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Why Sugar Is The New Fat + 10 Ways To Break Your Addiction

Mark Hyman, M.D.
September 14, 2014
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller
By Mark Hyman, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.
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September 14, 2014

The statistics are sobering. The average American consumes about 152 pounds of sugar a year, or about 22 teaspoons a day. If you have kids, they probably consume even more: about 34 teaspoons every day, much of it added sugar as high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), making nearly one in four teenagers pre-diabetic or diabetic.

All carbohydrates break down into sugar in your body, and flour (yes, even “healthy” wheat flour) creates the same metabolic havoc as table sugar. We eat about 146 pounds of flour a year. Altogether, then, the average American eats about a pound of sugar from added sweeteners and flour every day.

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For decades, we blamed fat for making us fat. It sounds so simple, right? Just cut out the fat and you’ll get lean. Except while manufacturers touted their “healthy” fat-free and low-fat Frankenfoods, added sugar was slipping in through the back door, and the consequences have wreaked havoc on our health and our waistlines.

The consequences are depicted in a new documentary, Fed Up, which follows a group of families battling to lead healthier lives — and reveals why the conventional wisdom of “exercise and eat right” is not ringing true for millions of people struggling with diabetes, childhood obesity and other serious conditions.

As newer studies emerge and prominent experts speak out, we’ve experienced a massive paradigm shift over the past decade that sugar in all its forms creates our obesity epidemic and most of the world’s chronic disease. Pick a condition, and you can bet sugar plays a prominent role in its development: heart disease, cancer, dementia, type 2 diabetes, poor sleep quality, depression, and even acne, fertility struggles, and impotence.

Why Sugar is the New Cocaine

While I’m throwing out shocking sugar stats, consider this: sugar is eight times as addictive as cocaine. We’ve seen studies where researchers let rats choose between drugs and Oreos. Guess what they go after?

If you’re addicted, it isn’t your fault. Being a sugar addict is a biological disorder, driven by hormones and neurotransmitters that fuel sugar and carb cravings and lead to uncontrolled overeating. This addiction occurs more often than you might imagine. It explains why nearly 70 percent of Americans and 40 percent of kids are overweight.

Why You Need a Sugar Detox

The good news is you can break this addictive sugar cycle in just 10 days. With the launch of Fed Up in theaters this past May we had over 45,000 people join The Fed Up Challenge, a 10-day challenge to cut added sugar completely out of your diet. And now, with the release of Fed Up on DVD and iTunes, we’re launching the Back-to-School Fed Up Challenge. A 10 day challenge, for parents, families, students, and everyone who wants to start this new year on a sugar-free note.

Cutting sugar out of your diet works. That’s why I created The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet. During our trial run, we invited more than 600 people to try it out, and they lost more than 4,000 pounds in 10 days. They lost that weight not through willpower or “toughing it out,” but by enjoying powerful addiction-reversing foods that rewired and reset their brains and bodies. No cravings, no bland or boring diet food, no deprivation; just delicious, whole, fresh foods. At the end of the 10 days, they got their bodies and their minds back. They learned a new way to eat and live that will last a long, healthy lifetime.

The top 10 big ideas below will help you break free of your sugar addiction in just 10 days:

1. Commit.

You probably know whether or not you struggle with sugar addiction. If you're not sure, here's a super-simple quiz to see if you're addicted to sugar. If you answer yes to these questions, a sugar detox provides your ticket to feel great quickly and lose weight painlessly.

2. Go cold turkey.

Just like you wouldn’t tell an alcoholic to have “just one drink,” sugar addicts can’t have just a little sugar. The good news is if you follow these rules, you automatically reset your body’s neurotransmitters and hormones.

You’ll want to ditch all sugar, including flour products and artificial sweeteners, as well as trans or hydrogenated fats, MSG (watch for hidden names), and ideally, grains. For 10 days, avoid any foods that come in a box, package, can, or that have a label. Stick with real, whole, fresh food.

3. Don’t drink your calories.

Liquid sugar beelines directly to your liver, converting into belly fat. Rather than fill you up, these empty calories make you crave more sugar and carbs. Liquid sugar — sodas, juices, sports drinks, sweetened teas, and even so-called healthy drinks — is also the single biggest source of sugar calories in our diet. One can of soda a day increases a kid’s chance of being obese by 60% and a woman’s chance of type 2 diabetes by 80%.

4. Power up with protein.

Protein, especially at breakfast, provides the key to balancing blood sugar and insulin and cutting cravings. Start the day with whole farm eggs or a protein shake. I recommend my Whole Food Protein Shake. At every meal, aim to use nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, chicken, or grass-fed meat for protein. A serving size is 4 to 6 ounces, or the size of your palm.

5. Go high carb (but the right ones!).

You can eat as many non-starchy leafy and cruciferous veggies as you want. What’s out includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, grains, and beans. Don’t worry: it’s only 10 days, and ditching these foods supercharges the results so you lose weight and feel great.

6. Fight sugar with fat.

Fat makes you full, balances your blood sugar, and fuels your cells. Along with protein, have good fats at every meal and snack including nuts and seeds, extra virgin olive oil, coconut butter, avocados, and omega 3 fats from fish.

7. Prepare: don’t let yourself get into a food emergency.

I keep an Emergency Life Pak with me all the time, filled with protein, healthy fats, and good snacks so I never have to make a bad choice. Mine includes packets of Artisana nut butters and coconut butter, almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, salmon jerky or turkey jerky, a can of wild salmon or sardines, and unsweetened wild blueberries.

8. De-stress: Increased levels of your stress hormone cortisol make you hungry, causebelly fat storage, and lead to Type 2 diabetes.

Studies show that taking deep breaths activates the vagus nerve, which shifts your metabolism from fat storage to fat burning and quickly moves you out of the stress state. All you have to do is take a deep breath. My Take Five Breathing Break is something you can do anywhere, anytime. Simply take five slow deep breaths — in to the count of five, out to the count of five. Five times. That’s it. Do this before every meal. Watch what happens!

9. Put out the fire: Studies show inflammation triggers blood sugar imbalances, insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, and Type 2 diabetes.

Besides sugar, flour, and trans fats, hidden food sensitivities — especially gluten and dairy — create most inflammation. We often crave the foods we’re allergic to. Quit gluten and dairy for 10 days. It isn’t easy, but after just two to three days you’ll have renewed energy and relief from cravings and common symptoms.

10. Get deep sleep.

Studies find that depriving college students of just two hours of the recommended eight hours of sleep led to a rise in hunger hormones, a decrease in appetite-suppressing hormones, and big cravings for sugar and refined carbs. You crave energy when you don’t sleep, so you go toward quickly absorbed sugars.

Sleep is the best way to fight hunger, cravings, and overeating. You literally can sleep your cravings and your weight away! I hope you’ll join us on this journey to break America’s sugar addiction.

If you’ve ever struggled, what one strategy would you add to this list to get off the sugar roller coaster? Share your thoughts below.

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Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D.

Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in the field of Functional Medicine. He is the founder and director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a 13-time New York Times best-selling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show.

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