Sugar is a drug.
Consider the following:
1. Let us define the word “drug” as a habit forming, or addictive, substance.
2. Addictive drugs wreak their first havoc on the body at the level of the brain by activating what is known as the “dopamine reward pathway.” (Further details on this very interesting neurologic process to come in a future blog entry.) The role of this pathway is to convince you that as soon as the effect of the drug is worn off, you need more, immediately.
3. Sugar/sweets have been shown to activate dopamine release in the same part of the brain as other addictive substances such as cocaine and heroin.
4. In just the right formulation and dose (also known as cookies, candy, ice cream, cake, and other beloved treats), it is exceedingly difficult to resist having more than just one small bite.
5. Even in more moderate formulations and doses (such as breads or pastries made with refined or “white” flour), a similar “rush and crash” effect can take place where you feel great immediately after the intake but shortly thereafter feel hungry again, craving more.
My name is Mary Medeiros and I am an addict in recovery.
On a regular basis I tell my patients that they should cut things out of their diet and exercise more. It is only fair for me to emulate the same healthy habits that I strongly recommend — to level the playing field a little so to speak.
A few months back I joined a gym and began the regular exercise program that I swore I would never have time for. I probably still don’t have time for it, but as someone who has habitually counted the minutes and seconds it takes to accomplish something, I guess you could say I no longer measure life in units of time. Sometimes I still feel disappointed that it took as many hard lessons as it has for me to learn this important change in perspective. But more often I try to dwell instead on being grateful that I have finally learned, and that I still have opportunities to pay it forward by living life in a more meaningful way.
Anyway, I digress. A diet challenge has been posed by our gym that involves the complete elimination of sugar (other then in forms found naturally, such as in fruit for example) for six weeks. Also no artificial sweeteners. And not even other natural harvested sweeteners like honey or agave! Oh, and um, nothing fried, no dairy, no flour or baked goods. Ouch.
Today is day four, and let’s be honest: the last three days have been kind of miserable for me. But I am doing it, for heaven’s sake. In trying to manage what I am left with, I have made some discoveries that seemed appropriate to share here, and I will continue to share in subsequent blog entries.
1. “Sugar fixes” can be met by eating dried fruit, no sugar added. In most cases, the natural sugars are concentrated in the dehydration process. Note: this does NOT apply to dried cranberries which have a ton of added sugar. You learn a lot when you actually look at the ingredients on a package.
2. “Bread cravings” responded impressively well to roasted acorn squash. Plus, the roasted squash was delicious.
3. Quick cooking Irish oatmeal or steel cut oats taste great with cut up fresh strawberries or bananas, if you don’t happen to be a fan of raisins (like me).
4. I have been generally grumpy because I miss my chocolate, and I’m having the work week from hell. But as much as I hate to admit it, overall I seem to be better equipped to handle it. No matter how frustrating the circumstances have gotten, my mind is relatively clear, and I’m problem-solving more efficiently than I do when I’m hopped up on “therapy sweets.” It’s one of those things I don’t think you can really explain or believe in unless you try it for yourself. So I guess you could say my recommendation is that it’s worth a try.
5. YES, this takes a LOT more work than the usual “grab-n-go” packaged processed foods that I classically depend on to fuel my day. But as mentioned above, the little bit of time I find myself left with is used more efficiently because I am mysteriously functioning at a higher level. Efficiently enough, in fact, to permit me to create a blog entry amidst an outrageously busy couple of weeks at work.
More to come, stay tuned for the next episode in this saga!