Twelve Ways to De-Friend Sugar

by Jill Escher, author, Farewell, Club Perma-Chub: A Sugar Addict”s Guide to Easy Weight Loss, and founder,

I was honored to be asked to deliver a keynote address at the upcoming Nutritional Therapy Association conference, March 2012, in Vancouver, Washington.  As something of an outsider to the world of nutrition (I have degrees in Law, City Planning, and English, and run a real estate company), I feel a bit intimidated knowing that I”ll be speaking to some of the brightest minds in the field — what knowledge could I provide that they haven”t already thought of, a hundred times over?

But having gone through my own process of breaking up with my old friend, sugar, I know that there”s so much more to sugar addiction than the nutritional angle. The truth is that all the nutritional knowledge in the world means nothing to a sugar addict.  If the sugar gremlin is in your head gnashing and slobbering for another chocolate, you are helpless to deny him, no matter how many times you”ve read “The Paleo Solution.”  If sugar were not addictive, I can guarantee we”d have no obesity or diabetes epidemics, no diet books, no Dr. Oz show, no Weight Watchers.

In that spirit, I will not talk nutrition, or even science, to these wise people, but about that much less tangible topic of mental/emotional process of getting that sugar gremlin out of your head.  My talk, Twelve Ways to De-Friend Sugar, will cover why all these are important to a recovering sugar addict:

1.  Make like Maxwell Smart

2.  Find a Fairy Godmother

3.  Toss out the old dictionary

4.  Learn some history

5.  The right knowledge wants the right food

6.  Abstinence isn”t what you think

7.  Adopt mental mantras

8.  Lose weight in your sleep

9.  Exercise for the right reasons

10.  Love your happy fat

11.  Optional: Indulge in addiction transference

12.  Optional: Re-friend sugar, but on new terms

Over the next two or three months, I”ll let you know what all of these mean. For starters, if you”d like to know why it”s important to act like Maxwell Smart if you want to quit sugar, see my Sugar Slayer Blog (and then just scroll down a bit). In the meantime, pardon me while I get my shoe phone….

‘Let Them Eat Cake!’—A Native American Paleo Dieter Argues Bread-Heavy Comfort Food Is a European Construction

by David Bender

“Let them eat cake!” is a phrase famously attributed to Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution (1789-1799) in response to the lack of bread during a great famine, when the peasantry went hungry. Evidently this princess was oblivious to the plight of the working-class starving for lack of bread, and understandably the working class was oblivious to their unnatural addiction to carbohydrates.

Today’s diabetes epidemic undermines society’s bread-based eating lifestyle. Most Americans may not realize that our perception of comfort food is an ideal based on Western European cuisine. Due to colonization, bread has become a staple to the diets of human civilization. French cuisine relies on an abundance of grain in the form of bread, noodles and starchy sauces. But recently, scientists and researchers have begun to unravel the links between food addiction, gluten intolerance, and how common diseases—like arthritis, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and many others once thought to be hereditary—are actually addiction-oriented side-effects to this Neolithic diet.

Today, there is a whole other kind of revolution at hand. On one hand you have the industrial revolution led by corporations and politicians whose hand in ruling is summed best by Henry Kissinger, who said, “Who controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the oil controls the continents; who controls money can control the world.”

On the other hand, you have Revolutionary researchers and scientists who have unlocked the secret path to wellness. What is this secret? Basically, it’s the truth, and the truth is that we are essentially animals living in a state of denial of our addictions to sugar and carbohydrates.

The chemical reactions that occur when we consume a plate of spaghetti, an energy drink, or a bowl of ice cream are not far cry from a dose of morphine. I would argue addiction to sugar is harder to break than that of heroin.

The food industry understands this concept makes for a tremendous marketing scheme. This marketing scheme is online casino based on a monstrous surplus of grains and sugars. Actually, aside from disease, one of the first things Columbus brought with him was the sugar cane. Next would be slavery.

So profiteers have this surplus on hand and know how to use this knowledge of chemical reactions based on addictions and obsessions with immediate yet temporary (and quickly depleting) satisfaction to feed into our longing for comfort foods. This may be why so many of us have our cake and eat it too. Face it—we’re hooked!

Due to the relationship between business, marketing and human nature’s constant “pursuit of happiness” (which is brief and only fuels future cravings), the ruling class is still encouraging us to “eat cake,” while many suffer from diabetes and various other diseases. I attribute this to European cuisine.

One could argue that “our pursuit of happiness” and our addictions to sugar and grains (found to be the culprit that drives anxiety) is in fact the driving force of our consumer-based economy. An economy that is unabashedly based on capitalizing on fear and causing us to consume so-called comfort foods that weaken our immune system, rot out teeth, cause depression, and make us addicted, obsessive-compulsive, self-absorbed beasts of burden—effectively leading us to become the driving force behind the medical industry and capitalism as a whole.

The best things in life are free and shared!

Once upon a time, before man was tricked into toiling in the fields of the bourgeoisie, from the cradle to the grave, man could hunt and gather to provide sustenance for his family and comrades. Scientists like Dr. Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf have found that our ancestors were taller, stronger, and had much better teeth than modern men with less disease. This was due to the diet that suits us best, the one American Indians have evolved on for eons: the tried and true Paleolithic Diet based on meat and vegetables and the occasional bug or two.

So what were the comfort foods of that bygone era? Of course, it must be the roast! Vive la flamme! Vive la Révolution!


David Bender, a proud member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, adopted the Paleolithic Diet to combat disease and regain his health. Read about his family’s dedication to overcoming their addictions to sugar and carbohydrates two blog posts previous to this one.  Thanks to Mr. Bender for giving us permission to reprint this piece which appeared January 20, 2012 in

Stress and Sugar: A Mind-Body-Diet Connection



by Amy Berger

We”ve all been there:  we didn”t sleep well, the coffeemaker broke, and we got stuck in a traffic jam. By the time we get to work, we”re tired, angry, and late for the morning meeting. In other words, we”re stressed out! Is it any wonder the donuts call our names across the conference room table? The chocolate glaze, the sweet, soft dough. Let”s face it–those things don”t just call our names, they grab us in a chokehold and hit us over the head with a hammer! And it would take every tool at Home Depot for us to stand a fighting chance.

Why are sweet, starchy comfort foods the first things we crave when we”re stressed, and why are they so difficult to resist? Is there something unique about sweets that makes them the drug of choice when we”re stressed? Something that isn”t in, say, chicken, or almonds? You bet there is.

Throughout this series, I”ve been stressing that cravings for sweets and starches aren”t solely in our heads. There are physiological reasons why we want these foods so badly when we”re tired or worked up over something.

In the post about insulin, I explained that it”s the master hormone at the controls of the blood sugar rollercoaster. But it isn”t the only one. Hormones are messengers; they tell our bodies to do certain things. Is there a hormone that tells us to eat sugar when we”re stressed? Absolutely. It”s called cortisol.

Just like the blood sugar rollercoaster wouldn”t have any riders without someone selling tickets out front, insulin wouldn”t have much of a job to do without someone sending sugar its way. Cortisol is that someone, but, like insulin, cortisol is a double-edged sword.

You”ve probably heard of cortisol as “the stress hormone.” What does it do, and why does it come out to play (or, rather, wreak havoc) when we”re stressed out? To explain this, we have to take a step back and think about things in evolutionary terms. Our bodies are exquisitely equipped to handle stress, but a very specific kind of stress. Thousands of years ago, stress was extreme, but short-lived: we had to run away from a lion; we had to climb a tree in a hurry to keep from becoming a tiger”s dinner. In situations like that, cortisol is man”s best friend. It enables us to be fast and strong, and heightens our senses to everything except things that might get in our way. It raises our heart rate and dilates our blood vessels so we can get blood pumping through more quickly, it dilates our pupils so we can take in more of our surroundings and look for safety, and it dulls our perception of pain–after all, if you step on a rock and stop to deal with the pain, the tiger”s gonna eat you! But the most important thing cortisol online casino does is give us fuel in a flash. And which fuel does it give us? One guess.

Fast forward to the 21st Century. When was the last time you ran from lions and tigers? Been a while, huh? Maybe not as long as you think. To our bodies, hard-wired for survival among wild animals, everyday things that aggravate us are perceived as “stress.” Deadlines at work, insufficient sleep, tension at home, traffic jams, irritating coworkers, noisy dogs in the neighbor”s yard–the body interprets it all as stress. And in response, it releases cortisol, which in turn releases sugar into the bloodstream. And if you really were running from a lion, you would want all the sugar you could get! You”d need to move! The problem is, when you”re sitting behind the wheel in bumper-to-bumper traffic or dealing with your irritating boss, there”s nowhere to go. You”ve got all this sugar coursing through your bloodstream, but you”re not running from anything. You”re trapped in your car or in your office. But this sugar”s got to go somewhere, because too much sugar in the blood is not good. So what happens? Cortisol lets sugar into the carnival, and now our old friend insulin can escort it straight to the rollercoaster.

Cortisol is the kind of hormone scientists call a glucocorticoid. If you think that sounds like “glucose,” you”re right. In those dangerous, stressful situations from our evolutionary past, we needed lots of glucose and we needed it quickly. Cortisol”s job is to get it for us any way it can–even if that means breaking down our own muscles to get some. (When the body”s desperate for glucose, it can make it out of protein.) Whammy of double whammies, this is why we tend to gain body fat when we”re chronically stressed:  we”re eating more high-carbohydrate foods and we”ve lost some muscle mass–and muscles are what consume fuel, even when we”re just lying around doing nothing.

The crazy thing about cortisol is that it can set you up on the blood sugar rollercoaster even if you haven”t eaten any sugar. High cortisol can be the undoing of the very best low-carb diet. If you”ve been diligent about limiting your sugar and carb intake but aren”t losing any weight or you”ve hit a plateau, it”d be a good idea to examine how stressed you usually feel. Chronic everyday stressors–the annoying coworker, the mad dash to the train–add up, and they do as much to wreck blood sugar control as a sticky bun. So even if you”ve been following a lower-carb diet for a while, it”s important to keep your stress levels in check.

We hear it all the time: stress makes us gain weight. The thing is, there”s nothing inherent about stress itself that makes us eat more. It”s cortisol rising in response to that stress that basically takes us by the hand and walks us straight to the dessert tray. You notice I didn”t say it puts a gun to our head and forces sweets down our throat. Because it doesn”t. When your blood sugar”s low because of the effects of cortisol on insulin, high-carb comfort foods are hard to resist. Very hard. But not impossible. At times like that, ask yourself if you”re actually hungry. Chances are, you”re not. Your hormones are tricking you into feeling hungry. You”ll probably find you don”t want just any food; you want something sweet. If you were truly hungry, a pork chop and mixed vegetables would sound good. But you have no interest in that. Cookies, on the other hand, are all you can think about.

You know my line by now: knowledge is power. It”s still difficult to avoid sweets when our bodies are screaming for them. But maybe the “what” of steering clear will be just a little easier now that you know the why of wanting them so badly.


Amy Berger is earning a master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. A proud U.S. Air Force veteran, Amy struggled for years doing “all the right things,” but failed to see any improvement in her health and physique. Through shifting to nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods and intelligent exercise, she has transformed her body and self-esteem, and plans to share the lessons learned with those still fighting the battle. She believes weight loss is not a moral issue; it’s not about willpower, but restoring balance to our bodies and minds so that we don’t just survive, but thrive. Amy is especially interested in helping young women heal their relationships with food and serving as a source of common sense and sanity in the sea of nutritional madness. She can be reached at


A Native American Speaks Out on Sugar/Food Addiction

The following post originally appeared in October 2011 in  We reprint it here with the permission of the author. Thanks to Joe Lindley at Craving Sugar for reprinting it before us.

by David Bender

Ta?yá? yahípi—Welcome. My name is David Bender, and my goal is to raise awareness of food addiction.

The reason I write about battling food addiction is to save lives and protect our most valuable resource as a nation—our health. Before Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein explained evolution and relativity, respectively, we had been at one with our Mother and believed in the traditional Lakota Sioux prayer, Mitakuye Oyasin, honoring the oneness and harmony with all forms of life. All things are related—that was and still is our religion. Today, it’s considered a science and described as genetics.

As Indians, we make pledges to continue the tradition of honoring our planet, defending it side-by-side, warrior-to-warrior, nation-to-nation. But before we can fight for the survival of our natural habitat, we must fight for our health. That requires understanding and conquering the known epidemics of obesity and addiction. It is important to first realize that those two things are as new to Native people as bread and sugar were 500 years ago. It is also important to realize that bread and sugar are the building blocks of food addiction—the real gateway drugs, especially for American Indians.

How do I know all this? I was an addict and still am. Like many others, my family and I came face-to-face with our addictions the hard way and almost paid with our lives.

I was addicted to sugar and intolerant to gluten. The cravings were horrendous but I was oblivious. Sugar and gluten are two very unnatural compounds, but a major part of the “Neolithic diet,” which is grain-based and believed to be best suited for animals. This diet has been in existence since farming began in Europe 10,000 years ago. By comparison, the hunter-gatherer diet—the “Paleolithic diet”—has been in existence since the dawn of man.

Growing up, we are taught that there is no good or bad food—that eating right is simply a matter of portion control and personal responsibility. That sounds nice, but it is not true. How many of you have eaten one potato chip and closed the bag? How many have had a dessert, then gone back for seconds? Or eaten more ice cream than you originally intended? How many of you crave soda pop more than water?

Today, these forms of chemical ingestion are considered normal. But their general acceptance by society as “okay to eat or drink” does not stop them from killing us slowly.

The Wrong Way
I am a proud member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the product of the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 (passed long before I was born). I was not raised on a reservation but in a comparatively alien world called Chicago, where an active community of Native leaders resides—beacons of light for urban Indians like me.

Who says healthy eating has to be boring?

My lovely partner Karen Rae is a member of the Fort Peck Sioux and grew up in Brockton, Montana. Karen and I have been together since 2002, raising three kids (Coby, 12; Shauntae, 10; Jonathan, 7) in Fox Lake, Illinois, which was once home to the Meskwaki, who were erroneously labeled the Fox Tribe. We met in Poplar, Montana and lived on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation together for about three years before we moved to Lake County, Illinois to be near my side of the family.

My family had to find that out the hard way that our food addictions were killing us. In February 2010, Karen was diagnosed with several debilitating diseases: rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, borderline diabetes and, more recently, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, a common, often “silent” liver disease. NASH resembles alcoholic liver disease, but occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol. If not caught early and reversed, NASH can be as fatal as cirrhosis of the liver, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

On top of Karen’s ailments, Shauntae was missing school due to bacterial infections and daily problems with irritable bowel syndrome. She had always been resistant to eating vegetables. Later on, I noticed that she was on her way to either being bulimic or anorexic. Her whole diet—she ate very little—consisted primarily of grain and sweets, with hardly any fruits or vegetables. I intervened, and while she struggled with readjusting her diet, she understood the importance of what she was doing. She experienced a tough period of withdrawals, as did the rest of us. (Mine were very intense and scary, but I’ll get to that.)

Coby had problems with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and weight gain. Jonathan seemed to have problems with anxiety, weight gain and lethargy.

I had an even longer list of problems stemming from my food addiction: obesity, bad gas, bloating, constipation, low confidence, acne, dandruff, anxiety disorders, erectile dysfunction, tooth decay and general weakness. Throughout my relationship with Karen, I was the one who wasted money and time smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and periodically overdosing on pharmaceuticals. We ate what we thought were healthy meals: cereal for breakfast, soup and a sandwich for lunch, and a seemingly well-rounded dinner of some kind of lean meat and vegetables with a couple slices of bread,

The author’s family quickly got healthier by eating right.

Or perhaps some rice or noodles on the side. (Boy, did we love our Italian food!) We even made the futile commitment of just eating whole-grain bread and pasta. I had no idea that whole grains contain gluten, a product of mill-produced grain that causes acne, leaky gut syndrome, malnourishment, inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis and clogged arteries. It also promotes infection due to the stresses on the immune system having to constantly repair the stomach lining. (For more on that, see The Paleo Solution, by Robb Wolf.)

Karen was doing everything a good mother should do for her children, and that is to teach them to be good people. Karen never smoked tobacco or pesh (Sioux slang for marijuana) and never drank excessive amounts of alcohol. In fact, she rarely if ever finished a single alcoholic drink. She was very aware (or so she thought) of addiction and alcoholism and did her best to avoid the common pitfalls. The only problem with Karen was her blind addiction to sugar and empty carbs—in other words, junk food: processed bread, chips, salty snacks, soda pop, pizza, pasta, etc. These food cravings led to excessive weight gain and some obsessive-compulsive behavior.

We were poisoning ourselves without even knowing it, growing increasingly weak and lethargic, not to mention deeply depressed and experiencing horrible mood swings. I was in denial; we all were.

Moment of Truth
It wasn’t until Karen had to have her gall bladder removed that reality hit me: I could possibly lose my beloved Karen. At first, I blamed everything and everyone: the rich, the poor, myself, Karen, the health-care system and the doctors who maintain it.

Looking back, I was right to blame an ignorant or malicious health-care system that in my opinion does more to hurt our people than help them. They believe in the food pyramid and that means heavy on grains and plenty of sugar. (I would later learn that sugar is actually definable as an addictive drug.

Not only that, most modern-day medications do more to help symptoms of addiction than the addiction itself, which makes for a fine business model. Further research led me to the conclusion that this Neolithic diet does nothing for our people but manifest poor physical and mental health.

In order to survive, we took matters of health into our own hands and did research on all of Karen’s ailments. We discovered that the main culprit was a poor diet driven by sugar addiction, mixed with too many gluten products (bread, rice, pasta, flour, cheese, pizza, cereal and numerous others) that bred inactivity. This diet caused our bodies to suffer from inflammation and immune deficiency. That led to more illness, confusion and a long ride on the merry-go-round of self-destruction.

At first, I researched the numerous liver ailments, because I knew that a failing liver is almost always fatal. She began to grow more lethargic and bedridden. We would cry ourselves to sleep more times than we would like to admit.

We studied different diet-related illness like celiac disease, a digestive disorder that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food, according to the NIDDK. We learned gluten can cause health issues as well. So, naturally, we began to abstain from these products, and low and behold, our health improved dramatically.

I had known all along that Karen’s weight was an issue (as was mine), but she took my “talking about her weight” to be very offensive. She was in denial about her food addiction (as was I), so I didn’t realize that we were both killing ourselves, just at a different pace. Her doctors (family practitioner, gastroenterologist, rheumatologist and neurologist) had prescribed numerous medications: metformin (blood glucose), ranitidine (nausea), meclizine (dizziness), tramadol (pain), prochlorperazine (dizziness, nausea), cyclobenzaprine (muscle relaxer), benazepril (blood pressure), hydrocodone (pain), methotrexate (inflammation), and amoxicillin (infection); none of which did anything to cure her diseases.

For a while, we almost accepted the idea that she could be gone soon. That just made me push harder for information. Before we went to the gastroenterologist, we already had an idea of what we wanted to hear (bad news) and what we hoped we would not hear (horrible news). We had done research and suspected it was NASH, and later her doctor confirmed it. However, he did not request a biopsy to understand what stage she was in.

I finally realized that our main problem—Karen and I—was that we are people who are meant to be hunter-gatherers, but living in a modern world. In order to cure Karen, I had to change our diets—hers, mine and that of our kids. Then we had to become active.

We switched to a Paleolithic diet, centered on commonly available modern foods. The contemporary Paleolithic diet consists mainly of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, roots and nuts, and excludes grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils. The idea is to mimic the diet of our ancestors.

A week into our new diet, we were attending Coby’s baseball game. Between innings, I would check on my other two children, who still prefer the playground to sports. That’s when I found Shauntae in front of the concession stand with tears in her eyes and a dollar bill crumbled up in her hands. Right away I knew she was struggling with a craving for junk food. I hugged her and told her it’s going to be okay and that I understood her pain. I cried a little bit too. But instead of giving in I explained to her, “See, this is why we choose not to eat this. You’re having a craving aren’t you?” She nodded. Then I said, “Look at these kids, they have no idea what they are doing to themselves. They don’t know how bad it is. That’s drugs.”

She’s very picky about her food, so she probably hadn’t eaten enough that day. That was the first time she cried for not having that craving for sugar fulfilled and anybody whom has had to give up alcohol or cigarettes can relate; this was a big moment for her, and for me. Shauntae and Jonathan would cry at our dinner table almost every night for the next few weeks—they hated to change how they ate, but they understood how important it was to do so.

Interestingly, my senses of smell, sight, sound and intuition greatly improved on this diet. Phobias and anxieties that I was ashamed of and had kept hidden evaporated. My kid’s grades improved. Our energy improved as well. We now go outside and walk and play catch with the kids rather than stay inside and watch movies or television. Karen has even begun to play a tough game of basketball. We both walk every morning around 6:30 a.m., and it is fabulous. She still has to take it easy, but she is improving dramatically. She still has a touch of light-headedness but that is improving. Her blood pressure is even back to what it was in her teenage years. The most important thing is that her newfound zest for life is helping her recover faster and better than anything those foolish doctors could prescribe.

All she really needed was to have one doctor tell her that her diet was killing her. But no, all her doctors would rather protect this ignorant notion that a Neolithic diet is best, when in reality, we are born hunter-gatherers! Born to be wild and proud of it!

From our experience, I can only assume that there are countless others out there battling these diet-related diseases. I believe that most if not all American Indians are intolerant to gluten and easily addicted to sugar. Our ancestors were lean and as athletic as any modern elite athlete. We are our ancestors, warriors. We should eat and exercise as warriors in a good way to achieve the gifts that the Creator has for each of us.

We should not be angry at ourselves, at our parents or our leaders. You can, however, blame the U.S. government, specifically the Department of Agriculture and the sugar conglomerates who continue to use propaganda to fool not only us but our children into believing that these products are safe. Take matters into your own hands first by gradually changing your diet from sugar-based and gluten-based; start eating a more robust variety of fruits, vegetables and meats. Overcome your sugar cravings. Don’t let your children eat candy or drink soda. Those products are highly addictive and come with numerous ailments, including: acne, addictions to caffeine, drugs and food, adrenal gland exhaustion, alcoholism, anxiety, appendicitis, arthritis, asthma, behavioral problems, binge-eating, bloating, bone-density loss, cataracts, colitis, constipation, depression, dermatitis, difficulty concentrating, diverticulitis, eczema, edema, emotional problems, endocrine gland dysfunction, fatigue, food cravings, gallstones, gout, high estrogen levels, hormonal problems, hyperactivity, hypertension, hypoglycemia, impaired digestion, indigestion, insomnia, kidney stones, liver dysfunction, menstrual difficulties, mental illness, mood swings, muscle pain, nearsightedness, obesity, osteoporosis, parasitic infections, premature aging, premenstrual syndrome, psoriasis, rheumatism, tooth decay, ulcers and vaginal yeast infections.

For recipes, books, links and motivation I suggest: The Paleo Solution by Robb Wolf (book), (recipes), (gardening) and for motivation I watch Billy Mills on YouTube almost daily to get pumped up to run. For information and fun facts regarding the Paleo-caveman-hunter-gatherer lifestyle, I suggest

Exercise is vital to maintain this newfound lifestyle. Start with walking, jogging, running, climbing, biking, rowing and work your way into weight training (assuming that you are a beginner). Gardening is highly recommended.

To conquer this addiction, it takes great love from family and friends. If you need help or somebody to talk to we are here for you: I am interested in your story as well, so please don’t be shy. I will gladly provide updates on the health of Karen and the rest of our family as we continue our new lifestyle.

It is my hope that you put this information to good use and save somebody’s life—including yours. Going caveman has made me happier and healthier than ever before.

Tókhi wániphika ní!—Good Luck!

Insulin Spikes, not Calories, Drive Weight Problems

by Amy Berger

In part one of this series, I introduced the notion that being overweight is not a character flaw. Finding sweets and starches nearly impossible to resist has much more to do with what goes on in our bodies than in our minds.

In the current age of rising rates of metabolic syndrome and what doctors have come to call “diabesity” — the double whammy of diabetes and obesity — insulin is steering the ship, and unless you’ve got it under control, it’s likely steering you right into the rocks. But what exactly is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that enters our bloodstream for many reasons, but the most significant is to help us handle a meal containing carbohydrates. (Protein raises insulin too, but not as much as carbohydrates.) While we may have come to see insulin as the enemy, the fact is we need insulin to stay alive, to build muscle, and to help fuel our bodies. Problems only arise when we have suboptimal amounts of insulin in our bodies–either too much or too little. Too little (or none, really) is Type I diabetes. And the essential roles insulin plays can be seen in an untreated Type I diabetic: without insulin, the body wastes away. The body can’t burn sugar for fuel, and in a desperate attempt to get at any fuel it can, it actually breaks down its own muscles and organs.

But overweight people usually have way too much insulin, not too little. Why is this? And why does insulin spike after a big meal–especially a high-carbohydrate meal?

All carbohydrates–pasta, rice, crackers, bread, potatoes, candy bars, pancakes–break down into sugar in our bodies. A bowl of spaghetti might not look much like a sugar cube, but upon digestion, they become basically the same thing.  And too much sugar in our bloodstream is dangerous. So after we eat these foods, insulin comes along to take the sugar out of our blood and push it into our cells, where it can be used as fuel. The thing is, insulin is so good at its job that it overcompensates–it takes too much sugar out of our blood, and when that happens, we feel hungry again even though we just ate! And what do we crave when our blood sugar gets low? More sugar. No wonder they call it a rollercoaster!

We’ve all experienced this. We’ve gone to buffets, eaten to our hearts’ content, and felt like we needed to be rolled out into the car. We’ve eaten so much we’re certain we won’t be hungry again for at least a week. But what happens? About two hours later, we feel hungry! It defies logic. How could we possibly be hungry after all that food?! If this doesn’t prove that hunger and satiety have nothing to do with calories, I don’t know what could. Take a Chinese buffet: are you hungry just a little while later because the thousands of calories of rice, noodles, sweet and sour chicken, sesame beef, and dumplings were somehow not enough to fill you up, or is it more likely that the carbohydrate in the rice, noodles, and sugar-laden sauces have sent you careening up and down the blood sugar thrill ride?

So you see, it’s not about calories in and out. It’s not about using some fancy app to track every single molecule of food you eat and then doing penance at the gym. Racking up miles on the treadmill won’t get you wings and a halo, and it likely hasn’t gotten you a smaller waistline, either. (More on this in an upcoming post on carbohydrates and exercise.)

In most cases, being overweight isn’t about the quantity of food we eat, it’s about the quality. It’s about what those foods are, and their effects on our body chemistry. And bringing our body chemistry back into balance is the key to ending sugar addiction, raising the safety harness, and stepping off the one ride no one should line up to go on.  

The way to do this is to avoid sugar as much as possible. To break the cycle. And maybe this is where there is a place for willpower, because avoiding sugar isn’t easy. It means ignoring the office candy dish. It means refusing the donuts at the morning meeting, declining the brownies at the church pot luck, and passing up the bread basket at the restaurant. But when you know why you should avoid certain foods, doing so becomes easier. And the why of avoiding refined carbohydrates is simple: they set us up to want more. And more. And more. Abstaining completely is difficult, but it’s easier than having “just a little taste,” because it never stops at one little taste–something we’ve all learned the hard way.

If you’ve been beating yourself up for your inability to stay away from sweets, if you’ve ever questioned what was “wrong” with you, or if you’ve seen your inability to lose weight as some kind of cosmic commentary on your self-worth, stop. Stop now. The truth is, the temptation, the cravings, and the nearly all-consuming drive to reach for something sweet are your body’s natural reaction to the low fat (and high carb) foods we’ve been conditioned to stick with.

The voices you might think come from your head come very much from your body. So all the tricks you might have turned to to battle cravings are the wrong tools for the job. Mantras (“nothing tastes as good as being thin feels”), tips (go for a walk; chew a piece of gum), and mind games have little influence on the physical process that’s causing you to think you need sugar. After a high-carbohydrate meal and the subsequent insulin spike and lower blood sugar, it’s not a matter of wanting more sweets; it’s that your body has been tricked into feeling like it needs them. Using your mind to fight your body is like assembling your troops in New Jersey when the enemy’s camp is actually in Utah. You’re simply on the wrong battlefield.

Take discipline out of the picture. Nobody thinks people are weak-willed for wearing coats in the middle of winter; they’re simply listening to their bodies’ needs. Reaching for carbohydrates when your blood sugar is low is also listening to your body’s needs. The trick is to reprogram your body to not need sugar, and that has a lot more to do with physiology than with psychology.

It makes sense, then, that to keep insulin in check, we should keep our carbohydrate intake in check. And the longer we do this, the better our bodies get at burning other fuels and the quieter those voices that have us reaching for sweets become. Pretty soon we don’t even hear them.


Amy Berger is earning a master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. A proud U.S. Air Force veteran, Amy struggled for years doing “all the right things,” but failed to see any improvement in her health and physique. Through shifting to nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods and intelligent exercise, she has transformed her body and self-esteem, and plans to share the lessons learned with those still fighting the battle. She believes weight loss is not a moral issue; it’s not about willpower, but restoring balance to our bodies and minds so that we don’t just survive, but thrive. Amy is especially interested in helping young women heal their relationships with food and serving as a source of common sense and sanity in the sea of nutritional madness. She can be reached at

The Future of Weight Loss: Get Ready for a Whole New Strategy

by Amy Berger

In our politically correct times, overweight people have become the last acceptable targets. Crack a joke about almost anything else, and you’ll be met with dirty looks and stunned expressions. But fat jokes never seem to fall out of favor. Even worse than the jokes, though, are the moral judgments. Society heaps endless criticism on overweight people: they’re lazy, greedy, and undisciplined. If they just had a little more self-control, they’d lose weight. We hear it everywhere. The last place we should hear it is in our own heads. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight and blame yourself at every turn, it’s time to stop victimizing yourself and start operating from a new playbook.

Being overweight is not a character flaw. It’s a matter of having the wrong information. We’ve spent most of our lives listening to “experts” tell us it’s nothing more than a mathematical equation–as simple as eating less and moving more. How insulting. If it were that easy, millions of us wouldn’t be bending over backward, doing everything we can think of and still not seeing results.

It’s not just a matter of numbers. Our bodies are exquisite, complex systems, designed to run on foods that send certain signals to our brains and all our cells. Sugar and foods high in refined carbohydrates send mixed signals: we eat and eat, yet we never feel full. We load up on calories, but fall far short on nutrients. We become what some call “overfed and undernourished.” In this multi-part series, I’ll explore the unique properties of sugars and refined carbohydrates and shed some light on why these foods are so hard to resist.

If you’ve been playing an endless tape of self-blame and recrimination in your head, get ready for a new strategy. Being addicted to sugar–and carrying the extra weight to prove it–has nothing to do with greed or a lack of willpower. We’ve been fighting this battle in our minds, but the truth is, we need to shift the focus to our bodies. Eating certain foods when our brains and our blood chemistry scream out for them isn’t mental weakness; it’s physical addiction. It’s not about “caving” or falling off the wagon. It’s about every cell in our bodies being programmed to run on the wrong kind of fuel. Let’s stop asking why we can’t stay away from the ice cream, or why we can’t stop after just one cookie, and start asking what’s going on in our bodies to make us want more and more. Because there is something going on in our bodies, and our natural–and inevitable–reactions to the foods we eat are clear-cut physical processes, not moral shortcomings.

The most important thing we can do is get off the blood sugar rollercoaster. This isn’t easy; most of us have been riding it all our lives. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to reprogram the palate. But before retraining our tastebuds, we’ve got to reprogram our minds. We’ve got to have the courage to do the opposite of what we’ve been told. We need to have faith that what’s best for our bodies might run counter to everything we’ve been led to believe. If sugar and starchy foods set us up to want more of the same, it stands to reason that other foods–meat, eggs, vegetables, nuts, cheese–send our brains other signals. Signals that we’ve been nourished and have had enough. The reason we’re still hungry after a high-carbohydrate meal is that no matter how much we’ve eaten, our bodies are still looking for protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals–the very things our muscles, bones, skin, and hormones are built from.

Getting off the blood sugar rollercoaster means learning to distinguish between true hunger and hormonal hunger–when we legitimately need food versus when our blood and hormones are tricking us into feeling hungry. In the second part of this series, I’ll explore the role of insulin as the motor running this horrific carnival ride, and why staying away from sweet and starchy foods has much more to do with keeping insulin levels low than with maintaining an iron will.

It’s repeated so often it seems meaningless, but the old saying is true: knowledge is power. Once you open Pandora’s box and know the truth about sugar and refined carbohydrates, the demons come out and you can’t put them back in. People struggling with extra weight get attacked from all angles. Let your own mind be a safe haven. Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge yourself, don’t belittle yourself, and don’t let guilt and shame keep you from moving forward. Arm yourself with the right information. What you put in your mouth is ultimately your responsibility. That will never change. But it’s a lot easier to make good choices when your body isn’t screaming out for bad ones.


Amy Berger is earning a master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. A proud U.S. Air Force veteran, Amy struggled for years doing “all the right things,” but failed to see any improvement in her health and physique. Through shifting to nutrient-dense, unprocessed foods and intelligent exercise, she has transformed her body and self-esteem, and plans to share the lessons learned with those still fighting the battle. She believes weight loss is not a moral issue; it’s not about willpower, but restoring balance to our bodies and minds so that we don’t just survive, but thrive. Amy is especially interested in helping young women heal their relationships with food and serving as a source of common sense and sanity in the sea of nutritional madness. She can be reached at

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