Last week I wrote an article about our ‘bust the sugar craving challenge’ that we just completed with a group at our studio last month. The article was already long enough so I didn’t add the information about the big three hormones that tell the whole sugar story: Insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. The story of the holy trinity of sugar/hunger hormones will lead you to believe sugar just might not be the best thing in the world for us.
But before we get into the whole sugar is evil thing – full disclosure: After spending the perfect day kayaking along the Grand River yesterday with my wife Tina, we decided (well I decided and she just went along with it) when we got back to Mississauga to go to Dairy Cream on the Lakeshore. Not Dairy Queen, the cream variety has been in the same location on Lakeshore since 1958. It is still a hang out for couples, bikers, hot rodders and families.
Dairy Cream on Lakeshore Mississauga
We decided this would be our cheat day and had a large soft chocolate, chocolate dip ice cream cone. To say this thing was large is a gross understatement. If you ever watched the Simpsons it was about as large as Marge Simpsons hairdo. If you are thinking I am going to tell you it wasn’t amazing you are wrong. It was pretty damn good. Did I pay for it later. Yup. The rest of the evening I sat on the coach feeling like the python who ate the pig, and anytime I got up I felt really dizzy. I ended up going to bed at 10 pm (on a Saturday) and woke up with stomach issues today. But I did go for a 16 km run along Lake Ontario this morning which felt absolutely amazing and I am back to feeling really good. So, if it feels like I am preaching know that I am definitely not a complete health food Zealot. I do think all of us who eat healthy sometimes just have to say f… it! I probably won’t have another ice cream for a year now but I got it out of my system and I never want to have the feeling of being deprived. Hey, next week when I am celebrating Canada Day Weekend in Port Dover at the absolute best parade in Canada for our countries birthday, I may just have a great big pizza. But after that for the next 6 days I will be back to my healthy, no hunger eating plan.
Yup – Marge’s hair is pretty well the size of the ice cream cone
Now back to the sugar hormones. You have probably heard of Insulin because I am sure you know at least a few people with diabetes as it is a North American epidemic. I have a friend who worked in the pharmaceutical industry a few years ago. One of the products that he sold was a device to monitor your blood. He told me he was getting a 10% increase every year on the product due to nothing but people who were newly diagnosed as having diabetes. Diabetes is just great for the pharmaceutical industry! Not so good for us, but at least we know the multi-billion dollar pharma corporations are making a healthy profit. I don’t know what the actual stats are about new diagnoses, but check out these stats by the C.D.C. (Center for Disease Control) in the U.S. in 2014:
Total:29.1 million people or 9.3% of the population have diabetes.
Diagnosed:21.0 million people.
Undiagnosed:8.1 million people (27.8% of people with diabetes are undiagnosed).
Wow, I would say 9.3% is an epidemic!!
O.K. I will truly will stay on track now and just talk about the hormones. Here is the definition of the three hormones we are talking about:
- Insulin – hormone that lowers the level of glucose in the blood. Insulin helps glucose enter the body’s cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for future use. Insulin resistance occurs when the body doesn’t respond as well to the insulin that the pancreas is making and glucose is less able to enter the cells. Not a good thing.
- Leptin – the “satiety hormone”, – helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger.
- Ghrelin – the “hunger hormone” – regulates appetite, and regulates the distribution and rate of use of energy.
Every time I think of the hormone Ghrelin, I think Gremlin because if left unchecked it acts just like a Gremlin.
Now here is how these three hormones interact: Let’s say you eat a lot sugar. Insulin comes to the rescue and gets released into your system to help lower your glucose levels in your blood to a safe level and helps to store glucose in the cells for energy. Let’s say like me last night you have the mother of all ice cream cones. Your insulin level will stay elevated. This is unfortunate because leptin ceases to work when the blood stream is flooded with Insulin. Usually leptin tells you when you are full by sending a message to ghrelin to cease and desist sending your brain messages that you are hungry. But if there is too much insulin in the system, leptin doesn’t send the message and ghrelin just keeps telling you that you should go on eating, and eating and eating. Ghrelin is a good thing when your hormones are in balance. It let’s us know we are hungry so that we don’t starve ourselves. If we didn’t have the hormone ghrelin we wouldn’t know we were hungry and could starve to death. But to people who eat too much sugar, ghrelin can be a pain in the ass (or stomach) because it’s not receiving the message from leptin, and it is giving us the message to gorge ourselves. And If you eat too much sugar for too long you will become insulin resistant and your body will be less able to store glucose as energy which leads to being diabetic. Diabetics end up having to take extra insulin because their systems don’t work like they are supposed to.
When we did the ‘bust the sugar craving challenge’ what we were really doing is finding a way to reset our system so that the big three hormones would be in balance. When we eat a healthy diet are hunger/sugar hormones are working correctly and we feel naturally full when we have ate enough for a healthy diet. We don’t have to deal with cravings for sugar, or cookies, or pasta, or bread or potatoes that all just break down into sugar in your system. When we eat too much sugar we stop our systems natural ability to tell us we are full and we just keep eating and eating because we just can’t help ourselves. Think about it, ghrelin is a really a survival hormone. If you don’t eat you will die. This is the message it constantly sends to the brain when it is overrun by sugar. You really can’t blame yourself for eating when your hormones are telling you that you are going to starve to death! And to make things worse when we eat sugar, our blood sugar spikes and then falls and we are looking for more sugar to pick us up again so eat more. We set ourselves up to be in be in a non-ending loop of eating the wrong foods because our hunger hormonal systems are out of whack.
Our bodies are very smart if we treat them well. Sugar just makes our bodies stupid, just like alcohol can make our brains stupid (yes I have lots of experience with that too) and we lose the ability to make the right decisions for our nutritional needs.
To tell you the truth last night I really didn’t have a sugar craving for the ice cream, it was more of a fun event that I use to do, that I wanted to experience again. I really have been amazed at how my cravings for sugar have pretty well subsided. Give it a try. Let your body start working for you, not against you. And you will find it is really is a breeze. And when you want that funnel cake at the Ex this year, it will be because you want it, not because you need it.