There are many different types of sugar, depending on the level of their processing. They are hidden in most processed foods available on the market, which makes them difficult to avoid. JJ Virgin, a world-renowned nutrition expert, fitness trainer, and author has written a book on hidden sugars which helps achieve a healthy lifestyle by offering tips on how to protect yourself from this detrimental ingredient.
Her book, Sugar Impact Diet: Drop 7 Sugars to Lose Up to 10 Pounds in Just 2 Weeks, focuses on the confusion regarding sugar. For instance, while most people believe that all-natural sugar like raw cane sugar, natural fruit juice, and agave is fine to eat, the truth is that it may negatively affect your health, too.
“[S]ugar is really public enemy number one,” she says. “That’s why I chose to focus on it. I don’t think added sugar is really the problem; I think it’s what’s in a lot of our food that we don’t recognize [as sugar].
Whether it’s having apple juice (which is worse for you than a soda), or having a yogurt sweetened with fruit juice concentrate, or whether you’re just thinking that fruits are free for all, these are all creating problems.
I wanted to create a structured program that could help someone break free of those sugar cravings, drop the weight forever, and then let them go back and [do a food] challenge… in order to connect the dots between what happens when they drink one of those big fruit smoothies that are supposed to be so healthy.”
To End Sugar Cravings, Your Body Needs to Burn Fat as Its Primary Fuel
As explained by JJ, sugar is the same thing to the body, regardless of the form it comes in, whether it is a muffin, smoothie, or a juice-sweetened yogurt.
When you break free from body`s need for another sugar fix, you`ll feel energy and clarity of mind. But, in order to end sugar cravings, your body needs to switch from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel.
This process can be quite challenging for most people. JJ`s book focuses on this process and provides practical tips on how to get optimal results from it.
“There’s got to be a transition period, where you go from sugar burner to getting your body to be able to start to burn fat again,” she explains.
“You have to taper down from where your starting point is, which is what I call a Sneaky Sugar Inventory, of things you would never think about (like sundried tomatoes and marinara sauce) that we’re just using like crazy not realizing how much sugar this is actually adding into our food.”
The Sugar Impact Scales: A New Way of Looking at Sugar
First and foremost, you need to weigh yourself as well as to measure your waist-to-hip ratio. When one with determining your starting point, you need to do a complete list of hidden sugars in your diet. In other words, you should careful read labels on the foods you consume, including those you would never expect to contain sugar, like sauces, marinades, and a jar of pickles. JJ made an extensive list of these foods and create Sugar Impact Scales, serving as a new way of perceiving sugar.
“It looks at fructose grams, glycemic load, nutrient density, and fiber. Bad are fructose and glycemic load; good are nutrient density and fiber,” she says.
“Depending on where the food falls, it can either be low, medium, or high-sugar impact. The reason this was so important to me is I keep looking at programs out there, and they either focus on fructose… glycemic index, or glycemic load.
That can be very confusing because it makes things like agave sweetener look great. It makes milk look great… People go, ‘We should have fructose because fructose is low on the glycemic index.’
The difference between fructose and glucose is fructose doesn’t trigger the whole insulin response. Because of that, it doesn’t trigger insulin, leptin, or ghrelin, so it doesn’t tell your body you ate anything. Instead, it just goes to the liver. If there’s no room for it to become glycogen… it starts becoming fat.
You look at that and you go, ‘Okay, food is information. What does fructose say?’ It says, ‘Hey, make fat but don’t tell us we ate. Stay hungry.’ What a nightmare!”
Given that sugar feeds fungi, bacteria, and yeast in the gut, symptoms of having high-sugar impact typically include bloating and gas. While rare, symptoms like sugar cravings, inability to lose weight, headaches, and fatigue are also possible.
The Three Cycles of the Sugar Impact Diet
The first cycle, which typically lasts for a week or two, involves swapping high sugar impacts foods for medium sugar impacts foods. For instance, if you usually consume regular pasta, replace it with quinoa pasta. In addition to this, it is recommended to eat every two hours in order to prevent insulin spikes.
Once you notice an improvement in your symptoms, you are ready for cycle two which involves reclaiming your sugar sensitivity, which means that you`ll reset your taste buds and reclaim your ability to taste food.
What I’m doing is I’m getting rid of all of the fructose. We’re getting down to five grams or less [per day], just as low as possible because you don’t want your body to be good at processing fructose. One thing we know is that the more fructose you eat, the better you get at handling fructose, which means the faster it goes to your liver, the faster you start making fat, and the more fat you make.
If someone’s used to eating fruit, they eat more fruit, they eat more fruit, and they can handle it. If you never eat any fruit, and you ate a bunch of fruit, you’d be bloated, you’d be gassy, and it’d be horrible. I take fruit out altogether except for things like lemons, limes, avocado, tomato, and olives. And we go down to all low-sugar impact foods. But you’re still eating great stuff. You’re eating wild salmon, grass-fed beef, kale, avocado, nuts and seeds, a little quinoa, legumes, and lentils.”
Most people will manage to move from burning sugar to burning fat as primary fuel in a matter of weeks, meaning during the second cycle. “The reason it can happen so fast is number one, you’ve got to do that initial one-week [taper] period,” she says. “Whenever you look at a program, you want to jump right into the most intense part, but you can’t because you’ll fail.”
During the third cycle of the program, you need to reintroduce some medium or high sugar impact foods. It is very likely that you`ll feel overwhelmed by the sweetness, so the physiological grip of sweet foods lessens.
You will also notice how eating sour foods helps reduce sweet cravings, which provides additional benefits since eating fermented foods improves gut health as well. It’s a sweet tooth strategy,” JJ says. “One of the things that I do in these books is I try to keep it simple and give people simple strategies. But I’m always thinking, “How am I healing their gut with this? How am I improving their gut flora? How are we reducing inflammation?”
Healthy Snack Alternatives
Nuts are one of the healthiest snack alternatives, particularly pecans and macadamia nuts which are low in protein but high in fat. However, make sure you eat them in moderation due to their high calorie content. Other healthy alternatives include dehydrated kale chips and roasted Brussels sprouts.
Last But Not Least—The Maintenance Phase
These days most people are burning sugar as their primary fuel. To see whether you fall into this category, observe the frequency of your meals. If you feel hungry and eat every two hours, you are burning sugar. Once you switch to burning fat, you will feel hungry every six hours since fat is much slower- burning fuel.
“The maintenance phase is different from the weight loss phase,” JJ explains. “It’s like dating and marriage. Totally different beasts, right? During the maintenance phase—for weight loss—it’s about setting new goals and doing different fitness activities. The biggest thing that I want someone to do is to connect the dots between what they’re eating and how they feel. It’s to lose that sweet tooth that they had and reclaim their sugar sensitivity so they really say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s how sweet a blueberry really is.’
[In the maintenance phase] you’ve got to mix up your exercise; you’ve got to mix up your food… [F]ood is information. You want your food to tell your body to burn fat not sugar, keep steady energy, great focus, and reduce inflammation. It’s the same with exercise. Exercise can be therapeutic or destructive. I do no endurance training at all. I do not believe in endurance training. I did so much endurance training [when I was younger, yet] I was always slightly overweight. I was never lean.”
It is recommended to opt for high intensity interval-type exercises which create metabolic changes that boost fat burning and promote both muscle and health growth. JJ also recommends exercising in a fasted state in order to rejuvenate and restore the muscle tissues. Still it`s up to you, meaning that you should experiment and see what works for you best.
“I kind of play with both of them. Because if you eat a little bit before you work out, you can generally work out harder. If you’re doing resistance training, a lot of times you’re better off having a little bit [of food] before. If you’re doing burst training, ideally here’s what you would do: on burst-training days, do it first thing in the morning. It doesn’t take long anyway. It’s 15 minutes at the most. Ideally, do that a couple of mornings a week, two or three mornings a week. You do your resistance training two times a week, have a little bit of food before; have something really good afterwards, and you’re set.”
To sum up, following the tips above will help you switch your body from burning sugar to burning fat as its primary fuel, thus help you put an end to sugar cravings and lose weight.