You’re tired and you feel you eat too much sugar… therefore, the sugar is the reason you’re tired? Right? That’s what some popular diet book authors are saying…
Well…maybe. It’s certainly possible that if you’re having unstable blood sugar from an inappropriate balance of foods, you’ll have energy lows.
But there’s another possibility that you should consider – that it’s the low energy that’s driving your sugar cravings.
Pure sugar is the quickest fuel source there is. If your brain is desperate for some immediate energy, it wants sugar. It doesn’t want some butter and green beans, it wants some g**damn glucose STAT!
If you’re tired, your appetite in general is going to be elevated. Your brain will probably demand more calories than your body truly needs and it’s going to want that fast fuel.
Recently I had my sugar cravings reduce by approximately half nearly overnight. What did I do? I started using a CPAP machine to manage my sleep apnea. Ta-da. Magic. No painful withdrawals. No gimmicky diets. I just let my brain stop being so damn tired all the time.
Apparently I’m not alone in this. In a thread in the Eating the Food Facebook group about sugar cravings and low energy, a bunch of other people who are sleep apnea-ers chimed in with the same experience that I had – excessive cravings that just vanished on their own.
Sure, you could say “but that’s anecdotal evidence!” Valid, but the underlying science is solid. If your sleep is insufficient, your blood sugar control is going to be compromised, your appetite will go up, and your brain is going to need some kind of ‘pick me up’.
Of course this doesn’t only apply to people with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a fairly unique situation in that total hours in bed or asleep don’t really translate into hours of actually restorative sleep – but sleep deprivation is sleep deprivation.
Added sugar CAN fit into a healthy goal-supporting diet. It’s about moderation, not elimination. If you have a wide variety of foods and your diet is 80-90 percent whole foods, you’re doing pretty damn good – a reasonable dessert after dinner shouldn’t bring your health to a screeching halt.
So what do you do if you’re finding you’re craving added sugar all the time and your energy sucks? Go on a ‘sugar detox’? Heeelllllll no.
Step 1 would be to add more foods that support stable blood sugar and see if that helps you to reduce sugar consumption ‘naturally’. If your blood sugar becomes more stable by adding in more slow digesting carbohydrates (think: fiber) and protein, you should find yourself craving less sugar. It shouldn’t be something you have to FORCE yourself to do and deal with lethargy or massive headaches.
On the other hand, if you make positive changes to your diet by adding in more foods that support blood sugar control and your cravings still feel excessive, it’s time for step 2 – take a hard look at your sleep.
- Are you getting 7-9 hours a night?
- Is your bedroom pitch black or pretty damn close?
- Are you getting to bed at a reasonable hour (one that allows you to get your 7-9 hours and still wake up around sunrise)?
- Are you avoiding over-stimulation at night, including but not limited to minimizing or eliminating blue light exposure from electronic devices?
- Are you making sure that you don’t get riled up before bed time with finalizing your plans for world domination? ….Maybe that’s just me…
If your problem is just poor ‘sleep hygiene’, these things should help. If your energy still sucks, then it’s time to talk to a medical doctor and explore what could be going on. I talked about sleep apnea earlier, but of course I’m not your doctor and there could be other factors that are robbing your energy and sending your appetite off the rails.
Certainly many people do eat too many excessively refined foods and on a population level, we need to eat less sugar. Many already health-focused people however tend to blame their energy problems on their sugar consumption, even if their sugar consumption is within acceptable limits for health.
If you feel your sugar cravings are excessive and simple non-painful dietary changes don’t even make a dent in changing this, it’s time to start looking at your sleep or other factors that could be robbing you of your energy.