areas of fitness, health, and wellness, I strive to provide the best quality service to both the people I coach and my team of coaches.  If you've tried diets, pills, fads, and even exercise programs and have just not been able to "stay on track", there may be an actual biochemical reason- it's not your fault, and there's simple relief (with nothing to buy- the solution is already at your finger tips).  The information provided below is a summary of/ excerpts taken directly from the referenced text and is intended for your information and use.  You may feel this article describes you, perhaps to a "T"!

Sugar sensitivity affects hundreds of thousands of people, knowingly and perhaps more often than not unknowingly.  Have you ever heard someone joke about being a choco-holic? We may have said it ourselves, and for some people, this may be a loaded statement.So what IS Sugar Sensitivity? Sugar Sensitivity is a biochemical condition creating puzzling physical and emotional ups and downs.  Sugar sensitivity is characterized by volatile blood sugar responses, a low level of serotonin, a low level of beta-endorphins, and a heightened response to the pain numbing effects of sugars.

To determine whether you are sugar senstive, check each of the following ten statements that apply to you:

1. I really like sweet foods.
2. I eat a lot of sweets.
3. I am very fond of bread, cereal, popcorn, and/or pasta.
4. I now have or once had a problem with alcohol or drugs.
5. One or both of my parents are/were alcoholic.
6. One or both of my parents are/were especially fond of sugar.
7. I am overweight and don't seem to be able to easily lose the extra pounds.
8. I continue to be depressed no matter what I do.
9. I often find myself overreacting to stress.
10. I have a history of anger that sometimes surprises even me.

Each of the statements above relates to an aspect of sugar sensitivity, and if you checked three or more, keep reading...

Sugar sensitivity means you have a special biochemistry, whereby your body has a volitile blood-sugar response and low levels of beta-endorphin and serotonin.  If you are sugar sensitive, there are three primary things in your body chemistry that contribute to how you feel:

-the level of sugar in your blood

-the level of the chemical serotonin in your brain

-the level of the chemical beta-endorphin in your brain

Let's break these down simply starting with the level of sugar in your blood.  Your body uses a very simple sugar called glucose as its basic fuel.  During digestion all the carbohydrates you eat are broken down into this simple form so that it can be used by your cells.  Glucose is carried by your blood throughout your body to be transformed into energy by your cells as needed.  Your cells require a steady supply of glucose at all times. An optimal level of serotonin creates a sense of relaxation and mellows you out making you feel at peace with the world.  It influences self-control, impulse control, and your ability to plan ahead.  Effects of low serotonin are depression, impulsiveness, intense cravings for alcohol, sweets, or carbohydrates. Lastly, when your beta-endorphin level is low, you feel depressed, impulsive, and victimized, touchy and tearful and have low self-esteem and a desperate craving for sugar. All three of these levels must be optimal for you to conquer what the author refers to as "the Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde syndrome".  If you work on only one factor, the others will remain unbalanced, and though you may feel good initially, the underlying symptoms will again rear their ugly heads.

Tired all of the time
Tired for no reason
Restless, can’t keep still
Has trouble remembering
Has trouble concentrating
Easily frustrated
More irritable than usual
Gets angry unexpectedly

Short attention span
Blocked, scattered
Flies off the handle
Craves sweets
Craves mostly carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and cereal

Low pain tolerance
Tearful, reactive
Low self-esteem
Overwhelmed by others’ pain
Feels isolated
Depressed, hopeless
Feels “done to” by others
Craves sugar
Emotionally overwhelmed

Balancing the levels of all three of these important biochemicals is crucial to your well-being as a sugar-sensitive person, and it can be done with simple food and lifestyle changes.  You do your food plan, and your body and brain do the balancing.  You don't have to figure out beta-endorphin or serotonin.  You just figure out breakfast.

Tired when appropriate
Focused and relaxed
Has good memory
Able to concentrate
Able to solve problems effectively

Hopeful, optimistic
Reflective and thoughtful
Able to concentrate
Creative, focused
Able to think things through
Able to seek help
Looks forward to dessert a bit
Hungry for healthy foods

High tolerance for pain
Sensitive, sympathetic
High self-esteem
Connected and in touch
Hopeful, optimistic
Takes personal responsibility
Take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward sweet foods

 The levels of sugar in your blood fluctutates, and if your muscles or your brain can't get the blood sugar they need to perform, they will tell you very clearly that something is wrong.  The sugar in your blood comes from the foods you eat, and extra sugar is stored in your liver.  Carbohydrates require the least amount of work by the body to convert food to sugar in your bloodstream.  Your body's goal is to maintain the perfect level of sugar in your blood by first drawing from the sugar in your blood to feed your cells by releasing a hormone called insulin.  If the level of sugar in your blood drops, your body will turn to the backup sugar supply store in your liver (liver stores about 400 calories of sugar at any given time).  Sugar-sensitive people have a more volatile blood-sugar reaction to eating sweet foods, whereby blood sugar rises more quickly, releasing more insulin, thus causing a quicker and steeper drop in your blood-sugar levels.  Each time your blood sugar spikes quickly, your body's internal alarms start ringing and signal your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, the hormone that gives you a quick surge of energy and mobilizes you in the face of danger.  The adrenaline rush makes your heart pump faster and makes you more alert.  It also tells your pancreas to release insulin so your cells can get energy by pulling sugar out of your bloodstream.  However, your adrenal glands are designed for coping with EMERGENCIES and are not built to go into action several times per day.  This results in adrenal fatigue causing your adrenal glands to respond more slowly each time.  Because your adrenals are reacting late, your blood sugar rises even higher and your body releases even more insulin in an attempt to get that sugar out of your blood and into your cells.  This results in blood-sugar levels that are steeper with shorter intervals between them.  Symptoms can include fatigue, restlessness, confusion, shakiness, frustration, irritability, difficulty remembering, anger, feeling weepy, and feeling anxious.

This can be solved by understanding three things:

1. Which foods will give you a stable blood-sugar level that will not send your adrenal glands into action unnecessarily.

2. Which foods will evoke the least reactive insulin response.

3. When to eat to keep your energy up and your spirits high.


How is all of this related in our brains? Your brain is designed to communicate information via interconnecting cells.  Information is passed across a tiny space between each of them by way of chemical "messengers" called neurotransmitters.  There are many kinds of neurotransmitters, each of which has a different molecular shape and carries its own distinct message.  Each receiving cell has thousands of receptors (neuroreceptors) designed to catch a specific matching neurotransmitter.  Serotonin and Beta-endorphin operate in this way.  After a neurotransmitter lands in its own receptor and passes its message along, it floats back into the space between brain cells and is available to hit the receptor again.  The brain releases enzymes that break down the used neurotransmitters that act like little "Pacmen" consuming the used neurotransmitters.  The other mechanism that prevents neurotrasmitter overload is a sort of "vacuum cleaner" that sucks up the used messengers and deposits them back in the sending cell to be recycled.  These are called reuptake pumps.

If too much of a given neurotransmitter is released, the receiving cell will close down some of its receptors, which is called downregulation.  On the other hand, when the level of serotonin or beta-endorphin gets too low, your brain will open up more receptors so it can get more "hits".  For example, if you are sugar senstitive and have naturally low levels of serotonin, your system has already upregulated to have more serotonin receptors. In this situation, if a doctor prescribes you an antidepressant for symptoms of depression without truly diagnosing the underlying problem or root cause, more serotonin hits your system that was already upregulated to have lots of extra serotonin receptors, which will cause you to have a very big reaction to it, such as anxiety, jitters, wild dreams, etc.  On the other hand, when the source is removed, the body will create withdrawal symptoms.  When you develop a physical dependence on a substance, you have altered the natural state of your system.  Your brain gets used to having the extra serotonin or beta-endorphin hits caused by the substance and it "complains" if the substance is cut off.  WIthdrawal symptoms may include irritability, headaches, diarrheat, joint pain, and other flu-like symptoms.  This can happen if a sugar-sensitive person stops consuming sugar "cold turkey" as in a crash diet, dramatic lifestyle change, or exercise program.


Your body makes serotonin from a chemical called tryptophan, which is an amino acid that comes from protein.  You need the chemical properties of simple carbohydrates to move the tryptophan out of your bloodstream and into your brain where it can be used to make serotonin.  Most antidepressants work by increasing the amount of serotonin received by the neuroreceptors by blocking the little "Pacman" enzyme that gobbles up extra serotonin.  Other antidepressants work by stopping the reuptake pumps from vacuuming up the used neurotransmitters.  Drugs called SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), such as Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, Celexa, and Zoloft belong to the second type.  In effect, your brain is geting more use out of the serotonin you have; these kind work better than the "Pacman"-blocking kind since they have fewer side effects.  Remember, though, that in a sugar sensitive person, affecting only one leg of the three-legged system will still leave you with many, if not all, of the same symptoms.


Beta-endorphin acts as a powerful natural pain killer.  Beta-endorphin is an "endorphin opioid," is found naturally in the body, and has opium-like effects such as that of heroine and morphine.  Like other opioids, beta-endorphin (at the proper level) produces a sense of well-being, reduces pain, eases emotional distress, increases self-esteem, creates emotional stability, and even produces a feeling of euphoria.  Beta-endorphin also controls anxiety, defuses paranoid feelings, reduces anger, and relieves certain types of depression.  One can clearly appreciate the effect of an imbalance in beta-endorphin.  A sugar-sensitive person has many more beta-endorphin receptors, and due to this, eating sugar can feel like drinking alcohol!  In the mid-1980's Dr. Elliott Blass, through medical research, concluded that sugar somehow acted like an opioid, which is why babies remain more calm when mothers give them a few sips of sugar water prior a doctor visit, where the baby will be getting immunization injections. 

Basic Conclusions:

1. All sugar-sensitive people, regardless of gender, like sweet stuff more than people with nonsugar-sensitive bodies.

2. When something bad or scary happens, a sugar-sensitive person crouches and becomes immobile and defensive.  This behavior is called "defeat-induced learned submission", and it occurs in response to a release of beta-endorphin.

3. The "defeated" sugar-sensitive  people develop a tolerance to the beta-endorphin released in response to a threat.

4. Sugar makes sugar-sensitive people hyperactive, but does not have the same effect on nonsugar-senstitive people.

5. When withdrawing from sugar, sugar-senstitive people become lethargic and passive.

(Sugar-senstitive people possess a learned helplessness with self-esteem that fades and vacillate between hyperactive clarity and lying on the couch- "Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde Syndrome".)


People with normal body chemistries experience the opioid effect of sugars as simply a pleasant feeling.  For sugar-senstitive people, this pleasant feeling can become a euphoria that is powerful enough to create a strong attachment to the food or drink producing the effect.  Because we love things that make us feel good, we want more.  In fact, this heightened sensitivity to the drug-like effects of sugar is the hallmark of the sugar-sensitive person.  Remember that sugar-sensitive people have naturally low levels of beta-endorphin and their brains have opened up many more receptors to catch what little beta-endorphin there is.  Because of this, sugar-sensitive people will have a heightened response to any substance that causes a release of beta-endorphin, which is exactly what sugar and alcohol do.  (In women, beta-endorphin levels are at their lowest in women just before menstruation.)

When you have low levels of serotonin, your brain produces cravings for simple carbohydrates that have the chemical properties needed to move tryptophan into your brain, where it can be used to make more serotonin.  Beta-endorphin priming is the reason it is so hard for a sugar-sensitive person to "just say no" after having a taste of something sweet.


First, you need simple carbohydrates to get tryptophan into your brain.  Second, your naturally low level of beta-endorphin gives you a heightened response to things that cause the release of beta-endorphin.  Upregulation explains why you have huge problems getting "back on track" after a slip in your diet or your sobriety.  The solution is deceptively simple: if you eat the right foods at the right times, you can keep your serotonin and beta-endorphin at their optimal levels.  Making food choices based on an understanding of how your brain and body chemistry work will prevent the dramatic ups and downs in beta-endorphin that lead to upregulation and downregulation, cravings and withdrawal symptoms.  You can stabilze your blood sugar level; you can boost your serotonin and beta-endorphin levels; and you can minimize the dangerous effect of priming.  If you make simple food changes, your body chemistry and brain chemistry will come into balance.


Rather than being a drama queen or adrenaline junkie, you become funny and creative.

You may clear up their problems with money

You may start setting healthy boundaries

You may look at relationships with new eyes

You may heal shame

You may heal old emotional wounding

You may clear their clutter, both emotional and physical

You may leave unsatisyfying jobs

You may go back to school

You may start following your dreams and living your passions

When your food is consistent, regular, and on target, there is just no more drama.


You may begin the process as described in the book and begin to get lazy thinking you can do it yourself, skipping steps, etc.  You will find your energy keeps slipping away, especially in the late afternoon, so you add some more caffeine then to help finish the day.  You aren't sleeping too well, but you make no connection to the food you are eating, and you assume your fatigue is from job stress.  You start getting irritable at work.  There's too much to do, not enough time.  Your boss is getting on your nerves.  You need to stop off for a drink or a sweet treat before going home.  Weekends bring low-fat whole-grain pancake instead of the muffin, but much of your days off are spent trying to catch up with your life.

What is wrong with this picture?  Your food is low-fat, "healthy".  You ask yourself, "Why am I feeling terrible here? Maybe I need to exercise more."  You take a "carbohydrate and electrolyte replacemnt" drink with you to the gym. (Be careful of ingredients, because many of them on the market are water, sugar, and salt.)  Your energy goes up before the workout; you feel better.  Exercise must be the key.  But a few weeks later, it's not working.  What is the matter here? You can hardly get out of bed.  You feel like a truck ran over you.

The answer is simple.  Your body is sensitive to sugar.  Your blood sugar is spiking and crashing all day.  You have huge beta-endorphin releases all day (which are causing downregulation and triggering cravings), and you don't have enough protein, so you aren't getting the tryptophan your body needs to make the serotonin you need to do your life.  A traditional food plan or diet will not provide the answer to your problem, because most diet and nutrition plans work for only a little time you, for the sugar-sensitive person.  Then, the book sits on your shelf, reminding you of yet one more program that sounded good but didn't work for you. 


With the sugar-sensitive plan you are learning skills rather than following sheets and sheets of instructions.  You are taking your life one choice at a time.  Only one choice.  Knowing you are sugar-sensitive lets you shift the perspective from feeling bad about a thousand "failed" diets to being open to a solution.  Your goal is not to go off sugar for the rest of your life.  Your goal is to become aware of what, how, and when you eat every day.

If you are interested in the details of the author's deceptively simple 7 Step Plan, feel free to contact me with questions or for help or support or obtain a copy of the book for your own use- and healing!  This program has a medically proven 92% effectiveness.


DesMaisons, Kathleen. Potatoes not Prozac: Simple Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity; Simon and Schuster Paperbacks, 2008.

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