Ever heard of sugar headaches? Neither had I until today.
Now I’m the first to admit I’ve got a sweet tooth. I look forward to desserts, enjoy chocolate and will pass on pretzels in favour of ice cream every time.
When people ask “Do you want a starter or dessert?” I know I’ll skip the starter. It works for me. Everything in moderation until 2020 when lockdowns became part of our lives and sugary things more feast than ‘restrained’!
Last night I was conscious of eating biscuits watching TV. It’s not the first time I’ve eaten biscuits and not the first time sitting in front of the TV eating them either. This time something was different. I noticed it. I was aware. I’m uncertain why it happened last night. Maybe it was the amount, the way they were making me feel or that the packet was empty before I knew it? I could delve deep and come up with many reasons – boredom, procrastination, comfort…it’s enough to know it happened and I noticed it.
This morning I struggled to get up. I had a headache and felt very lethargic. I was thirsty and felt as if I hadn’t had enough sleep. It felt exactly the same as the rare hangovers I’ve had during my life and, since I hadn’t drunk alcohol and had eaten a heap of biscuits, I called it a sugar hangover. It made sense. Alcohol is sugar and your body processes sugar in the same way regardless of what we call them! I thought I’d coined the phrase. A quick search on the internet showed me I hadn’t.
Like stress, sugar gets a bad press and is vilified as being bad for you. It is and it isn’t. Sugar is a vital component of your body chemistry and has a direct effect on your brain, nervous system and body. Like most things in life, it’s the amount that matters. Too much or too little causes problems including headaches, fatigue, irritability, dizziness, confusion, blurry vision, thirst, shaking, sweating and hunger. Thank goodness my sugar hangover only had a couple of these!
Before you decide never to eat another chocolate bar, or avoid cream cakes for ever, it helps to know that in normal daily life your body acts quickly to keep your blood sugar at normal levels and you’re unlikely to experience the impacts I did. For example, when you eat a well balanced meal with complex sugars, like wholewheat pasta, the sugars are broken down more gradually than simple sugars with the protein and fats also helping to slow the absorption of sugars. Your energy is released slowly and constantly without a sudden rush or buzz or crash.
When you have a biscuit binge like mine, it’s different. Your body controls your blood sugar levels with glucose and hormones, including insulin, and overindulging in sugar results in wide variations in your glucose levels and increased inflammation throughout your body including your brain. As your body tries to balance its blood sugar levels with the release of a large amount of glucose, even more if your blood sugar levels were low to begin with, you experience an initial short-lived surge of energy before you crash with a possible range of symptoms including thirst, fatigue, low mood or a mild headache.
The sheer amount of sugar means your body doesn’t stop there and has to bring in even more ‘troops’ to help balance your blood sugar and return it to normality. This takes time and its during these hours, when your blood sugar levels often drop to even lower levels than normal, your sugar hangover arrives. In my case this morning! I had both a sugar ‘high’ and a sugar ‘low’! There was a peak and a trough and the trough was lower – much lower! A bit like a roller coaster that has more downs than ups! I usually love roller coasters. Not this one though.
Sugar is so necessary and can also be so damaging. It impacts your mood, energy levels, digestion, movement, weight, pain, hydration levels, immune system and muscles and excessive sugar intake has been linked with depression and anxiety, constipation, diarrhoea and acid reflux, insomnia, heart disease, arthritis, cancer and dementia.
When you know what you don’t know things makes sense. My sugar hangover now makes sense. It explains my fatigue and headache and why my daily cold shower – yes I am that weirdo who has cold showers – felt so brutal today. As I washed, I noticed my body was much warmer than usual to touch. It actually felt inflamed! After the initial gasp of shock, the cold water soothed me like paddling in the sea does my feet after a long walk on a hot summer’s day.
With our busy lives and a general lack of connection to our bodies, many of us aren’t aware of the subtle changes that happen to us when we eat sugars. They do happen though and with excessive sugar consumption and overtime, the changes can feel worse, be more noticeable and become life changing. Its all about balance.
In these times of hyper-vigilance and increased levels of doubt and fear, we need all the help we can get. The sugar we eat has an impact on how we are feeling, thinking, moving, sleeping and living. I know. I’ve been there and I’m pretty certain it goes some way in explaining why the second lockdown felt harder than the first for me!
Despite the downsides of eating sugar I’m not advocating a totally sugar free life. For most of us that’s not realistic, achievable or, in my case, desirable. There is a way though you can have your cake and eat it!
Next time you decide to grab your favourite biscuit, unwrap a chocolate bar or go for a dessert make sure you have some protein and a glass of water with it. The protein slows the sugar absorption and the water helps counter the dehydration. Funny how the same actions work when you’re drinking alcohol! A handful of nuts or a slice of cheese will be enough. They won’t stop you putting on weight though may help you avoid a full blown sugar hangover!
Oh and just a thought. if you think a sugar hangover or a regular alcoholic hangover is bad enough on its own imagine what a night of sugary alcoholic drinks will do!
Till next time…
Enjoy the day you create.