As we approach the winter months and the holiday seasons, sugar tends to be omnipresent and more and more of a “struggle” for people I work with.
When I ask sugar-craving folks what their days are like, it’s usually followed with a litany of stressful tasks, a feeling of overwhelm, exhaustion, and a pervasive busyness that seems to thwart any good intentions of dietary changes. People typically have so little time for themselves in their day that they are not eating regular meals, especially breakfast or lunch, and end up relying on simple carbs, snacks and grab-and-go items to fuel their tanks. This creates erratic blood sugar patterns which, in turn, makes life seem that much harder to accomplish. Eating more frequent meals balanced with protein, fat and fiber is a great way to start balancing blood sugar.
Consuming sugar increases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, memory, and social behavior. Because sugar boosts serotonin levels, you feel happier (but only temporarily), so your brain keeps craving this “happy” chemical again and again. Some research suggests that people who are depressed will overeat sugary foods as a form of self-medication. Clinical depression affects 1 in 10 Americans in any given year, but that does not account for dysthymia (mild form of depression) or simply “feeling down”. This has changed significantly during COVID-19. According to the CDC, adults struggling with mental health issues or substance abuse is up to 40% (or 2 people in 5). This includes depression, anxiety, trauma-related symptoms, substance abuse and suicidal ideation and disproportionately affects Hispanic, Black, and younger respondents.
If you aren’t boosting serotonin by doing things that bring you pleasure, you’ll find yourself stuck in a vicious cycle that ultimately depletes underlying co-factors, like B vitamins and minerals, that help keep mood balanced in the long term. Green tea, walnuts, eggs, cheese and exercise all boost endogenous serotonin levels.
Sugar cravings can be a symbol that we aren’t experiencing the sweetness or joy in our own lives. Any trace of happiness evaporates in the flurry of the daily grind. So rather than beat yourself up for craving sugar, why not try slowing down and paying attention to these cues of your body? What is in your live that creates joy, and what gets in the way? What could you let go of that has been holding you back from experiencing more happiness on the daily? What did you used to love to do that you have let go of? What have you always wanted to try but didn’t make time for?
You can start small – a short walk, reading a book, cozying up with a cup of tea and simply pausing in your day – or make it something big and radical. Once you remember that having a pleasurable life is your birthright, the doors to joy are open and you won’t have to seek out sugar to fill the void!
Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.