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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 01 2018

Primal Challenge Point: Stop Feeding the Sugar Cycle

By Mark Sisson
14 Comments

Inline_Food_Nutrition_Live-Awesome-645x445-01It’s impossible to talk about using food as a drug without looking at the genuine neurological and hormonal impacts it has on the body. The fact is, certain foods affect us more like drugs than others.

With actual drug use, we’re not operating with innate satiation signaling. But with food, our bodies have a built-in system for telling us when to eat, how much to eat and when to stop.

In our paleolithic ancestors’ time, it worked great. Today, we’ve become our own saboteurs. We’ve known for years that sugary and processed foods (those that strategically combine sugar, salt and certain fats into a triple crown disaster) are intentionally designed to override our inherent satiation signals and hyper-trip our reward systems.

Unfortunately, our own body composition can work against us—leading us deeper into a cul-de-sac of poor eating choices and behaviors. Leptin is one key hormonal player in our satiety signaling. When we’re obese, we lose leptin sensitivity, and we’re drawn to eat despite being functionally full. This is where we get into trouble and the gate is open to food dependence—a phenomenon that looks strikingly similar to chemical drug dependence in neurological scans.

The physiology here could easily be its own post, and I’ve written about these issues in the past. Suffice it here to say that it’s time to kick sugar/high carb (same deal) and processed foods to the curb. You’ll be forever waging an uphill battle with these food products. Food chemists have you by the tail. Get the monkey off your back by going cold turkey or by gradually replacing these choices with healthier ones that won’t hijack your physiology.

— From “How To Stop Using Food Like a Drug”

TAGS:  hormones

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14 thoughts on “Primal Challenge Point: Stop Feeding the Sugar Cycle”

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  1. Mark, have you heard of Susan Pierce Thompson and the Bright Line Eating Movement? Susan talks extensively about the addictive properties of sugar and flour and the science is illuminating and fascinating. The plan is not for everyone (a lot of people don’t need the structure), but for those who need help bounding their quantities and mindfulness skills to achieve their goals (ME!) I think it’s incredible. I’ve followed you for years and am healthier, calmer and happier because of it! BLE added the extra skills I needed. I find a primal lifestyle fits perfectly into the BLE framework and I’m so happy to have found both of them. I’m going to be one of your Friday stories before you know it!

  2. A mismatch between our ancestral and modern environments in terms of physical activity and natural movement comes to mind as being almost as big a mismatch as is diet. Based on paleoanthropological evidence from hominid fossils, and from the study of individuals living in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies, humans moved around quite a bit and were very active. People in hunter-gatherer groups probably walked around 10,000 steps a day.

    What you do with your body is just as important as what you put into it… in maintaining a “healthy level of movement,” one develops a healthy approach to consumption, where instincts become far more identifiable and beneficial. The well-being that builds from balanced movement trumps the need for consumption based satisfaction, such as food, pain killers, alcohol, drugs etc. Don’t believe me… try it! Try moving more… I’m not asking you to put forth much effort here. I’m just asking you to put one foot in front of the other. Get 10,000 steps a day (or) walk for 60 to 90 minutes. This is how I do it…

    – First thing in the morning I walk for twenty to thirty minutes… this is my cup of coffee
    – Early afternoon I walk for twenty to thirty minutes… this is my afternoon nap
    – After dinner our tribe walks in rain, snow or shine for thirty minutes

    Yes, I also lift heavy things but this supplemental to moving around at a slow pace. Get moving and take notice how other things fall into place… including those sugar cravings.

    1. I hear you. I found that it’s better to eliminate sugar entirely in all its forms (including artificial). Drastic, yes, but merely reducing sugar won’t allow you to lose your taste for it. As a former sugar addict, it took me a long time to be able to eat a small bite of dessert on rare occasions without immediately wanting more. I normally eat an 80/20 or 90/10 Paleo diet, but that 10 or 20 percent seldom includes sweets..

      1. I agree.I know several people who are “addicted’ to sugar. It tends to run in families. Ive noticed. They can’t have just a little. Any amount triggers increased desire for more. And the double whammy is they feel great eating sugar. So other than the weight gain and the metabolic penalty, they don’t feel the consequences. If i eat sugar i feel like crap, even as a kid. It’s immediate, so for me, not eating sugar is very easy. But if you are the type that can pound a whole slice of cake and feel great, you can’t dabble with moderation.

        1. It isn’t that we don’t pay for it, it just isn’t immediate the way it is for some (lucky) people. I used to put down a ridiculous amount of sugar, but I developed a list of bizarre health problems along the way. After 15 years of doing this, I eventually started to gain weight too (although that was the least of my problems). But, oddly it leveled off at some point despite how much sugar I was binging on.
          I am definitely one of those people who can never again have added sugar. My primal brain is so addicted to it, that all it takes is one bite of something with a little added sugar to send it into crazy town.
          I’ve also read that former drug addicts are very prone to sugar addiction, and the addiction to sugar can be worse than it was with drugs. Drug addiction runs in families as well.

  3. Yes, it’s all about that triple crown. I doubt that many people are tempted to eat sugar, fat, or flour by the spoonful, but when the three are baked into a cake, complete with chocolate and sugary frosting, they become something entirely different and much harder to ignore.

  4. When you say processed, would organic bars or apple sauce count? I like natures path bars. Lara bars.

    1. Chris, I think you’d be much better off eating an apple than applesauce. Even unsweetened applesauce is going to be a more concentrated form of sugar than a fresh apple. Lara bars are super clean, but dried fruit is also pretty much a sugar bomb. Everyone is different, but I know back when I used to eat a lot of dried fruit I was always craving more. I eat super dark chocolate now…much lower in sugar but to me it feels like I am really treating myself.

      1. So true Elizabeth. I find that any of these bars trigger a carb frenzy with me. Almond butter and a granny smith apple are my go to when I am craving carbs

      2. Chris, the closer to natural the better. Do Lara Bars occur in nature? I think not. Neither does apple sauce, although a case can be made for apples you chop up and cook yourself if you don’t add sugar or other sweeteners. After all, most of us do cook our food. Generally, anything that comes wrapped, bottled or boxed in some sort of packaging can be considered processed, no matter how healthful the ingredients might seem.

    2. Lara bars are one of the best out there ( just nuts, dates and spices). The trouble is they are very sweet, and much too easy to devour. If you sat down with a few dates and a hand full of nuts, you probably couldn’t get through the dates. But smooshed up in a bar, it’s over in seconds. And you’re ready for more. Easy food are trouble.

  5. I removed all sugars and processed foods from my diet a long time ago but I was still drinking. About 6 months I quit drinking, and for a little transparency, started attending meetings. I found not much long after even tho I had a great keto diet, I was mightily attracted to sugary treats and fully derailed during the holidays. Thankfully I didn’t give up the habit of intermittent fasting at that time so no unwanted weight gain occurred (I was doing a full 20-24 hr fast) but I had to acknowledge the psychological addictive drive that was still there that I guess I used to address with booze. It has subsided with the new year and caused me to recommit to efforts aligned with my diet and lifestyle to fully avoid such treats. I made coconut oil chocolate pb fat bombs to satisfy a craving for such things when I’m kinda desperate. If you’re not keto, such things may be too much contained energy to consume for any normal reason but for me they actually help me hit daily keto macros. The majority of my food intake is structured using known food chemistry to trigger taste receptors to generate a natural “food high” so I purposely play to my addictive personality in the most healthy way possible. Approaching meal time daily is a very enjoyable meditative and therapeutic experience now for me and I continue micromanaging it. Recently got into eating more offal (beef liver and ground beef meatballs) and will begin fermenting a lot of veggies for improved gut health. The freedom from the bs in our modern food system is very empowering and I found that many ppl around me who deal with addiction issues in a traditional drugs and/or alcohol context benefit from my efforts and experience which makes it so much less self centered. Worth it.
    Hope my transparency can help ppl in this community see that there is nothing wrong with acknowledging these issues and dealing with them.