More now than ever, people are discovering the close link between high sugar and refined wheat consumption and weight gain. It seems like these foods offer quick energy and satisfying taste in the moment but slowly and surely add more pounds to the body, especially around the midsection. Why? The high amounts of energy released from these foods comes in a burst rather than a slow trickle. Blood glucose spikes are not as beneficial for smooth metabolism as glucose trickling slowly into the blood.
Think of a squirrel that has just found a lot of nuts, too many to use at once. It hoards them and and stores them away for later. If your body were a squirrel, it would see a huge burst of sugar as something to hoard and store while other foods that only provide a little at a time will be more efficiently used for energy.
The sugar spike effect gets even more complicated when you add stress and adrenal fatigue into the mix. The topic of weight gain is handled more in-depth in the Weight Gain Cluster, but here we'll take a look at how sugar can trick you into gaining more weight than you realize.
Tricky Sugar Weight
Sugar has an ability to make the person eating it crave more of it. Every person is different and some people honestly don't struggle with having to limit their sugar intake because they don't desire it in the first place. This person is rare. Readily available and sugary coffee drinks, candy bars displayed by check out lines, and a whole holiday centered around candy (Halloween) lets you know that more people share sugar cravings than don't.
Why and how does sugar do this? Stress is common in life and when it builds up, it can place a burden on the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands release cortisol in response to stress to help the body adapt to changes and sticky situations better. Cortisol gives us a burst of energy with which to attack stress and challenges. But when the adrenal glands are tired themselves, the body feels like its dragging and lacking energy.
That's where sugar comes in. We all know the physical and mental-emotional euphoria that can come from simply nibbling on chocolate or licking an ice cream cone. The energy burst is quick, and for a person whose adrenal glands feel taxed, the quick burst of energy is a temporary relief. That's why coffee can be very popular (and habit-forming) as well.
The mental-emotional euphoria from sugar also lets people feel like they are getting a reward or "goody" in foods that are sweet. It may start out that you crave a sweet treat once a day during a lunch break. But as the mind becomes accustomed to being treated, you may end up "rewarding" yourself more often, say after every hour or two of stress.
Read the next tab on food portions.
What is satiety? Satiety is a word that means being full from the food that you eat. Foods such as lentils and beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and some dairy products tend to have a high level of satiety, meaning that you stay full longer after eating them. Why? Often it's the proteins, fiber, and complex carbohydrates that fill up the belly and also trigger to the mind that you've had enough to eat for a while. Any sugars released (glucose) from the food you're eating tends to trickle out slowly due to the blood sugar-stabilizing effects of protein and fiber. With a level flow of glucose in the blood, the body feels satisfied.
Sugar laden foods work in a very different way. The sugar will provide a quick spike of energy and glucose in the blood, but without proteins, fibers, and complex carbohydrates to balance out the flow of it the body doesn't feel full as quick or as long. The spike of energy is quickly gobbled up, leaving the body wanting more. Food portions that were once balanced can become bigger to meet the body's desire for more sustained energy.
Sugary foods and refined wheat actually makes us want larger food portions and want to eat more frequently. Both of these factors, along with the sugar cravings we talked about, quickly lead to weight gain.
Click on the next tab to read about insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is basically a body that has become resistant to the signals that insulin's trying to give it. Insulin the is the hormone released from the pancreas that tells our body's cells to welcome in glucose from the foods we eat. Without its signals, blood sugar will rise because the sugar can't enter cells.
A sugar saturated diet actually makes the body less attentive to insulin's messages, often leading to insulin resistance, weight gain, and the risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Insulin as released from the pancreas as the body needs it in response to the amount of sugar in meals. When sugar levels reach overwhelming amounts, the insulin supply is put in danger. Even before that, the body's cells often start ignoring insulin's signals.
Why ignore insulin? In fact, during insulin resistance cells aren't only unable to access blood sugar, they also can't get fatty acids and amino acids. So this is a body-wide problem. The tissues are exposed to larger floods of insulin when you eat sugary foods frequently. The cell receptors that are designed to be more sensitive to smaller amounts of the hormone start losing their sensitivity to insulin when they're constantly bombarded with it.
Insulin resistance often comes as a package deal along with weight gain, high blood pressure, adrenal fatigue, and in some people insulin-resistant diabetes.
Click on the next tab to read about the Sugar and Weight Stars.
Symptoms related to excess sugar consumption are diverse. We'll only focus on a few common ones, but it's important to know that if you feel controlled somewhat by the sugar in your diet it can be helpful to look at this for overall preventive health.
The symptoms we'll focus on are:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Overweight or Obese
Continue down the page to find out more.
Sugar and Weight Stars
Click through the symptoms below to explore how sugar may be affecting your health and weight. For more information and help on how to resolve sugar-related symptoms that may be affecting your health, click on the button below to take the Metabolic Survey and visit our Services page.
Sugar and adrenal fatigue have a very stormy relationship with each other. Excessive sugar intake often comes about as a result of adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands help the body sustain its energy for everyday life and especially during times of stress. But who doesn't feel fairly regular stress these days? The adrenals can get pretty tired trying to keep up with increased cortisol demands during times of stress.
When energy goes down, we can turn to sugary foods for their palliative effect. Palliation basically means putting a temporary band-aid on something. The sugar may make you feel energized and great in the moment, but the feeling is short-lived and you often are turning back to the kitchen for another sugar fix before long. Now the relationship gets even stormier. Sugar does nothing to support your adrenal glands and in fact stresses them out even more.
The sugar is saying to the blood stream: "Hey--I'm here! Pay attention to me. Insulin, cortisol, and you other hormones. I'm the boss of you now!" The sugar will basically promote hormonal imbalances in the body, including that of cortisol. As cortisol and the other hormones involved in energy use fluctuate and can't set their normal schedules for metabolic function, even more adrenal fatigue sets in.
You can see why when you eat lots of sugar, you can ironically feel tired afterward rather than energized from the energy input.
Overweight or Obese
In the Weight Gain cluster, we talk about how to calculate your Body Mass Index and how this value is used along with symptoms to assess status of "overweight" or "obesity." Most people realize that excess weight is not just a body image matter, but also one of importance in terms of the pressures it puts on the health.
For a while, fat and especially saturated fat were the main culprits in health news for contributors to weight gain. Sugar and refined wheat are increasingly being added to the equation too. Because sugar greatly influences how blood glucose (and therefore energy) are going to be distributed in the body, it also plays a huge part in overall metabolism of other molecules too such as fat and cholesterol.
On top of this, a lot of sugary foods also contain high amounts of fat. When both types of molecules are quickly entering the body, especially from processed foods, the metabolism has to handle them both so that they don't build up in the blood stream. Often, the metabolism becomes so overwhelmed from regular consumption of these foods that weight gain becomes inevitable unless physical activity can balance out the extra calories.
Being overweight or obese can increase the risk for other types of health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and increased inflammation in the body.
High blood sugar places a burden on the body that can lead to adult-onset diabetes in a few ways. For one, often the pancreas cannot keep up with insulin supply to cover all the sugar from regularly sweet diets. When insulin slows down and runs out, sugar builds up in the blood and pushes toward pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Second, the high levels of sugar can help create insulin resistance in the body's cells. The cells can no longer get sugar into them because insulin is being ignored by cell receptors. Again, sugar will build up in the blood stream and the pancreas has to work harder to provide more insulin to compensate for the insulin resistance. Again, we have a riskier situation of pre-diabetes or diabetes setting in.
Then, the sugar can lead to weight gain, especially around the midsection of the body. The weight places an additional burden on the body's metabolism and assimilation of sugar, and insulin resistance often gets worse. As insulin resistance gets worse, blood sugar levels keep building.
As you can see, high blood sugar can lead to a domino effect of everything that comes after it, including a stressed pancreas, insulin decline or resistance, weight gain, and diabetes.