Alcoholics often experience intense sugar cravings after cessation, and satisfying those urges can feel like you've found a new loyal companion. In fact, indulging in sweets in early recovery holds the benefit of curbing alcohol cravings, due to stimulation in the pleasure center of your brain being similar to what is experienced during active addiction.
However, the brain of an alcoholic is wired for addiction, which means that overindulgence in sugary substances can hold the danger of developing cross-addiction—also known as addiction transfer—to any potentially addictive substance or behavior.
Although excessive sugar consumption isn't accompanied by overtly destructive behaviors common in alcohol addiction, the detrimental effects of sugar addiction on your health and well-being can be far-reaching. In recovery, it's important for your body to recover from the impact of a consistent lack of nutrients, and consuming large amounts of sugar isn't going to do the trick.
Here's a brief explanation of why sugar cravings occur and how you can begin to combat them with healthier options.
Why Am I Craving Sugar?
When drinking alcohol excessively, your body converts the alcohol directly to sugar. In turn, your blood sugar levels spike, causing a proportionate insulin response to bring your blood sugar levels down to normal. Once you stop drinking, craving sweets is your body's reaction to perceived blood sugar insufficiency. Therefore, excessive consumption of sugar simply feeds the same unhealthy cycle that was occurring during active addiction.
However, don't fret too much about giving in to your sugar cravings for a while. Doing so can serve the purpose of temporarily restoring a sense of emotional balance to get you through the intense alcohol cravings that often occur in early recovery.
Here are 5 practices that helped me find sweet redemption from my sugar cravings.
1. Being Patient
First and foremost, don't give into self-judgment about replacing alcohol with sugar. Going into a shame spiral about giving in to the lure of a piece of cake will only be counterproductive. If relenting to sugar cravings has kept you from drinking, then look at it as a lifesaver and forgive yourself. Although it may be a slow process, there's a way out of sugar dependence and beating yourself up isn't going to help you gain redemption. Remember to aim for progress rather than perfection.
2. Healthy Sugar Substitutes
There's a wide array of sugar substitutes on the market, making choosing one a bit overwhelming. Furthermore, there are numerous conflicting reports concerning their safety and how they affect blood glucose levels. After doing some research, I decided to avoid artificial sweeteners and go with stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant. You can use stevia for cooking and baking, but because it's more concentrated than sucrose (table sugar), there's a learning curve.
There are other naturally-occurring sweeteners such as monk fruit extract and sugar alcohols like erythritol. The takeaway is that doing some research on sugar replacements to determine which one is right for you is well worth the effort. Before I made the switch, I was consuming so much table sugar that I had become sluggish and had trouble concentrating. It took a few days to come out of the fog, but my energy level and ability to focus have increased considerably.
3. Don't Put Off Eating
A sure-fire way to be blind-sided by a sugar (or alcohol) craving is going too long without eating. Excessively low blood sugar will intensify cravings, both physically and psychologically. Although you want to be patient with yourself as you're eliminating sugar or reducing your intake, you also want to take measures to prevent cravings as much as you can. Most alcoholics are no stranger to stashing, and now is the perfect time to put that skill to use. Always have fruit, nuts and whole-grain snacks handy for when you feel hunger coming on. These snacks will provide protein, fiber, and necessary nutrients to keep your blood sugar levels stabilized until it's time for a bigger meal. Smoothies are also a healthy and delicious between-meal filler.
4. Keep Moving
A body in motion tends to stay in motion. I apply this law of physics in my recovery in numerous ways, including combating sugar cravings. Even if it's simply taking a brisk 30-minute walk 5 times a week, exercising produces endorphins and helps to rewire your brain and body systems to function in a more healthy way. You're less likely to crave unhealthy foods and you're more likely to get quality sleep, both of which will improve your overall energy level and mindset.
5. Stay Hydrated
Keeping your body hydrated can not only reduce sugar cravings by curbing hunger but offers other health benefits as well. I keep a supply of "naturally-essenced" sparkling water on hand at all times, but as with any advertising that boasts the natural origin of a product, there's a debate about its true purity. However, it's bubbly and has just enough flavor and aroma to entice me sufficiently. Another fun alternative is fruit-infused water. You can choose any fruit of your liking to drop into glasses of water to infuse their flavors, or you can mix in larger batches to keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Other hydrating beverages include coconut water and chlorophyll water.
Giving up sugar or significantly reducing your intake doesn't have to be a bummer. On the contrary, I see it as another growth opportunity in my recovery, one that has been educational and fun for me. I feel gratitude for the chance to improve my health, as opposed to a sense of denial.
I hope these 5 practices help you find sweet redemption from your sugar cravings.