From bad skin to muffin tops, this doctor dishes on her breakup with the sweet stuff.

Sugar

Hey, Sugar. I want to talk to you about something important.

We’ve been close for a long time, but it just doesn’t feel right anymore. I’m not going to sugarcoat the truth with you (like you’ve always done to me), but our dynamic is dysfunctional and this can’t go on. I’m breaking up with you, and here are three major reasons why.  

1. Before you came along, I loved the way I looked.

I was a child when I first met you. I thought you were really sweet, and so refined. But after years of being with you, I’ve realized that I look and feel terrible. From soda and breakfast cereal to all the “healthy” foods where you like to hide, you’ve made me chubby and tired; I’ve got wrinkles and pimples; and, you’ve ruined my teeth! I look and feel like a piece of jerky, and it’s all your fault.

Fact: It’s true — sugar is destroying your appearance, your emotions, and your body, much like an abusive partner or addictive drug would. Sugar acts on the same receptors of the brain as drugs of abuse, like Vicodin and Adderall. So it’s no surprise that it’s a very difficult food substance to say no to. And it doesn’t help that it’s everywhere in the American diet.

sugar infographic

2. You’re a liar.

Yes, I believed all of the hype. Yes, that extra-large pumpkin spice latte is delicious. And yes, cookie dough ice cream felt like the perfect coping mechanism. But then right after you filled me with joy, everything came crashing down — fast. And you gave me a muffin top! Yeah… not cool, Sugar. Not cool at all.

Fact: Sugar is directly responsible for the secretion of a hormone called insulin. Most of the time we release insulin naturally without having any issues. But when we eat too much sugar, and too much insulin gets released into the body, bad things happen — like weight gain, especially around your waist. To make matters worse, when the body runs out of insulin to secrete, and we still keep eating sugar, we may quickly develop diabetes. And living with uncontrolled diabetes can put us at risk for a long list of nasty complications.

Then comes the premature aging. Sugar has the potential to give you wrinkles and make you look old by reacting with proteins in the body to form tiny mischievous compounds called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs wreak havoc on the body by causing inflammation and stress on a cellular level. This additional stress can lead to diabetes or Alzheimer’s. And when AGEs accumulate in your skin cells, they cause direct damage to the epidermis, making your skin stiffer and far less supple (in other words, more wrinkled).

3. I don’t like your friends.

You hang out with rich lobbyists and industries who’ve got your back in Washington, regardless of all the evidence out there that you’re creeping around, being sneaky, and damaging our health.

Fact: Here’s the really bad news: The Sugar Research Foundation (now called the Sugar Association) was an organization created in 1943 by the sugar industry, with the main purpose of producing scientific research to show that sugar wasn’t bad for you. In 1965 they had the New England Journal of Medicine publish data downplaying the early warning signs that eating sugar was a risk factor for heart disease. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes rates have since sky-rocketed. This maneuver has ended up changing the food environment we live in and has influenced medical guidelines.

The American Heart Association’s most recent dietary guidelines advise people to limit their added sugar intake to 150 calories (9 teaspoons) for men and 100 calories (6 teaspoons) for women — roughly the amount of sugar in a can of soda. And, incidentally, a can of soda is the reference point they’re using. Suspicious, no?

Fortunately, there’s some good news, too. Many types of delicious sugar alternatives exist out there, like natural plant-based stevia or sugar alcohols like erythritol. These sweet substitutes don’t have the same harmful effects as traditional sugar. They contain no calories, don’t cause dental cavities, and don’t raise insulin levels, either. And if I can have the same food items without the negativity of regular sugar, why not go for it? After all, I deserve to be with someone (and eat stuff) that respects me, my beauty, my mind, and my body — and so do you.

Forget la dolce vita.

Priyanka Wali is a board-certified internal medicine physician and stand-up comedian. You can follow her on Twitter @WaliPriyanka.