My sugar highs and lows

Looking myself in the mirror

“If you only stop eating so many sweets, you will definitely lose weight. Have some self-control!” I remember saying to myself in front of the mirror, the morning after a birthday dinner. Unfortunately, it was not the first time I had had that conversation with myself.

I know I’m not the only one struggling with cutting sugar out of their diet. The suggested consumption crisis is getting so large, groups like the Heart and Stroke Foundation have proposed taxation and legislation to try to regulate it. After years of riding a sugar high, we’re finding ourselves at the crash.

I knew sugar didn’t help me with my goal to stay healthy, so I decided to take control of my eating habits and cut sugar out. My biggest problem was having what you would call a ‘sweet tooth.’ Growing up in a family where eating something sweet after every meal was the norm, I didn’t even think twice about how tough it was on my health. My struggles grew as the calories from my sweet treats turned into fat. I started to become more self-conscious about how I looked, but the bad eating habits were tough to change. Even when I added regular workouts to the picture, it didn’t result in any improvements with my sugar-heavy diet.

A will to change

It was time for a change. Willpower and conscious consumption habits should help me achieve the goal, right? But the reality isn’t that simple. In fact, the more I tried to stay away from sugar, the more I understood how difficult it actually was.

My first challenge was cravings. For me, chocolate was my guilty pleasure. Staying away from sweets was very difficult, and often resulted in failure within the first week of my sugar-free pledge. The abundance of colourful candy displays in the stores and the overwhelming number of sugary goodies everywhere were not helping my case, either. I was torn between trying to keep to my commitments and letting myself indulge. I was in a tug of war with myself. Is this what you would call sugar addiction? For me, the best I could come up with was a strong ‘maybe.’ I am, after all, no dietitian.

However, there are many studies suggesting the addictive effects sugar can have on the brain, some even arguing that addiction to sweetness can surpass the effects of cocaine. This is in part because sugar triggers a release of dopamine, a hormone that is part of the brain’s “reward system.” It is no wonder then that so many people (myself included) can have very strong cravings for sugary foods.

But I don’t believe we will necessarily be enslaved by our sugar addiction in the future. If we can start to raise our dopamine levels in other ways — such as through meditation, regular exercise, and massage therapy — we can help to ease the effects of our sugar withdrawal. This is something we all need to do: as students and young adults, we have a responsibility to our bodies. All too often we forget about the importance of health in self-care. As great as it can be to indulge in a sugary beverage or treats, we need to ask ourselves if it is really worth it in the long run.

You’d think I should be able to live a sugar-free lifestyle when I subdue my cravings, right? Unfortunately, this is where the second challenge comes in. The truth is, nowadays it is very difficult to stay away from sugary foods. It seems that the high concentrations of sugar in our food renders anything other than a paleo diet hopeless.

A sugar-free future?

As consumers, we need to be aware of our choices and pick the products that we believe best fit our needs. But at the same time, it seems unfair to put full responsibility for healthy lifestyle on the consumers: so many products available to us are rich in sugar, and advertisers try to tempt us everywhere we go.

As I see it, we are currently not in a place where quitting processed sugars is achievable — they are just too widespread and prevalent in our diet. However, I believe we can all take small steps to reduce our sugar consumption by opting for healthy alternatives, such as fruits and healthy snacks. And in the meantime, we should raise a larger discussion on the dangers of sugar and call for tougher regulations on sugar in foods.

I strongly believe that SFU should also play a role in a collective approach to reducing our sugar consumption. As students, we often choose unhealthy, sugar-heavy food choices for three reasons: simplicity, availability, and pricing. Although there may not be many options for price changes, we can always add more healthy snack options to our cafeteria, or introduce healthier choices to the vending machines.  

But the first step is to spread awareness. If we have visible reminders of how much sugar we are consuming, such as displaying nutritional information to sugary treats, we would be more inclined to choose healthier options. . . there is no good reason that the next generation has to also find themselves in front of a mirror talking themselves down because of their body type.