This Is What Happened When My Teenage Son Gave Up Sugar
My 16-year-old craves sweets and can’t get enough desserts. Then one day, he decided to stop eating them.
My oldest son has anxiety. It's been something he's struggled with his whole life. When he was younger he was often hyper, excited, and impulsive. If he got a laugh out of someone he would continue to do that same thing over. He's twisted his hair when he's anxious since it started growing in when he was one and is very reactive when there is a change of plans.
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Being an anxious person myself, I recognize the signs in him and have tried to help him cope with his feelings. It's definitely harder for him to relax than it is for some kids. He was always able to express himself when he was younger, which I think was very helpful, but after going through puberty, I noticed his anxiety seemed to get worse. He didn't want to talk as much and became closed off.
He now stands over six feet tall and wears a size 12 shoe. The rambunctious boy who used to over-share is gone and has been replaced by a stoic boy who often retreats to his room and never wants to talk about his feelings or things that are going on in his social life.
How anxiety has affected him
I have to remind myself he is still the same person, despite me not recognizing him some days. I noticed his lack of communication and being unable to express his feelings, have caused him to be irritable and downright angry. Some days, even explosive.
The decision to give up sugar
Recently he has taken a huge interest in working out. He enjoys CrossFit, lifting weights, and watching videos about body building and fitness. After doing some research a few months ago, he decided to give up sugar, which was huge for him—he absolutely loves baked goods and candy. When I'm making his favorite cake or cookie his anxiety flares up as he can't wait to have some, then he wants some more.
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How he’s benefited from dropping sugar
After a few weeks of going sugar free, he sat down next me and said, "Mom, since I've stopped eating sugar, I feel so much better, less angry and mad about stuff."
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I had noticed a huge difference in his moods, too. They seemed to be more even. His fuse isn't as short, and he's falling asleep earlier. He's also more talkative and has been communicating more with the rest of the family.
A doctor explains the changes
I'm sure the exercising and finding something he loves to do helped with his moods, but I talked with child psychiatrist, Scott Carroll, who explained exactly what was going on in his brain when he ate sugar: "Eating something really sweet can trigger way more insulin release than you need to have your muscle cells absorb the glucose," he says.
After the insulin has been released, it causes your blood glucose level to drop and "the brain, which almost exclusively runs on insulin, responds to the dropping blood glucose level by making you feel hungry to get you to eat more triggers," he says.
We've all felt this, especially after a big meal that's followed by dessert—we can't seem to stop and keep reaching for more even if we feel full. While this impacts a lot of us, certain people are more prone to the affects this can have on our moods.
Dr. Carroll goes on to say the hunger feeling comes back to us by triggering our amygdala which is a nerve in your brain that controls our fight or flight response. When triggered, this makes you "more irritable and aggressive so you will fight for food," he says.
That really made sense to me as I've watched my son many times eat three cookies, want more, and get angry when I've told him no, or watched him make bad choices shortly after eating the sugar. He's been caught sneaking sweets, too, and never seemed to have the self-control to stop himself until he saw what giving it up could do for his physical appearance.
Dr. Carroll explains the reason we feel cranky after a big sugar rush, then crash, is because glucose is not a real source of food. So, when my son switched from eating processed, sugary foods, and started eating only foods which contain natural glucose like potatoes, carrots, grains and corn, and beefing up his protein with meat and nuts, Dr. Carroll says his moods changed because his "glucose level doesn't spike and he doesn't release a lot of insulin" so he isn't experiencing that irritable feeling that makes him want to get more of the sugary foods into his system.
I'm sure my son won't be giving up sugar forever. Life is too short to not enjoy things like holiday cookies and birthday cakes, but I am proud of him for recognizing this as a solution to feeling better mentally. If it helps him, it helps me, and his wellbeing is the most important thing to me.
I've seen firsthand what giving up sugar has done for him and the positive effects it's had on his moods, and I'm thankful he's recognizing it's a trigger for him at a young age.